20 Years: The words that shaped the war in Afghanistan

As part of the Twenty Years project, a journalistic and artistic initiative with Afghans in Australia and around the world to assess the legacy of the US-led war in Afghanistan, we commissioned young, female, Afghan-Australian artists to make a short film on these themes. This is their statement:

The fall of Kabul in 2021 was the result of the Taliban forcibly taking power while the international community, who once branded their occupation of Afghanistan as “liberation”, isolated the very people they claimed to be saving.

Swept up by the 24-hour news cycle, Australia rode the wave of distraction to distance itself from its own history of war crimes and failures in Afghanistan.

Failing to act as the watchdogs on democracy, mainstream media aided in this distraction. The Australian media used the devastation in Afghanistan as an opportunity to erase its own complicity.

In 2001, the mainstream media helped gain support for the war by centralising the opinions that dehumanised Afghans, discredited their culture and depicted the country as a threat to the West. As the war morphed into an endless occupation, the media continued its backing by failing to report on the complexity of the situation and diminishing the Western-led violence with no consequences.

As Australia continues to take no accountability for its part in the 20-year Afghan war, the alienation felt by the Afghan Diaspora deepens. Once again, the Afghan-Australian population is pushed into unquestioning assimilation.

Afghan-Australian voices are afraid to stand on platforms out of fear of the consequences of being heard. Those who spoke out, even with restrained anger, are deemed “ungrateful,” and in some instances had their lives threatened. Protestors are asked to applaud the Western governments that failed Afghanistan. The Afghan-Australian Diaspora polices itself, worried that any expression of frustration or hurt will cause trouble for its community, create issues for family still unsafe in Afghanistan, or hinder the visa application for refugees unlawfully locked-up in Australian detention centres.

For these reasons, we have chosen to stay anonymous as two Afghan-Australian female artists. Because as the rest of the world chooses to forget Afghanistan, its people are forced to live with the violence while silencing their hurt and anger. This work is not to champion a particular ideology or power; it’s a request for Australia to take responsibility for the violence it helped create and for Afghans to be given the right to grieve their loss and trauma.