Media and Cultural Landscapes in Modern Afghanistan

Dr. Mejgan Massoumi

Dr. Mejgan Massoumi is a Lecturer and Fellow in Civic, Liberal, and Global Education at Stanford University. Her work and research explores Afghan engagement with a global communication technology, the radio, during a period of intense political reform and social transformations (1960-1979), which draws on archives in Farsi, Pashto, Tajik, Urdu, and English. As a scholar and educator, and refugee and immigrant, Massoumi is committed to advancing a culture of equity and inclusion within academia through her activism and advocacy for diversity as well as her teaching and scholarship focused on the study of history through the experiences of marginalized peoples, places, and cultures. Massoumi’s previous research explored how the dynamics of different forms of religious fundamentalisms are produced, represented and practiced in the city. The culmination of this research can be found in her co-edited book, The Fundamentalist City? Religiosity and the Remaking of Urban Space (Routledge, 2010). Her master’s research focused on race and inter-ethnic conflicts in post-9/11 Afghanistan, highlighting how humanitarian aid from the West contributed to deepening social and ethnic divides. You can find more information about Dr. Mejgan Massoumi here.

“Transregional Sonic Pasts and Transnational Sonic Presents in Afghanistan”

Dr. Ali Karimi

Ali Karimi is an Assistant Professor of communication at the University of Calgary in Canada. He is a scholar of critical information studies with a focus on data justice, surveillance, and privacy. His research examines how the state’s information practices can lead to the unfair distribution of resources. He studies this problem mostly in the context of Afghanistan and other weak states of the Global South where data is often contested and information injustice is a major issue. Karimi received his Ph.D. from McGill University and before joining the University of Calgary, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He has published articles on Afghanistan’s culture, media, and history in peer-reviewed journals such as the Annals of the Association of American Geographers and the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, among others.  You can find more information about Dr. Ali Karimi and his work here.

“Vertical Governance in Contested Territories: American Surveillance Blimps in Afghanistan”

This talk examines the deployment of US surveillance blimps in Afghanistan and other conflict zones. America’s aerial surveillance in the country was part of a network of data collection infrastructures that was supposed to support the Afghan state-building project. Blimps are high- tech static balloons stationed in the air that provide persistent visual data about the territory and the population underneath. They are a technology of “airpower” despite carrying no weapons. Their long endurance in the air makes them better surveillance tools than an average drone. The US military deployed them in Afghanistan and Iraq and now they are used on the southern borderlands of the US as well. Drawing on the concept of vertical governance, this paper assesses the impact of the US military’s blimps in Afghanistan through the experience of Afghans who had to live under their permanent gaze. It contributes to the surveillance scholarship by showing how military blimps violate the privacy and sovereignty of the people they monitor. Blimps, the article concludes, are a representation of the ‘remote state’ and its vertical exercise of power in places where the state has difficulty accessing the land.

Ahmad Rashid Salim

Ahmad Rashid Salim (احمد راشد سليم) is a doctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include Persian mystical literature and its epistemologies of Islam. He studies the history, culture, and literature of modern Afghanistan and looks to interrogate and complicate prevalent notions around literary independence, peripheries of language, and imagined pasts in the Persianate world.. He is the author of the best-selling book, Islam Explained, published by Rockridge Press. You can find more information about Ahmad Rashid Salim here.

“Tongue-tied and Heart-bound—The Lines of Language, Literature, and Religion in the Resistance”

Afghanistan Beyond Headlines—Examining the Social, Religious, and Gender Tapestry

Munazza Ebtikar

Munazza Ebtikar is a doctoral candidate at St John’s College, University of Oxford, where she is writing her dissertation on war and memory in Afghanistan. She holds an MPhil from Wolfson College, University of Oxford, in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. She also holds three bachelor’s degrees from UC Berkeley in politics of the middle east, peace and conflict resolution, and near eastern studies. Alongside her academic work, Munazza has worked as an international consultant for various research and policy organizations and currently works for the Chr Michelsen Institute. She is a recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the British Council, James Mew, and the twice awarded John F. Richards Research Fellowship. You can find more information on Munazza Ebtikar here.

“Women, War, Memory, and Subjectivity in a Rural Community of Northern Afghanistan”

There has been an unprecedented interest on the subject of women in the Anglophone academe from the start of the US war in Afghanistan until, and after, its perceived “end” in 2021, which has resulted in a plethora of work in both academia and society. Most of this work, however, has been through top-down and generalizing explanatory frameworks, urban and elite centric, with destructive femonationalist configurations that have rendered violence justified in the country. Focus on women in rural communities and understandings through bottom-up processes have gained some interest among scholars in recent years, however, ongoing wars has been experienced differently in other regions of Afghanistan, especially regions located in the north, across time and space. In this talk, I build upon, and problematize, contemporary scholarship on women in Afghanistan by adopting a micro-level examination of a remote and rural village in northern Afghanistan called Paryan, which straddles the Hindu Kush mountains between Badakhshan, Nuristan, Baghlan, and Panjshir. Through oral histories, participant observation, and semi-structured interviews conducted in 2019 in this small local community among young and middle-aged women, I examine how identities and social relations have been constructed, and deeply influenced by the experiences and memories of local, national, and imperial violence. I also examine the ways in which these women, who have been excluded from local and official [state] history and historiography, conceive of their own histories and the ways in which it informs their subjectivities. These narratives complicate the layers of complexities in the lives of the women in a rural community that has lived through the creation and destruction of states and shifting local political dynamics as a consequence of wars and conflict. By placing a micro level study of women’s lives in a rural region as the central subject of analysis, this talk offers insights on memory to understand [gendered] subjectivities in present-day Afghanistan.

Dr. Omar Sadr

Dr. Omar Sadr is a Research Fellow at the Center for Governance and Markets (CGM) in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh. Previously, he worked as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in 2021, as a Researcher at the Afghanistan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS) in 2018, and at the Department of Peace Studies, the National Centre for Policy Research (NCPR), Kabul University in 2011. His primary research interests include pluralism, democratic governance, as well as politics of Afghanistan. He has been an advocate of political reform, constitutionalism, and pluralism in Afghanistan.  Dr. Sadr holds a Ph.D. (2018) and an MA (2013) from South Asian University (SAU), a university established by the SAARC nations. Dr. Sadr is the author of numerous books, chapters, book reviews, papers, and articles. His most recent book, Negotiating Cultural Diversity in Afghanistan, was published by Routledge in London and examines the problematique of multiculturalism in Afghanistan. His work has appeared in venues such as Fair Observer, The Atlantic Council, and The National Interest. He also appears regularly on BBC Persian, Afghanistan International, and ToloNews (three prominent Persian TVs). He founded the Negotiating Ideas Podcast, where he discusses political ideas on peace, democracy, and pluralism. You can find more information about Dr. Sadr and his work here.

“Political Order, Religion, and Pluralism in Afghanistan”

Dr. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi is Professor of History at James Madison University where he teaches courses on the Middle East and South Asia. Hanifi’s publications have addressed subjects including colonial political economy and intellectual history, the Pashto language, photography, cartography, animal and environmental studies, and Orientalism in Afghanistan. You can find more information about Dr. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi here.

“Primary Environmental History Lessons for the Afghan People”

From an environmental history perspective, Afghanistan is almost wholly unexplored. The presentation begins with a critical appraisal of this conspicuous historiographical lacuna. The body of the talk outlines four broad remedial pathways to begin and sustain discussions of Afghanistan’s inherently transnational environmental history. For millennia, the mountains, rivers, animals, and foods of Afghanistan have connected local, regional and global communities. Indeed, the global community has had an immense, arguably determinative influence on the ecological history of Afghanistan’s mountains, rivers, animals and foods. The presentation concludes with brief attention to the impact of warfare capitalism on the environment of Afghanistan for the purpose of generating trans-cultural and trans-regional livelihood and subsistence solidarities to further assert local collective agency against external forces promoting coercive profiteering and resource extraction that have left Afghanistan on the brink of environmental ruination.

Words Collide—The Politics of Writing Afghanistan

Dr. Wali Ahmadi

Dr. Wali Ahmadi is an associate professor of Persian Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a native of Kabul, Afghanistan, and he came to the United States after graduating high school in 1982. He received his B.A. in Political and Social sciences from California State University, Hayward (now East Bay) in 1987. In the spring of 1997, he was awarded a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UCLA. From 1997-2000 he taught at the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia. Since 2000, he has been teaching Persian literature in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley. He was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in 2007 and also serves as the departmental Undergraduate Adviser. Professor Ahmadi’s primary areas of interest include classical and modern Persian literature, literary theory and criticism, Afghanistan studies, and cultural history. For more information about Dr. Ahmadi, please visit this site.

“The Tortuous Ends of Empire: Afghanistan, America, and the Politics of Historical Dispossession”

Dr. Zubeda Jalalzai

Zubeda Jalalzai is Professor of Literature at Rhode Island College. She is the author of Literary License and the West’s Romance with Afghanistan (Lexington Books 2023); editor of Washington Irving and Islam (Lexington Books 2018), and co-editor of Globalizing Afghanistan Terrorism, War, and the Rhetoric of Nation Building (Duke University Press, 2011). For more information on Dr. Zubeda Jalalzai, please visit this site.

“Beyond Anti/Imperialist Nostalgia: New Afghan American Literature”

This talk examines Afghan American writings after the 9/11 era authors (Khaled Hosseini, Saira Shah, and Tamim Ansary). While this talk refers to such works that introduced (and reintroduced) the English-speaking world to Afghanistan and Afghan writers, it looks more fully at Afghan American literary production since 2010. The genre of contemporary transnational Afghan writing illustrates how particular literary and political elements carry through from earlier works and those that take on a whole new cast after the twenty-year US-Afghan War and the most recent Afghan diaspora. Insofar as US-Afghan relations replay dynamics of exile, neo-imperialism, and post-colonial relations, so too does the literary production replicate familiar tropes. However, significant changes in the dynamics of power and displacement are also visible in the literature produced by Afghan immigrants or their descendants. This presentation explores the relation of Afghan and American identities in the contemporary era and asks whether such changes signify broader ones regarding the United States’s relations to Afghanistan, refugees, and war in general. The authors here include Jamil Jan Kochai, Nadia Hashimi, Zohra Saed, Fowzia Karimi, and Atia Abawi among others.

Dr. Marjan Wardaki

Marjan Wardaki is a historian of the Middle East and South Asia, with research interest in the history of science and medicine, empire, and migration. Her research introduces South Asian formulations about science and technology to the study of European and imperial science. Her previous article in Modern Asian Studies dealt with lithographic technologies in the rediscovery of Afghanistan’s fine art. While at Yale, she is working on her book manuscript, Decolonial Science: Muslims in Interwar Europe and the Making of Modern Afghanistan, which examines the relationship between decolonization, science, and migration in the early twentieth century. Works in progress include several articles on Indian vernacular medicine and the science of photography and technological innovations of the camera among an Urdu-speaking public. You can find more information about Dr. Marjan Wardaki and her work here.

“The Birth of New Medical Centers in Afghanistan, 1930-60”