Afghans – reasons to be angry

The most interesting about the whole Afghans-in-the-cathedral spat was the sheer hostility to the hunger strikers from a large number of ordinary Dubliners.

Even if you thought, as I did, that the Government couldn’t change the asylum system or offer asylum under threat of self-harm, this doesn’t explain why people got so angry about the protest.

Some of it, of course, is good old-fashioned zenophobia. Some of it is ignorance as to the conditions faced by ordinary people in Afghanistan. And some of it must be that we have now become so selfish and bloated by our success and wealth that we can no longer place ourselves in the position of these people.

Let’s consider a few things about Afghanistan and Ireland.

There are 30 million Afghans. There has been a continual set of wars there since well before the Soviet invasion in 1979. Things have gone from bad to catastrophic since then.

At one point four million Afghans were refugees. This is down to below two million. The country is run by warlords as the central government’s writ barely passes the edge of Kabul.

This has consequences. Every 30 minutes an Afghan woman dies during childbirth. There is one doctor per 15,000 people. So most child births happen without any medicine at all. 

Afghan women have seven children on average. One of these children will die in its first year. Another one usually dies before the age of five. In fact infant mortality in Afghanistan is 160 per 1,000 births. In Ireland the rate is 5.3 per 1000. Quite a difference.

In 2004 average annual GDP per capita in Afghanistan was €622 per head. That’s less than two euro a day for the average Afghan to live on. In Ireland in 2004 average consumption of alcohol per head was €973. In total we generated €27,000 per head of population.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan is atrocious. Justice is meted out by the local warlords, tribal leaders or opium traffikers and is arbitary and brutal. 

The outworking of all this injustice and desperation usually falls heaviest on the weakest in society, which is women. In many parts of Afghanistan women are trapped in conditions where they are mere property, coerced into forced marriages or bartered for dowry. Their condition is desperate, but actually only one rung lower than most of their menfolk.

And the wars still arn’t over. In the southern provinces recently over 300 schools have been destroyed and many teachers murdered.

So plenty of reasons there to get upset. But instead of that we go ballistic over a few Afghan men getting stroppy about not wanting to go back, strangely enough, to Afghanistan. 

There are two sides to every story and to every person. The hunger strike episode seems to have brought out the worst side in a lot of people. 

The current situation in the world today is a bit like Ireland was in 1847. Except this time we are the people in the big house looking out at all the poor people desperately trying to fend for themselves. 

Try not to get upset.