It’s Sept. 22, the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has just passed. A date that always brings reflection on the event and subsequent war on terror that followed.
9/11 also marks the second anniversary of the United States exit from Afghanistan, and the end of a 20-year war sparked by the events of 2001. It was a war that Canada was deeply involved in. It was a war that many students at Dalhousie University, who are of the post-Bush generation, might only vaguely remember.
Now in its fourth season, Blowback chronicles the events leading up to Afghanistan’s current situation. Self-described as “a podcast about the American Empire,” Blowback offers a cinematic, engaging listening experience filled with suspense.
It is a scathing narrative on American interventionism, an exhibition on how hawkish American policy resulted in permanent consequences in response.
Alongside a John Carpenter-esque soundtrack, hosts Brenden James and Noah Kulwin guide this story.
The podcast begins with the 1970s’ communist revolution and subsequent Soviet intervention. It then describes the warlord era where the Taliban was founded and terrorist networks proliferated before presenting the United States’ intelligence failures that led up to the day the World Trade Center fell and the Pentagon was hit.
I was 10 when it happened.
A class got interrupted by the intercom. Our president gave condolences for “the events that happened in New York today.” For the rest of the day, that ominous message remained a mystery. It was only when we got back home that we saw what happened. The images of men in suits running away from the destruction, men dressed like my dad made the events feel that much closer.
I can only imagine the burden of responsibility that rested on our teacher’s shoulders for the next coming weeks. News of the possible perpetrators came in a whirlwind. Who was Osama Bin Laden? What is al-Qaeda? Is he in Afghanistan or Pakistan?
By the time boots were on the ground in Afghanistan, the teachers at my Catholic school weren’t jeering. They were instead telling us that regular Afghans were also victims of the violence.
We learned that at one time Afghanistan was a functioning state where both women and men went to university. This humanization contrasted the belittling, patronizing and outright racist perceptions of Afghans in the media.
On New Year’s Eve 2001, our now ‘woke’ CBC aired an episode of sketch-comedy show Royal Canadian Air Farce, where actors dressed in turbans and niqabs did a patronizing spoof on Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, in essence mocking the very people caught in the crossfire of the Canadian taxpayer-funded bullets.
Canada would spend another 13 years in the country.
For so many of those years, the public’s understanding of the conflict was opaque. Reports from the country were too often in the background and shadowed by other matters.
Blowback spends ample time describing events during the years of NATO intervention, providing information that might surprise the listener. Among them are the corrupt construction contracts and war profiteers that funneled into Afghanistan, the country’s rise to become the largest opium-producing country in the world and the further suppression of women’s rights that came with the reintroduction of warlords after the Taliban fled.
The final act of Blowback covers the United States’ tumultuous exit from Afghanistan and the state the country has been left in. Today, the Taliban is back in power as they were 22 years ago.
There are now open-air gun markets and 8.5 per cent of the population is addicted to opioids. The country has been closed off and sanctioned by much of the world, contributing to reports of famine. Many resort to selling their organs to survive.
The lack of human rights for women is much of the stated reason why sanctions persist. But if western powers ever cared for women, why would they ever have backed the Mujahideen? Moreover, how can the well-being of women be preserved if they face starvation?
Such paradoxical hypocrisy is addressed in Blowback through the in-depth interviews following the season’s episodic finale. For citizens of a country involved in this violent discourse, it’s a listen well worth the time.