We have such short memories. As a species perhaps we have evolved that way; but as a nation we British seem to be past masters at reacting with outrage at some news event and then forgetting it very quickly, and it hardly figures in most people’s thoughts thereafter.
I do hope that West Country Bylines will not allow some things to be forgotten so easily.
In this instance I’m thinking of Afghanistan.
As I write, it is just six weeks since Kabul ‘fell’ to the Taliban – although in reality they seemed to have been able just to walk into the city – and the news programmes were full of pictures which I had thought would lodge in many people’s minds: some of the most unforgettable were of truly desperate people clinging on to a vast transport aircraft as it prepared to take off.
The newspapers and TV reports here were met with – I thought, anyway – real anger, and real shame at how the western allies cleared out in chaotic haste, abandoning most of the local people who had worked with them and who are now at risk of harassment, imprisonment and much worse at the hands of the Taliban. There was much hand-wringing about the fate of Afghan interpreters who had worked with the British forces, and opprobrium was, rightly in my view, heaped on the head of our-then foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who went, and stayed, on holiday despite the turn of events.
Every night there were TV news reports about the evacuation, (dignified with its own resolute-sounding name, “Operation Pitting”), which despite the best efforts of the military – and I am sure there were many valiant ones – succeeded in bringing out only some of those at risk. (The number of those left behind was unedifyingly squabbled-over between government spokesmen and people who seemed better-informed). The newspapers were full of scathing criticism of the government and its failure to plan properly for the withdrawal, and of the British Embassy, whose staff seem on the whole not to have covered themselves with glory but who, amongst other failures, allowed personnel files which should have been shredded to blow around the compound after they left.
All that righteous anger seems already to have evaporated. There are occasional reports from western correspondents, but how long is it since you saw, for example, a TV report from the BBC’s rising star Secunder Kermani, whose calm and courageous interviews with Taliban fighters became a staple of the teatime news?
Britain has moved on.
We are lucky enough, in some ways, to be able to move on; and the news of the fall of Kabul, and the disgraceful abandonment by the west of many of the people on whom Brits depended, is not even today’s chip paper.
Of course it is in this government’s interests for people not to dwell on yet another of its failures, and goodness knows there are plenty of other shortcomings for us all to think about. Collective amnesia has led many people to forget the harrowing scenes from hospitals across Britain last year, when Covid-19 was killing over a thousand people every day; now that most adults are vaccinated, the general public seems to believe the virus is no longer a threat, and the nation’s attention is on other things. There has been a surge, apparently, of late holiday bookings. Shops, expensive TV ads and the tabloid newspapers are winding up to the usual Christmas fandango (despite the government’s cynical concession – one of several recently – over visas for EU poultry workers, there may not be enough turkeys to go round at Christmas: cue panic!)
For many people facing long waits for medical treatment, for those trying to find work, for those dreading rising prices and reduced income, there are a myriad anxieties and it must be very difficult to spare any sympathy for strangers several thousand miles away. I can understand why the fate, for example, of an Afghan judge now fearing rape and death at the hands of newly-released criminals she jailed, will not figure in many people’s everyday concerns.
But am I alone in thinking that many of my compatriots are guilty of confected outrage, when they seem so soon to have forgotten the events of August 2021, and the terrible future now facing many innocent Afghan people?