I have an Afhgan friend here in Cairo. He’s a brilliant guy, who is both endlessly proud of and frustrated with his country and he loves to give me history lessons. Recently, he brought two fascinating facts to my attention.
First, he boldly asserted over dinner the other day that every single “white” country in the world has invaded Afghanistan. Putting aside the problem of what “white” is–according to the US census Arabs fall under that category—he is pretty much right. Every Eastern European country contributed to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which lasted from 1979 to 1989. So that knocks out a good bunch of “white” countries.
But what about the American-led occupation? Has every single country in Europe and North America contributed troops? Surely, I thought, Sweden doesn’t have soldiers in Afghanistan. I was wrong. Iceland? They do. Macedonia? Yeah. New Zealand? Check.
The second thing he told me, just a few days later, was that Afghanistan is the only Muslim majority country that hasn’t been colonized. This is a little more complicated. Turkey has always been independent. Iran was never formally colonized, but lost half of its territory to to Russia during a war in the Nineteenth Century. Modren day Saudi Arabia was never conquered by an empire, but, as my friend pointed out, all of the strategic positions on the Arabian Peninsula—the coastal parts that would later become the Gulf countries and Yemen—actually were colonized.
The reset of the Muslim world is pretty easy. Name a Muslim-majority country and its former colonial ruler is easy. Egypt? Britain. Azerbaijan? Soviet Union. Comoros? France. Indonesia? The Netherlands.
These facts might sound like trivia, but I think they’re they are telling. I hope they made it into a briefing memo in Washington at some point.