Yesterday, UNESCO declared World Book Day to emphasize the importance of reading and writing books. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has long struggled with a low literacy rate, due to a lack of educational facilities and persistent illiteracy. Despite some exceptions, governments have not been successful in their attempts to promote literacy and education, and as we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, the state of books and readers in this country remains inadequate.
During the Republic, the situation of reading/publishing books had improved slightly, however, their fortunes had not yet been fully restored in the country and were still in decline. Under the rule of the Taliban, those who possessed knowledge and thought are subjected to harsh repression and are forced to leave the country. Those who stay are unable to express their ideas openly and are in danger of being apprehended and put on trial at any given moment. Additionally, book censorship, a characteristic of oppressive and anti-human rights regimes, is happening in Afghanistan, resulting in a catastrophe for publishers, printers, booksellers, and those involved in the industry. As a result, there is no longer any potential for growth in the stagnant and declining book market, nor for the emerging writing industry.
Reading and writing can flourish in an atmosphere of free expression, rather than the fear of being taken to court for interrogation. Furthermore, people often turn to books when they are seeking to better their lives. In a place where people’s status is determined by their capacity to kill and control, and where the military are the arbiters of the political and social order, how can anyone be expected to value books when they are forced to survive by the gun rather than by the pen? Here, the pen replaces the gun and education replaces Jihad. In such an environment, schools, universities, newspapers, magazines, book readers, and writers are not given any significance. Nevertheless, there is a mutual relationship between these two phenomena; as reading and writing increases in a society, the influence of mafia, gunmen, thieves, bandits, and criminals decreases in proportion, and conversely, as reading and writing decreases, the number of criminals, war criminals, Taliban, and ISIS increases in proportion. In a country where a warlord and a violent group are controlling the fate of the people, book readers are in distress. After years of reading books and gaining knowledge, they find themselves held captive by a small group of uneducated gunmen who neither respect them nor possess any skill. All political forces must come to a consensus on the importance of literacy, supporting writers, and freedom of thought in order to achieve any constructive and sustainable development in this country. Afghanistan will be able to rid itself of this danger when books are given more importance than weapons, and this can be accomplished when intellectuals from all nations and groups make it their mission to promote the culture of reading books. We have an urgent need for a movement of books and pens.