Cartoonists Ted Rall and Matt Bors are headed to Afghanistan for a month of on-the-ground reporting. They are going to focus on talking to regular Afghans, looking at the human, everyday experience of the war.
They’re launching their trip from Dushanbe, where I live, so I met up with them today to talk about their trip. Here’s what I asked them:
Why are you doing this?
Ted: I’ve been interested in Afghanistan for 20 years. I went there for the first time in 1999. After the invasion in 2001, my interest in the country deepened. I have been watching the occupation and its progress – or lack of progress.
I am frustrated by the war reporting we get. I wanted to see the situation for myself, and find out how Afghans see things. Logistically, in terms of this particular trip, I have a book contract for a book on Afghanistan, and this is research for that book.
In a bigger sense, I think our responsibility as Americans is to look seriously at the country we’re occupying.
Matt: Ted asked me to come. And I have never been out of the US as an adult. The Afghanistan war has been going on for nine years, which is my entire adult life. I wanted to see the situation for myself instead of watching it on the news. I am helping pay for this occupation; I wanted to see it up close.
Do you think that your reports from the field will be different because you are cartoonists? Does reporting in a graphic form convey information differently?
Ted: I think cartoons are effective in unique way. They are less precise than photos and more precise than words. I have read a lot of graphic journalism – Joe Sacco, Guy Delisle – and it conveys a very strong sense of place.
Matt: I am not planning on breaking any news. I am planning on opinion and narrative pieces. I am not trying to break hard news or be an objective journalist. As a cartoonist, the experience of being on the ground yourself is invaluable. At the same time, filing from the ground isn’t really done in editorial cartoons. Most editorial cartoonists do the USO tour if they visit war zones.
What impact are you hoping for from this trip?
Matt: To provide a perspective to American’s that’s not based in Kabul or from an embed. In comic form. I want to create meaningful work. This will be the most important work I have done so far.
Ted: It’s too late, but I really hope some Americans reconsider the US role in Afghanistan. If most Americans really knew what their country was up to overseas they would care.
How does the killing of the medical team last week affect your plans?
Ted: We’ve certainly talked about it. But it’s not unprecedented. In 2002 we saw the deaths of UN employees. The Taliban massacred Iranian diplomats in 1998. This new awful event doesn’t change the security situation.
The thing that I hope makes us different is that we’re not proselytizing. The medical team had a cross as their logo, they had a Dari language bible. We are not doing that. I have interacted with the Taliban before, and I fully expect that I will on this trip. And I can’t say I feel 100% safe as a political cartoonist in the US. I’ve gotten more death threats in the US than anywhere else.