Rebuilding Afghanistan

Tariq Ali · Kabul's Narcotecture

P.J.Tobia’s photographs of these monstrous buildings in Kabul convey only part of the horror. Their location is not too far from the slum dwellings that house the poor of the city, sans water, sans electricity, sans sewage, sans everything. A young photo-journalist from Philadelphia, Tobia supplied the captions and writes on True/Slant:

Here in Kabul, the poor live in unimaginably squalid conditions and the rich live like kings. Kings in very ugly castles.
We call them Poppy Palaces or Narcotecture, because much of the money that went into building them came from Afghanistan’s biggest crop. I also suspect that some UN/NGO/USAID dollars are paying for these insults to taste and design.
You can see these monstrosities all over town and I’ve photographed a few of the worst for your viewing pleasure. Note the really high walls and metal armor on some of them.
I apologize for the hurried nature of these photos—I took most of them from a moving car—but the AK-47 toting guards who stand watch at these palaces become a bit, um, grumpy when you take pictures around them.

Nice to actually see what Euro-American soldiers are killing and dying for.


  • 6 January 2010 at 9:52pm
    John R Bradley says:
    All very interesting, or should I say ghastly. But it rang a very familiar bell. Clicking on the link to the True Slant Web site, it became obvious why. The photoessay being discussed was posted in July 2009, and went viral at the time. Now, I know the LRB often reviews books 6 months after publication, and sometimes much longer; and that doesn't matter so long as they're interesting (the reviews I mean), which they usually are. But surely the whole point of a bloody blog, if it absolutely has to exist, is to respond to the present in a way the print publication cannot, and moreover to say something original or witty that the original article being linked to did not. This fails on both counts. I hope you don't pay your bloggers. If you do, Dr Ali should perhaps donate whatever he received to an Afghan charity.

    John R. Bradley

    • 7 January 2010 at 11:52am
      JP says: @ John R Bradley
      I wonder how John Bradley can sustain this argument given that the last (indeed, only) post on his blog, posted on 22 April, is a plug for a book which will not be published until August.

  • 7 January 2010 at 12:03pm says:
    The criticism seems unjustified to me. What does it matter if it's interesting?
    When I was in Kabul in November I talked to some of the labourers looking to work on building this sort of monstrosity. Here's the report

  • 7 January 2010 at 12:46pm
    John R Bradley says:
    Because mine is not a blog, it's a Web site. It just provides information. There's a difference. I don't blog. Never have, never will.

  • 7 January 2010 at 2:21pm
    JP says:
    It seems the semantics of the internet are beyond me. For what it's worth, I feel the LRB blog compliments the physical paper well, especially if it is the function of the blog 'to respond to the present in a way the print publication cannot'. Most of the stuff on here would never have got an airing in the LRB itself. Though this story may not be a virile viral to those, such as yourself, in the loop, I think many will find it interesting.

    • 7 January 2010 at 2:45pm
      John R Bradley says: @ JP
      Yes, I agree that the LRB blog does a good job, generally speaking, which is why I was drawing attention to this lapse... The reason it's one of anly two or three on the Web I ever visit is precisely because it it more refined and reflective than the average drivel spewed forth by the blogosphere. That's why I was surprised to see them let Dr Ali get away with this laziness.

  • 7 January 2010 at 3:02pm
    JP says:
    Fair enough, of course. I do find it intersting that the blossoming of 'new media' seems to have prompted a re-running of many of the arguments over quality control which were aired over mass education and printing 150 years ago. Who are the new gatekeepers?

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