Protests: A study in necessity and choice

November 24, 2009

Kabul-based, Afghani photographer Ahmad Masood, is spending a month based in Berlin.

On my first day of work in Berlin: a very different city from my city, Kabul, Afghanistan, I covered a demonstration by students demanding improved conditions at schools and universities. I have covered some hardcore protests in Afghanistan, where about 8 out of 10 resulted in death or serious injuries. This time I was in Germany and I didn’t expect any violence.

We arrived at the scene. There were many young men and women gathered with banners and some armed with whistles in their mouths. People were laughing and smiling. There was music playing on a loud speaker.  If that was not enough, some protesters were blowing their own trumpets and other instruments. It was just like a party. The students looked to be in pretty good condition, so I was wondering “Why? What are you complaining about?”.

The police were quiet and peaceful, kindly giving way to the marching, bustling and whistling demonstrators. To my surprise the police stopped me from taking their pictures.

So, before it began it finished and the only serious issues were as follows: police confiscated a banner which was not allowed, there was a colored flare fired and a couple of water balloons were thrown at the very well-behaved police.

I filed only three pictures to the wire, two of which were of the same person who was the only person I found in any way similar to an Afghan protester.

I could not help but to compare the two countries, Afghanistan and Germany, and the way they protest.

War and conflict impacts people everywhere and in my country it has been going on for nearly three decades with no sign of ending. People are too busy trying to make ends meet to protest for their rights. For the majority, to waste a day would mean no food for their children at home. Any demonstration in Afghanistan stems from extremely real rage.

This rage takes its toll on Afghanistan. Afghan police are interested in having their pictures taken, that is until they start beating up protesters, and at times journalists too.

Police are often not well trained and at some points they fire directly at the protesters instead of firing warning shots. Protesters, too, make a mess of the place by burning and destroying public property out of anger. When a protest erupts; clashes start, guns are drawn, shots are fired, rocks are flying.

In Afghanistan, it is always a protest of necessity not of choice.

4 comments

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Masood, what a culture shock! As a fan of your pictures from Afghanistan I look forward to the day when you photograph well fed, well clothed Afghnan students demonstrating about their goverment grants in Kabul – but I fear it could be a while.

Posted by Russell | Report as abusive

Nice blog post Masood! Hope you enjoy your time in Germany.

I spent three months photographing Afghanistan with my great colleague Ahmad Masood. It was a culture shock for me, coming from Kuala Lumpur to the war-torn Kabul. And now Masood is telling us his culture chock coming from Kabul to Berlin.Thanks for sharing the experience.

Interesting insights here and excellent, powerful images.