Wait, explain that *again*

The Guardian‘s Nushin Arbabzadah wrote a real forehead-smacker of a column about one of the most bizarre Afghan press stories of late:

Baba Vanga, a Bulgarian clairvoyant and blind prophet of doom, has inadvertently closed down Payman – Afghanistan’s most respected newspaper – from beyond the grave.

O_o    Ummm, what?

How did this happen? According to the newspaper, the rumour trail points to the Afghan president as the main driver behind the threats that ultimately led to its closure. The shutdown came after Payman mistakenly published a “blasphemous” article called “Prediction of the Third World War” – the story of Bulgarian visionary Baba Vanga, her dramatic life and her dystopian vision of a nuclear war.

The offending article was apparently published by mistake. It had a title strikingly similar to the one the paper had intended to publish: “Will There Be a Third World War?” An easy mistake in the age of internet journalism. The former had blasphemous content, the latter was harmless, but Payman was unlucky and published the wrong one. Its editors were quick to spot the mistake and immediately apologise for its publication.

[…] The story of Baba Vanga and her accidental entanglement with Payman’s closure is sad and ironic. Payman was the exact opposite of Baba Vanga. The blind Bulgarian had visions; the Afghan paper had facts. The clairvoyant foresaw a nuclear war between Muslims and Christians; the Afghan paper discussed Krishnamurti’s teaching alongside ethnical philosophy and religious pluralism. Baba Vanga was more in tune with old Afghanistan, where political careers were made on myths like the one about Mullah Omar pulling his own eye out when he was injured.

Payman, by contrast, was all about contemporary, urban Afghanistan, a place where investigative journalism has in recent years led to a demystification of politics, separating facts from fabrication, truth from fancy. Payman published articles that carried titles like “How to avoid stupid beliefs”.

The likeable Baba, on the other hand, believed that in 2111 mankind would become robots. And yet it was the mistaken publication of Baba Vanga’s story that led to the closure of Afghanistan’s most intellectually open-minded and unbiased newspaper. In this incidental clash of Afghan rationalism versus Bulgarian supernaturalism, Afghans are very much the losers. Payman served an important public service in a country where religious sentiment has been politicized to a point that Islam has become a source of conflict instead of unity. (Consider the irony of the Taliban waging jihad against the “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”).

The rest is here.


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