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Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
1
THE RUGMAKER OF MAZAR-E-SHARIF
By Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman
Text article by Ruth Thomas
Najaf Mazari was born in Afghanistan in 1971. His homeland has a long history of
conflict. Civil and international wars have raged there for centuries and have
intensified during Najaf’s lifetime. Between 1978 and 2001, five separate conflicts
took place in Afghanistan. Eventually, the situation became so dangerous that
Najaf was forced to flee.
Najaf arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker after being picked up on Ashmore
Reef with a group of people fleeing other wars. He was detained in Woomera
Detention Centre while his application for refugee status was processed, and then
he settled in Melbourne, where he opened a rug shop and was later joined by his
wife and daughter.
The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif is Najaf’s memoir of living with conflict. It is
written as an autobiography – a narrative in which an author writes about their own
life, using a first-person narrator. Robert Hillman, a fiction writer and biographer,
helps Najaf tell his story. Najaf’s autobiography unfolds through two separate
narratives: one set in Australia, narrated using the present tense, and another
which recounts Najaf’s life in Afghanistan, using the past tense. As co-author,
Hillman transforms Najaf’s personal memories and stories into a written narrative
that illustrates the far-reaching ramifications of war on individuals and communities,
particularly on those who take no active part in the fighting.
Encountering Conflict in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif
The principal type of conflict portrayed in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif is
armed conflict, or war. During Najaf’s life in Afghanistan, numerous civil wars
(armed conflict between opposing parties within one country) and international
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
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wars (armed conflict between two or more countries) were fought. Wars in
Afghanistan, like others around the world, are frequently fought on the premise of
achieving a better state of affairs for the country, such as a fairer government or
the eradication of terrorism. Does war ever result in positive social change? The
text suggests that, in Afghanistan at least, one war only leads to another. The
Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif does not document any positive result of conflict.
Rather, the text shows that civilians (people who do not take part in fighting) suffer
greatly as a result of wars in which they have no active part or say. It documents
the extent of conflict’s personal and social consequences. In this way, the text
raises questions about the justness of war. Is it fair and reasonable that civilians
suffer?
Najaf, as a character and a narrator, is not interested in the details of how each
war is fought. He does not, for instance, give the details of important battles, or
discuss the decisions of military leaders, or describe how victories or losses
change Afghanistan’s political system. Instead, the narrative focuses on conflict
and its consequences on an individual level. It also explores how ordinary people
like Najaf cope with incessant conflict. Can someone live an ordinary life during
armed conflict? Can someone live through violent conflict without becoming bitter
or vengeful? Does continual conflict destroy hope and humanity? These are
questions raised by the text. The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif shows that different
people respond to conflict in different ways. Some people take sides and join the
fighting, fuelled by anger or religious fervour. Others, like Najaf, are resilient. They
deal with despair, overcome tragedies and continue peaceful, productive, ordinary
lives amidst the violent conflict happening around them. In this way, The Rugmaker
of Mazar-e-Sharif celebrates hope and the resilience of the human spirit.
IDEAS & ARGUMENTS IN THE TEXT
The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif can be used to explore a number of key ideas
relevant to the Context Encountering Conflict. These are outlined below and will be
developed further in the following section.
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
3
Overview of key ideas and arguments
Conflict has far-reaching consequences
The text highlights the many and varied ways in which conflict affects individuals
and communities. These diverse consequences range from immediate effects,
such as injury or death, to long-lasting psychological and societal consequences,
such as grief, powerlessness and cultural change. Najaf’s story reveals the full
extent of conflict’s consequences, particularly for civilian men and women.
Genre is important in developing this idea in the text. Because The Rugmaker of
Mazar-e-Sharif is an autobiographical narrative, it is able to illustrate the extensive
personal ramifications of conflict more thoroughly than a fictional work might.
Conflict is futile
Despite the enormous and extensive costs of war in Afghanistan, the conflicts
Najaf witnesses achieve nothing. There is no winner and no change, only more
fighting. Armed conflict, as Najaf has witnessed it, is destructive and antithetical to
lasting achievement, which, he believes, requires hard work and patience.
Conflict opposes humanity
The simple language of the text reflects the central character’s appreciation for the
small things in life. Najaf is a man who believes in honesty, respect and the value
of each person. The humanity the text espouses, through the characterisation of
Najaf, is directly violated by war, which only destroys what Najaf believes God has
created.
Conflict is unfair
Although this text is about conflict, the actual details of each war are only in the
background of the narrative. The text’s main concern is with the people who try to
live ordinary lives while a war they did not want and did not start rages around
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
4
them. Najaf is a spectator to Afghanistan’s violent conflict, not a participant.
Despite this, the wars regularly and unpredictably encroach upon his life.
People can survive conflict
While the text exposes the many physical, psychological and social consequences
of war, it also demonstrates that people can survive. Not only does Najaf escape
and ultimately flourish in his new home in Australia, but he remains a man of peace
despite the horrors he has witnessed in Afghanistan. Through narrative line and
turn of events, as well as characterisation, the text shows that people are not
necessarily hardened or brutalised by their encounters with conflict.
Individual experiences of conflict are not unique
The text concentrates on Najaf’s daily life and therefore portrays an individual
experience of conflict. But the text does not argue that Najaf’s experience is
unique. Instead, it describes Najaf as one individual among many civilians in
Afghanistan and among many refugees in Australia who have had similar
experiences when encountering conflict.
Analysis of key ideas and arguments
Conflict has far-reaching consequences
The text shows that the effects of armed conflict are widespread and long-lasting.
Najaf loses two brothers, an uncle and a cousin. He is injured when a bomb
explodes in his house and suffers financial hardship and shame as a result of his
injuries. He is forced to flee his homeland when the Taliban threaten his life. But
the text does not simply outline these costs. Rather, it exposes the many ways war
impacts upon individuals and groups, with a particular emphasis on conflict’s
psychological and societal repercussions.
Psychological consequences of conflict (such as fear, powerlessness and
behavioural change) are clearly illustrated. Key incidents, direct comment by Najaf
and simile and metaphor are three textual features through which this is achieved.
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
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Najaf’s interview at Woomera, a key incident, shows that conflict makes people
perpetually fearful. Suspicious and nervous, Najaf is so accustomed to being
threatened and to dealing with potential enemies that he inanely worries someone
has given the Australian authorities misinformation about him. Najaf’s fear in this
situation is similar to the fear he feels as a teenager when interrogated by army
recruiters. In this earlier key scene, we see that Najaf’s safety and security are
constantly under threat, even as a child. He often comments explicitly on
insecurity, stating, for example, that ‘it was impossible to feel safe when battles
could change course in a matter of hours’ (p.12) and he suggests, through
statements like ‘we acted as if the day when the Taliban would return was a long
way off’ (p.177), that even peace is uneasy.
Insecurity leads to a sense of powerlessness. Najaf sums up this state of mind
when he realises, early in his rugmaking apprenticeship, that ‘this future of learning
and gaining greater and greater skill all depended on things that I couldn’t control’
(p.154). To cope, Najaf trains himself ‘not to think too far into the future’ (p.154).
Living with the conflict of war, therefore, changes how Najaf thinks. It also changes
how he acts. Simile and metaphor illustrate how Najaf develops the instincts of a
keenly aware animal. For example, while hiding in the cupboard at Ashraf’s house,
Najaf and Gassem eat ‘in the way that wild animals eat, with our ears pricked for
the sound of our enemies’ (p.197). Later, as he cycles around the countryside
avoiding the Taliban, Najaf is ‘always as wary as a wild animal’ easily woken by a
‘stone rolling down a slope half a kilometre away’ or by ‘the crack of a twig falling
from a tree’ (p.218).
Societal consequences of conflict are also presented through a range of textual
elements. Sometimes, Najaf simply reports facts. For example, he states that life
expectancy for Afghani men, women and children declined between 1979 and
1999 due to the number of civilian casualties in the successive wars – a social
change that directly results from conflict. He later observes that war was ‘the main
industry and the biggest employer’ in Afghanistan (p.153). At other times, Najaf is
more suggestive than explicit. For example, when he states that Afghani fathers
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
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parent their sons with ‘tough love’ so that the sons can endure the hardship which
has been ‘the pattern of life’ in Afghanistan for ‘thousands of years’, Najaf implies
that conflict has shaped Afghani culture (p.34). Boys are raised differently in
Afghanistan because they need to cope with conflict. This conflict also shapes
other cultural practices. Ashraf’s house with the concealed cupboard, built to
shelter men in emergencies, suggests that conflict influences housing and
architecture. War also shapes attitudes. Najaf frequently describes the pragmatic
resilience civilian Afghanis possess. He observes, for example:
warfare had become a disaster so common that it was useless to think
of it as something that could be avoided; it was more like earthquakes
and floods and plague – catastrophes that you had to live with
because they could not be controlled. (p.129)
• How does the genre (autobiography) help illustrate conflict’s impact on
individual civilians?
Discussion questions
• Najaf observes that people in Melbourne ‘do not walk in the way they
do in Afghanistan’ (p.184). Why might this be so, and how does this
observation contribute to the argument that conflict has far-reaching
consequences?
• Thinking about powerlessness, account for the actions of the man in
Woomera who sews his lips together, and the riot that breaks out
afterwards.
Conflict is futile
Seven different wars take place in the timeframe of The Rugmaker of Mazar-eSharif, but there are no winners and no change, only more fighting. In fact, Najaf
worries that his country will ‘be at war for a long time to come’ and notes that this is
‘not new’ to the people of Afghanistan (p.251). It is not surprising that Najaf’s
memoir argues that war is futile.
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
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This argument is developed in a number of ways. Firstly, the pointlessness of
conflict is illustrated by broad historical events recounted in the text. The
successive wars that form the background of the narrative demonstrate that war
does not achieve stability but only leads to more fighting, such that it seems to
Najaf ‘as if the two sides could fight until not a single building was left standing in
the entire country’ (p.150). As armed conflict becomes a way of life, soldiers lose
sight of the war’s political objective. Recruiters do not conscript teenagers who
believe in the cause, but care only that the youths can ‘carry a gun and shoot
people on the other side’ (p.151). War in Afghanistan is self-perpetuating; the
consequences of one war breed the causes and conditions for the next. As Najaf
explains, the Taliban emerged from poor, fundamentalist refugee communities in
India and Pakistan: communities themselves generated by the Russian and
mujahedin wars, and communities in which exiled young men learned to hate and
to fight.
Secondly, Najaf’s immediate encounters with conflict show it to be ineffectual. He
knows men ‘who would be prepared … to commit themselves and a hundred
generations of their family to battle, from now until the end of the world’ (p.36), a
characteristic of Afghani men that shows little faith in conflict’s constructive
capacity. This idea is further developed in the key scene that describes Gorg Ali’s
death. Neither the Russians nor the mujahedin accomplish anything in the threeweek affray that claims Gorg Ali’s life. A good man is killed, but no territory is
secured or resolutions reached. Later, in Woomera, Najaf sees detainees refused
visas or relegated to the high-security Sierra section as punishment for
participating in arguments or fights. Detainees resort to conflict, but their problems
are not solved by it, only compounded.
Thirdly, the idea that war is futile is expressed via Najaf’s direct comment. Najaf
frequently states that conflict arises from a lack of common sense, from losing ‘all
sight of the bigger picture’ (p.75), or from ‘the passion and anger in the arguments
of one political party’ that ‘simply aroused the same sort of passion and anger in
another’ (pp.10–11). When conflict does arise in these situations, it does not offer
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
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anything constructive. War, Najaf warns, is entirely destructive. As Najaf puts it, ‘a
gun has one purpose, and that purpose will not build anything, but will only tear
down what others have built’ (p.52). Collectively, these statements demonstrate
Najaf’s attitude to conflict and support the argument that war achieves nothing.
• What is the meaning of the epigraph? How does it support the
argument that war is futile?
Discussion question
Conflict opposes humanity
Najaf’s loathing of conflict arises, in part, from his devout faith. He is attuned to see
wonder and beauty in the smallest and simplest of things, such as bread or apples,
and he works diligently to create beautiful things, like his rugs, his family and a
new, safe life in Australia. In the text, Najaf’s notion of humanity is constructed
through simple, direct language, even when the ideas described are complex. For
example, in Woomera, Najaf ponders the number of different words in different
languages for the ‘necessary’ things in life, things like bread, apples and women.
He then considers unnecessary things, like ‘political party’ and ‘gun’ and ‘bomb’
(p.27). His conclusion is simplistic, but profound: ‘Isn’t it strange that the
unnecessary things are the most dangerous?’ (p.27).
Armed conflict by its very nature destroys things. It wounds and kills people, it
scars the landscape and it cripples communities. The disparity between war and
Najaf’s world view is clearly evident in the passage that describes the death of
Najaf’s brother, Gorg Ali. Gorg Ali is portrayed as a man of patience and good
sense, and as ‘one of those people who make the world possible ... who holds
things together’ (p.105). As a man who has an inexplicable power over snakes and
who tends the bees that have lived in the hives at Shar Shar for many, many years,
Gorg Ali embodies tradition. He represents wisdom, peace and the timelessness of
peasant life in Afghanistan. This makes his sudden and meaningless death tragic.
The setting of this key scene is also important. Consider how the field is described.
It is an idyll, where poppies, tulips and violets bloom like ‘a carpet of coloured
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
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snow’, where the streams are silver and where the sky is ‘so blue that it makes you
think, “Yes, that is where heaven must be, that is where paradise must be.”’
(p.111). When the soldiers leave, the idyllic landscape is scarred – dotted with shell
craters and destroyed buildings, the grass blackened and littered with ‘the
wrappers of food rations that the Russians had thrown away’ (p.114).
The depiction of Gorg Ali’s death illustrates the idea that war destroys what is good
and beautiful. The text also argues that for war to be fought, the fighters must blind
themselves to the beauty of ordinary things. People must be brutal to kill. This idea
is illustrated by the story of Khandi Hazara. After the first two mujahedin assassins
fail to kill the dancer, the third assassins are given strict orders to shoot
immediately, without even looking. They must literally blind themselves to Khandi
Hazara’s beauty to kill her. The Taliban, the text suggests, are similarly blind to the
beauty of life because they are ‘fanatics, without any concern for anything other
than fighting or worship’ (pp.171–2). There is an implied lack of humanity here.
• Describe the language used to narrate Najaf’s memoir. What effect
does this have, aside from helping to convey Najaf’s notion of
humanity?
Discussion questions
• How is traditional Afghani culture celebrated in this text (through
language, metaphor or imagery, for example)? What does this
celebration contribute to ideas about conflict in the text?
Conflict is unfair
One way in which the text makes the argument that conflict is unfair is through
Najaf’s recurrent statements that his encounter with conflict was one of chance, not
choice. For example, in introducing his most calamitous encounter with conflict –
the mortar attack on his home – Najaf is constructed as a spectator of the war by a
very simple statement: ‘I have witnessed a number of explosions in my lifetime,
always unwillingly’ (p.7). This sentiment becomes a recurrent motif to describe both
Najaf’s situation and that of Afghani people in general. The sketch of Afghanistan’s
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
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history provided by Najaf shows how the country has been repeatedly invaded by
various international forces and treated as a pawn ‘to fit into the political strategies
of the powerful’ (p.35). Najaf later remarks on how many heartbreaking stories can
be told by ordinary people in Afghanistan and concludes, ‘It is not that Afghanis
have chosen a path of suffering out of madness; no, other people have chosen that
path for us’ (p.105).
The sentiment of these statements is supported by key episodes in the narrative.
The mortar explosion above Najaf’s family home, for example, is a concrete
physical demonstration of the sense of chance and spectatorship that Najaf’s
comments express. Najaf and his family are not military targets. The bombs
explode accidentally on their home. The Mazaris are chance victims. The event is
so chaotic and unpredictable that the family does not even know the provenance of
the rocket. When a passer-by quizzes the injured Najaf about whether the rocket
was Russian, Najaf can only reply ‘Who knows? We think it was mujahedin’
(p.134).
This episode also demonstrates the callousness with which civilians are treated
during this period of conflict. The suffering of civilians, frequently referred to
explicitly by Najaf and demonstrated by key events, further develops the idea that
conflict is unpredictable and unfair. International laws exist to protect civilians
during combat, but these were not observed in Afghanistan, according to Najaf’s
narrative. Of the civil war, Najaf remarks ‘both sides expected that it would be
necessary to kill civilians, or at least that it would be too troublesome to avoid
killing them’ (p.12). The reckless and unconscionable actions of all armies in all
Afghanistan’s recent conflicts are borne out in key events: Najaf’s house is
bombed, Gorg Ali is killed and Hazara men, women and children are massacred in
the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif.
• Najaf describes Afghanistan as ‘a type of explosion laboratory’ where
Russians tried out bombs ‘fresh off the drawing board’, and where
Discussion questions
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
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Americans gave Afghanis the ‘privilege of being killed by ultra-modern
high explosives’ (pp.7–8). How would you describe Najaf’s tone in this
description?
• How does this description help develop the idea that war is unfair?
People can survive conflict
While the text vividly illustrates the consequences of war and the immense human
suffering it causes, it also shows that individuals and communities can survive
conflict, both physically and psychologically. Najaf’s arrival in Australia and his
establishment of a new life in Melbourne is one example of surviving conflict. Many
other examples can be found in the text.
Najaf’s commentary about ordinary life in Afghanistan, for example, shows that
civilians are resilient. People simply carry on in spite of extremely difficult
circumstances. Najaf observes that civilians ‘made plans for the future. They
married. They had children. They built houses’ (p.164). Najaf himself builds a
house, gets married and has a child despite the conflict. Persistence is a recurrent
motif in the text. For example, after the death of Gorg Ali, Najaf’s family
experiences a ‘big black cloud’ of grief and fear, but they persist because, as Najaf
states, ‘in such situations, you must go on working steadily’ (p.117). Similarly, after
the initial defeat of the Taliban in Mazar-e-Sharif, Najaf and his neighbours go on
‘as if the day when the Taliban would return was a long way off’ (p.177).
Persistence is also expounded in the story of the old camel climbing the mountain
path, an allegory that suggests life is composed of many challenges, each of which
can be surmounted if one has the will to simply go on (p.159). Living with conflict is
just one kind of challenge and people, the text shows, have the capacity to endure
it within their everyday lives.
Characterisation also shows how people survive conflict. Najaf is born into and
grows up amidst incessant violence and tragedy, but he is not hardened or made
vengeful by this. Rather, he is a sympathetic and compassionate man, and
inarguably a man of peace. He claims that peace ‘is part of me, something that
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
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was inside of my brain and my heart when my mother gave birth to me’ (p.76).
Najaf’s actions throughout the text support his description of himself. At Woomera,
for instance, he smiles at all the other detainees at breakfast (p.20), carefully doles
out equal servings of rice and potato to everyone to prevent a fight breaking out
(p.75) and discretely protects Abbas’ feelings after the latter’s marriage proposal is
rejected (p.127). Despite his experience of conflict, Najaf remains a peaceful and
gentle man and this supports the idea that people can survive conflict both
physically and psychologically.
Given that the text is Najaf’s autobiography, his character demonstrates this most
clearly, but other characters show that people more generally are equally capable
of such survival. Gorg Ali, for example, is inarguably a man of peace and good
sense. Qadem, who helps arrange Najaf’s escape from Afghanistan, is from a tribe
traditionally hostile to Najaf’s own tribe, the Hazara, yet assists Najaf because
Najaf was ‘a human being in his mind and heart, not just a nameless Hazara’
(p.227). Compassion and humanity are qualities that survive in many of the text’s
characters, despite the background conflict.
• Do you think the text argues that persistence is an exceptional quality?
Is it portrayed as something unique to Afghanis? Why, or why not?
Think particularly about characters and their relationships.
Discussion questions
• How do Qadem’s actions support the idea that people can survive
conflict, both physically and psychologically?
Individual experiences of conflict are not unique
While this autobiography tells an individual story, it also argues that individual
experiences of conflict are not unique. Najaf is not represented as an exceptional
person with unusual or extraordinary experiences of conflict. Rather, Najaf’s
experiences are shown to be representative of what countless civilians have
undergone in Afghanistan and in other countries throughout the world.
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This is achieved, in part, by Najaf’s habitual language, such as the frequent use of
the inclusive pronoun ‘we’ instead of the individual ‘I’. For example, Najaf speaks of
‘all of us refugees’ in Woomera (p.25) and of the return of the Taliban to Mazar-eSharif as an event ‘we knew’ would happen (p.182). It is also achieved by Najaf’s
deference to the experiences and thoughts of other people. Najaf, in describing the
community in Woomera, directly states that the other asylum seekers from Iran or
Chechnya or Kurdistan have had the same experiences of explosions, death and
grief as he has had (p.26). Najaf’s views on conflict are also presented as shared
ideas. When he gives his appraisal of the mujahedin and the communists, for
example, Najaf concludes that he had no powerful feelings about either side and
that all he wanted was to be left alone. He then states: ‘I would say that my feelings
… were not any different from those of most Afghanis’ (p.150). Nowhere is Najaf
constructed as a particularly special, talented or unique individual. His peaceful
and reasonable nature is modelled on and echoed by his older brother Gorg Ali.
His family choose to smuggle Najaf out of Afghanistan not because of any
favouritism but because of pragmatic concerns – he could speak some English,
was the one most in danger simply because of his age, and was also more levelheaded than the more aggressive Abdul Ali, and thus better equipped to avoid
dangerous confrontations with the enemies and authorities he is bound to meet on
his journey. His successful flight to Australia is no more courageous than the
similar ones made by the men, women and children with whom he shares the
journey, or by those who have fled conflicts in other parts of the world – the people
with whom he then lives at Woomera.
Najaf’s survival is attributed more to luck than to special talents or characteristics.
He was considered lucky by his family because he ‘survived the rocket attack’, kept
‘out of the hands of the militias enlisting men and boys in their armies’, and ‘had
come back from the dead after falling into the hands of the Taliban’ (p.220).The
fact that many people in Afghanistan did not enjoy such luck weighs heavily on
Najaf’s conscience. It is his luck that sets him apart, not his experience of conflict,
which is something common to millions. This sentiment of mere fortune, presented
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in the last lines of the narrative, is further evidence that Najaf does not perceive
himself as someone whose experiences of conflict are unique or exceptional.
• Do you agree with Najaf’s statement that his survival results only from
luck and ‘good fortune’? Why, or why not?
Discussion questions
• Najaf dubs the community in Woomera ‘Woomerians’ and describes
how they might ‘make a new Australia’ (p.142). How does this passage
support the idea that individual experiences of conflict are not unique?
Sample passage analysis
This section shows you how to identify and discuss key Context ideas in a short
passage from The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif. First, carefully read through the
passage, ‘Najaf hides from the Taliban’, from: ‘I was on my feet and running within
seconds …’ to ‘… and I found my own home’ (pp.195–8).
Summary
When the Taliban commence a massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif, Najaf runs to the
house of his friend, Ashraf. Here, Najaf hides in a tiny, concealed room with his
cousin Gassem for fifteen days while the Taliban take over the city. On the fifteenth
day, Najaf gives up his refuge to return to his mother, wife and child.
Questions for exploring ideas
• What consequences of conflict are evident in this passage? Consider
immediate and long-term consequences, as well as physical,
psychological and cultural repercussions.
• Explain why Najaf describes himself as having sadness in his heart
(p.197). What does this suggest about the long-term effects that
situations of conflict can have on even resilient individuals?
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• How do Najaf and Gassem cope with the situation? Express your
answer in terms of a key idea, such as the idea that people can survive
conflict. For example: ‘Conflict endangers people both physically and
psychologically. The concealed room offers Najaf and Gassem physical
sanctuary, but the conversation and support each offers the other is
equally important to their survival.’
• How would you describe the tone in this scene, and how do the
language choices create this tone? What does that tone tell us about
Najaf’s character?
• In what ways do Najaf’s own personal qualities enable him to survive a
situation of conflict? Do you think such qualities are innate, or can they
develop through exposure to testing situations?
Activities
• Because the text is autobiographical, only Najaf’s experience of this
period is depicted. Imagine what his mother and Hakima endured at
home. Write a passage of dialogue that captures what you imagine
they would think and feel, as well as how they might cope during this
time.
• Write a newspaper article about this event or write an interview
transcript in which Najaf and Gassem recall the experience.
• Rewrite the episode as if it were happening to you in your own country.
Focus on text features
As well as drawing on ideas from The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif in your writing
about Encountering Conflict, remember that the language and style of your writing
may also be inspired by the structures and features of the text. For example, the
following aspects of The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif may influence how you
choose to use language in the text you create:
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• Narrative focus on the civilian’s personal experience of a conflict, with
the details of battles, victories and political movements in the
background. This allows the personal costs of war to be conveyed.
• First-person narration that often uses a collective pronoun to show that
whole communities are affected by conflict and that individual
experiences are not necessarily unique.
• Use of two interlocking narrative timeframes (present and past) to show
how an experience of conflict affects a person long after the actual
event.
• Simple, direct language that produces a ‘matter-of-fact’ tone and allows
an experience of conflict to be presented without sensationalism.
Points of view on the Context
The discussion questions, activities and sample writing prompts below are
designed to help you develop your understanding of the ideas raised by the
Context in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif and to help you develop your own
point of view on these ideas.
Discussion questions
• ‘War had always been the background to my life … and it surely helped
to form the way I thought about things’ (p.163). How does conflict
shape Najaf’s life and thinking?
• ‘When the body has suffered great harm, it remembers forever’ (p.153).
List the physical and psychological consequences of encountering
conflict that Najaf experiences in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Identify the key ideas behind these consequences. For example, while
some immediate consequences of conflict can be healed, all
encounters inflict lasting damage on people and places.
• What methods of dealing with conflict are used by different individuals
in the text? What do these methods reveal about how people cope with
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
17
conflict? For example, encountering conflict can cause individuals to reevaluate life in positive ways.
Activities
• Write and perform a dialogue between Najaf and another asylum
seeker (such as Abbas or Shokr Ali) at Woomera, to demonstrate the
idea that each person’s experience of conflict is highly individual.
• Research and prepare a report on Australia’s policy on refugees and
asylum seekers since 2000. Include an outline of the various countries
refugees have come from in that period.
• Write a series of diary entries or letters showing Hakima’s experiences
and thoughts, from the time of Najaf’s capture by the Taliban to her
arrival at Melbourne airport.
Writing in Context: Sample prompts
1. ‘Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow
strong by conflict.’ Conflict can make us better people.
2. Why conflict happens is less important than how it affects people.
3. ‘You can no more win in a war than you can win in an earthquake.’ Conflict has
no winners, only victims.
4. It is inevitable that we will encounter conflict in life.
5. ‘Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything.’ Problems are not solved
through conflict.
THE TEXT
Mazari, Najaf and Hillman, Robert 2008, The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif, Insight
Publications, Melbourne.
Text article on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Ruth Thomas
Insight English in Year 11 © Insight Publications 2010
18
OTHER RESOURCES
Novel
Hosseini, Khaled 2006, The Kite Runner, Bloomsbury, London.
Film
The Kite Runner 2008, dir. Marc Foster, DreamWorks Pictures. Starring Khalid
Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi and Homayoun Ershadi.
Websites
International Committee of the Red Cross 2009, International Humanitarian Law,
ICRC, www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/ihl?OpenDocument
Site for International Committee of the Red Cross which oversees the Geneva
Conventions, the laws that govern war.
Mazari, Najaf and Hillman, Robert 2009, The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif, ABC
Perth, www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2009/02/28/2501438.htm
A podcast of a presentation given by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman at the
2009 Perth Writers Festival.
UNHCR 2009 Regional Office – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and
the South Pacific, UNHCR: The UN refugee agency, www.unhcr.org.au
Site for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a non-political
organisation mandated by the United Nations to protect refugees.

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