The ULAB Afghan Colloquium 2021: Afghanistan in Critical Conversations

The ULAB Afghan Colloquium 2021: Afghanistan in Critical Conversations

Publish Date: 
Thursday, November 11, 2021

Conference webpage link:

Recordings of the event:

The Department of English and Humanities at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) organized an international virtual colloquium on "From Kabuliwala to the Fall of Kabul: Afghanistan in Popular Imagination” on October 30-31, 2021. The first of its kind in the new reality of a fallen Kabul, the academic event was applauded for its timeliness and a nuanced understanding of a political phenomenon with a tremendous popular appeal. The event hosted participants from all over the world—those who responded to the concept note circulated just a month before the event. It was the urgency of the political situation that made the event come into being in the first place, and the participation of delegates from around the world evidenced the need for critical conversations on Afghanistan and its place in popular imagination. In addition, the colloquium also hosted an inter-university creative contest for university students on the theme of “Flight from Kabul” to critically engage them in this discourse. Drawing from creative and critical domains, the event has truly demonstrated what it has put forth as its theme: “critical empathy.”

In the inaugural ceremony, which was graced by Professor Imran Rahman, the then Special Advisor to the ULAB Board of Trustees and Professor Shamsad Mortuza, the then Vice Chancellor (Acting), ULAB, hosted three Afghan young women, Samira, Khadija and Mina, from a refugee camp in Wisconsin, USA. “Afghan Letters to the World,” as the segment was named, brought in three Afghan girls writing to the international community about their traumas and tribulations, their dreams and expectations, fears, anxieties, and emotions. Listening to their tragic stories, the audience realized in a way rarely witnessed in academic events the need for responsible dialogues on the popular imagination of Afghanistan. The keynote address by Professor Himadri Lahiri of Netaji Subhas Open University entitled “Images of Afghanistan: Through the Cultural Lens” was a contextualized and nuanced exposition of the image of Afghanistan in popular cultural practices of the world and their major discursive tendencies. Professor Lahiri set the tone for the conversations taking place over two days of academic sessions and anticipated the defining character of the event, its accommodation of narratives in critical dialogues.

The two plenary addresses by Professor Claire Chambers (“Some Thoughts on Afghanistan”) and Professor Lily Want (“Writing the Self in Afghanistan: Foregrounding Western and Islamic Feministic Perspectives”) offered fresh perspectives on Afghan literary cultures, social practices, and broader theoretical views, especially those related to gender, broadening the range of issues generally associated with the theme of the colloquium. A roundtable and a panel discussion explored topics of contemporary relevance: “Contested Histories, Continuous Memories: Your History Gets in the Way of My Memory,” and “Afghanistan Today: Heritage, Arts and Women.” In the roundtable, moderated by Professor Sabiha Huq, the discussants, Professor Niaz Zaman and Professor Himadri Lahiri, asserted the existence of inconsistent historical narratives in South Asia and explored the theme of the colloquium critically. In the panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Khan Touseef Osman, Representative of South Asia Foundation to UNESCO, France Marquet, renowned artist Kubra Khademi, and human rights activist Khushi Kabir represented South Asia Foundation in the colloquium. Discussions ranged from heritage preservation in Afghanistan, the future of arts and artists to women’s rights.

Celebrating the great Bengali author Syed Mujtaba Ali and his works set in Afghanistan — autobiographical and otherwise, renowned author and intellectual Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam was in conversation with Dr. Sohana Manzoor in the session titled “Past Continuous: Afghanistan in Deshe Bideshe and Now.” Professor Islam contextualized Ali’s works in the political history of Afghanistan and commented on what appeal these works may have for us in the present. Professor Azfar Hussain recited Afghan women’s poetry in the session “‘Load Poems Like Guns?’: Afghan Women’s Poetry against Bullets, Bayonets, and Bombs” where he also provided a critical commentary on how Afghan women raise their voices against different forms of oppression—by the Taliban as well as US imperialists—through poetry.

Entries in the Creative Contest were shortlisted and blindly judged by Dr. Fahmida Akhter and Dr. Sohana Manzoor. Professor Razia Sultana Khan graced the special showcasing of the shortlisted entries as the Special Guest. University students from all over Bangladesh had submitted a total of 92 pieces of creative writing (short story, poetry), artwork, and performances.The winners of the contest were Sheikh Muhammad Mustafa of ULAB (First Prize), Abidul Islam Omit of Jagannath University (Second Prize), and Alif Al Rahman of Eastern University (Third Prize). The Special Guests and judges commented on the variety of subjects and media used by the young and talented Bangladeshi students.

The Colloquium concluded with the closing ceremony graced by Professor Imran Rahman, the then Special Advisor to the ULAB Board of Trustees. A vote of thanks was delivered by the convenor of the colloquium to mark the close of the proceedings.