Published internationally in July 2003 as Kabul: The Bradt Mini Guide.
First published in Kabul in September 2002 as a pamphlet.
November 29 2003
Shah Muhammad Rais, owner of the bookshop at the Intercontinental Hotel and another near the Mustafa Hotel, is taking legal action against
Norwegian journalist and author Asne Seierstad for her best selling book “The Bookseller of Kabul.”
January 18 2004
Letter to the New York Times: The Bookseller’s Life by Vanni Cappelli.
November 3 2003
The Guardian: Nightmare sequel to bestseller on Kabul family life.
October 29 2003
New York Times: Bookseller of Kabul v Journalist of Oslo.
In his own words
September 2 2003
Dear friends please read my article if possible publish it
A MATTER OF HONOR AND TRUTH
By Shah Muhammad Rais
The legal actions that I have undertaken and will undertake in Norway as well as in other countries and international forums against Asne Seierstad for the defamations of myself, my family and my country contained in her book "The Bookseller of Kabul" involve questions of honour and truth that extend far beyond the lies and distortions committed in this particular case. What is at stake are basic issues of decency and trust on a world scale at a time when mankind is engaged in a great struggle against extremism, and the debt that must be paid to those who bear the brunt of this struggle.
Far from providing any profound insight into Afghan society, the tragedy of Afghanistan's modern history and its crucial role in world affairs, this is a low and salacious book, one that focuses almost exclusively on dirty aspects of life to the neglect of the challenges at hand. It is not the product of any deep study, experience or thought about the country. The author has taken advantage of a crisis in world history to pander to sensationalism, depicting things in as negative a light as possible in order to sell books and abusing the goodwill of the Scandinavian people in the process.
It is not the first time that Ms Asne Seierstad has taken advantage of the generosity of others. When she first came to Kabul in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the fall of the Taliban she was wholly ignorant of Afghanistan and its particular traditions and historical experience, and entirely without contacts or guides. I extended to her the hospitality of my home, the benefits of my lifetime's worth of knowledge about my country, and my precious time at a moment when all responsible individuals were preoccupied by the great drama unfolding around us.
She has repaid this kindness by concocting a worthless collection of invented incidents, twisted truths and personal details which were told to her in confidence, whose decimation in many countries will harm many innocent people.
Among the most egregious of these are:
----- Depicting me as a fundamentalist, when I have been against fundamentalism all of my life and have suffered personally from it.
----- Attributing perverse sexual practices to members of my family and friends which are completely untrue, up to and including the invention of incidents.
-----Claiming that I denied educational opportunities to my children, male and female, when the truth is that their formal education was disrupted by war and oppression. In fact their knowledge, particularly of languages, is considerable, and I have always been a champion of women's rights, starting with that to an education.
----- Mischaracterizing the traditional Afghan practices of arranging marriage expenses, including provisions for the wedding feast and setting up the new household, as the buying and selling of human beings.
----- Mischaracterizing the role of people in general, depicting such things as household chores undertaken by relatives who have been given shelter because of the disruptions of war as servitude.
----- Broadcasting nonessential personal details such as where I keep my cash, a vital secret for all Afghans in a land devoid of either a banking system or personal security.
----- Not hiding the identities of people in the book, all of which are easily recognizable in terms of personal attributes, locations, etc., which she had promised to do.
All of these personal attacks are secondary to the crime she has committed against the culture and people of Afghanistan. She has depicted as ingrained national traits incidences of violence and extremism, which are the by-product of prolonged and devastating war, and by no means represent the majority of Afghans or their essential spirit. There can be no greater disservice to a nation, which has contributed so much to and sacrificed so much in the world's common struggle against communism and terrorism.
The degree to which her book represents the aberration of a disreputable person can be seen in its contrast to the great classics on
Afghanistan and its Central Asian region written by truly talented and virtuous foreigners. Works such as Peter Hopkirk's "The Great Game", Jason Eliot's "An Unexpected Light" Christina Lamb's "The Sewing Circles of Herat" and Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban" are the product of years or even decades of profound experience of and reflection on the subject, and depict a different land than the one that Ms. Seierstad does not even know. Ahmed Rashid's noble commitment of a large portion of the proceeds from his best-selling book to supporting the growth of a free press in Afghanistan also stands in stark contrast to her opportunistic greed.
Many journalists have asked me since the enormity of the slanders and defamations committed in her book became apparent whether I regretted inviting her into my home. I always answer "No", for my actions were in keeping with deep Afghan spiritual traditions of hospitality, which are summed up by the proverb, " If your enemy comes to your house, do your best to protect them and give them hospitality -- Especially if the guest is a woman ".
My life has been full of countless positive and meaningful encounters with journalists, scholars and other foreigners, and I will continue to extend the hospitality of my home and share my knowledge of Afghanistan with them, because I passionately believe in the honour of the intentions of most of them, and their commitment to the truth.
And that is also why for their sake, who write well without being paid much, for the sake of my family, which has been terribly injured, and for the sake of Afghanistan, which has been defamed, I must pursue legal actions on all fronts against Ms. Asne Seierstad. That the many people of all lands whom she has needlessly hurt will not suffer more than is necessary in this time of general sacrifice for a better world.
Shah M Rais
September 10 2003
LET THERE BE LIGHT
By: Shah M Rais
It was my heartfelt desire to come to Norway and say hello to newfound Norwegian friends who had read a book, which was supposed to accurately depict my lifelong struggle against fundamentalism, tyranny and illiteracy in Afghanistan from the window of Asne's home. I never dreamed that the opposite circumstances would have arisen, circumstances that I never could have imagined when I extended to her my hospitality, precious time, and the benefits of my experience during a moment of tragedy and crisis for my country and the world. Instead of writing a true portrait of my family, my country, and myself she has closed the window on truth, defaming all of us in her cold desire for money, believing that the low and the salacious would sell better than the high and the honest. In this she has proved temporarily correct, but there is too much light flowing through the many windows opened by honest people during the global ordeal that terrorism has caused for such a hollow victory to last.
She has told the press that she has written or said nothing to put me in danger.
----- Is it nothing to call me a fundamentalist at a time when all the civilized world is struggling against this dark force, which I have fought all of my life against?
----- Is it nothing to depict me as a domestic tyrant when I have preserved my family through a quarter century of war only through sacrifice, sweat, and tears?
----- Is it nothing to say that I have denied my children an education when all the world acknowledges that the knowledge I have passionately tried to spread through the books that I sell is the force that can save Afghanistan?
----- Is it nothing to portray the venerable culture of an ancient land as nothing more than an organized system for buying and selling human beings?
----- Is it nothing to write that an innocent and noble woman, my wife's aunt, engages in perverse sexual acts?
----- Is it nothing to tell where I hide my money in a country without a banking system and no personal security?
(there or more nothings which I will say to the courts)
She is contradicting herself in her desperation to escape from the consequences of her dangerous actions.
I have met, interviewed with and befriended many journalists, writers and academicians in my life, and none of them have portrayed me in such a light.
They will be with me in my battle. The righteous anger of the Afghan community in Norway and the world shows that my objection to this heinous book is not the isolated opinion of one man.
Among the things she has written about me is the lie that I am poor. My parents were middle class, (she has written a very shameful story of my mother starvation and poverty, which caused her for eating too much, this is a very big lie and defamation of a family) and against the odds in a land ravaged by war I have prospered in business. It is my philosophy that living in a middle class apartment gained through honest work and sacrifice is more honourable than living in a mansion earned through defaming and hurting others. I will continue to live in this way even if I win substantial damages against her, and as a lifelong witness to suffering and deprivation, I for one know how to put money to noble uses. She has said to the media that if I take this case to the courts and the press it will only draw more attention to her allegations against me. As someone who has spent his whole life opening windows on truth, I have nothing to fear from someone who only knows how to shut them.
Let there be light
The Survival Guide to Kabul©