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Trump Should Suspend His Campaign And Fly Herr Force One To Afghanistan For A Week Or Two

Posted by DownWithTyranny on September 25th, 2016

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Tuesday I’m having dinner with a friend of mine, Sonia, a Berlin-born novelist and Holocaust survivor. She’s written over 40 books and is working on a new novel about a family of refugees who have resettled in the U.S. from Afghanistan. Two of her early books, The Journey to America and Silver Days, are about German Jewish refugees who flee the horrors of the Holocaust and resettle in America. I’ve been giving her pointers, from my two lengthy stays in Afghanistan about what the family she’s inventing were likely to have gone through– and what kind of mindset they will be bringing with them– before they arrived in the U.S. Tuesday’s dinner is going to be about Pashtunwalli, the code that predates Islam Afghans live by. I sent her the post related to the mass shooting in Orlando by the son of Afghan refugees, hyper-linked above.

In their list of 31 lies that Trump spouted last week, Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns in included one that’s been driving me crazy– and that I’ve seen Trump repeat at rallies all week– namely that “We have cities that are far more dangerous than Afghanistan.” That’s not even remotely close to true.

The first time I got to Afghanistan was in 1969, a relatively peaceful time, when Mohammad Zahir Shah was still the king and gradually introducing western ways into the country. I left just before he was deposed in a coup and the country slowly but steadily descended into chaos, coups and civil war. At the end of December, 1979, the Russians invaded. The country I loved so much has experienced almost 4 decades of non-stop mega-violence. No American whop hasn’t been in a war zone– and that includes Herr Trumpf, a draft dodger– has ever seen anything like it. No American city– not even Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago– is anything like Afghanistan.

Even when I was there, in relatively peaceful times, Afghanistan was more dangerous than any city in America. Other than in Kabul, the capital city, an Afghan male would no sooner walk out of his house without a gun than he would walk out of his house without pants. And the aforementioned Pashtunwalli is so punitive and retaliatory that a minor misunderstanding could easily– and often did– result in deadly violence. Afghanistan was– and is– an extreme patriarchal society. Women and children are routinely and universally treated as property by men. Economic disparity between the very rich and everyone else is so enormous and plays such an immense role in power and status assignations that danger was everywhere at all times. Violence between ethnic groups, religious sects, clans, tribes, regions was pervasive. In many parts of the country, there was no law and no order. Most people outside of Kabul didn’t even recognize the authority of a country called Afghanistan. I was shocked in the second biggest city, Kandahar, 4-5 hours away from Kabul by car, to find that people referred to the king as the king of Kabul.

As with most things he talks about on the campaign trail, Trump doesn’t have any idea what’s he’s talking about. He says whatever pops into his primitive skull. And if it “works,” he keeps repeating it, which doesn’t make it any truer. Some say he’s severely addicted to prescription drugs. That could be. But that he’s afflicted with narcissistic personality disorder is beyond a doubt, as anyone who has ever been in contact with him will tell you. Trump’s insane. No matter how abhorrent voting for Clinton appears to be, it’s a tradeoff worth taking to prevent him from ever getting into the White House. He should be dropped off in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush for a winter– as I once was– and see if he survives. He’d be a different person, which would be much welcomed by the entire world.


Trump’s vision of American inner cities? Which ones?


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America’s Longest War Isn’t Ending… Not As Long As It Continues To Feed Endemic Corruption

Posted by DownWithTyranny on July 8th, 2016

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison and Raúl Grijalva issued a statement after Obama’s press conference on Afghanistan: “We are disappointed with today’s announcement that the Department of Defense will keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of the year. Does the longest war in U.S. history– nearly 15 years long– have an end in sight? Peace in Afghanistan will only come through a comprehensive solution that does not rely on our military, but puts more emphasis on diplomatic political engagement, capacity development, and humanitarian relief. As a sovereign nation, Afghanistan must take full responsibility for its national security. Too many families have sacrificed for too long, and we have spent trillions of taxpayer dollars that could have been used to educate kids, help working people feed their families, and provide job training to our veterans. The sooner we bring our troops home and shift away from our large-scale military occupation mission, the sooner we can help the Afghan government achieve stability and focus on critical challenges here at home.”

4 years ago, writing for Global Insight, our friend and occasional DWT contributor Skip Kaltenheuser wrote that America’s long goodbye from Afghanistan was leaving a failed state crippled by corruption. Essentially, nothing’s changed since then. It was in that piece he first introduced Nasir Shansab, an Afghan-American journalist. “Shansab,” he wrote “knows the territory. His family, descended from Afghan kings, were lynchpins in the economy. In 1934, Shansab’s father built a small hydroelectric plant in Kandahar, then a large one in Puli Khumir, as well as a textile factory with 3,000 employees. Other ventures included Afghanistan’s largest industrial plant, in Golbahar, with 8,000 well-paid workers, an embarrassment to the Communist government and a ticket to a fast exit. Shansab took his family and fled in 1975. The big factory? Still locked up and deteriorating in a country that doesn’t know what to do with it.” Today, in light of Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he’s committing the U.S. to an untenable status quo approach to Afghanistan through 2017, Nasir sent us a guest post from Kabul:

Afghanistan: State of the Nation
-by Nasir Shansab


I regret having to write this piece. I had hoped to present a positive picture of what Drs. Ghani and Abdullah had achieved in the two years of their unity-government.

I carefully searched to find valid reasons to praise the Ghani administration. I looked out for a few smiling faces– people who would praise their government, not necessarily for any extraordinary achievement but for something simple, something worth mentioning.

My inquiries failed to produce the desired result. I didn’t find a single person willing to express the least sense of satisfaction for the Ghani administration.

I don’t wish to be the unrelenting critic. But I have to recount a situation as it is and not as I would like it to be. Therefore, I must admit that what I have found during the past six weeks I have spent in this country is a tragedy and, I fear, a disaster in the making.

The following examples will underscore my despondency:

The Taliban has successfully spread out its insurgency over at least 20 provinces, including the north of the country, an area formerly considered as a comparatively secure region. A few months back, the Taliban even occupied the northern city of Kunduz, the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in the last 15 years. Kunduz was only freed after NATO and U.S. ground forces– against their adopted policy– came to the aid of the Afghan military and the U.S. launched a massive air attack on the Taliban.

ISIS attacked the Kot District of the south-eastern province of Nangarhar. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) counterattacked but failed to dislodge the ISIS fighters. The fighting displaced over 500 households, adding their numbers to the hundreds of thousands of other internal refugees.

The Afghani, the national currency, has gradually but steadily been losing value in relationship to the American dollar. When the slide began about eighteen moths back, 50 Afghanis equaled one dollar. Today, 69.40 Afghanis are needed to purchase a dollar. This slide in the value of the local currency is expected to continue.

Recently, it was discovered that an important Taliban intelligence officer, who had been wounded, was being secretly smuggled out of the country with the help of a high-ranking police officer.

Afghanistan is still by far the largest producer of illegal drugs. According to new reports, the country churns out 70% of the global illegal drug production;

Complaining before TV cameras, Afghanistan’s First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum complained that Drs. Ghani and Abdullah had refused to give his party a share of government posts such as ambassadorships and the positions of deputy ministers of the defense and interior ministries. Then the First Vice President of Afghanistan ventured to speak of “black money” and complained that Drs. Ghani and Abdullah would divide even “black money 50/50” among themselves.

As the Taliban are ascending and money is getting harder to come by, internal tensions between the parties are intensifying. Recently, the armed units of Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Hezbe Jumbishe Millie Islami Afghanistan and Salahudding Rabani’s Jamiat-e-Islami engaged one another in an armed encounter. In this military-style skirmish the First Vice President of Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister were at each other in an armed confrontation.

It should be noted that Afghanistan’s laws do not permit political parties to maintain armed groups. As is overwhelmingly the case in others areas of life in Afghanistan, the law does not apply to the powerful, not even when they are members of the same government.

Afghanistan’s enduring deterioration compels us to ask the indispensable question: What should be done to save the Afghan people from the torment they suffer at the hands of warlords and drug kingpins– from within and outside the government– and to prevent extremists from taking over the country?

The answer is simple if Afghanistan’s financial supporters remain true to their values, uphold their laws, and follow their oversight standards. The answer becomes complicated, even disastrous, if donor representatives persist in disregarding their principles and canons in handing out public monies.

What they know to be against their democratic and ethical principles, they should vigorously reject for they are the guardians of both the interests of their taxpayers and aspirations of the poverty-stricken Afghan people, a people whose opportunities have been destroyed and hopes shattered by the greed and ruthlessness of a heartless elite.

Here is why I feel my harsh judgment of the political leadership is justified:

Last year the office of the U.S.-based Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that officials of the Afghan ministry of education had profited by listing for financial support a number of schools that didn’t exist.

Some time later, SIGAR discovered that the Afghan ministry of defense was inflating the number of soldiers and collected money for none-existing military personal.

Recently it was revealed that the actual number of police officers employed in Helmand Province was exactly one half of the number of officers officially reported.

In view of the continuing unbridled corruption within the Afghan government, donor governments must overcome their hesitancy in confronting the Afghan government. The donors’ polite silence and soft and indirect criticism, has been completely ineffective in impressing Afghan officials.

It has become a habit of the Afghan government to make speeches before a major donor conference and even creating a new organization, ostensibly to show its seriousness in fighting corruption. In reality, all that is just a flurry of meaningless activities to impress donors of its good intentions.

While there already is the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, President Ghani’s office just announced the establishment of another office to fight corruption. This is nothing more that a typical example of trying to impress donors just before the Warsaw and Brussels conferences.

President Ghani is intelligent enough to realize that constructing layers upon layers of bureaucracy will not solve anything. It is the political will that is needed to solve the country’s corruption.

When we look at cases such the Kabul Bank collapse, the multi-billion-dollar theft at the ministry of urban development and housing and the missing schools, soldiers, and police offers, Mr. Ghani’s unity-government has not shown the political will to tackle large cases of theft.

The fact is that in most significant cases a large number of powerful people– from within and outside government ranks– are involved and no one wants to rock the boat. The way Mr. Ghani’s administration is trying to solve these problems is letting time pass by and hope that they will vanish from memories and people will ultimately cease asking about them.

It is, therefore, essential, that donors ask the Afghan representatives about why the Ghani administration has failed to fulfill the solemn promises it had made to bring those festering cases to conclusion.

I hope donor representatives will not hide behind the claim of Afghanistan being a sovereign state and there were limits to what they could do. Afghanistan is not yet a sovereign country. The fact that the donor community pays for 100% of its military expenses and finances up to 80% of its regular budget, renders the country dependent.

  This gives the donors all the rights to enforce controls on the way Afghans handle the money they receive.

I sincerely wish that donor representatives will gather the courage to act in the interests of both the Afghan people and their own.

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Was The Orlando Shooter Gay?

Posted by DownWithTyranny on June 23rd, 2016

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

I just got back from my from my first visit to Azerbaijan. Corruption is rife and the government is authoritarian but those aren’t aspects tourists notice. The country is beautiful, everything is inexpensive and the people are absolutely wonderful. Aerbaijan was the first Muslim-majority state that was dedicated to secularism. A parliamentary democracy, it started worked on social reform decades ago. It shows today in the way men and women interact with each other on all levels. The role of women in Azerbaijan seems to have far more in common with Europe than it does with other Muslim-majority states I’ve spent time in, from fairly westernized Morocco, through Arab heartland countries like Egypt, Palestine and the UAE to disparate countries like Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Azerbaijan is the polar opposite of Afghanistan in the societal role of women. It could hardly be more different. And that role of women in society profoundly impacts what we in the west call homosexuality.

A few years ago I wrote about Afghanistan’s unique and pervasive bacha bazi subculture. That isn’t part of the Omar Mateen story, although the New York-born, Florida-raised Mateen comes from a traditional Afghan family where Pashtunwali– the Pashtun Code– was the basic foundation of life for the immigrant family. It’s impossible to talk intelligently about Mateen’s sexuality without reference to Pashtunwali, which, of course, has been completely left out of the discussion by the American media.

The code is an oral tradition that governs the lives of Pashtun males and goes back thousands of years, long before Islam came to Afghanistan or Pakistanand although Afs tend to not differentiate between Pashtunwali and Islam, the two are often at odds– and Pashtunwali takes precedence, even among the most conservative and fundamentalist Muslim society in the world. (I’ve read that Pashtunwali is widely followed by the Pashtun diaspora.)

“Women are for children, boys are for pleasure” is an Afghan (Pashtun) aphorism that flows from Pashtunwali but is unrelated to the Koran. Keep in mind and then remember that in Afghan society only the label of homosexuality causes social discomfort, never the practice, not even the open practice. When people in the West study the code, what they learn about Pashtunwali is first and foremost courage (tora), revenge (badal), hospitality (melmestia), and generosity to the defeated. It promotes self-respect, independence, justice, love, forgiveness (as well as revenge) and tolerance toward all. I found Afghanistan to be one of the best of the over 100 countries I’ve visited. I’ve been there twice– first in 1969 when I was still a kid– and I know, and regret, that I can never go back.

I want to lay out a few tenets of Pashtunwali that seem to have played a role in the sad tale of Omar Mateen. First Nyaw aw Badal (justice and revenge), which compels Afghan men to seek justice or take revenge against a perceived wrongdoer. No time limit restricts the period in which revenge can be taken. Justice in Pashtun lore includes even a mere taunt which “counts” as an insult and which usually can only be redressed by shedding the taunter’s blood. If he is out of reach, his closest male relation must suffer the penalty instead. Badal may lead to blood feuds that can last generations and involve whole tribes with the loss of hundreds of lives. And then comes Turah (bravery), compelling a Pashtun male to defend his property, honor and family from incursions. He must always stand bravely against tyranny and be able to defend what he sees as his “honor.” Death can follow if anyone offends this principle. Combine this with Sabat (loyalty), which mandates that Pashtun men owe loyalty to their family, friends and tribe members. Pashtuns can never become disloyal as this would be a matter of shame for their families and themselves.

This first hand account by a man who had sex with Marteen multiple times fits the pattern you might expect. Mateen, he said wasn’t interested in terrorism as much as he was in revenge, angry and upset after a man he had sex with later revealed he was HIV positive.

Friday, Kevin Sullivan and William Wan wrote a piece for the Washington Post, Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter. It isn’t worthless because it gives some of the details of Mateen’s life but analysis is utterly lacking.

Right off the bat, they write about Mateen’s “lifetime of angst and embarrassment.” He was humiliated, bullied and disrespected all through his childhood and school years. Acquaintances recall him as “unpredictable, angry and sometimes threatening.” On a superficial level, he reacted by becoming a bulked-up bodybuilder who learned how to shoot guns. He worked at a Gold’s Gym and at a GNC. Sometimes he denied being a Muslim; other times he claimed kinship to Osama bin-Laden.

Mateen appeared conflicted about his religion and his sexuality, according to dozens of interviews with those who knew him. He married twice, each time to a woman he had met online, even though he also seemed drawn to gay life and culture.

…But over the years, Mateen’s inner conflict seemed to explode again and again– not only at the [police] training academy but also toward classmates, toward co-workers, toward his first wife and finally toward the 49 strangers he left massacred on the bloody floor of the Pulse nightclub.

…William Winkler, 30, of Orlando was a classmate of Mateen’s at Mariposa Elementary, where his mother taught Mateen in fourth and fifth grades.

Winkler recalled Mateen taking other kids’ toys and acting like a bully, especially toward girls. Winkler said that Mateen acted superior to others and that teachers had great difficulty with him.

“I do remember the teachers at the school wanting to get him help desperately, as he was just such an angry kid,” said Winkler, who remembered Mateen having few friends. He was not sure whether Mateen was ever diagnosed with any learning difficulties but remembers him frequently requiring one-on-one tutoring with teachers.

…Mateen’s father dropped his son off at school every day, Winkler said, and he had a reputation for being disrespectful of female teachers and dismissive of complaints about his son.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Mateen was 14 and a sophomore at the Spectrum alternative school, a campus in Stuart, Fla., for students with behavioral issues.

Months earlier, he had been expelled from Martin County High School for a fight with another student in math class, public records show. He was charged with battery and disturbing school functions. Officials declined to prosecute, but Mateen later listed the incident on job applications as an adult.

On the morning of the 9/11 attacks, one former classmate recalled a teacher turning on a television and the students watching as the second plane hit.

“[Mateen] was smiling. It was almost like surreal how happy he was about what had happened to us,” said the former classmate, who did not want his name used, because he did not want people to know he attended a school for poorly behaved students.

After watching the second tower get hit on a classroom TV, Mateen stood up and claimed that Osama bin Laden was his uncle, said the classmate, whose account was corroborated by others.

“Back then, we didn’t even really know who Osama bin Laden was,” he said. “But he talked about shooting AK-47s… He said he shot them and his uncle taught him how to shoot them.”

The classmate recalled other students becoming angry. “The teacher could tell we wanted to hurt him, so the teacher grabbed him” and sent him to the dean’s office, he said.

Mateen’s father was called and came to pick him up. “I remember his dad walking up,” the classmate said. “And in the courtyard in front of everyone, the dad slapped him right across the face.”

Other classmates described Mateen as disruptive, but some said he was more of a class clown than a troublemaker. Several said that Mateen, who was overweight, often got picked on.

“He was brutally bullied,” said Justin Delancy, who said he rode the school bus with Mateen for several years. “He was a chubby kid and got bullied about his weight. He was probably one of the only kids of [Afghan] descent. That made him stand out a bit as well.”

“He was eccentric,” Delancy said. “He was just one of those guys that people wanted to bully because he was a pushover. He’d try to get a seat [on the bus]. Couldn’t get a seat. Someone would slap him on back of head. He’d try to joke and laugh and make fun of himself to get the attention off of himself. But it didn’t work.”

…The elder Mateen said in an interview this week his son was “a very respectful person.”

“He respected his family,” he said, “especially the parents.”

…Friends and co-workers gave conflicting reports about Mateen’s religiosity and personality at the time. Some said he was extremely pious and serious, but others described him chasing girls, going to parties and drinking.

“He was fun,” said Ryan Jones, 27, who said he often hung out with Mateen.

Mateen hung out at the mall with an openly gay former classmate, Samuel King, and many of King’s gay friends.

“He had to know [we were gay], but I never got any sense of homophobia or aggression from him,” King said.

Mateen was also quickly starting to transform himself physically.

Friends at the time said the chubby teenager, who stood just under 6 feet tall, was working out constantly and starting to add massive amounts of muscle– with a little help from chemical “juice.”

Margaret Barone, a former manager of the GNC where Mateen worked in 2006, recalled Mateen as a sweet young employee who always called her “Miss Margaret.” She said she and other employees always assumed Mateen was gay.

She remembered Mateen and other employees talking about drugs they had taken and Mateen saying that he had taken ecstasy. Barone recalled another employee, an assistant manager who was also Muslim, becoming upset after going out with Mateen a few times and seeing him drink to the point of blacking out.

“He said he didn’t like the things Omar was doing,” she said. “He says to me: ‘He gets too crazy. He blacks out. He starts fighting. He didn’t care whether he got beat up or killed, the way he was acting.’”

Barone also remembered Mateen’s outward transformation.

“If his arms were 20 inches, he had them over 40,” she said. “He was doing massive steroids that he said he was getting through the mail. He’d come in and buy $50 or $60 worth of protein powders, and also the supplements we sold.”

…“This kid bulked up so fast and so quick that he had stretch marks on his skin,” Barone said. “When I tell you he bulked up, oh my Lord, it was like seeing a puny little kid turn into the Hulk.”

…Once an overweight kid who’d been bullied on the school bus, Mateen was now a hulking bodybuilder packing a gun.

He wasn’t quite a police officer, but nobody was pushing him around anymore.

Mateen also found a wife.

In April 2009 in Port St. Lucie, he married Sitora Yusifiy, a New Jersey real estate agent who said she met Mateen through an online dating service.

At first, she said, they lived with his parents and he seemed “normal,” but then the physical and emotional abuse started.

“He was not a stable person,” she said. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”

She said he would slap her with an open hand and pull her hair.

Yusifiy said Mateen was not a devout Muslim and preferred spending his free time working out at the gym. She said she never saw signs that he held radical beliefs.

They separated after just nine months.

In September 2011, three months after his divorce was final, Mateen remarried, to another woman he met online.

…From as early as his days at Indian River Community College, some friends and co-workers wondered whether Mateen was gay. Some simply assumed it.

One former classmate at the college told the Palm Beach Post that he believed Mateen was gay and that Mateen once tried to pick him up at a bar.

The classmate, who is gay but was not out yet in 2006, said he and Mateen and other classmates would sometimes go to gay nightclubs after classes. On one such evening, the classmate said, Mateen asked him whether he was gay, which he denied.

“He said, ‘Well if you were gay, you would be my type.’ I said okay and just went on with the night,” said the classmate, who was not identified by the newspaper. “It was not anything too crazy, but I take that as a pickup line.”

David Gonzalez, 34, a gay man who lives next door to Mateen’s parents, remembers how Mateen used to look at him “in a certain way like he wanted me to approach him. He knew I was gay.”

If Mateen were interested in men, it would have been difficult to tell his father.

The elder Mateen has expressed strict conservative views about homosexuality, posting a video on his Facebook page saying that “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality. This is not for the servants” of God.

Seddique Mateen said he didn’t believe his son was gay, telling reporters, “I don’t believe he was a whatever-you-call-it.”

He said his son Mateen had become enraged a few months earlier at the sight of a pair of gay men being affectionate with each other.

“We were in downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” he told reporters. “They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said: ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’”

But a number of men have told media outlets in the past week that they traded messages with Mateen on gay dating apps such as Jack’d.

…One Orlando man, Cord Cedeno, 23, told The Post that Mateen reached out to him on Grindr, another gay dating app. Cedeno said Mateen tried to flirt with him but he was not interested. “It was the picture of him wearing a tie,” Cedeno said. “I blocked him.”

…Investigators tracing the ­often-conflicting details of Mateen’s life are still struggling with the “why” of his rampage Sunday. Was he a radicalized Islamist militant, or was that just bravado? Was it Islamic State ideology or some personal demon that drove him to target gay people? Was it something else entirely that snapped in Mateen’s troubled mind?

The “why” is elusive, but investigators have learned a few key details about the final days of his life:

Mateen purchased an assault-style rifle and a handgun at a Port St. Lucie gun shop in the first week of June.

At some point, Salman [his second wife] accompanied Mateen on a shopping trip to buy ammunition.

Between June 5 and 9, Mateen and Salman traveled to Orlando and visited Pulse, the popular gay nightclub, for “reconnaissance.”

Last Friday, June 10, Mateen went to the Fort Pierce mosque to pray and spent more than an hour there with his 3-year-old son.

On Saturday, Mateen posted messages on Facebook pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr ­al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group.

“America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state,” he wrote. “I pledge my alliance to abu bakr al Baghdadi… may Allah accept me.”

He added: “The real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west,” and, “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes… now taste the Islamic state vengeance.”

That evening, as Mateen was preparing to leave their Fort Pierce home, Salman warned him against anything he might be planning.

Then Omar Mateen got into his car, drove to Orlando, and walked into the nightclub.

The U.S. military has a tremendous amount of experience in and knowledge of Afghan society. After all, our occupation of that country is America’s longest war. These observations about what we call homosexuality in Afghanistan  are all unclassified

Some of its root causes lie in the severe segregation of women, the prohibitive cost of marriage within Pashtun tribal codes, and the depressed economic situation into which young Pashtun men are placed.

Other root causes include a long-standing cultural tradition in which boys are appreciated for physical beauty and apprenticed to older men for their sexual initiation. The fallout of this pattern of behavior over generations has a profound impact on Pashtun society and culture.

Homosexuality is strictly prohibited in Islam, but cultural interpretations of Islamic teaching prevalent in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan tacitly condone it in comparison to heterosexual relationships in several contexts.

Pashtun men are freer with companionship, affection, emotional and artistic expression, and the trust bred of familiarity with other men. They often lack the experience of these aspects of life with women.

This usurping of the female role may contribute to the alienation of women over generations, and their eventual relegation to extreme segregation and abuse.

One of the primary and obvious causes of this cultural tendency toward sexual expression between males is Pashtun society’s extremely limited access to women. Heterosexual relationships are only allowable within the bounds of marriage, and Pashtun honor demands that a man be able to demonstrate his ability to support a wife and family, as well as produce abundant wedding-gifts for the bride and her parents, before he is allowed to marry. Therefore, given the economic situation of most young Pashtun men and the current state of employment and agriculture within the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan, marriage becomes a nearly unattainable possibility for many. A controversial Los Angeles Times article highlighted this issue and featured an interview with a young Afgan man whose situation was typical of this circumstance: In his 29 years, Mohammed Daud has seen the faces of perhaps 200 women. A few dozen were family members. The rest were glimpses stolen when he should not have been looking and the women were caught without their face-shrouding burkas. “How can you fall in love with a girl if you can’t see her face?” he asks.

Daud is unmarried and has sex only with men and boys. But he does not consider himself homosexual, at least not in the Western sense. “I like boys, but I like girls better,” he says. “It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful. But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is beautiful.”

Daud’s insistence that his behavior should not label him as homosexual is the next important point in understanding the nature of this dynamic, and opens the doors to a complex interrelationship between Islam and its cultural interpretations. Even men who practice homosexuality exclusively are not labeled by themselves or their counterparts as homosexual.

…[U]sing another man for sexual gratification would be regarded as a foible–undesirable but far preferable to sex with a ineligible woman, which in the context of Pashtun honor, would likely result in issues of revenge and honor killings. These killings are a Pashtun, not Islamic requirement, although the two tend to become inexorably bound in the minds of rural villagers.

So, was Mateen “gay?” Is that why he murdered dozens of people in Orlando. Within hours of hearing about the crime, I mentioned here at DWT that he was “sexually repressed.” I should have said his parents’ culture is. Not dealing with it isn’t the way to handle it.

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Action alert: wars are not gym memberships

Posted by Peace Action West on April 4th, 2016

From our partners at Peace Action West

Our longest war just got even longer. 

President Obama just announced that the US will have boots on the ground in Afghanistan for another 2 ½ years. When Congress voted to authorize the war way back in 2001, they surely didn’t know they were authorizing a 15-year occupation.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has a bill calling for a congressional vote on any US troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014. As the senator said in response to the president’s announcement,“Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it is not the right approach when it comes to war.”

Tell your senators to cosponsor this bill to make our voices heard about staying in Afghanistan.

While it’s encouraging that the administration is reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan and setting a clear timeline for withdrawal, it’s not good enough. 9,800 troops is 9,800 too many, and we need our tax dollars here at home.

Our friends in the House tried to bring up a similar amendment last week, but the Republican leadership was too afraid to watch the antiwar sentiment play out on the floor and blocked a vote.We need to turn to the Senate now and make sure they fight for more oversight over the war.

Click here to tell your senators to cosponsor Sen. Merkley’s bill for a vote on Afghanistan.

Children who were in elementary school when this war began are now old enough to fight in it. It’s well past time to stop risking lives and wasting tax dollars in Afghanistan.

Thank you for speaking out.

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Time for the “zero option” in Afghanistan?

Posted by Peace Action West on April 4th, 2016

From our partners at Peace Action West

 

Reality seems to be setting in at the White House, with President Obama reportedly considering removing all troops from Afghanistan in 2014 rather than leaving a residual force.

Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.

Mr. Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Mr. Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
As we did with the Iraq war, we have been pushing against the idea of keeping any troops on the ground after the so-called “combat troops” withdraw. It’s encouraging to hear these reports, the first indication that the president is seriously considering a full withdrawal. He will certainly find support in Congress–62 senators and 305 representatives have voted to support accelerated withdrawal, and that number is only likely to grow.

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$43 Million Gas Station In A Remote Part Of Afghanistan– Paid For With American Tax Dollars

Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 6th, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

I’m not in the least bit mechanically inclined. I came to terms with it before I even went to high school. Not too many years after high school, though, I was driving a brand new VW van down the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to Katmandu. A few days ago I mentioned how when my friends checked into the Kabul InterContinental just outside town– I slept in the van nearby– they were among the very first guests at the largely empty, just-completed, first luxury hotel in Afghanistan. Before we got there, though, there was, basically, the whole country to cross. There are no railroads in Afghanistan, with the exception of about 10 miles built in the early 1980s, connecting Mazar-i-Sharif to the small Uzbek city of Termez, last heard from when it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. Before the Russians built a 2 lane paved highway from Kabul to Mazar to Herat (the northern part of the “ring road”) and the U.S. built a 2 lane paved highway from Herat to Kandahar to Kabul (the southern part of the “ring road”), the only way people went to Afghanistan was on horseback, usually as part of an army. I was driving me niceness VW van along that just-built highway.


I had befriended a U.S. consul in Tehran– a relatively lonely outpost– and he gave me all kinds of useful tips about the trip east to Afghanistan, the two most important being that all water had it be boiled twice if one hopes to survive and that under no circumstances could a motor vehicle be on the road at night if one hopes to survive. The water thing is probably clear enough; the night-driving had to do with bandits, a quaint term that would be called “terrorists” in modern parlance. The gas stations in Afghanistan at the time were few and far between– how far? Basically they were spaced so that you were just about to run out of gas as you pulled into one. Long story short, I didn’t run out of gas between the station in Herat and the station in Kandahar… but my van broke down. I’m the mechanically dis-inclined American, but none the European or Canadian passengers knew any more about fixing a car than I did. An hour went by and no other vehicle passed. I could tell it would be dark soon. Dark = bandits = car-stripping murderers. So I taught myself how to fix the car, at least fix it enough to get to the next gas station as we were running out of gas. (The 1969 VW engine was incredibly simple and trial and error worked incredibly well in this instance.)

Eventually the decades of war destroyed the roads and they were rebuilt a few times, the most recent by the U.S…. or the U.S. taxpayers to be more precise. And that includes gas stations, one of which has come to the attention of the public as a huge waste of money. Short version: this gas station in Sheberghan, hometown of Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum and capital of Jowzjan province way up north in the Russian sphere of influence, west of Mazar-i-Sharif and Balkh, cost $43 million to build. NBC reported that the The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is flipping out because the Department of Defense can’t or won’t explain why it cost that much.

“Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme,” SIGAR said in a report issued Monday.

The agency’s top official went further.

“It’s an outrageous waste of money that raises suspicions that there is something more there than just stupidity,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, told NBC News. “There may be fraud. There may be corruption. But I cannot currently find out more about this because of the lack of cooperation.”

…[A] contract for just under $3 million was awarded to a company called Central Asian Engineering in 2011. According to SIGAR, an economic impact assessment found the task force spent well beyond that– $42,718,730– between 2011 and 2014 to fund the station’s construction and supervise its initial operation.

A CNG filling station “would have cost no more than $500,000 in neighboring Pakistan,” the report noted, calculating the “exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers” at 140 times higher than it should have been.

Sopko told NBC News it appeared that “nobody was minding the store.”

“This is one of the worst examples of poor planning and just sheer stupidity,” Sopko told NBC News. “It’s outrageous.”

He called the cost “indicative of a real serious mismanagement” but said perhaps the “more serious” issue was how the Department of Defense had failed to offer documentation or records on the project.

“I’m suspicious when I see something that cost 140 times more than it did and I find people trying to withhold or not cooperate with me,” Sopko said. “It raises my suspicions.”

Although Barbara Lee was the only Member of Congress wise enough to see tat the time, there was never any chance that the U.S. would “win” in Afghanistan. The invasion and occupation has been an unmitigated–and inevitable– disaster. Thank God someone is suspicious of this particular gas station boondoggle. This is certainly part of the so-called “fog of war” and it may be inevitable, another reason to pull all U.S. forces out of that hellhole and to completely oppose expanding the U.S. Middle East wars into Syria. I asked Alan Grayson what he thought about it a few days ago and he replied that he never knew Shelley meant that those “vast and trunkless legs of stone” were actually a gas station. Are you a Breaking Bad fan at all?

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The 2016 Primary: A Proxy Vote on the Afghan War?

Posted by DownWithTyranny on October 19th, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Credit: Finbarr O’Reilly, file photo, Reuters (source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

We have yet to write much about Clinton’s foreign policy, partly because so much of it is inferencial, and partly because so much has been held in reserve. But recently Clinton came out strongly opposed to the actions of Edward Snowden, taking a position very close to Obama’s tough stance on the matter.

And now she has come out in support of continued war in Afghanistan. I’ll have more later on a Clinton foreign policy — a discussion the “left” is not yet having — but I want to open the door to that discussion, as Clinton has done, with this news, from a recent interview with Jake Tapper.

Clinton Endorses Continued War in Afghanistan

Lauren McCauley at Common Dreams (note that her framing may not be yours; my emphasis):

Clinton Backs Plan for Endless War in Afghanistan

Democratic frontrunner says she “supports the president’s decision” to keep troops there until at least 2017

Presidential contender Hillary Clinton on Friday [October 16] declared her full support for President Obama’s plan to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until at least 2017, saying the move reflects a knowledge of “what’s going on in the real world.”

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the former Secretary of State reiterated Obama’s position, saying that while the U.S. government doesn’t want troops engaged in on-the ground content, “we want them to help support and train the Afghan army.”

“So I can’t predict where things will be in January of 2017,” Clinton said. “But I support the president’s decision.”

She added that the move reflects that of “a leader who has strong convictions about what he would like to see happen but also pays attention to what’s going on in the real world.”

The interview followed the President’s announcement Thursday that as many as 5,500 soldiers will remain in the country for at least another year, reversing previous pledges to end the United States’ war in Afghanistan.

Two takeaways: One, this puts Ms. Clinton on the warrior side of the ledger. Do progressives want another warrior president? Some might, I realize, and some might not. This at least starts that debate.

Second, when Clinton talks about “support[ing] the Afghan army” — this is the kind of trouble our support gets us into:

The Doctors Without Borders Bombing Is Looking More and More Like a War Crime

On NBC Nightly News on Thursday, Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that, based on the accounts of Defense Department sources, cockpit recordings from the AC-130 gunship involved in the incident “reveal that the crew actually questioned whether the airstrike was legal.” He also quoted a U.S. defense official suggesting that the attack “may in fact amount to a war crime.” The video and audio cockpit recordings of the incident, which feature conversations between the plane’s crew and U.S. troops on the ground, are at the center of the military’s investigation into the incident, as the Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef reported last week.* The recordings have not been released publicly or even to the members of Congress who received a classified briefing on the incident. …

The U.S. explanation for how the incident took place has shifted several times and the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, reportedly believes that U.S. troops did not follow proper procedure. MSF, which has alleged that a war crime took place, is calling on the U.S. and Afghan governments to consent to an independent investigation, a request that has so far been rebuffeds.

One of those shifting U.S. explanations for the air strike was that Afghan forces called it in — the form of support called “air support.”

Sanders on Afghanistan

This is Bernie Sanders’ statement about the Afghan War, from his Issues page at BernieSanders.com:

Sen. Sanders called on both Presidents Bush and Obama to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible and for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for their own security. After visiting Afghanistan, Sen. Sanders spoke-out against the rampant corruption he saw, particularly in regards to elections, security and the banking system.

If he holds by this and draws a clear distinction with Ms. Clinton, it’s possible the 2016 Democratic primary will also be a proxy vote on the future of the Afghan War. 

GP

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Call-in: Tell your Rep. to sign Ellison-McGovern-Lee-Grijalva for #IndependentInvestigation

Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 19th, 2015

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

The October 3 US military bombing of a Doctors Without Borders [MSF] hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan killed twelve humanitarians and ten patients, including three children.

The Pentagon claims the bombing was a mistake, but the Associated Press reported US special operations analysts had been investigating the hospital prior to the attack. If the gunship was aware of this or if commanding officers intentionally withheld the information from the gunship, the incident could qualify as a “war crime.”

As MSF has said, “it is impossible to expect parties involved in the conflict to carry out independent and impartial investigations of military actions in which they are themselves implicated.”

Reps. Ellison, McGovern, Barbara Lee, and Grijalva are circulating a letter to their colleagues backing calls for a civilian-led, independent investigation of this atrocity. Your Representative should join them in supporting an independent investigation.

Call your Representative NOW at (202) 224-3121 and say,

“I urge you to sign the Ellison-McGovern-Lee-Grijalva letter calling for an independent investigation of the Doctors Without Borders hospital bombing.”

When you’re done, please report your call below.

And if you haven’t signed our petition asking members of Congress to sign the letter, you can do that here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/independent-investigation-MSF-bombing

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About that "War Crime" — Hospital Was Raided By Afghan Forces Three Months Before U.S. Bombing

Posted by DownWithTyranny on October 9th, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

by Gaius Publius

There’s new reporting on the U.S. bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. As you may know, Doctors Without Borders wants the incident, in which 22 people were killed, including patients who burned to death in their beds, investigated as a war crime. (You’ll see their reasons lower in this piece.)

Now, thanks to excellent reporting by Ryan Grim at Huffington Post, we have more information. The bombing was apparently done at the request of the Afghan military, who had also attacked the hospital with Special Forces less than three months before the U.S. bombing. 

The implications of the bombing are horrific. The implications of this new story are worse. Let’s say it is a war crime. Did we do it because the Afghans said to? Who’s taking orders from whom in that war? And do U.S. commanders even care whom they’re bombing, if they’re blindly bombing targets chosen by others?

If so, in the game of Genius and Bully, we’re just the bully. From Ryan Grim’s report:

Kunduz Hospital Was Raided By Afghan Special Forces Just Three Months Before U.S. Bombing

The raid hints at a motive for the strike.

Afghan special forces raided the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz less than three months before a U.S. bombing killed 22 staff members and patients.

The raid took place on the afternoon of July 1, according to a statement from the hospital at the time. U.S. authorities have since said that Afghan forces called in Saturday’s bombing, which lasted for more than an hour, and that the U.S. was unaware it was striking a hospital.

The previous raid suggests that Afghan authorities were aware the facility was a hospital and had a hostile relationship with its staff prior to calling in the U.S. bombing.

According to a statement posted online in July, “heavily armed men from Afghan Special Forces entered the [Médecins Sans Frontières] hospital compound, cordoned off the facility and began shooting in the air.”

“The armed men physically assaulted three MSF staff members and entered the hospital with weapons,” the statement continued. “They then proceeded to arrest three patients. Hospital staff tried their best to ensure continued medical care for the three patients, and in the process, one MSF staff member was threatened at gunpoint by two armed men. After approximately one hour, the armed men released the three patients and left the hospital compound.”

While the motive of the raid is unclear, Afghan forces have long protested the practice of providing medical treatment to insurgents. But international law says that as soon as a fighter is in need of treatment, he is no longer a combatant. [...]

Note this: “U.S. authorities have since said that Afghan forces called in Saturday’s bombing…” Do Afghan forces direct American bombing? Again, the implications of just that sentence are pretty bad.

Is This a War Crime?

We’ve come a long way since World War II, when Nazi atrocities were prosecuted as war crimes, while incidents like the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, not to mention the destruction of Hiroshima, were not even brought up. Now we have ways to sometimes bring even the powerful to justice. The request of Doctors Without Borders? An independent international investigation.

Here’s a DWB statement (one of several) on the incident that plainly says there’s prima facie evidence of a war crime (my emphasis):

MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present.

This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimize the attack as ‘collateral damage.’

There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds. MSF reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation.”

And now from a CREDO petition also calling for an investigation (emphasis and footnotes in the original):

Sign the petition: Justice for Doctors Without Borders

In the middle of the night on Saturday, a U.S. military plane “repeatedly and very precisely” bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital filled with doctors, nurses and wounded patients in Kunduz, Afghanistan.1

The airstrike killed twelve Doctors Without Borders staff members and ten patients, including three children, and injured scores more. Some patients literally burned alive in their hospital beds.2

So far, the Pentagon has only released incomplete and contradictory accounts of what happened and why.

On Sunday, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated that: “Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body. Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.”3

The world needs to know how and why this grave violation of International Humanitarian Law was committed.4 Those responsible for what we presume to be an atrocious war crime must then face justice. Please join Doctors Without Borders in calling for an immediate and independent international investigation.

Tell President Obama and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: We join Doctors Without Borders and demand an investigation by an independent international body into the U.S. airstrike on the Kunduz hospital.

The Pentagon initially claimed that the hospital was hit by accident after U.S. troops nearby came under fire and called in the airstrike, then later changed its story and said that no U.S. troops were in the area and that Afghan troops called in the strike.5

But the Pentagon’s story simply doesn’t add up. According to Doctors Without Borders: “Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. airstrike on Saturday morning… We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched.”6

Further, “The bombing took place despite the fact that MSF had provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials as recently as Tuesday, September 29, [five days before the airstrike] to avoid that the hospital be hit.”7

Shockingly, the bombing continued for more than half an hour after Doctors Without Borders staff began making frantic calls to U.S. and Afghan military officials.

The Pentagon’s claim that the hospital was bombed by accident is also contradicted by statements by Afghan officials, who have tried to justify the attack by claiming that the hospital was used by the Taliban for military purposes. [...]

You can sign that petition here. If our military is innocent, what do they have to fear, right?

And if you consider that, after 15 years of war in Afghanistan, it’s time to get out, you might give these folks a little of your time and attention as well.

GP

The Specials (lyrics here)

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A Dark Side Of "Gay Culture"– In Traditional Afghanistan

Posted by DownWithTyranny on September 23rd, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

How do you go into a relatively primitive traditional culture and demand it change because it doesn’t meet our 21st-century standards? I can remember arguing with progressive congresswomen who wanted to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan to help liberate Afghan women. We’re talking about hundreds if not thousands of years of ingrained behavior tied to religion, culture and the most intimate of social relations. Soldiers aren’t going to make it happen; they’re just going to kill people and be killed. 

My times in Afghanistan, in 1969 and again in 1972, were awesome, and a total culture shock. I mean total. And I was reminded of them over the weekend when the NY Times ran a story about bacha bazi, traditional Pashtun pedophilia that was supposedly banned under the Taliban but is back in full swing now. And it upsets American soldiers there.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene– in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban. But soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages– and doing little when they began abusing children.

“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” said Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. “But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did– that was something village elders voiced to me.”

The policy of instructing soldiers to ignore child sexual abuse by their Afghan allies is coming under new scrutiny, particularly as it emerges that service members like Captain Quinn have faced discipline, even career ruin, for disobeying it.

After the beating, the Army relieved Captain Quinn of his command and pulled him from Afghanistan. He has since left the military.

Four years later, the Army is also trying to forcibly retire Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, a Special Forces member who joined Captain Quinn in beating up the commander.

“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who hopes to save Sergeant Martland’s career, wrote last week to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

In Sergeant Martland’s case, the Army said it could not comment because of the Privacy Act.

When asked about American military policy, the spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, wrote in an email: “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law.” He added that “there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it.” An exception, he said, is when rape is being used as a weapon of war.

The American policy of nonintervention is intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also reflects a reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men, for whom being surrounded by young teenagers can be a mark of social status.

Some soldiers believed that the policy made sense, even if they were personally distressed at the sexual predation they witnessed or heard about.

“The bigger picture was fighting the Taliban,” a former Marine lance corporal reflected. “It wasn’t to stop molestation.”

We looked at this five years ago on my travel blog when I wrote about my own experiences seeing it. When I first got to Afghanistan in 1969, having driven in my VW van from London, my strongest immediate thought, other than how unbelievably strong the hash was, was that no matter how far I had traveled in space, I had traveled much farther in time– straight backward. I was thousands of miles from my parents’ home in Brooklyn, and what felt like as many thousands of years back in time. I remember writing to a friend that I was feeling like I was living in the Bible (Old Testament).

Things have changed a little since then. I lived in a “village” (two family compounds off a barely demarcated dirt track) for a winter up in the Hindu Kush, where no one had ever heard of the United States, and no one had ever experienced electricity. Some four decades later I’m not sure if they’ve experienced electricity yet, but I’d bet you they’ve heard of the United States.

When you travel to, let’s say, “exotic” places like Afghanistan, you’re better off leaving your cultural judgments in check. There’s no way to reasonably compare our cultural standards to the ones that govern their lives. I got used to the concept, for example, of two good cleanings a year– one in the spring and one in the fall, something very different from the swim, jacuzzi, steam bath and shower I do in some combination every day here in L.A. Better to just roll with the punches. 

However, there was something I experienced a couple of times in Afghanistan which I just couldn’t swing with. It was pretty horrifying. They call it bacha bazi, and my experience of it came at two weddings, one in Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, which I believe was the fourth biggest town in the country, and one up in the Hindu Kush, the land time forgot. Bachas are young dancing boys. We’ll come back to this cultural artifact in a moment, but here you’ll find what Wikipedia says about it.

You don’t ever see the womenfolk in Afghanistan. My closest friend got married while I was there, and for several months I lived in his house and spent virtually all of my time with him. Everyone used to joke that we were brothers. I never saw the girl he married, not once. In the same house! Nor was she– or his mother or sisters– at the wedding. Well, that isn’t exactly accurate. They had their own party in the women’s part of the house. But it wasn’t exactly separate-but-equal, just separate.


Big steaming platters of rice with meat and vegetables were brought out by male servants– actually slaves, but no one called them that– and everyone dug in with their fingers, food rolling down everyone’s beards back onto the platters. Yum, yum. When the men were done eating, the leftovers were fed to the servants and dogs, although I don’t remember in what order, and then what was left from that was sent to the women. 

Meanwhile we had song and dance, from boys who looked like they were between 12 and 16, a troupe from somewhere who were hired to entertain at parties. They were wearing women’s dancing clothes, more or less; they all had big heavy farmer boots on. And they all had their eyes smeared with kohl and some kind of rouge substitute. While they danced– kind of alluringly, truth be told, everyone was hootin’ and hollerin’. No one was drunk, but everyone, every single person, was high on hash. 

At one point the groom’s grandfather suddenly jumped up, apparently unable to restrain himself for another second, grabbed the youngest, smallest bacha and dragged him behind a building and raped him. It was gruesome to hear, but it didn’t seem to put any kind of a damper on the party at all. The rest of the troupe kept dancing, and everyone else just ignored the commotion and enjoyed the festivities. It’s part of their culture. 

Ten minutes later Grandpa and the 12-year-old came back from around the building, straightening their clothes. The bacha seemed to feel his dignity was affronted, but he jumped right back into the line and danced away the rest of the evening as though nothing had happened. I’m not sure what happened afterward, but from what I heard, all the boys were raped (more or less).

And although these people definitely have heard of America now, they still enjoy a little bacha bazi as part of their cultural heritage, especially the wealthy men, although wealth is a relative thing. Whoever is exercising power gets himself a young bacha or two (or a half-dozen) to keep as sex slaves. Frontline did a special on the phenomenon by journalist Najibullah Qurasishi. You may find it difficult to watch, but it will certainly give you an idea about a not-uncommon aspect of Afghanistan, a country the U.S. military is occupying for no apparent purpose and with no apparent positive effect.

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