Afghanistan: Culture, Clash

One of the more intriguing aspects to being a white guy in America watching events unfold in Afghanistan is the astounding number of cultural gaffes and clashes that take place. Unfortunately, this sort of friction isn't limited to amusing and trivial things like diet coke, but rather often involves substantive matters as well.

Last week, Preeti Aroon, writing for the Foreign Policy Blog, noted a small protest over the issue of soccer balls in Afghanistan. The basics, as I explained in a similar post, were stemming from several efforts to “reach out” to local Afghans by giving them soccer balls (which are for football, I suppose)… only these balls have the flag of Saudi Arabia on them, which contains the Shuhada. Around 100 or so Afghans in Khowst did not like the idea of kicking a verse of the Koran with their feet, and held a peaceful demonstration in protest. Properly chagrined, the military apologized, and is now reviewing the program to see how to maintain it without any further unintentional insults.

Naturally, American bloggers blew the incident entirely out of proportion. Afghanistanica found some of the more outrageous examples:

[T]he always subtle and nuanced Michelle Malkin blogged the incident and, after berating the US military for its “ridiculous groveling” apology, remarked about Muslims:

“…they’re pretty damned “sensitive” (read: ready to riot) about everything.” [her parentheses, not mine]

Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, Afghanistan, by Flickr user lafrancevi

Her commenters are actually more “sensitive” (read: attempting to offend) than Michelle is, but you will have to scroll down past the Koran in the toilet to read those comments.

Oh dear. Afghanistanica also linked to some other American blogs (Little Green Footballs and Jihad Watch) that made similarly heated statements about the “riots” (which actually weren't). He responds by stating what should be the obvious:

I’ll just say that that I don’t think most Afghans wake up with some sort of strong desire to get angry and riot. And I don’t think many foreign soldiers wake up with a strong desire to offend Afghans. I think this incident was quite minor, and I can’t believe how much attention it received considering the other more important concerns in Afghanistan.

Precisely. In fact, rather basic rights, such as speech, seem to be still under attack… in Kabul of all places.

Radio sadaiHaqiqat, Salam Watandar partner station in samangan was torched down last night. The radio station was set up by the local youth, mostly consisted home made gears…

The station has received some threats, mostly from local information and culture authority.

Beyond the threats to the radio station, Atash Parcha relates what it was like to wake up to a suicide bomb.

BOOM! thats the sound that awoke me on Friday morning. i was too tired. i drifted back into sleep.

later on during the day, my sister asked me if she had heard the explosion. It was a suicide attack against the German NATO troops situated in the military west wing of Kabul International Airport. As usual, it was the civilians that suffered in masses.

Here in the States, where we go into weeks of national mourning over far smaller events, such an attitude is difficult to understand… as is the anger some might feel over having their holy book, in their eyes, desecrated by foreigners. By not understanding these fairly basic cultural cornerstones, the U.S. and its allies seem set up for future failures.

Alas, Afghanistan is going nowhere without more foreign investment, a prospect made incredibly difficult by the so-called “land mafia” that has been stealing land for its own purposes.

Multiple land registries allow well-connected strongmen to stake claims with impunity, and the lack of a functioning legal system leaves victims with no recourse. The lack of security vis a vis land and property rights remains one of the major impediments to investment in Afghanistan.

Indeed. But it isn't all gloom and doom for Afghanistan. The newly repurposed Safrang, who has spent the last week in Herat, has many nice things to say about the city:

The first thing that catches the attention of a newcomer to the city is the broad, well-paved and preserved, and tree-lined streets of Herat. At least that is what caught my attention coming from Kabul with its permanently congested and pot-holed roads as our noisy convoy with its escorts zipped through the long drive from the airport into the city via Injeel district.

Then it is the history. It is there in the huge citadel, the magnificent Friday mosque, the strikingly beautiful Minarets that are all in such heartbreaking state of disrepair, the tombs of Gawhar Shaad and Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, the historic four gates of the city, the square with a Soviet tank and statues in memory of the brave Heratis of the 24th of Hoot all over it, and on and on…

Third comes the wind. No, the famous story about the wind of a hundred and twenty days is not some fairy tale…

After the streets and the history and the wind, it is the Heratis that make Herat great. Their endearingly idiosyncratic Farsi accents, their Persian features and polite manners, their relative cosmopolitanism, their industrious and entrepreneurial spirit, their love of and patronizing of arts and literature (evident in their frequent use of poetry in speech), and the fact that until things got really bad with security here, the city’s parks were filled with families out picnicing at night! I seriously like that.

He also mentions the interesting fact of the entire region's steady supply of electricity. Somehow, he has made me want to visit even more than I did before… and I already really wanted to see what it was like…. if nothing else that to see the elaborate narotechture springing up in its newfound prosperity.

Why not end on a more positive note? Hope for bridging the wide gap between Afghanistan and the West may, after all, be possible through music. This posting of an American Rubab master at work is somewhat breathtaking, and very much worth seeing.


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