Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From ‘Afghan Rumour Bazaar. Secret sub-cultures, hidden worlds and the everyday life of the absurd’ by Nushin Srbabzadah

In theory, in Afghan culture kindness is encouraged because it’s a way of Islam but in reality, brutes reign supreme. The whole nation is hostage to psychopaths, leaving healthy minds with three options: to fight back, to submit but keep one’s option open or to numb one’s senses with drugs or insanity.

We arrived in Delhi at night. The distinct smell of India, a mixture of gasoline, excrement and spice, was in the air.

For some reason, Indian waiters liked to stare at customers in a manner that can only be described as disconcerting.

….underneath the surface of Afghans’ polite conformism there lurks a strong spirit of ruthless rivalry. The country is poor and economically unproductive, with trade the only financially worthwhile activity. Everybody is basically a business man or woman and resources being limited, life becomes all about the survival of the ruthless and the beautiful. An Afghan saying sums up the competitiveness: ‘No-one wants to be a fifty-cent in Afghanistan; everyone wants to be nothing less than a dollar!’

‘…..Everybody in Afghanistan wants to be nothing less than a leader.

…we Afghans were fearful of being original, different, ourselves… We were an imitation-nation ….

Ours was a judgemental society. The only people who were given true respect were those who had died for Afghanistan, even if their martyrdom was accidental, or in a suicide attack targeting the foreign troops, for example.

If a woman breaches the traditional code of conduct, she pays the price for it…The price ….was that everybody out there felt entitled to cross one’s personal boundaries by staring, cat-calling and groping.

Upon arriving in Afghanistan from Iran, the British explorer, Robert Byron…..famously said, ‘Here at last is Asia without an inferiority complex.’

Kabul’s air is famously filled with tiny shit particles floating about, courtesy of the inadequate sewage system. Everyone who can leave the city for a while leaves it …..

I recalled an Afghan saying ….’There are three types of people in Afghanistan, al-Qaida (the insurgents); al-Faida (the enriched) and al-Gayeda (the fucked).’

Poetry and war are hard to escape in Afghanistan – we are the land of poet warriors………..With education interrupted, literacy and linguistic skills had suffered. Our Iranian neighbours made little secret of their mockery of our linguistic failures as the lesser-known custodians of the Persian language. Their famous saying that Persian took birth in Tajikistan, flourished in Iran and died in Afghanistan summed up their criticism…

The memories of the defeated gods of the past, of Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, are kept alive in the names of urban landmarks and landscape spots. Tomb shrines dedicated to local saints are scattered throughout Afghanistan, offering peaceful rest on long trips. It is inside such shrines that one finds quiet spirituality – even as a woman.

It is fair to say that since Kabul fell to Muslim rulers, religion never ceased to demand blood for its survival, protection and sustenance. In Friday sermons of the kind that would make a less desensitized people shudder in horror, Afghan imams tend to wallow in talk of carnage..

The further north one travels, the more Central Asian the shrines become. Decorated with animal horns, the metal bars around the tombs have colourful cloths tied to them. The sacred sites are leftover traces of the fallen gods of Shamanism.

Afghans like to exaggerate numbers for dramatic effect…

‘Thirsty when the water jug is full’ is a popular proverb that Afghans use to describe the state of their country.

Religious intolerance, especially towards Sikhism and Hinduism, is a deeply ingrained part of Afghan national identity……

Unlike most Afghans, who tend to be unreserved and gregarious, Afghan Sikhs speak in a quiet voice. Their manner of conversation to non-Sikhs is structured to avoid confrontation and often begins with formulations of reassurance….In my school in Kabul, Sikh children were regularly mocked at for their manner of dress and names; the boys were ridiculed for their distinctive headgear and there was pressure on them to convert to Islam.

Despite daily harassment in Afghanistan and the additional complications that stem from being Afghan Sikhs abroad, the community still feels a powerful sense of belonging to Afghanistan. Its members are known to have helped Muslim Afghans make a living by setting up businesses in the UK.

Afghanistan is a curious place. Those who kill are called martyrs. Those who they kill are also called martyrs and the violence is apparently done for the sake of god….Those who kill do so for the sake of god. Those who die hope that god will punish those who kill.

It may seem hard to believe today, but historically it was Afghanistan to which Jews turned to when escaping religious persecution in Iran and central Asia. It was in the dusty, ancient cities of Herat and Kabul, to the west and the east of Afghanistan, that they found freedom to practice their faith without getting murdered in the process. A community of leather and karakul merchants, poor people and money lenders alike, the large Jewish families mostly lived in the border city of Herat, while the families patriarchs travelled back and forth on trading trips, moving between Iran, Afghanistan, India and central Asia on the ancient silk road.

….everybody is a poet in this land of love, lies and blood. Everyone writes poems, even the warlords

…Farsi, the Iranian form of Persian…………Dari, the Afghan form….

Whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor, Afghans can be exceedingly polite people….

Afghans are world masters in covering up the true causes of death, tending to fabricate stories to make dealing with bereavement easier for the victims families. In reality, what the stories do is to create confusion and avoidance of the grieving process.
The consequence of this is unresolved grief, which can lead to depression, anger and rage and in turn trigger new acts of violence against others or self-harm. The suffering often lasts for generations, with children growing up confused as they hear conflicting stories about a family member’s death without ever learning the true cause, or perhaps more importantly, finding justsice.

The bravery of Afghans is limitless, but when it comes to honour or naamoos, the lions of the Hindukush turn into the trembling rabbits of South Asia. Few have the heart to stand up for the victims and their rights. In the words of one editorial: ‘In our society, it is not the perpetrator of the act of violation who carries the shame of dishonor. It is the victim, who’s condemned to an eternally cursed life.’ ….A young boy was raped by a commander but couldn’t face going home with his honour ‘stained’. Instead he stayed with the commander, becoming his ‘mistress’. A girls family killed her as soon as they discovered that she had lost her naamoos. Fearing a similar fate, another rape victim fled to the local police station for protection from her own family.

The chaos of war was best described with the words of an Afghan jihadi figure, Sediq Chakari, when asked about his responsibility as a commander in war crimes of the 1990s. He said, ‘Look, this is Afghanistan. Someone fires a rocket; it falls on something, kills some people, Who fired it or why? No one knows.’ To add to the already existing disorder, the Taliban rarely denied involvement in attacks attributed to them because the attribution serves as free publicity, making them appear more powerful than they are.

…historical account from the 1920s, back then the women and girls of the conquered populations also belonged to the pillage package offered to militia jihadis…..The Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan in 1996t, by contrast, strayed from the path of tradition. …the Taliban militia did not make use of their unspoken right to pillage and loot. They searched the conquered populations’ homes, but only to confiscate weapons and so ensure a monopoly of violence for their state.

The Taliban….moving their capital to the much poorer city of Kandahar. Accounts of Afghans who met Taliban officials all reveal a lack of interest in material goods or symbols of social hierarchy. Meetings would be held seated on the floor in a circle, erasing all signs of hierarchy that traditionally has been part of Afghan court etiquette…..With the Taliban, rural Afghans came to power, ruling over the more sophisticated urban population. This too, was a breach of precedence….

The uncomfortable truth is that Afghanistan has never been a truly independent country and has always relied on outside resources and expertise for survival. Historically, much of the country’s limited wealth came through control of trade routes by local tribesmen who also acted as highwaymen, making travelling in Afghanistan a famously dangerous endeavor. Other sources of income included military raids into richer neighbouring territories and foreign subsidies in return for implementing superpower policies. The government in Kabul has always received foreign aid subsidies to implement modernization projects. The border tribes have always been hard to control and repeatedly undermined the central state, refusing to pay tax or supply soldiers to the army, again drawing on the unspoken right to independence.
The myth of independence also legitimized internal rebellions.

Independence, the national narrative that binds Afghans together, is simultaneously the force that helps mobilize rebellions …….

If you visit Afghanistan, make sure you have no good words for Pakistan because apart from misogyny, anti-Pakistan sentiment is just about the only attitude that almost all Afghans share. They regard the Taliban as a purely Pakistani creation and if Benazir Bhutto is famous as one of the few female Muslim leaders in the West, in Afghanistan she is chiefly known as the woman who gave birth to theTaliban.

Afghan leaders are famous for their reluctance to share power. They would rather preside over a smaller faction than abdicate power or the cause of the greater good and in doing so, become a mere deputy. As an Afghan saying has it, no one wants to be a dime; everyone wants to be a dollar.

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