A cultural guide for Afghanis

After eleven years, we are trying a new approach:

“Please do not get offended if you see a NATO member blowing his/her nose in front of you,” the guide instructs.

“When Coalition members get excited, they may show their excitement by patting one another on the back or the behind,” it explains. “They may even do this to you if they are proud of the job you’ve done. Once again, they don’t mean to offend you.”

This is news to me, though I would like to see it confirmed:

Fifty-one coalition troops have been killed this year by their Afghan counterparts. While some insider attacks have been attributed to Taliban infiltrators, military officials say the majority stem from personal disputes and misunderstandings.


NATO’s coalition is described as a “work of art.”

For my house, I might rather have a Suzani.


Uh, whose cultural ignorance is this?

There has also been a bit of a cultural disconnect going the other way in that American soldiers have tended to object to one time-honored tradition of the vibrant diversity that is Afghan culture: Afghan men sodomizing boys Gerry Sandusky-style.

The entire Arab Middle-East is a boy fucking haven, not just Afghanistan. It's every bit as bad in Saudi, etc. I know oil workers who left the region specifically because their young sons were reaching sexy-age for Saudi pederasts.

There seems to be a correlation between cultures which treat wives as property and those where men frequently fuck young boys: Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Modern Saudi Arabia, Modern Afghanistan, etc.

There's an obvious problem if we start to view sexuality as a function of culture, however. Everyone is supposed to be "born that way", so we can't face the possibility that grown men in some cultures might like to bugger boys much more often than in other cultures. So someone is going to have to come up with a far-fetched theory that pederasts ARE in fact born that way and it is genetic after all. Oh wait. Look who I'm talking to.

Afghanistan is neither Arab nor part of the Middle-East,

Yeah, but it's a common observation among the well-traveled that Pathan culture resembles Arab culture in surprisingly many ways.

Other than anecdotes do we have any more authoritative sources quantifying this predilection to buggering boys in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan?

All cultures have pederasts, does Arabia really stand out?

Saudi Arabia is such a closed society, I can't imagine any sort of reliable data becoming available in the near future. For better or worse, anecdotes from people who have lived in the country are the best we can come by. And they are interesting:

“They’re not really homosexual,” she said. “They’re like cell mates in prison.” This analogy came up again and again during my conversations. As Radwan, the Saudi American, put it, “Some Saudi [men] can’t have sex with women, so they have sex with guys. When the sexes are so strictly segregated”—men are allowed little contact with women outside their families, in order to protect women’s purity—“how do they have a chance to have sex with a woman and not get into trouble?” Tariq, a 24-year-old in the travel industry, explains that many “tops” are simply hard up for sex, looking to break their abstinence in whatever way they can. Francis, a 34-year-old beauty queen from the Philippines (in 2003 he won a gay beauty pageant held in a private house in Jeddah by a group of Filipinos), reported that he’s had sex with Saudi men whose wives were pregnant or menstruating; when those circumstances changed, most of the men stopped calling... John Bradley, the author of Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis (2005), says that most male Western expatriates here, gay or not, have been propositioned by Saudi men driving by “at any time of the day or night, quite openly and usually very, very persistently.”

True, this is all about the less taboo subject of Saudi men being "tops" with other adult men but it wouldn't be at all surprising if the same logic extends to having sex with underage men and boys. When men are deprived of female companionship, they may seek out feminine-looking males as an inferior but adequate substitute. The same thing is observed in prisons so it shouldn't be that shocking if one sees it in very conservative Muslim cultures.

How does that hypothesis explain pederasty in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome though? Those were fairly liberal societies with no lack of female companionship, right?

I don't think women were completely free agents in Ancient Greece or Rome.

I think this (includes Greece, Rome, etc) is simply the acknowledgement that being a top doesn't make you a homosexual unless that is what you actively seek, or at least this is what's understood in those cultures. Cue men having sex with animals, children, glory holes, other men for bathroom quickies, circle jerks, etc. Basically it's simply an extension of receiving and the mid-point between a female human and your hand. I'm going to go with the anecdotes and say Iraq and Egypt are the same way from my personal experience. We used to catch Iraqi's getting it on with their superiors all the time as a way to get a job, get promoted, or hell even keep their job. I remember we had an twenty year old American mulatto male with us and a couple times his manager was offered cash if they would whore him out for fifteen or so.


Read anthropologists' accounts of Pathan society, 19th Century explorers, popular fiction like Michener's "Caravans," or news coverage since 2001. The "dancing boys" phenomenon is a very big feature in Pathan life.

Fifty-one coalition troops have been killed this year by their Afghan counterparts.
All due to cultural misunderstandings....

Same message - why are we even there?

In Afghanistan, we poor dumb Americans are in so far over our heads, in terms of understanding the local culture, that we've been fighting on the Sandusky Side for a decade. The Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s in a national reaction against two warlords going to war over the favors of a beardless youth. We've been, in effect, fighting to put the boy-buggerers back in power. And we can't understand why the more (relatively speaking) morally upright Afghans object and keep trying to kill us.

What is insane is that you are right.

Well, we did take out the people that were sponsoring terrorism against us (and the Taliban weren't exactly wonderful for Afghanistan either). Since we aren't willing to simply occupy and run a country, we had to help someone else into power. A mess, yes, but was there a clearly better alternative to our actions? Even with the benefit of hindsight, I don't see one.

Give the Barrett 50 Caliber a chance.

Idiocy. You can do a punitive expedition, kill enough people to assuage the bloodlust of your citizenry, and then piss off again. What you mustn't do is stage a war of occupation which you are bound to lose. Ignorance, arrogance and stupidity form a poor basis for a foreign policy.

You don't really have to get past the question of whether a country who is truly sponsoring terrorism against us is likely to stop if we occupy them.

Or, let's say the country is uncontrollable. Then it is likely just a convenient place for Al Qaeda to bivouac, with some path dependence due to CIA funding of Bin Laden. How much does invasion mean then?

Or, you could say that the Taliban was sponsoring terrorism against the will of the people because they are despots. Then it should be easy for us to control the country and gain the peoples' cooperation. Hasn't our experiment disproven that theory?

Or, Afghanistan is just a really great base for terrorists. And yet now we are attacking them over in Pakistan.

Really, this is just what you get when you mix the right-wing hubris and leftist arrogance into foreign policy.

Oh, and the little thing of if remote attacks into Pakistan make sense, why couldn't we remote attack Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? I realize that is just blood under the bridge, but it is a useful rhetorical question.

How far into Pakistan are we attacking people? If it is due to incursions into Afghanistan what is so wrong with sniper rifles?

dearieme, just destabilizing a regime is a cruel policy of sending a country through the J-curve of a power struggle which is no more likely to result in a preferable steady-state as the one that put in place the prior regime.

It's probably better to just kill any individual policy-makers. Let's bring back assassination because that's what we are doing. We can do it much cheaper without having to use total invasion to cover for it. Our puss politicians who fear retribution will just have to strap on some.

Steve, you are wrong that we have enabled this. We have caused it!

"In December 2010 a cable made public by WikiLeaks revealed that foreign contractors from DynCorp had spent money on bacha bazi in northern Afghanistan. Afghan interior minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar requested that the US military assume control over DynCorp training centers in response, but the US embassy claimed that this was not "legally possible under the DynCorp contract""

Maybe there is a free lunch with the gays in the military issue. We could call it The Piece Corps.

Here's an article on Your Tax Dollars at Work in Afghanistan (which I'm not sure I totally believe -- it could be a great comic hoax, but most Onion-style hoaxes aren't this mordant or well-informed):

A source at Army Special Operations command tells In From the Cold that Afghan women, emboldened by the presence of U.S. troops. have complained about beatings they've suffered at the hands of their husbands. The domestic violence reportedly stemmed from the inability of the women to become pregnant and produce sons, highly valued in Afghan society.

When U.S. civil affairs teams (and other special forces units) quietly investigated the problem, they quickly discovered a common denominator. Virtually all of the younger men who beat their wives (over their inability to become pregnant) had been former "apprentices" of older Afghan men, who used them for their sexual pleasure. Upon entering marriage, whatever the men knew of sex had been learned during their "apprenticeship," at the hands of the older man. To put it bluntly, some of the younger Afghans were unfamiliar with the desired (and required) mechanics for conception.

To remedy this situation, the Army called in its psychological operations teams, which developed information campaigns in Pashtun areas, explaining the basics of heterosexual relations and their benefits, in terms of producing male offspring. It may be the only time in the history of warfare that an army has been required to explain sex to the native population, to curb the abuse of women and young boys--and retain U.S. influence in key geographic areas.

Army psy op specialists declined to discuss their efforts in great detail. But one of the "preferred sex" campaigns was (reportedly) a direct result of the 2009 survey, and the problems encountered by NATO troops working with their Afghan counterparts..


I call bullshit. Any 12 years old boy anywhere in the world knows the basics of heterosexual relationships. This story does not quite reach The Onion level of believability.

This claim is not well-sourced.

Uhhhh, yeah, right.

Most of that article is based on
Cardinalli's report
, which definitely exists. She gives one example along these lines, if you believe this link really is the report.

Cardinalli is interesting. Graduated from high school at 14 (also publishing a book at that age about how others can do the same thing), and the youngest person to complete a PhD at Notre Dame. No background in anthropology or other such relevant stuff (possibly hired because she's a licensed detective), but I've heard similar stories from independent sources and find the claims plausible.

Actually, most of the behaviors depicted aren't exactly classy in Western culture either.

Anyway, what they REALLY should be taught is to not get offended by anything, and just laugh it off.
The secret of a peaceful society is simply not giving a fuck about anything.

Yeah, the numbers are accurate (think it's 51 in 37 separate incidents). Googling "isaf green on blue" pull up more details. Post-withdrawal prospects look fairly bleak, there's no indication that this government is any more stable than Najibullah's . Governance and coercion are distributed quite widely in Afghanistan, in the absence of the additional coercive element provided by ISAF there's little hope that the Kabul crowd will be able to maintain a grip.

Though, in fairness, there's little evidence that ISAF/Karzai have anything but the most superficial of grips anyway.

Not to nitpick, but I believe that the people are "Afghans" and that the currency is the "Afghani".

Not to nitpick, but I believe that the people are “Afghans” and that the currency is the “Afghani”.

Actually Afghans are dogs. Afghans themselves are Pashtun or Tadjiks or the like. Collectively things and people pertaining to Afghanistan, are called Afghani. It is overly cute, like referring to Paree, but I don't think it is wrong.

It depends on what language you're speaking. In English, Afghan is the correct term for the people. This differs depending on the language being used by the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan.



Why are we there? F--- them. They don't want us there and I can't blame them. -- who wants a bunch of assholes with guns running there country

I have a feeling assholes with guns have been running Afghanistan for a long time, and that this will only continue. I don't care too much about it, but I would certainly prefer it to be OUR assholes with guns...

Well, as long as your preferences about how other people are ruled are satisfied.

The blog, soon to be a major university, that expects others to answer such implicitly framing questions as this - 'This is news to me, though I would like to see it confirmed.'

This news is from August 2012 -

'Even as attacks by Afghan security forces on NATO troops have become an increasing source of tension, new NATO data shows another sign of vulnerability for the training mission: even greater numbers of the Afghan police and military forces have killed each other this year.

So far, Afghan soldiers or police officers have killed 53 of their comrades and wounded at least 22 others in 35 separate attacks this year, according to NATO data provided to The New York Times by officials in Kabul. By comparison, at least 40 NATO service members were reported killed by Afghan security forces or others working with them.'


(A link which came from here - http://www.emptywheel.net/2012/08/24/nato-figures-green-on-green-death-rate-exceeds-green-on-blue-what-about-blue-on-blue/ - wonder how friendly fire numbers look?)

But that was still a stale article in a shifting and dynamic world, not a stagnant one. Or is it stagnant?

Let's watch how Anthony Cordesman and the Center for Strategic and International Studies puts this into perspective -

'First, green on blue killings need to be put in perspective. On the one hand, the numbers involved are still very limited. Green on blue deaths in August were only 15 out of 53, or 28%. Analysis also shows that the trend in total Coalition deaths is falling: the total of 53 casualties for August 2012 is the highest in 2012 -- but is typical of the patterns during the campaign season and compares with 82 in 2011 and 79 in 2010.'

Which means that Prof. Cowens to have 51 as a number confirmed was actually insightful - the number as of almost 3 weeks ago, is 53, in an article attempting to put this number into a perspective which shows how our continuing mission in Afghanistan needs to be our continuing mission in Afghanistan because, well download the paper titled 'Avoiding Creeping Defeat in Afghanistan: The Need for Realistic Assumptions, Strategy, and Plans.' (Man, does title bring back what I had thought was nostalgia, until one realizes that the people writing this are still living in the 1960s, and not just watching TV about it,)

Here's a thought - maybe CSIS and MR University can leverage their synergistic funding and social capital by creating a course on cultural awareness when projecting power - could even have a tie-in with cultural frictions resulting around things like using both pork and beef fat, and what this means in term of long term economic development - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Rebellion_of_1857#Causes_of_the_rebellion

When I was in Iran, it annoyed the hell out of me that I had to go to the bathroom each time I wanted to blow my nose.
It was winter and I had caught a cold.

The American guide for soldiers in Vietnam is interesting reading:


One of the exhortations surprised me: "Make Personal Friends among the [native] soldiers and common people"

Is this still the philosophy in other conflicts? I thought Fraternization was frowned upon as a military policy.

The lack of historical knowledge here is frightful. Soldier on soldier violence in combat isn't new; for example, fragging http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2877/did-soldiers-really-frag-officers-in-vietnam

Has a single one of the commenters ever served in combat? I doubt it.

I'm going to start saying "I might rather have a Suzani" everyday. It's the best anti-war slogan I've heard in years. Plus, I can use it when I'm dragged to one of your ethnic restaurant recommendations and my girlfriend wants some weird thing on the menu.

An anthropologist friend sent me some Pashtun proverbs:

Here are some Pukhtun (=Pashtun = Pathan = Pushtun) proverbs (from “Generosity and Jealousy: The Swat Pukhtun of Northern Pakistan,” Charles Lindholm, Columbia University Press, 1982. Also by Lindholm, and strongly recommended is The Islamic Middle East: Tradition and Change, Blackwell, 2002)

On war and peace (p. 31)

The Pukhtun is never at peace, except when he is at war.

On women (p. 113)

Women belong in the house or in the grave.

Women have no noses. They will eat s***.

One’s own mother and sister are disgusting.

On family life (nepotism and neposchism) (p. 161)

Where there is the sound of a blow, there is respect.

When the floodwaters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet.

On friendship (p. 240)

God, grant me a true friend who, without urging, will show me his love.

Curiously, the Pukhtun have a strongly idealized notion of friendship. They say that it is honorable for a man to lie for a true friend, even with his hand on the Koran (which means that the liar goes to Hell!). While other Pukhtun are potential allies, and often must be avenged for the sake of honor, they cannot be true friends, because the element of rivalry is too strong. The ideal friend is a foreigner, providing he comes as a guest, rather than an enemy. Lindholm, although no sociobiologist, argues that a universal human nature is rearing its head here– the desire for human connection expressing itself in the cult of friendship, in what is otherwise a bitterly individualist and cutthroat culture.

Rahul, I am totally agree with your thoughts. Keep doing these type of work.

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