One hates to welcome a really smart and well-written blog with a cavil, but, alas, one must. First: Bad Rachel seems like it’ll be totally worth adding to your blog roll. A couple more posts like her first, and she’ll be on the Gormogons’ must-read list. Her discussion of the pervasive Pashtun culture of misogyny and pederasty which complicates our efforts to understand them and gain their cooperation, is the kind of thing one doesn’t see every day. She concludes:
Yet even so, there is something they could do that would matter enormously, that would benefit the people of that country, and us in the bargain—given patience enough, and assuming our politics permits our soldiers to remain there for the long term—and that is reaching out to the women of Afghanistan. If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.
This bit is more than a little utopian. If such a thing were to happen, it’d be wonderful, sure. But how we can actually reach the cloistered, abused chattel whom we’d like to make into self-possessed individuals? For the most part, we can’t.
We can hope and we can remain true to our ideals, within whatever accommodations we need to make to Afghan culture. We’re much more likely to effect some sort of women’s revolution from the top down. But Republican Turkey has been a society sanctioning and in some ways insisting on women’s equality for 90 years, and there was a form of Ottoman feminism before that. And if you go to villages in the countryside? It’s not so progressive.
If Afghanistan can be stabilized and given an effective government that can allow it to participate in the wider world, then questions of society and culture can begin to be addressed—by Afghans. At the moment, however, the country is so comprehensively atomized and wrecked, there’s no way anyone—least of all the perhaps entirely theoretical Pashtun women’s-equality movement—can effect radical changes in mores.
Bad Rachel surely understands this—note her insight regarding the incongruity of Muslim sexual morality and Pashtun culture—and it’s clear she writes out of her entirely laudable Judeo-Christian belief in equality in God‘s eyes and Western optimism about the reform of vicious ancient cultures. It makes one like her, a lot, even if it undercuts, slightly, the power of her preceding analysis with something that’s more than a little wishful.
One shares her hopes, of course, but when trying to figure out our role in Afghanistan, we will be lucky to fix the state. If in doing so, we somehow effect societal change, terrific, but we’re in such a big hole there, we really can’t make a priority.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.