In defense of Atheism

February 1, 2008 at 10:13 am (Religion) (, , , , , , )

cricifixion.jpg

I have been on a mild anti-religion kick for the last few years.  It’s not that I believe that all Christians are wrong, and that science is right.  As an Atheist, I do not define myself by disbelief in the Christo-mythology, rather, I simply see no reason to believe it over any other religion.  My argument comes from an absolute lack of faith in a higher power, not just the most well recognized one.  After all, Christianity has been around for thousands of years (long time, right?) but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to some of the Eastern religions.  And I don’t believe in them, either.

     I find it hard to believe that a religion that has borrowed so much from previous religions can truly be anywhere near accurate, or fulfilling.  Does anyone else find it odd that Easter, the “resurrection” of Jesus, happens to fall in Spring, a time of rebirth for much longer than Christianity was ever heard of, and just might have coincided with the Spring Solstice?

     In fact, there is historical evidence on many levels, showing that Christians, when subjugating (yes, I said subjugating, they weren’t always nice people) adopted the belief systems of the cultures they conquered, then folded it into their own dogma to make it easier for the conquered peoples to accept.  Christmas (a namesake holiday, at that) was originally known as Saturnalia, and was a celebration of the winter solstice, and celebrated the God Saturn.  By “Pagans”, nonetheless.  When the Christians came through the Roman Empire, they moved the date of their messiah’s birth to coincide with popular Roman beliefs.  One can almost imagine the Romans saying “See?  Look, their gods are the same as ours, their dates match up!”  Additionally, this moved conception to March, and lined it up to almost exactly the same date as his crucifixion, living up to a belief in Judaism that a prophet has a fixed number of years to live.

     By no stretch of the imagination does this mean that I do not celebrate Christmas.  I do.  I celebrate it with my family, some religious, some not.  We don’t pray around the table, we don’t celebrate the virgin birth, and we don’t go to church for Mass, either.  However, we still celebrate the spirit of goodwill, the giving of gifts, and Christmas dinner.  To not celebrate Christmas, growing up, is to be ostracized from the other children in your school, and my parents didn’t want that for me, and when I have children, I will not want that for them.  I suppose that is a form of “getting along for the sake of conformity”, but it is one that I am willing to accept.

     A major problem I have with Christianity itself is the Bible, and the contradiction that it implies, just by its very existence.  Let me clarify.  The bible is “God’s word”, as told through the Apostles and various other accounts.  If we accept this collection of stories (because that is what it is, a collection of stories, as told by “witnesses”), then we only accept the New Testament.  Where did the Old Testament come from then?  Obviously, it was “true” before there was even writing.  So who wrote it?  God would not have needed to write a thing.  He was there for all of his creations and communicated with him directly.

     If we look at the Old Testament, we see a vengeful God, who not only destroys his own creations, but proves himself fallible.  If God was all knowing, all seeing, and all capable, then he could have corrected the problems well before it ever came to floods and pestilence.  He could have literally blinked them out of existence.

     Additionally, where does “The Devil” fall in all of this?  If God blessed his creations with free will, and it separated them from the “Angels”, then how did Lucifer ever have the ability to rebel?  And how did one third of the host of Angels have the ability to follow him?  In the opening chapters of the Bible, Satan is already evil and tempting Eve.  There is more before the Garden of Eden, including the Rebellion, Satan’s creation, and a woman that Judaism refers to as Lilith.  There are gross omissions in our common version of the Bible.

     Why publish a book when people of the time were illiterate?  The bible as a book did not garner wide distribution until the invention of the printing press, and most people had to hear their religion from the mouths of priests, at services and mass.  The Gutenberg Bible was one of the most controversial books of its time, because it put religion in the hands of the people (who, incidentally, could not read it anyway), and started a movement for literacy.

     I, however, do not believe in Christianity as any form of truth any more than I believe that the Earth is a disc supported on the backs of four elephants and a giant sea turtle.  There are simply too many holes and contradictions

     Christians, however, point to their faith and say that some things are not ours to question, and that God has a plan, and we should trust in God…This, to me, simply says that they don’t have the answers, either, as to where we came from, and that looking too deeply into their own belief structure makes them uncomfortable.  I am not saying that I have the answers, nor that Science does.  I am simply saying that religion requires a belief system that is inherently full of holes, and not something that stands up to scrutiny.

     I am not out to prove that Christianity is a sham or hoax, I simply believe that one should look at the histories of the other religions that pre-date it and compare and contrast.  After all, if you never look at anything else, all you are doing is following.  Following never got anyone anywhere first.  There is no discovery in religion.

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Email Response

January 31, 2008 at 9:43 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , , )

From: “XXXXX XXX” <XXXXXXXX@hotmail.com>
>To: xxxxxxxxx@hotmail.com
>Subject: Article on Afghanistan.
>Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2006 17:54:51 -0700
>
>Knowing as little as I do, I’d LOVE your take on this.  And no, it’s not
>just a buncha extremist rhetoric.  At least…I don’t think it is…but I
>don’t have the same perspective you do…which is why I’m sending you the
>link!
>
> http://www.slate.com/id/2144094/
>
>xoxo
>
>-D
>
>
Deborah:

Here’s my take on Afghanistan as a whole, I cant speak on points of the
article without giving more background, so please bear with me here.

The Russians did more damage to this country than anyone realizes.  We are
still finding remnants of their mining and deforestation campaign.  
Searching for a straight route to the ocean to expand their presence through
Southwest Asia, the Russians came to Afghanistan, and attempted to do what
the Indians, the British, and the Iranians had not been able to do for
thousands of years:  Take, and HOLD Afghanistan as a territory.

The issue with holding on to Afghanistan is the Hindu-Kush mountains,that
split the country like a knife, and the vast stretches of nothingness that
amount to the countryside.  It wasn’t always desert, though.  The Russians,
after deciding that their presence in Afghanistan was too costly in both
lives and money, started a massively successful deforestation campaign that
wiped out literally half the country’s vegetation.  Everything from
chemicals to salt was used in an attempt to destroy the lives of the Afghan
people.  The apparent motto being if we cant have it, no one can.  This
took place during the Cold War, and we, in hatred of an enemy that we
thought was oppressing the Afghan peoples, decided to support a militant
splinter group headed by a man named Osama Bin Laden, the son of an Afghan
construction worker. (this is a very abbreviated history).  Osama Bin Laden,
and his Taliban (themselves a radical offshoot from the traditional
Muslims), with help from a related group named Al-Qaida (or Al Quaeda, Al
Khaida, pick your spelling) drove the Russians from the country with our
financial backing.

The real reason that the Russians could not gain a firm foothold, though is
not Osama Bin Laden, Al Quaida, or the Taliban.  It is the country itself,
and the ways of the peoples.  Tere is nothing connecting one village in
Afghanistan to another.  There are no phone lines, no power lines, and no
truly centralized (or even recognized) government.  People in Salerno (in
the southern part of the country) most likely do not know that just over the
mountains is a whole other group of villages.  Nor do they care.  They used
to be a nomadic peoples, and as they settled into their communities, it
became tribal.  This tribal mentality pervades the peoples of Afghanistan,
and stops them from caring about outsiders.  Because there is no defined
infrastructure, there was nothing TO be taken over.  The fight to conquer
Afghanistan has to be fought one village at a time.  There cant be a
surrender, when the people don’t care what happens 20 miles outside of their
village.  The US could literally slaughter everyone in Parwan, and half the
people in Koh-e-Shat would cheer, and the other half would go back to work.  
I guess what I am trying to say is that to conquer a country, you must break
its spirit, and to do that they have to have a sense of solidarity and
community.  These things don’t exist on any large level here, due to
religious, familial, and geographic separation.  It is like a country of
tiny kingdoms.

This is the same problem that the US Army is having.  Instead of being able
to incite the people with a sense of accomplishment, we have encountered a
sense of malaise.  Furthermore, their religion, and their basic beliefs make
everything even more frustrating.  There is a phrase used frequently in this
country Dresh Allah (sp?), meaning At Gods will, and typically used to
mean whatever, when God deems that I should show up, and anything else
you can think of.  If you schedule a meeting with someone for 10:00 a.m.,
you can expect him to show up anywhere from 10:00 until 2:00 p.m., and this
is expected.  It also seems here, that everything is negotiable.  They are a
bartering people, used to trading for what they need instead of working (not
as a whole, but a large part of the population).  When I confiscate a cell
phone (the most common item used to set off IEDs), the locals that come on
base want to plead for their phone, offering all sorts of excuses and,
sometimes, lies:

Mohammad: this is my first time here
Me: why did I confiscate a different phone from you last week?
Mo: but sir, I did not know
Me: I confiscated one last week from you, and you drove past nine signs
explicitly telling you not to have a phone
Mo: but sir, no one has ever TOLD me I could not have one
Me: then why was it hidden behind your trucks CD player?

This is my day.  All day.  They believe that everything and everyone is for
sale, or can be talked into or out of something.  Not to generalize, but it
seems to be a basic part of their belief structure, and I think, quite
possibly a result of their bartering economy.  This is what NATO is up
against.  These people do not care about each other, but are willing to die
for their religion or their family.  Retribution is a way of life here.  And
yes, they do chop off hands for theft in some parts of the country.  They
are isolated, and like it that way.  The Afghan National Army does not pay
well, even by their standards, so enlistment is poor, and looked down upon.  
Because of their bartering economy, ANA soldiers are frequently bought by
warlords as bodyguards.  How do you stop that?

As far as the inkblot expansion that the article spoke of, I don’t believe
that we, as the United States, have the troops to support such a campaign,
especially given the state of affairs in the middle east and Korea.  NATO as
a whole does, but each country retains semi-autonomous control over their
troops, and can choose where to place them.  These are typically peaceful
countries, with no desire to actually get their hands dirty.  They want to
remain members of the EU, without loss of life, so they pledge forces to
NATO and choose not to fight.

I honestly don’t know what the solution is to this country’s problems, but I
know that it is not in throwing money at a corrupt society, it is not
through education, as many children that go to school get beaten for it, and
it is not through government, as most of the country has no desire to be
part of something larger than their village.  Mostly, these people want to
be left alone.

NATO is like a big dog, with no teeth.  They have an imposing presence, but
cant stomach the fight that this country needs.  I believe it will take a
full scale, armed occupation for these people to rally together, just as
they did against the Russians.  America doesn’t have the stomach for that,
either, from what I can see.  We have fixed nothing in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
and that was with the backing of the people.  Here, we have the backing of
about 10% of the population, and the rest could care less.

I don’t know if this answered any of your questions, but I hope it did

-Paul

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Afghan Culture

January 27, 2008 at 5:58 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

(Authors Note:  The following is a presentation I gave to Soldiers as part of a rotation at the National Training Center.  These soldiers had to learn how to be members of the Afghan National Army, and roleplay it effectively to train a unit getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.  This class was given in January of 2008, to approximately 140 people.  Any errors in this class are my own, as I wrote the material myself.  Though the list at the beginning was taken from another website.)

Rules under the Taliban included but were not limited to:

  • Complete ban on women’s work outside the home, which also applies to female teachers, engineers and most professionals. Only a few female doctors and nurses are allowed to work in some hospitals in Kabul.
  • Complete ban on women’s activity outside the home unless accompanied by a mahram (close male relative such as a father, brother or husband).
  • Ban on women dealing with male shopkeepers.
  • Ban on women being treated by male doctors.
  • Ban on women studying at schools, universities or any other educational institution. (Taliban have converted girls’ schools into religious seminaries.)
  • Requirement that women wear a long veil (Burqa), which covers them, from head to toe.
  • Whipping of women in public for having non-covered ankles.
  • Public stoning of women accused of having sex outside marriage. (A number of lovers are stoned to death under this rule).  
  • Ban on the use of cosmetics. (Many women with painted nails have had fingers cut off).
  • Ban on women riding bicycles or motorcycles, even with their mahrams
  • Ban on women gathering for festive occasions such as the Eids, or for any recreational purpose.
  • Ban on women washing clothes next to rivers or in a public place.
  • Compulsory painting of all windows, so women can not be seen from outside their homes.  
  • Ban on female public baths.
  • Ban on males and females traveling on the same bus. Public buses have now been designated “males only” (or “females only”).
  • Ban on the photographing or filming of women.
  • Ban on women’s pictures printed in newspapers and books, or hung on the walls of houses and shops.
  • Banned listening to music 
  • Banned the watching of movies, television and videos, for everyone.
  • Banned celebrating the traditional new year (Nowroz) on March 21. The Taliban has proclaimed the holiday un-Islamic.
  • Disavowed Labor Day (May 1st), because it is deemed a “communist” holiday.
  • Ordered that all people with non-Islamic names change them to Islamic ones.
  • Forced haircuts upon Afghan youth.
  • Ordered that men wear Islamic clothes and a cap.
  • Ordered that men not shave or trim their beards, which should grow long enough to protrude from a fist clasped at the point of the chin.
  • Ordered that all people attend prayers in mosques five times daily.
  • Banned the keeping of pigeons and playing with the birds, describing it as un-Islamic. The violators will be imprisoned and the birds shall be killed. The kite flying has also been stopped.
  • Ordered all onlookers, while encouraging the sportsmen, to chant Allah-o-Akbar (God is great) and refrain from clapping.  
  • Ban on certain games including kite flying which is “un-Islamic” according to Taliban.
  • Anyone who carries objectionable literature will be executed.
  • Anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion will be executed
  • All boy students must wear turbans. They say “No turban, no education”.  
  • Non-Muslim minorities must distinct badge or stitch a yellow cloth onto their dress to be differentiated from the majority Muslim population. Just like what did Nazis with Jews.
  • Banned the use of the internet by both ordinary Afghans and foreigners.

v      What these mean to you:  Many Afghans, particularly those who volunteer for the Afghan National Army, remember these rules, and resent their imposition by the Taliban.  While the majority of these rules affected women and children, Resisting these rules does NOT mean that you want them all to change.  Afghans are a culturally diverse people, and many Afghans, while objecting the imposed rule of the Taliban may have agreed with many or all of these rules.  Consequently, you, as an Afghan may agree with some of these rules and oppose others.  Your major reason for resisting the Taliban (and possibly following US occupation) stems not necessarily form agreeance or disagreeance with these rules, but more form wanting your family to be the center of your life, and not a governing body.

Just under half of all Afghans are Pashtun.  Pashtuns are the largest single ethnic group in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  They are, by sheer number, also the largest and most dominant political group.  There are close to 70 different tribes that fall within the Pashtun ethnic group.  Think of it as similar to being a Native American.  Though you are Native American, you also have a tribe.  Same with the Pashtuns.  Though they identify themselves as Afghans, they further subdivide themselves as Pashtuns.  Following that, they divide themselves even further by living within a tribe.  That tribe is divided up into several families, many of whom have intermarried, and relatives live for three or four generations under one household.  These households often tend to be walled compounds, with several smaller huts in them.  Just as the Afghan culture is defined by layers of ethnic identity, their villages are structured the same way.  Three or four separate households will live in one walled compound, with several compounds making up a village.  In between compounds will often be fields, criss-crossed with (and separated by) irrigation ditches.  The number of irrigation ditches, fields, and livestock is an immediate indicator of an Afghan village’s (and family’s) prosperity.

v      What this means to you:  Your identity is defined by your family, your religion, your village, and your tribe all at once.  You demonstrate your prosperity by providing the largest amount of possible hospitality to visiting guests.  Even to the point of driving yourself into debt.  To receive a guest is a point of honor for both you and your family.  Key points to remember are that when you extend your hospitality to a guest, and they refuse, you are insulted.  Guests do NOT bring gifts, as it is an insult to the host’s prosperity.  Gifts are given to those POORER than you, and if a guest brings a gift when you have invited them, they are saying you are beneath them and cannot provide a proper meal without assistance.  Self-sustainment is a source of EXTREME pride among the Afghan people.

Jihad in Afghanistan:  A Jihad (holy struggle) in Afghanistan DOES NOT have the same meaning as it does in the Middle East (Afghanistan is not part of the Middle East, is not part of the “Arab Nations” and is not in any way related to their conflicts).  A Jihad in Afghanistan is more of a general armed struggle against oppression.  This oppression may be defined in several ways.  In the Middle East, a Jihad may be called on a single person, and is generally a promise to fight to the death.  In Afghanistan, a Jihad may be called against the invaders, the governing body, general sin, oppression, injustice or any other vague concept not always shared.  In the Middle East, when a Jihad is called, and the person who called it dies, it is picked up by the next oldest member of the family.  In Afghanistan, when the person calling the Jihad dies, it is the will of Allah, and the Jihad is just as likely to be dropped.  Many Afghans consider the Jihad to be a more general means of defending the tribe and village.If a Muslim fights in a Jihad and survives, he is known as a Ghazi.  Ghazies are considered holy men and are given respect over the elders of the village.  Afghans are a war-like, fractured people, whose country has been continually invaded by different nations for centuries.  This has stopped Afghans from having a centralized government for hundreds of years.  Because of the lack of a centralized government, there is no infrastructure present from village to village.  There are no sewer lines, no phone lines, no internet lines, no power lines and no means of reaching someone in another village unless you have a cell-phone number and/or a car to reach them with.  These things are slowly changing, but it will be another twenty years before Afghanistan can come close to becoming similar to the U.S.

v      What this means to you:  because of the nature of the Jihads, lack of infrastructure, and impossibility of the new government’s involvement in Afghan daily affairs, there is little chance of interaction and violence at anything larger than the village level unless uniting against a common enemy.  If your village is situated in a valley, you may fight with another village along the same valley, but the villages on the other side of the hills will neither involve themselves nor care unless you force their involvement.  Afghan villages are fiercely independent of each other and do not care about the fate of another village.  Additionally, unless you are in a city like Kabul or Kandahar, there are no police and no fire departments.  Disputes are settled on the personal level, though sometimes involve whole families.  If you fought against the Russians or the Taliban, if you fought with the Northern Alliance or alongside the Americans, you are a hero, and as such have first say in what happens within the walls of your family’s compound.

Muslims (particularly the Sunni practicing Pashtuns) recognize the five pillars of Islam:

  • Praying (five times a day, this cannot be interrupted by anyone, because you are communicating with god.  If you are praying in the Box, and the rotational unit tries to talk to you, IGNORE THEM until you are done, typically about 20 minutes.  You better have a damn mat with you though.)
  • Fasting during Ramadan (daytime only, during the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, when the Koran was believed to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.  This year it falls between 3 September and 2 October)
  • A pilgrimage to Mecca (only if your family is well off enough to spare you, and you can afford to go)
  • Donating 2.5% of your income to those less fortunate than you (especially important during Ramadan in Afghanistan, when the wealthy invite the poorer into their homes and eat as they would while letting the poor eat in a way that they could not normally do themselves)
  • Practicing Jihad (remember the difference between the Jihad in Afghan life and the Middle East, in this case, practicing Jihad falls in line with both fighting the Soviets AND fighting against economic differences by donating your income.  Both are forms of Afghan Jihad)Muslims in Afghan cities are far less strict about these practices than those in rural areas.  Afghans in rural areas tend to follow the tenets of Islam and many of the Taliban’s imposed rules with a misunderstood zeal.  If you live in a small village, these things form the core of your very beliefs about society.  If you live in a city, these beliefs are important, but may not be important enough to you to justify being late for work.  You may also (if you live in a city) decide NOT to give part of your income if you are having problems financially.  Not so in a village, where income is measured as much in cattle and vegetables as money.

Afghans are not technologically savvy. Because there was no centralized Government, and no infrastructure, they were without electrical power in the villages until approximately 1970.  Most Afghan villages run off of generators still.  Afghans are very familiar with cell phones, and modern computers, but mostly have not seen the progression that led to them.  While we understand that Phones began with switchboard operators, and then graduated to rotary, then dial, then car phones, and progressed to cell phones, Afghans never had any of those.  There is no progression of technology.  They moved straight to cell phones, where the technology, towers and equipment were brought in by Pakistani contractors under the eye of the Taliban as a means for them to communicate.  The same goes with their entertainment.  It did not progress from the phonograph, and there are no movie theaters.  They originally had the phonograph (brought in by the attempted British occupation and colonization in the late ‘20s), and then the Muslim ruling classes banned music shortly after.  Eighty years later, they have MP3 players and CD players, but were not present for the progression of technology.  90% of the population does not have digital clocks, and most don’t wear watches.  Those that do tend to wear them as a fashion accessory, and they aren’t anywhere near as accurate as American time pieces.  Typically, they use them to measure periods of time (such as 2-3 hours as opposed to “10:00”).  Afghans themselves do not have a sense of urgency unless there is an emergency.  When an Afghan schedules a meeting at 2 in the afternoon, he is prone to show up anywhere from 2 to 4.  When pressed for why he was late, the typical response is “Ensh (or Dresh) Allah” (translated: As Allah wills it).  Essentially, this means that things out of his control came up because Allah thought it necessary (if Allah wanted him to show up on time, OBVIOUSLY these things would not have come up).  In practice, however, it serves as an excuse for being late. Showing up late and making the other person wait on you proves to them that you are worth waiting for, and therefore more valuable.  It is almost a mark of honor to have them demanding your services so much that they wait for your presence.

v      What all of this means to you:  Afghans are generally more impressed with Polaroid cameras than with digital, as they get their photos now.  And Afghan may appreciate a cassette player over a CD player because of the fragility of the CDs.  Their cell phone companies are based out of Pakistan, and are pre-paid.  There are no cell contracts in Afghanistan, because there are no addresses (outside of cities).  With no addresses means no bills.  Your power bill and your gasoline costs are the same, because for the most part, your life is powered by generators.   Think of it like being Amish, where religion is the core of your life, and you make everything yourself, then one day, in comes cell phones and modern technology with no warning.  You like it, you use it, but you don’t understand what came BEFORE it.  Your religion is still the core of your life, and your family a close second.  If the ANA starts to intrude on either of those you are just as likely to quit and blend back into the civilian populace as you are to put up with it.  Additionally, do not make a habit of showing up on time when dealing with Americans, and when settling on a time, for meetings do not say “2:30”, rather tell them that you will be there between two and three.  Remember, you tend to tell time off of the sun.

Most Afghans are completely illiterate.  They cannot read and cannot write.  Persian based languages (for the most part) defy written language standards.  How you pronounce a word has more bearing than how you spell it.  While there are accepted spellings for Soldiers and translators to use, they will not always be understood by any Afghan capable of reading them.  Depending on who you get to translate for you, soccer (for example) could be spelled as sosker, sokker, socker, shosker, and sock-her, and it would all mean the same thing.Schooling is something that is only recently coming to Afghanistan in any way, shape or form outside of religious teachings.  Because of this, Afghan peoples are not prone to counting in any large number, and typically refer to anything over 10 as “many” or “more”.  While many can count, it is difficult for them, as they have had to learn it later in life and if not used frequently (like a foreign language) tends to be more difficult.  They are clearly familiar with one and none, and familiar with five and ten.  When buying anything more than ten, though, they tend to work in groups of ten.  Thirty three, for example, would be referred to as Ten, then Ten more, then ten more, then three more”.  Because spelling and numbers are so rarely taught to older Afghans, it is becoming more common to have children accompany adults on shopping trips.  Because they are more familiar with the counting and the spelling and reading, it is almost like having a translator between the shopkeeper and the purchaser.  Their illiteracy spreads to map reading, as well.  Afghans will not be able to point to a place on a map with any certainty, because they cannot read what the map says, nor understand the descriptions and map legends.  If you pull out a map and ask an Afghan to tell you where something is, they will stand up straight, point in the general direction of your target, then give terrain descriptions and nearby landmarks.  You could then point at an unrelated spot on the map, ask “here?”, and they would tell you “yes”.  This is not because they hate Americans, just because they can’t read a map.  Admitting they cannot read a map, however, goes against their pride.

v      What this means to you:  Point at wrong spots on maps (after all, you don’t know better), but if asked HOW to get somewhere; give very detailed (and correct) directions.  If called upon to give specific numbers on Taliban troops spotted, say “many tens of Taliban”, “many Taliban”, or “hundreds of Taliban”.  Do not let yourself get pinned to specific numbers.  When asked to read something, ask them instead for a translator to read it to YOU.  You are illiterate, but admitting it to the Americans is an insult to your pride.

Afghans in public greet each other in many ways.  First meetings are often done with a handshake.  Casual friends greet each other by clasping their right forearms, and touching the elbows with their left (demonstrate).  Close friends greet each other with bear-hugs, and family members and comrades that fought together (after a period of long absence) tend to kiss on the cheeks.  Afghan men will greet each other FIRST, and if a female is present, she will be greeted after she is introduced to the new people by the eldest of the family present.  Afghans when greeting mixed Americans in mixed company follow the same rule.  Because the male is the head of their household, they will greet the Male Americans first and THEN the females last.  When greeting Females, Afghan males bow with their right forearm crossing the heart, and WILL NOT MAKE PHYSICAL CONTACT with females from another family (even American females).  To touch them is to insult their family.  The only man to touch her (in their eyes) is the one married to her (or if unmarried, her future husband).  American females greeting Afghan males first are generally ignored (though this is slowly changing).  When an Afghan male is greeted by a female Captain, for example, he will ignore her, and introduce himself to the eldest American male present, and (if necessary), ask HIM to introduce everyone.  The Afghan male will then address the female last, as is their custom.  When dealing with multiple women, introductions go by age, with the eldest being introduced first.  When holding conversation. Afghan males that are not family tend to keep to topics that are public knowledge.  Because of the Afghan woman’s role in society and Islam, she is not to do anything in public without a male figure to represent her first.  If she does, then her affairs become public, and to inquire about Afghan women in public is to insult their family.Afghan males, when walking together will often hold hands or link elbows.  This is not really a sign of homosexuality, and neither is the kissing on the cheeks.  This is more a show of solidarity.  Soldiers in the Afghan National Army, however, tend to reserve this conduct for after hours, and try to be more professional on duty.  The physical contact between them shows trust and faith in the character of the individual.  However, homosexuality is rampant in Afghanistan, with males often going until age 20 or 25 before their first marriage.  It is not uncommon for Afghan males to engage in Anal sex, sometimes in public (though rare).  This is not about love, however, Afghan males may use this as a form of punishment or dominance and do it to humiliate just as often as to satisfy needs.  Witnessing this as an American however is rare, because they view us as outsiders and try to keep that part of their culture from us.Afghans pride themselves on their hospitality.  When arriving at a shop to deal, visitors (Americans included) will be offered a seat, and tea will be brought by the youngest person that works in the shop (most often family).  You can expect to drink at least three cups of tea, though more often four or five before business even begins.  Because of how this slows business down, most shopping is done at bazaars, in stalls where there is nowhere to sit, and merchants can make more profit.  Because of the bazaars, owning a hard building to conduct business out of is a sign of prosperity, and when entering it, the shop owner is accorded his due respect in greeting.

v      What this means to you: Follow the rules of physical contact when dealing with the rotational unit.

  • Clasp forearms when greeting them (not necessary, but get them used to the custom)
  • try to get them to hold your hand if you walk and talk (have fun embarrassing them)
  •  Address them by rank then age.  Greet the eldest male first, and do not introduce yourself to any females until they have been introduced to you.
  • Nobody is asking you to kiss your fellow Soldiers on this rotation 
  • Nobody is advocating anal sex at NTC
  • Be prepared to tell them that your family owns a shop at the bazaar in whatever town, and be prepared to discuss their prosperity if they “own a store”.  Remember, their prosperity brings you HONOR.
  • If you greet a female, make a fist with your right hand, place your right wrist over your heart and bow low
  • Bow the same way when someone pays you a compliment.  Introducing you to a female from somewhere else IS a compliment.
  • Do NOT ask about female family members when holding a conversation with the rotational unit.  An Afghan would not do this.  Asking about women in another family is a great insult and should be avoided.  That they have been brought to your attention in the first place means that they have disgraced themselves in public

Afghans do everything with the right hand, to include eating, writing, drinking and gesturing. The left hand is considered unclean.  This is not because they “wipe their ass’ with it, rather it is the opposite.  Pre and Post Christian theology reflects those on the right to go to heaven, and depict the left hand as “unclean”.  The Bible (Matthew 25:31-46) refers to the nations being divided to the right and left of God, and those on the right ascending to Heaven, and those on the left dropping into eternal hell.  The Koran (Surrah 616) refers to Mohammad as beginning everything with his right hand, and ending everything with his left.  Because of these beliefs, a practice stemmed of wiping after intercourse or using the bathroom by using the left hand and cleaning it with the right.  Even after the invention of toilet paper (which many Afghans still do not use), devout Muslims still wipe with the left and do everything else (eating, writing, shaking hands, greeting) with the right.  This prevents the spread of disease, and to do anything public with the left has become insulting. In public, you will call people over by extending your right arm with the palm facing down, and curling in your fingers (demonstrate).  Additionally, Afghans never elevate their feet when relaxing.  To lift your feet towards someone is to insult them, and imply that they are “beneath you”.  This is the cultural equivalent to calling them a piece of shit.Afghans love sports, but have not quite embraced the concept of referees.  Soccer and wrestling are two huge pastimes, usually played by school age children (though adults will occasionally join in).  They have not embraced American football, but they do have a national sport called Buzkashi, which is slightly similar to our Polo.  Afghan riders form two teams (usually one tribe against another) and ride on horseback with a decapitated calf being used as “the ball”.  Swinging the calf onto your horse, and completing a lap around the playing field, then throwing the calf into a marked ring (commonly known as the “circle of justice”) scores you one point.  Games can last from one day to as long as three, if the score is tied by sundown.

v      What this means to you:

  • Don’t do anything (especially towards another person) with your left hando        Don’t elevate your feet or show others the bottoms of your boots intentionally
  • Beckon people with the right hand, palm down
  • Feign confusion when American sports are discussed in your presence
  • Introduce American Soldiers to Buzkashi

v      Final Notes:

  • Afghan money is called Afghanis, and the people are called Afghans
  • Afghanistan was for centuries a barter based economy.  This has become a way of life, and consequently, everything is for sale or trade.  To an Afghan, no deal is final until HE is satisfied.  If something is confiscated from you, bargain to get it back, feign ignorance of the rules, then offer to trade again for it.  When this fails, return with your superiors
  • Rather than saying you were “unable to read the signs” telling you no cell phones, no weapons, or whatever, claim that they were not clearly marked, this gives you leverage to attempt the return of your goods
  • The Afghans are a tribal people that are used to a nomadic lifestyle.  If sent on a patrol, pack light and focus on ammunition and food rather than comfort, it lends authenticity.
  •  When a battle is finished, those who have died are martyrs, give praise to Allah for their death “Allah oh Akbar (god is good)”  Afghans bury their dead on the spot, in the clothes the fought in.  There should be no casualty affairs team.  They do not count their dead, either.  When pressed for a number of casualties, simply say “we sent many great men to Allah today”
  • Those who have survived a battle are heroes, and songs should be sung on the way home praising their courage
  • Afghans are fearful of discussing family business in public.  When pressed for details about your family, only speak of male figures in your household.
  • The marriage of daughters is arranged between the mothers, and it is the responsibility of the fathers to arrange a dowry of livestock and food (sometimes, but not always money)
  • If a daughter or son breaks off an engagement is shameful to the daughter’s parents, and she is relegated to the lowest place in the household, taking orders from her younger brothers.  The shaming of your daughter is cause for retribution against another family
  • Revenge is one of the tenets of Afghan life, and any slight against your honor (real or imagined) must be satisfied
  • Afghans typically carry parts of the Koran in their pockets.  If a U.S. soldier places this item on the ground or handles it with his/her left hand, you have been insulted.  Speak to their superiors to demand satisfaction
  • Civilian Afghan males do not stand to urinate.  Rather they wear long top shirts that reach to mid thigh, so they squat, lower their pants and relieve themselves on the side of the road or in a communal toilet in the back of the compound
  • As a Afghan Muslim, you are not required to tell non-Muslims the truth.  Any answer to an American will suffice.
  • Afghans want an independent Afghanistan, free from outside influence.  Recent reports indicate that if living conditions do not improve during the American “occupation”, many Afghans will begin to support the Taliban again to drive the Americans out.  The idea being that while they were oppressed, at least it was the Afghans oppressing them and not foreigners

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Why I think that we are politically retarded

January 27, 2008 at 4:30 pm (Politics) (, , , , )

The difficulties of imposing a democratic dogma upon a theocratic society)

On 10 September, 2001, I was fresh into my second enlistment and looking forward to a life of stateside service with the 10Th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, NY. I could never have predicted that the next day’s events would follow, but Soldiers are of a different breed, and react differently to situations than the majority of people reading this. I sat there in shock and awe for about three minutes the next day, when the second tower fell. My platoon sergeant looked at us all and said “All right! Everyone go back to your rooms and pack! Meet me back here in two hours!” My life has never been the same. I have deployed to Afghanistan three times since then, and have learned a lot about the Afghan peoples, Muslims in general, the nation of Islam, our own government and the changes in the military. Everything that I have learned has caused me to personally believe that this war is un-winnable. There is no way we as a nation can rightfully impose Democracy in this country without force, nor win the war on terrorism, because of the inherent belief-structure of these people.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the United States is not in a favorable position. Granted, we are the most powerful nation in the world militarily, and we are certainly the most compassionate nation, but we are the most restricted as well. Our social and economic dependence upon the provisions of other nations has caused us to become the global police. We are trapped in our own might, almost as though it is our responsibility to bring democracy to the rest of the world because of our affluence. Without our backing, I believe that NATO and the United Nations would lose much of their influence. It is only rarely, and in small conflicts, that they step in to preach for peace, or to keep peace militarily without our having occupied that territory first. NATO is in the process of taking over operations in Afghanistan, five full years after we first invaded. It took them the better part of seven years to step in and toe the line in Bosnia-Herzegovina (I was there after that transfer, as well), and that was in NATO’s own back yard. Our power seems to have become a bone of contention between the “enlightened nations” (superpowers and second-tier nations), and third-world and tertiary nations (Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Lebanon etc…), who feel that we are using and abusing our global status to affect democratic change in formerly
autocratic nations (sticking our nose where it doesn’t belong). Public opinion, on a global level can be devastating to a nation’s credibility, and will almost certainly result in future religious and personal bias from satellite nations (the war in Afghanistan causes accusations of impropriety in the form of economic or political sanctions against Pakistan for example).

From a religious standpoint, most of the “war on terror” has, and will be fought against Muslims. The IRA, while dangerous in their area, is a terrorist organization, but not in a nation that the United States is willing to risk its political reputation on. As unfortunate as our supposed bias is, it seems to be the way that this war works. So we are going after the Muslim nations (or, at least starting there), creating a second crusade atmosphere. While comparatively impoverished and militarily crippled, these nations have one unifying factor that makes them more dangerous than we could ever hope to be: A unifying system of beliefs. Our open way of life (as far as decisions and religion are concerned) has made us into a powerful nation, the decisions leading up to this way of life, however, have made us into a soft nation, as well, akin to a has-been prize fighter. We can still pack a hell of a punch, but we are no longer as popular as we used to be.

The religion of Islam actually preaches that Muslims are to heed Allah’s call and wage jihad on the unbelievers in at least 154 verses throughout twenty-four separate Chapters or Suras (for a list of verses please go to  http://www.challenging-islam.org/articles/jihadverses.htm ). Fanatic Muslims preach that we, as Christians in the United States and Europe are the infidels. That belief, though misdirected, gives them a sense of purpose that will unify them in ways that we could never hope for. Additionally, Americans have a short attention span and appear to have lost our sense of community, especially from a
religious standpoint. Because of our lack of unity (or our self-absorbed way of life, as dictated through our advertising and me-first attitude), it takes a disaster to pull us together. We stay around temporarily until things seem to be well underway, and then turn all responsibility over to the government (or, in the case of the global war on terror, NATO). Fanatics (and we are fighting against only fanatics, not Muslims as a whole) make things into all consuming causes. Fanatics have taken the teachings of their religion (possibly misinterpreted. I am actually reading the Koran for research, but it is slow going.), and whipped themselves into a frenzy we can only hope to match briefly. We are too compassionate to outright kill them, and won’t want to stick around for the long fight until they tire out. Their religion gives them their beliefs, and their beliefs give them an edge that we cannot hope to match for any extended period of time. This is a group of people that have held grudges for centuries.

I contest that the people of Afghanistan are too fragmented as a society to accept Democracy voluntarily. For democracy to work without force, it requires a popularized belief system and a common goal that is not based in religious ideology, combined with a non-polarized society. Afghanistan is the antithesis of this definition. I am aware that our money, our courts and our government all trust in God, but our society was founded upon the principle of free worship. This idea of free worship has transcended into a system of freedom in all aspects, and made us into a proud democracy. A society based solely upon secular beliefs is known as a theocracy, and leaves little room for interpretation or outside influence. Imposition of a form of government requiring freedom on to a restrictive society results in little more than a facade, with a puppet leader in place. Hamid Karzai is a well-intentioned man, with the United States backing, but without a majority representation among his peoples. Hopefully his beliefs represent the future of Afghanistan, but I believe that it will be several decades before they can come to fruition. The people of Afghanistan, again, are a fragmented society. They have miles and miles between villages, often with no way of communication besides car (and, recently, cell-phone). Outside of cities like Kabul and Kandahar, they rely on tribal law and religious customs to decide the fate of their peoples. It is not unusual for them to go months without news of any sort from neighboring villages. Their daily lives leave no room for the concerns of others anyway, as making a life in this hardscrabble existence seems to take up all their time, and understandably so.

This is not to say that they were not grateful for our intervention in ousting the Taliban, or unaware. They were extremely grateful. The Taliban imposed a set of rules upon the Afghan peoples that left no room for thought, art, music or joy. What the Afghan peoples did not count on, or condone was a continued military presence from the United States, and a subsequent resurgence of Taliban activity. This, coupled with the war in Iraq has given birth to a wave of anti-U.S. sentiment that is quickly spreading not only through Afghanistan, but through dogmatic and theocratic countries within the Middle East and Southwest Asia then spilling into the enlightened nations in the European Union, and affecting our trade with Europe as a whole.

Problems within our own borders give even grimmer promise to the outcome of this war on terror. As a whole, the American peoples have not only had enough of our self-imposed jihad, but enough of George Bush as well. In a nation that cannot sit through reruns of Hill Street Blues without flipping the channel, how did we, as a people ever expect to make it through a war that lasted in excess of five years? We cry about the deaths of two thousand Soldiers (I feel for them all, and have known a few, but it is the smallest number ever from a U.S. led conflict, especially one spanning two fronts on separate continents.), forgetting conveniently that the death toll for Vietnam exceeded two-hundred thousand American deaths and spanned the presidencies of Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Truman  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/vietnamwar ). For this, I blame pop-culture, 295,000 channels of cable television, and 900 different medications for ADD (and every other psychological disorder that stems from children playing video games instead of getting fresh air). While I acknowledge the uses for Ritalin, I feel that the needs for it are based solely upon our own culture, and of our own making, providing perfect examples of a systemic set of issues that have given justification to the Muslim world for calling us the Great Satan. If we cannot pull together as a nation and back our president in his global endeavors for more than 6 months, especially when it concerns retribution against the Taliban for the intentional murder of 2,819 people, then why are we still in the fight?

Mission migration has proved to be a problem as well. In 2001, the United States worked diligently to hunt down Osama Bin Laden, tracking through the Hindu-Kush mountains during Operation Anaconda and fighting a bitter battle against entrenched Taliban forces. In 2005, I returned for a third tour in country to find humanitarian assistance missions occurring, with food drops and school supplies taking precedence over the original mission. The Taliban are still a credible force, as evidenced by the rising tide of U.S. and coalition casualties. Why, then are we adding a second mission on top of our original?

Financially, this war on terror is a disaster. Kellogg, Brown, and Root in conjunction with other U.S. contractors have cost our nation hundreds of billions of dollars so that we can say that we have reduced our military footprint in Afghanistan. Oddly enough, these contractors do not provide a single service that cannot be provided by ourselves. KBR (known during the Bosnia-Herzegovina days as Brown and Root) has proceeded to charge the U.S. twenty-two dollars per meal, and forty-five dollars for a twelve-pack of soda. These prices are outrageous, but not surprising, as they proceeded to charge the government five dollars per gallon of gas in 2003. Couple KBR with the eleven other contractors near Bagram alone, and then ask yourself why there is no money for public education or cancer research. For years, the government has been paying outrageous prices to contractors that are running dining facilities and fuel points for a fighting force comprised of cooks and fuelers to guarantee the American public that we are not putting U.S. citizens lives at risk (when in fact most of the contractors are American).

George W. Bush has had a hard time of this war. The blame is not only on him, but the American public and their views as well. I am afraid that his reputation will sink even further; and as this endeavor concludes, the next president will have to clean up his mess. In his defense, he made the decisions he thought was best, without concern for the viewpoints of the people. While he tried very hard, the backing just wasnt there no matter his intentions. There is no easy solution to this. We cannot simply pull out
and let these people suffer, because we have began a humanitarian mission, and must see it through. We cannot continue this war, because it is costing us billions with no results. We cannot target other terrorist groups, because we have not been provoked. What a mess that we have gotten ourselves into. I hope that if we invade North Korea or Iran for their nuclear technology that we learn from these mistakes.

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