Guest post by Nathan West*
Not everyone values every value quite the same way. Europeans, before WWI, typically ranked war as a noble endeavor. Women were, until recently, thought in most of the Western world to be fit for the kitchen, or, as Kinky Friedman sang, “Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed.” Now, we have some information regarding the way that a great many Afghans valuate their values regarding life.
Recently, there were two incidents in Afghanistan, widely reported.
First, members of the US military burned some Korans that had been used by prisoners to send messages. The incident, had it involved the burning of bibles by non-Christians, might not have made many headlines. However, it has been widely reported that the burning of Korans led to widespread rioting in Afghanistan, with many deaths.
Now, a US soldier has evidently committed a massacre, killing sixteen Afghan villagers, many of whom were children. Thus far, there have been no riots (although there was at least one protest by Afghan students). While, no doubt there will be a response from the Taliban – whether or not used as an excuse being beside the point here – the absence of riots thus far is itself a story.
The New York Times has sought answers to these disparate results. The Times article, In Reactions to Two Incidents, a U.S.-Afghan Disconnect, is well worth reading because it is one of the franker reports to appear in the paper about the Islamic world. One way to understand people is to ask them what they think. This, unlike much that is written about Afghanistan, was tried in this report; hence, its value to someone interested in actually understanding what makes people tick.
According to the Times, we learn that Afghans view religion as more important than the life of an individual. Here is how the Times tells it:
“The mullah was astounded and a little angered to be asked why the accidental burning of Korans last month could provoke violence nationwide, while an intentional mass murder that included nine children last Sunday did not.
‘How can you compare the dishonoring of the Holy Koran with the martyrdom of innocent civilians?’ said an incredulous Mullah Khaliq Dad, a member of the council of religious leaders who investigated the Koran burnings. ‘The whole goal of our life is religion.'”
Of course, that is not the be all and end all to how these events are understood by Afghans but, if we go by this report, it is not a small part either. And, quite a bit of what is revealed in the NYT report appears to follow from the set of values set forth by Mullah Dad.
“That many Americans are just as surprised that what appears to be the massacre of 16 people at the hands of an American soldier has not led to mass protests or revenge killings speaks volumes about a fundamental disconnect with their Afghan partners, one that has undermined a longstanding objective to win the hearts and minds of the population. After more than 10 years, many deaths and billions of dollars invested, Americans still fail to grasp the Afghans’ basic values. Faith is paramount and a death can be compensated with blood money.” [Emphasis added].
“To Muslims, and especially to Afghans, religion is much higher a concern than civilian or human casualties,” said Hafez Abdul Qayoom, a member of Afghanistan’s highest clerical body, the Ulema Council. “When something happens to their religion, they are much more sensitive and have much stronger reaction to it.”
“The Ulema Council, which is heavily influenced by the presidential palace, had immediately issued a passionate denunciation, saying of the Americans, ‘The human rights violators of the 21st century once more committed a wild, inhuman and shameful act and relentlessly martyred innocent children, women and men.’ But Mullah Qayoom said the quick reaction and prompt apology helped tamp down fury.
Afghan officials helped, too, by quickly paying compensation to the victims’ relatives, who are very poor and are part of a culture where ‘blood money’ is regularly paid for even accidental deaths. A high-level delegation brought the money on Tuesday to the village in Panjwai where the massacre happened, drawing an attack by Taliban insurgents.”
One has to ask whether this interpretation is unique to Afghan society or one that is common to most, if not all, of the Muslim regions. Given the rioting that has occurred all over the Islamic regions in response to perceived insults to Islam, I think that the Times may have stumbled upon a truth here, and one not limited to Afghanistan. It may be time for policy makers to read their Nietzsche (e.g. Twilight of the Idols, timeline “Turin, September 30, 1888, on the day when the first book of the Revaluation of All Values was completed”).
Of course, riots could still break out at any moment. But if they do, given the time involved since the event, we know that it will have been a deliberately instigated, not a spontaneous, incident. And, if tempers lead to violence, those tempers will have been pumped up, not based on outrage for committing a massacre – which, in the West, we would expect to be paramount to the Afghans –, but far more likely for attacking Islam.
*Nathan West is the pen name of an attorney who wishes to keep his identity private.