Bigotry in Afghanistan

a_time_cover_0809

Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means making the statement that all Afghans are bigots or racist.  Nor am I stating that all Afghan National Security Force personnel are bigots.  That said, racism and bigotry are rampant in Afghanistan.

It is a shame that folks come to Afghanistan from all over the world to try to lend a hand and their efforts are repaid with racist attitudes.  Bad enough that corruption has made it all but impossible to make real progress here.  Measurable progress inn our endeavors in the Stan is extremely difficult to sustain.  This is bad enough.  When advisors are ignored simply because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, this only makes the job more difficult.

I have served in mentor and advisory positions for roughly 5 years in Afghanistan.  I’ve worked with the Afghan National Police in Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis as well as with the Afghan National Army in Kabul both with the Kabul Military Training Center and the Afghan Partnering Unit.  In each of these locations, I have discovered that Afghans, who see themselves as “White,” have harsh and negative opinions of peoples of Asian and African descent.

If one has the appearance similar to Hazaras, one is automatically looked down upon.  A mentor who looks Hazara is all but ignored.  I have discovered the same attitudes shown towards African Americans and all other African peoples.

While I was in Herat, the ANP would make disparaging statements about Barack Obama during his candidacy openly mocking him because of his skin color.  They started calling my African-American counterparts “Obama cousins.”  They had this attitude towards anyone who looked remotely African American.  This attitude carried forward in their mentor/advisory relationships with African-Americans as well as any Asian peoples.

Asian peoples would be called Hazari and thenceforth ignored being seen and treated as valueless.  African Americans would be treated similarly.

I experimented with this a few times by having one of my team members discuss subjects with them and make suggestions about areas well within his expertise.  None of the Afghans would take him seriously or attempt to put these suggestions into action going so far as to tell said team member that the suggestion would be impossible to implement or that it was a bad idea.  Usually they would employ the favored Afghan tactic and say; “This is not in our culture.”   I would make the same suggestions a week or so later.  The Afghans would usually act on the suggestion within a week or so.  Same suggestion, sold in much the same way.  One Black person, one White person.  Completely opposite reactions.

At my newest location, I discussed these racial attitudes with my interpreter.  He replied that I may be correct.  I have been able to step in here and get positive results in a much shorter time than my counterparts.  I have noticed the relationships between my fellow advisors and the Afghans.  From my vantage point after watching and listening for a month, there is no reason that more improvement could not have been made in a shorter time.  However, two of the advisors with whom I work are Black.  Both of them are experienced.  Both of them retired military.  They have the expertise to get the job done, to advise and to mentor.  Both of them have been here in Afghanistan around 4 years as civilian advisors as well as having deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq while serving in the military.

Neither of them have made great strides in this position.  Something toxic existed.  That toxicity was, I surmised, the racism of the local Afghan officers.

Fast forward to a week ago, I told my interpreter that the reason that one of my counter-parts was having issues was the racism of his Afghan counterpart.  My Interpreter gave me that “OKAY…” look and laughed it off.  A couple of days later, this Afghan told me that he didn’t like “Africans.”  His word for Black people.  I looked at my Interpreter with raised eyebrow but said little.  I’m not here to preach at anyone concerning moral issues.  That said, I decided to put into action a plan to turn this Afghan Colonel towards the side of light and away from racism and prejudice.  I’ll have to be subtle but anything is possible.

I’ve run into racism all over the world.  For some odd reason, many Americans and especially the more naive people on the Left, believe that racism is “America’s special shame.”  I don’t see it that way.  Racism in America is mild as compared to that of Thailand, the Gulf and Central Asia.  I’ve encountered racism, bigotry and prejudice the world over.  It has hit me from all sides.  I’ve been treated preferentially in places like Afghanistan and Cambodia because of my “bright skin.”  I’ve also been treated as if I were less than human or automatically judged negatively due to the color of my skin and my national heritage.  Being an American pays off well in most cases across the world.  At times, though, being an American will be cause for instantaneous and harsh judgment.  This is mostly the case with liberal Europeans who have a special hate for all things American.

I find it unfortunate and shameful that African Americans leave behind racism in America only to find racism on the opposite side of the planet.  That same racism can be found all over, though. It is not unique to Afghanistan.

Myself, I’ve found it best to see people as they are.  Through their actions and their interactions with humanity.  Judging a person by the color of their skin or because of their place of birth or religion of birth is a wretched lens through which to see the world and interact with our fellow humans.  I have met good people and evil people of all races, nationalities and religions.  There is not special combination that magically informs me as to a persons goodness or lackthereof.

Judging on superficialities is the only sure way to close oneself off to the beauty that exists in the world.  I have met wonderful people because I have refused to judge people based upon anything else but their individualism.  We are each of us unique.  No person should be judged based upon any subset or group.  To look at another and instantly come to the conclusion that they are unworthy of me is in and of itself a shameful sin.  To come to this conclusion simply because they have darker skin than I…that must be the greatest sin against humanity ever conceived by man.

Graduation — First Class of 2008

I wrote this up in Feb 2008.  Made it Private for the Military.  Now, I’m putting it out here.  Most of these folks are moved on.  So it’s safe.

__________________________________________________________

We graduated our first class of 2008. The Big Man–MG Ak– wasn’t around so BG Ali Khan was our Master of Ceremonies. The ceremony usually consists of the General giving a few “encouraging” remarks to the class. Then I stand up and announce the names.  I may make a few remarks first.  Sometimes, I don’t.   The students walk up as I call their names off and a ranking officer and I and a guest or two congratulate the student and hand them their course certificate. The students walk up. Salute the General. Sometimes, I get a little confused. Because I feel like they are saluting me as well. So one in a while, I’ll return an awkward salute. The student is then handed their certificate and whomever the presenter is shakes their hand and congratulates them.

Everyone involved seems to really enjoy these ceremonies. The Generals get to show up and wax poetic or harass the loggie students. The students get recognition. I get a buy in to my classes and my job security. haha Our guests and other attendees get some nice cakes and cookies and some of that good old Afghan (Indian) chai. And, of course, I enjoy talking to the Generals and other Officers. I thoroughly enjoy this job. In case, anyone hasn’t caught that.

After the certificates are presented and a few more remarks by the Regional Press Officer COL Arkuni (I think), BG Ali Khan invites me to sit beside him. He offers me a cookie from the desert tray. Once I take one, that is the signal for everyone else to eat as well. It’s all so formal that it makes me laugh at times. Then we sit and chat for a bit. I didn’t realize it at the time but everyone was watching and listening to us talk. I get fairly animated in conversation as you can see in the video. Sometimes, I don’t pay attention to anything or anyone else. I tell the General that this class was our best. My favorite so far. The Officers were engaged. They actively participated. Even got heated a few times . I enjoyed the exchange even as the students attitudes towards one another sometimes confused me.
Once the General and I conclude our conversation. BG Ali Khan gives a nod and his assistant barks the room to attention and he exits.

That concludes the festivities.

This class was exceptional on many scores. At one point, LTC Khoda Daad was talking too much for one of two of our other students. Sayeed Mohammad stood up and told him that if he knows so much, he should teach the class. At first, I thought he was telling me that I was a poor teacher and that he’d rather hear LTC Daad. I finally realized that he was telling LTC Daad that I was the teacher and he should listen more and talk less. I laughed. It seems that in every class we have what I call the “question man.” This is a guy who will ask a question or two every hour. Sometimes more. When Afghans ask a question, it is extremely formal. They stand up and very respectfully state their question and it seems that it goes on and on. Usually, the question is loosely based on the class. Often, they will be asking something to the effect of how should they enact a certain policy if their commander will not enforce it or actively opposes it. This is a large and loaded question. In Afghanistan, policy quarrels can result in death. Often times, the issue is money. Active property management may keep a corrupt official from earning his extra-occupational funding for the month. An active logistician will keep money out of a corrupt officials pockets. In Afghanistan, these things are often settled in violence. It’s a hard line to follow. If the Logistics Officer is hard line, it could well result in violence against him. Is it worth the risk to life to call out your Commandhan over a policy matter. You may be staking your life, your families health or your career. I have to present the course and answer question with that in mind.

On breaks, we sat and talked politics, religion and culture. We even watched Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Katherine McPhee videos. We talked much of Pakistan and the eastern frontier. This is the area bordering Waziristan. The no man’s land of Pakistan’s western frontier. The home of the Taliban. They asked me why the US did not declare war on Pakistan. I often times wonder tha same thing. Politics plays heavily there. War on Pakistan and destabilize a country with nuclear capabilities. Dangers. The unknown. Who knows what becomes of the region in that instance. Could be better. Could become much, much worse.

After the ceremony, the students invite us to visit them in their respective districts. Abdul Qhayooum tells me that if I visit Bala Baluk that I should be his guest in his house. I have to tell him that this is impossible as the military and my company requires that I stay on a FOB or PRT. He understands. But that doesn’t stop other students from extending the same invitation.

Afghanis are a hospitable people. It’s part of their national characteristic. This country was famous for it’s hospitality prior to the Soviet Invasion. That is why it was a primary stop on the hippy trail of the 60s and 70s. Afghanistan is a fascinating country. It has much to offer. If the insurgents and bandits would step down and accept law and order, Afghanistan could have a thriving tourism industry. Trekking in the mountains. The history of this country extends from pre-Alexandrian Bactria to the time and conquests of Alexander to the Genghis Khan to the Moghul Empire of India. Buddhism once thrived in the North. Zoroastrians once traveled across these lands. The whirling dervishes of Sufist Islam and the poetry of Jami, Rumi and Ansari. Herat once was a major center of culture and literacy. These lands and this people trace their history back to antiquity and beyond. Such incredible adventures that could be played out in the dramatic landscapes of this country.

rc-west-property-management-class-01-08.jpg

Farewell Party

I planned a Farewell Party for my guys (and me, of course).

I had Shoaib bring in a Kabob guy from downtown Herat.  Had the whole Afghan Kabob platter.  Cucumbers, tomatoes, lamb, beef and chicken.  Nan (Afghan bread).  Apples and Oranges.  Soda and water.  The meat was grilled right there on Camp Zafar by the Kabob shop owner.  He knew he had to get it right because of our guests.  I don’t reckon it would be good for his business to piss off the Regional Police Commander.  lol

That morning (18 Feb), Shoaib was dropped off downtown.  He picked up the fruit, drinks, the kabob shop guy with all of his supplies and meats and such.  Yama drove them all to the gate.

At about 1030, I headed for Camp Zafar.  15 minutes later, Shoaib calls from the gate.  The ANA (Afghan Army) didn’t want to cooperate.  They wouldn’t let the kabob guy into the base.  I jumped into one of our vans and raced to the gate.  We were running late.  I had expected everything to be set up and smokin’ by 1030.  I rolled up to the gate like the Po Po in Miami Vice and started my routine.  Talking loud.  Shaking hands and walking straight through to where Shoaib was being held up outside the main gate.  I stormed up to the ANA sentry and loudly proclaimed:  “Hey, these guys are with me!”  I pushed them all to the gate and started walking that way myself.

No problem.  It’s fairly easy to deal with the ANA if you are an American.

Finally, my man was on the scene and ready to start cooking.

Fortunately, the ANP are always late.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen them on time.  It’s that whole “insha’allah” mentality.  Things happen according to God’s will and timeline.  It’s just part of dealing with Muslims in general.

We got the kabob guy set up and cooking.  I had told Shoaib to have different types of meat.  I wanted an Afghan style party.  All we needed was for someone to get up in the middle and dance and we’d have been on it.

MG Ak and COL Zahir arrived with about 20 ANP Officers and the security detail at 1200 hours. We greeted them at the side of our class room building and brought them inside to start the party.

I got everyone seated and then stood in the middle to get everyone’s attention.  It was time to give out certificates to my guys ~ Milton, Wahid, Farhad and Shoaib.  I gave a short opening remark then brought my guys in along with MG AK and Al, our MPRI Team Leader, and we gave each of them a Certificate.  I also gave Milton an Afghan Flag on a marble mount with Herat, Afghanistan 2007 ~ 2010 inscribed on it.

I gave a little speech in effect saying that all of my success was due to these guys and that it was an awesome opportunity for me to have worked with them and the ANP as well as all of the MPRI team members.  Over all, Afghanistan has been an excellent experience for me.  I feel honored to have been able to take part in this grand adventure in some small capacity.

MG Ak stepped up next and presented me with another Cert and a beautiful carpet that I’ll probably have framed and hang at home.  It depicts the Minarets and the Ghowharashad Masjid.  It’s quite colorful as well.  I liked it.  He gave a little speech and saying that he’d enjoyed our time together and that I was a true member of the team and had become a part of the Afghan family.  So much so that they had given me the nickname “Dawood Khan.”  Everyone got a laugh out of that.  He presented Milton with a Cert as well and talked him up a bit.

Milton spoke a bit after that.  Thanking everyone for the successes out here and saying that the Herat Team was his favored place of the teams with which he had worked.  And this is true.  We’ve had our squabbles.  Some ongoing.  For the most part, though, we’ve got on like family.  To include the squabbles.  lol  Some of it reminds me of sibling rivalry.  Some of us just want to do the job.  We don’t care about recognition or awards.  Some want to be heroes and want to be recognized as such.  All part of the game.

We had a good group out here.  And it was a joy to work with these guys.

I gave a few last remarks and then said; “Alright, time to eat!”

Then I walked out and started pushing the guys to get the food in to our guests.

At some point, I sat down to eat with MG Ak.  We talked about my plans after Afghanistan.  He asked me if I’d be coming back at some point.  I told him that I didn’t plan to do so, but, that only God knows the future.  Of course, sometime during the conversation he told me to take care of my health because I’d gotten a bit heavy since I’d been here.  lol  I laughed and told him that Unny was making me join a gym in Bangkok.  He got a kick out of that.  As always, he asked after family.  Wanted to make sure that I was keeping in touch with Momma.  I told him that, of course, I was.

I have to say that Shoaib did a most excellent job with arranging everything.  The guy has been key to all my endeavors out here.  I’m lucky to have had such a great friend and co-worker.  Gods blessings.

Everyone ate.  We joked.  Laughed.  It was a good time.

I stood up to ask MG AK for a last picture together.  Called COL Zahir over for the pic.

As soon as MG AK stood, the whole of the ANP stood and started filing out.

We took pics with the General.  All of us together.  Before COL Zahir got away, I grabbed him for one last photo.  He started talking about Bangkok and told MG Ak that I was soon to be married.  lol  MG Ak asked me about Unny.  I showed him a picture of her.  He complimented her effusively saying how pretty she was and that I should take care of her.  Not let her get away.  Get married and have a family.  I told him that this was in my plans.

Then we said farewell for a final time.  MG AK wished me well in my future endeavors and told me to give greetings and his thanks to my Mother for sending him such a “fine young man” to mentor his Officers.  COL Zahir started joking on me and we exchanged a few last jibes.

Then it was over.  As sudden as it started.  In with a bang, out with a bang.

It was a great end to my time here in Herat.

That night and the next day, all of the MPRI guys kept stopping by to tell me that it was a great party and they had appreciated being a part of it.

They had to be a part of it, though.  They were part of my time here.  It’s only fitting that they be in on the end.

I’ve had a great time here in Herat.  It’s been a joy to work here with my American colleagues as well as the ANP and ABP.  They’ve been a great bunch and have helped to make this “tour of duty” extremely rewarding for me.

Below are photos of the event.  There are a bunch, though.  lol  Enjoy and Khoda hafiz.

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment or two…