The presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan is bound to involve a culture clash, but soldiers from Europe and North America find the custom of keeping catamites difficult to deal with.
The problem is too large to be ignored, and a story about it made The National Post this past week.
Defending freedom to abuse
Canadian soldiers in the main guard tower at forward operating base Wilson last summer winced when I asked about the sudden lineup of teenage boys along the mud walls of the neighbouring Afghan market.
“Wait a few minutes. You’ll see,” said one, his lip curling. “It’s disgusting.”
Sure enough, a handful of uniformed Afghan police officers emerged from their rundown detachment, walked through the barricades and started chatting up the dozen or so teens, some looking decidedly pre-teen.
A few minutes after they returned, the selected kids were waved through the main gates and went straight inside the police station. An hour later, when I left the observation post, the boys were still inside.
This evening ritual is often derided by soldiers as man-love Thursdays.
Afghan officials insist the notion of men and boys getting together the night before the Muslim holy day for sex is a myth. And, sure, it’s theoretically possible the cops were merely good-deed-doers giving these teens reading lessons.
But Canadian soldiers insisted we had just witnessed the regular Thursday evening negotiation for sex between Afghan men and boys, apparently for gifts or money.
This kind of behavior tends to develop in cultures in which women are scarce. Where polygamy is practiced, rich and powerful men monopolize the available nubile women, leaving a large cohort of young men with no normal outlet for their impulses. Since Islam does not condemn the use of pre-pubescent boys as sex objects for men, a culture of pederasty develops.
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What’s worse, young men may develop a taste for this kind of gratification, so that they continue their habits even after they are old enough and prosperous enough to marry.
Hence the saying, “Women for reproduction; boys for pleasure.”
Hence also, “man-love Thursdays”.
The Canadians are having trouble reconciling their sensibilities with their obligation to be polite guests while in Afghanistan:
It raises the disquieting question of how much responsibility Canadian soldiers shoulder, being military guests and all, to stop Afghan activity that would result in rape or child prostitution charges back home.
It should be stressed that the activity at FOB Wilson does not mean Afghan police and army officers are engaged in an epidemic of juvenile sodomy.
But the issue was given fresh legs last week by a military chaplain named Jean Johns, who reported that soldiers under treatment for posttraumatic stress syndrome had been told to “ignore” any assaults or rapes on Afghan civilians they had seen.
This, unfortunately, is what “nation-building” means in practice.
We cannot change the culture in Afghanistan quickly, if in fact we can change it at all. Sharia is enshrined in the Afghan constitution, women are forced into marriage, converts to Christianity face a possible death sentence, and little boys are routinely sodomized by grown men. There is very little that Coalition troops can do about these things.
If Canadian soldiers had intervened between Afghan police and boys clearly selling themselves for sex, for example, an important partnership would quickly sour. Now that several years’ worth of Taliban prisoners have been freed during the Kandahar prison breakout, we arguably need what passes for an Afghan police force more than ever.
Still, Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the Commons he’d met with military leaders yesterday and insisted soldiers “report any allegation of unlawful activity they see.”
That’s easy for him to say, as Canadian soldiers rumble LAVs through marijuana crops or swaths of opium-producing poppies so vast, a single field would net Canadian law enforcement its annual seizure.
We may need troops in Afghanistan as a northeastern bulwark against Iran, or as a northwestern front against the coming Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But let’s not pretend that we’re building a modern Western democracy when the facts on the ground so clearly contradict that notion.
Our ideals should never be discarded, but we need to be honest and straightforward about what we have gotten ourselves into.
Our interests required us to install the Karzai government and allow it to function the way it does. It’s not something that we would deal with if we didn’t have to.
Nancy boys, opium, the hijab, and sharia. No lipstick on this particular pig.
Hat tip: TB