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Gen. Petraeus hurts the feelings of those delicate flowers, the Afghans
By Tom A. Peter for Christian Science Monitor:
Kabul - Few Afghans would hesitate to admit that corruption is rampant here. When the nation tied for second as the most corrupt country on earth in a recent Transparency International report, few Afghans so much as batted an eye.
But when top commander Gen. David Petraeus said corruption has been a part of Afghan culture and history for "however long this country has probably been in existence," for many Afghans it was a bridge too far.
While corruption may define much of Afghan daily life right now, Afghans do not want it to define them.
Just as Muslims do not want Islamic violence to define their religion. Unfortunately, reality intrudes.
Dissatisfaction over Petraeus's remark underscores the desire many Afghans have to balance the universal values they say their striving for with the harsh realities of a country dealing with three decades of war and a civil service devoted to stealing from citizens.
Please do go on about those "universal values," the ones that "we all share," Afghan Muslims and Western kufirs alike. Let's see just how much common ground there is in our values. Freedom of speech (no matter the subject), equal rights for women, well-rounded scientific and literary education for boys and girls, freedom to change religion at will based on personal beliefs, equal rights under the law regardless of religious or tribal affiliation, banning of forced marriage of pre-pubescent girls, and on and on. This would be a most instructive discussion.
This remark "shows ignorance about Afghan history and culture," says Masood Farivar, the director of Salam Watandar, a local radio network. "The fact is that yes, corruption has existed in Afghan history, but we've never seen this level of corruption in Afghan history," says Mr. Farivar. "It belittles the magnitude of the problems we're facing today."
Many Afghan's say corruption was rare 30 years ago.
Citation, please. Perhaps this could be another thesis topic for those eager graduate students at Hugh's bon mot, MESA Nostra. "A historical analysis of institutional corruption and patronage in Afghanistan." Unfortunately for history's re-writers, one of the major reasons for the overthrow 30 years ago of King Mohammad Zahir Shah was the corruption of his regime. His father Nadir Shah's regime had been notable for its level of nepotism. And so on.
Would it have been useful for the U.S. government to know the historical foundation for corruption in Afghan culture? Would it have better guided our political and fiscal policies in regards to Afghanistan in the post-invasion period? Would that small educational investment have saved us billions of dollars, and incidentally thousands of lives, over the past eight-and-a-half years?
"General Petraeus should ask for forgiveness from Afghans or at least amend his statement. In the current situation, making these kinds of remarks is just fueling the fire," says Maulavi Dinkhabar, a religious scholar in Kabul. "As Afghans, we don't disrespect other cultures and their histories, so others should also try to do the same."
Of course, by their definition, killing Hindus, Christians, and Jews is not being disrespectful of their cultures and histories, it is merely striving in the way of Allah. Muslims murder with the utmost respect ... for Allah.
Petraeus's comment came as part of a defense of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but a number of Afghans focused on the broader implications of the remark. At least two major dailies ran the remarks about corruption as a front-page story on Tuesday and they were a popular topic of conversation on several local radio programs.
"From the first day when the Americans came here they didn't respect the Afghan culture and customs, the problems got bigger and bigger, and now we see the results," says Ahmad Shah, a shopkeeper in Kabul. "Corruption has only come in recent decades because of all the fighting."
Ahem. It is admittedly hard to remember at this point, but the reason that Americans originally went to Afghanistan had nothing to do with respecting Afghan culture or customs. It was only later that our mission slyly morphed into a nation-building exercise as we prostrated ourselves before the wonderful, wise, and honorable Afghan people.
Apparently, the front-page concern of the Afghan people is not the daily murder of Afghans by Afghans. It is not the failure of their government to provide basic services or even basic security. No, it is the innocuous and accurate comments of a U.S. General that is of greatest concern to the Afghans. And now that General, and the Americans in general, must beg the forgiveness of our good friends, the Afghans.