Their custom, our complicity: U.S. troops told to turn blind eye to boy rape in Afghanistan
October 7, 2015 (BreakPoint) -- The New York Times recently ran a disturbing story with a disturbing headline that said it all: “U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies.”
What follows is unsettling, but what’s going on is so horrific that not paying attention is a kind of complicity.
The article featured quotes from two men: Gregory Buckley, Sr. whose son died in Afghanistan in 2012, and Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces Captain.
Buckley quoted his son, a Marine Lance Corporal, as saying that from his bunk he could hear Afghan police sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base. Buckley recalled his son telling him that “At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it . . . My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”
“Their culture” refers to what is known as “bacha bazi,” literally, “boy play.” It was the subject of a 2010 PBS documentary, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan.” According to Wikipedia, bacha bazi “has been prevalent in Central Asia since antiquity.” Not surprisingly, the perpetrators are powerful men while their victims are powerless boys.
Since the early 20th century there have been several attempts to outlaw the practice, but with one notable exception, these have met with limited success. The exception was the Islamist Taliban, which made the practice punishable by death. Their success in eradicating the practice was part of the reason that ordinary Afghans supported, at least initially, the Taliban’s coming to power.
Now, the Taliban is out of power, and the U.S., out of fear of offending Afghan allies, is turning a blind eye to the re-emergence of this hideous practice. This is not only morally reprehensible, it’s counterproductive: it gives ordinary Afghans a reason to view Taliban rule as “the good old days.”
Making matters even worse, servicemen like Quinn, who refuse to go along, are punished.
The Times story brings to mind another shameful chapter. In the first century or so of British rule in India, British officials turned a similarly blind eye to the practice known as sati, wherein a widow was burned alive on her dead husband’s funeral pyre.
Like today, their reasons for going along with barbarity were political: they needed the cooperation of Indian elites to rule India and didn’t want to risk alienating them. Also like today, they justified their complicity by saying “it’s their culture.”
This only changed when William Wilberforce, after a twenty-year campaign, got Parliament to condition the renewal of the East India Company’s charter on the provision that teachers and chaplains be able to promote the “religious improvement” of Indians.
Missionaries and other evangelicals, along with Indian reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy, succeeded in getting a ban on sati enacted in 1829. Even then, there was resistance to the ban. In the 1840s, Hindu officials complained to General Charles Napier that the ban violated their customs.
Napier replied, “This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pyre. But my nation also has a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property . . . Let us all act according to national customs.”
The Pentagon claims that there is no official policy of toleration towards bacha bazi. There was no official policy towards sati, either. Looking the other way was, and is, convenient.
Which leaves us with the question: is there a contemporary Wilberforce, Roy, or Napier among us? Americans can and must demand better from those who purport to act in our name. To not do so makes us all complicit.
Reprinted with permission from Break Point.