Winston Churchill fought in a punitive expedition on the Afghan border in 1897. In his enormously entertaining memoirs My Early Life he offers a description of the Pathan-speaking tribes, from whom the Taliban regime is drawn, that's one of my all-time favorite pieces of prose. (Recently, the People Who Are in Charge of These Things have changed the transliteration from "Pathan" to "Pashtun" in their frenzied attempt to use words, not to communicate, but to expose the rest of us as being shockingly less trendy than they are.)
Except at harvest time, when self-preservation enjoins a temporary truce, the Pathan tribes are always engaged in private or public war. Every man is a warrior, a politician, and a theologian. Every large house is a real feudal fortress made, it is true, only of sunbaked clay, but with battlements, turrets, loopholes, flanking towers, drawbridges, etc., complete. Every village has its defense. Every family cultivates its vendetta; every clan, its feud. The numerous tribes and combination of tribes all have their accounts to settle with one another. Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid… The life of the Pathan is thus full of interest…
Into this happy world the nineteenth century brought two new facts; the breech-loading rifle and the British Government. The first was an enormous luxury and blessing; the second, an unmitigated nuisance. The convenience of the breech-loading, and still more of the magazine, rifle was nowhere more appreciated than in the Indian highlands. A weapon which could kill with accuracy at fifteen hundred yards opened a whole new vista of delights to every family or clan which could acquire it. One could actually remain in one's own house and fire at one's neighbor nearly a mile away.
John Huston's hilarious and heartbreaking movie The Man Who Would Be King, based on a Rudyard Kipling short story set in a region of Afghanistan now called Nuristan, offers a similar perspective. In 1997 Jonny Bealby retraced the fictional steps of Kipling's rogues Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan and found nothing had changed.
"On the four week journey, I'd heard of twelve murders and enough tales of thieving and brigandage to fill a small book," Bealby recounted. "When I asked Ismael, our Nuristani translator, why this should be, he simply shrugged, 'It is our culture,' he said."
Rick Bragg's amusing account in the NY Times on 10/21 found a world with which Churchill and Kipling would have been familiar:
When a male child is born in a Pashtun village, gunfire is the first sound he hears. Pashtun men celebrate the birth of a brand-new warrior by firing their rifles into the sky, and the lead falls back to the powdery earth like drops of hard rain… Muskets did not shoot very high and the bullets were tiny, say Pashtun elders, so there was little risk from falling lead during the celebration. Then, generations later, Pashtun took Kalashnikov rifles from Soviet soldiers they killed in the war that led to an ignominious Soviet retreat in 1989. "But the Kalashnikov bullet was so big and heavy that, when we fired it in celebration, it dropped back down back out of the sky, and killed us." … That does not mean the shooting stopped. Tradition, the elder said, holds firm here. Even the police, who frown on the power of tradition, are ignored. "A law, a government, is not so much a factor here," Mr. Taizi said. …
This is a tribe that anthropologists consider one of the oldest on earth, bound by a common language, but also by millenniums of marriage, and by blood. As Islamic militants use religion as a rallying cry all around the Muslim world, here on the border it is ethnicity as much as Islam that ties Pakistanis to their Afghan cousins — even those in the Taliban. A proud, almost arrogant people who fought Alexander the Great, they have fought among themselves for centuries, as families do…
"You people in America say that human life is sacred," said Mr. Khattak. "Here, life is nothing without honor." Outsiders have, over the centuries, sometimes developed a lower opinion. … A British officer once advised his superiors not to waste bullets on the Pashtun. Buy them, he said.
The article concludes on an optimistic note, though, by offering a way to bring peace:
There is, in Pashtun law, an alternative to war. If one village or clan wrongs another by killing one of its members, the village of the killer can offer to the wronged village a girl, to be taken as a wife by one of the villagers. But the woman, Mr. Taizi said, is mistreated all her life. She is never regarded as an equal. "She is persecuted," he said. It is tradition.
Perhaps Susan Sontag or Hillary Clinton might be persuaded to volunteer.
Afghanistan's division into warring families is tragic-comically extreme, probably due to the severity of the terrain. But it's important to realize that the Pathans are much closer to the default form of human society than we are.
THIS IS WHY WE SHOULD HAVE JUST NUKED TORA BORA IN DECEMBER 2001.
- DON'T GET ME WRONG:
- I'M ALL FOR NATION-BUILDING - IT WORKED IN JAPAN AFTER WW2 - BUT FIRST YOU MUST UTTERLY VANQUISH THE ENEMY.
- AND DON'T CALL ME CRUEL: WHAT WOULD BE REALLY TRULY MADLY AND DEEPLY CRUEL WOULD BE FORCING ANY HUMAN BEING TO LIVE UNDER TALIBAN-LIKE SHARIA OR PASHTUN-LIKE --- EVEN SAUDI-LIKE- CULTURE.
- YES: WW4 IS A WAR BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS --- OR MORE ACCURATELY, THE CIVILIZED AND THE UNCIVILIZED.
TO WIN THIS WAR AGAINST THIS MOST HORRIBLE ENEMY, WE MUST FIRST DEFEAT THE APPEASING POSTMODERN LEFT AT HOME.
THAT MEANS DEFEATING THE DEMOCRATS THIS NOVEMBER.
THAT MEANS VOTING GOP THIS NOVEMBER.