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Politics of Afghan Culture:Collectivism, Honour, Shame and Self-Destruction


Politics of Afghan Culture:Collectivism, Honour, Shame and Self-Destruction

Collectivism, Honour and Shame: An essay concerning investiga tion of psyche of Afghan society and its political implications.

This essay will define psyche of Afghan society in cultural terms held close to heart by majority of its members. It will use historical evidence from political turmoil of Afghanistan in recent decades and lessons Afghan Diaspora experience to support its assessment of political implications of how Afghans define themselves.

Collectivism is a social system whereby group interests are prioritised over individual interests. Under collective system of social relations individuals are to forgo their rights and dissenting voices in so far as they compromise accomplishment of social harmony.

Every community that is governed by collectivist principles and worldview has some ways of enforcing supremacy of the group, its outlook and its interests over that of the individual. In Afghan community this is achieved by existence and prevalent acceptance of concept of Aabroo (Honour).

Honour in the context of the Afghan community means complying in public with moral codes, social norms and essential interests of the group. A group can be cultural, ethnic or religious in nature. If an individual or a group of individuals do not comply in public with those collective social expectations they are declared outcast or Be-Abroo by the community. Any pronounced declaration of this nature has a strong potential to make persons subject to it marginalised in the community. For this reason Abroo of every Afghan is close to his/her heart.

Guilt by association is another principle underpinning operation of a collectivist worldview in Afghan society. If an individual commits acts which compromises his honour amongst the people, members of the community will extend that disgrace to family of the individual through guilt by association.

Family is a social unit upon which Afghan society is founded. Individuals are defined by the community in terms of their association to families. Few individuals want their families to be declared outcast in the community by logic of guilt by association if they do acts that are contrary to group expectations. This desire to avoid social disgrace provides a strong incentive for individuals to comply with moral codes, social norms and essential interests of the community at all times, in private and in public.

Shame is feelings of having failed to conduct one self by those collective social expectations. For those who feel ashamed it is a strong, intense and unpleasant feeling often experienced for prolonged periods of time after an event that triggers the emotion. Individuals feeling ashamed for doing acts that are against moral codes, social norms and essential interests of the community is how collectivist worldview of Afghan community insures no one deviates from complying with group expectations.

Shame and honour are centrepieces of Afghan self-definition and because they strongly influence behaviour of individuals and groups, combined together they have large political implications.
Combining ideas of how Afghans see themselves with a working knowledge of how they relate to one another at a local, regional and national level is the key to assessing impacts of their group identities on their politics.

At a local level Afghans are divided along tribal lines. Since they also look at themselves in collectivist terms—that is they judge themselves on how well they comply with moral codes and social codes of the group, in this case their membership group is the tribe, at this level they think and act together as one group, one tribe. This gives birth to philosophy of tribal collectivism. It is an idea borne out of dual narratives of individual membership of the tribe by virtue of membership of their parents at time of birth and a social requirement to follow codes and norms of the group, of the tribe at this level. Anyone who dares deviate from this practice risks losing honour or privilege of respectful membership in the community for themselves and their family. Since no one likes social alienation, very few people have enough courage to go down this path. Tribal collectivism bonds together members of the tribe like strong glue.

Tribal collectivism divides the Afghan community at a regional level. On question of political issues it puts one tribe against the other, all of them collectively against themselves. This scenario is best manifested by community projects in a region that require cooperation among all tribes to be implemented successfully. Amongst Afghan Diaspora living in the developed world numerous cases of this phenomenon can be seen amongst ethnic minority population living in major cities of Australia. Several attempts have been made over the years in cities of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney to build shared community mosques for their respective populations. Most of the efforts have been futile with tribal mistrust and rivalries having prolonged, delayed or exhausted all efforts to reach agreement on finances, location and choice of religious leader for the mosque. Most tribes in the city of Adelaide have constructed their own tribal mosques because of all the delays, mistrust and rivalries involved and frustration generated by slow or stalled pace of progress.

These are strong and conclusive stories telling us tribal collectivism divides Afghan society at a regional level, putting one tribe against the other, splintering society into small enclaves, making cooperation at a regional level a fairy-tale. Tribal collectivism is designed to divide and weaken the community in terms of levels of trust and cooperation between its members.
While tribal collectivism divides Afghans living together in an area what truly causes conflict and self-destruction at a national political level is ethnic collectivism. This is outgrowth of tribal collectivism in an advanced stage.

Since Afghan society is collectivist in nature, ethnic groups in the country look at the world around and at their national politics through prisms of ethnic interests and rivalries. This brand of politics is called ethnic collectivism or ethnic politics.

Consequence of this worldview borders on genocide in times of conflict. It will divide the country into different ethnicities, putting one ethnic group against the other, all of the country fighting itself. Conflict of such nature is civil wars of the 1990s in Afghanistan. In this case at point different ethnic groups were fighting one another in shifting alliances and factions over time.

Thousands of innocent civilians were killed in these conflicts. When a city or a region fell into hands of an ethnic group that had different ethnicity to people living in that territory, civilians would be discriminately killed, the justification being that they belonged to a rival ethnic group. This is the height of madness, the height of hatred and destruction brought about my collectivist worldview.

Collectivist outlook enforced through concepts of shame and honour define psyche of Afghan society. At a local level this worldview divides people into tribes, at a regional level it puts one tribe against the other and at a national level it puts one ethnic group against the other. Under this arrangement cooperation becomes impossible at a regional or national level because of diverging ethnic and tribal interests and consequences of armed conflict borders on genocide. This is the formula for political self-destruction of the Afghan society.

Latif Mohammadi is a Student of Economics and Law at University of Canberra, Australia. He can be reached at azadi232@gmail.com

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