Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

The Vulnerability of Cultural Norms

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The Vulnerability of Cultural Norms

A number of Afghans show inclination to secular culture after the post-Taliban administration, which led to democratic discourse. Many show less sensitivity towards irreligious culture emerged within the last few years, mainly in large cities.
Generally speaking, Afghans have practiced tribal culture for many decades and are less tolerant to secular culture. Traditional culture, which roots in tribal code of conduct, hold strong sway in tribal belts. Those who live in remote areas practice not only different dressing code but also mindset and culture with those in large cities.
In large cities, Afghans are likely to gradually embrace secular culture despite the country’s conservative structure. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, Kabul city was decorated with colorful Valentine’s gifts and balloons and social media was replete with messages and symbols of love. A number of young men and women were buying gifts for their couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which has nothing to do with the country’s culture. To support their stance, they justify that it is simply a moment to have pleasant time with their couples and is not related to culture.
On the contrary, religious figures and a number of ordinary people believe that celebrating Valentine’s Day are against religious practices and open acceptance of secular culture. They show strong sensitivity to celebrating such events, which, they believe, will necessarily put the country’s cultural values and moral standard at stake. It is believed that celebrating events that are contrary to Afghanistan’s culture will provoke public sentiment in remote areas. It is too early for Afghan people to celebrate such days since religious radicals still seek to find out reasons for the justification of their deadly activities. That is, if urban residents embrace secular culture openly under any pretexts or justifications, religious figures may preach against them, which may compound the insecurity.
History shows that Afghans were engaged in strong clashes and violence in the wake of modernization and modern movement. A number of political men and women, who resorted to modern styles of dressing and sought to spread modern ideas regardless of Afghanistan’s cultural norms, were excommunicated. It should be noted that a number of conservative elements still hold strong influence in the country. With this in mind, urban residents have to move in the frame of the country’s cultural values and social norms.
Those who act in a way that show no respect to the country’s culture and try to imitate western or secular styles are highly vulnerable. For instance, if young girls with western clothing style walk in Kabul streets, they are likely to be harassed sexually more than anyone else is. They are insulted, harassed, hated, and labelled. After all, those who harass such girls always put the blame on girls for their clothing styles rather than their own practices. They never think that their styles have nothing to do with others and everyone should be able to practice their freedoms.
Overall, there are three kinds of practices vis-à-vis cultural issues. For the one, a number of individuals, mainly in large cities, are tolerant and are not concerned about decline in cultural values. They are open to embracing outside culture and participate in secular activities.
Second, a number of people are highly concerned about cultural elements and show strong sensitivity towards cultural invasion. They, who are mostly conservative and religious figures, believe that safeguarding cultural elements are their responsibility. According to them, practicing secular or “western culture” is against religious tenets and have to be avoided.
Third, some individuals adopt fundamental approach towards cultural invasion and campaign against secular practices with strong force. They, who are mostly the residents of tribal belts, integrate religious tenets with their tribal code of conduct and practice highly traditional mindset and custom. Such individuals lack religious knowledge and blindly follow traditional custom with hot zeal. They believe that if a person steps on cultural red line, has to be punished severely. Radical figures and members of the Taliban come from the same group. They were born and brought up in villages and socialized in tribal code of conduct and believe that the country’s tradition is tantamount to religious tenets. Thus, such individuals are of the opinion that celebrating “western culture” will pave the ground for moral turpitude.
I believe that it is unnecessary to practice outside culture, which generates sensitivity or puts the local culture at stake. It will be productive to moderate our culture but not succumb to cultural invasion. It is likely that there are some companies and traders who seek to institutionalize outside culture in the country so as to widen their own market. That is, they capitalize on the issue and seek financial gains at the cost of a country’s cultural values.

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan and freelance writer based in Kabul. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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