PASHTUN-BASHING IN KITE RUNNER: A PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIO
By: Dr. Rahmat Rabi Zirakyar
By: Dr. Rahmat Rabi Zirakyar
Photo: Dr. Rahmat Rabi Zirakyar
I am of Salarzai-Pashtun/Afghan heritage with a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Free University of Berlin, Germany; currently independent scholar,U.S.A. December 9, 2009
An eminent American historian Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes put it: “Truth is always the first war casualty. The emotional disturbances and distortion in historical writing are greatest in wartime.” Quoted in “Zundelsite-A few facts about the Institute of Historical Review”, electronic version [November 1, 2009]. In shadows of aggression, people have been deliberately manipulated by official propaganda and spinning media and experts into an attitude of hating a country, a race, a religion, an ethnic group, etc.
The Kite Runner is a penetrating, absorbing, distressing, emotional, and ideological novel by Afghan-born Dr. Khaled Hosseini which covers the tumultuous period of Afghanistan’s history since early 1970s. I read its first Riverhead paperback edition (2004) in November of 2009. Its hardcover was published a year earlier in 2003. He is culturally a non-Pashtun but ethnically a half-Pashtun: Dr. Hosseini’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother belong to the Mohammadzai nobility of Pashtun heritage. Also, his aunt is the mother of Prince Mostapha Zaher, the grandson of King Zaher Shah( 1914-2007). Dr. Hosseini cleverly organizes the story of his fiction, skillfully builds the suspense, and amazingly patronizes the Western audience by using “hot-button” cultural and political issues in a very traditional Afghan society torn by the ravages of war since 1978. In April of this year the Pashtun-led faction of the Soviet-connected People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took power, killed President of the new republic Prince Mohammad Daud and his family, and ended the reign of Mohammadzai nobility. The overwhelming majority of the Afghan people rejected the communist rule and its brutalities. They stood up against the new, leftist regime for national and religious (Islamic) reasons. These events were followed by the CIA operations against the Moscow-connected regime, which rushed the Soviets to invade Afghanistan on December 25, 1979.
Dr. Hosseini’s novel is designed to soothe the Western audience’s conscience and to serve as a non-military “psychological operation” in the post-911 U.S. war urge packaged as liberty and democracy. It is a de facto defamation fiction, scapegoating Pashtuns ( who constitute the majority of Afghan population) while the author is exempting the upper stratum of other non-Pashtun minorities. He is touching on the legal conception of “defamation innuendo” (injury to reputation)? Dr. Hosseini does not seem to be thoroughly steeped in the history and culture of Afghanistan, particularly the period he is covering. Is his thinking co-opted?
CAST OF MAJOR ROLES
The defining moment (the rape of Hassan, ethnic Hazara and Shiite) which is integral to the story is introduced in the very first sentence of the book: “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in winter of 1975”(p. 1)
The main character and narrator of the story Amir is the only[“legitimate”] child of a privileged ethnic Pashtun merchant Baba . Amir is the only insecure son of Baba and half brother of Hassan (both Baba’s progeny), as well as adoptive father of Sohrab (orphan son of Hassan). Baba wishes Amir would stand up for himself. Amir often feels jealous of the attention that Hassan receives from Baba. Amir is “the unwitting embodiment of Baba’s guilt” while Hassan is Baba’s “other half. The unentitled, under-privileged half….The half that…Baba had thought of as his true son.”(p. 359)
Hassan’s mother is ethnic Hazara. He is best friend and servant of Amir. Hassan’s supposed father is Ali, an ethnic Hazara, who could not have kids because of Polio, which Amir learns later. Ali is like a brother to Baba for whom he works. “For you, a thousand times over.” (p. 2) This is said by Hassan to Amir as he runs Amir’s last kite.
Rahim Khan is ethnic Pashtun. He is business associate and close friend of Baba. He has a close relationship with Amir, who wishes Rahim Khan was his father. “There is a way to be good again.” This is said by Rahim Khan to Amir to encourage him to help Hassan’s orphan son Sohrab escape Afghanistan under Taleban and this way redeem himself (pp. 1,192, 226).
Assef is ethnic Pashtun. He has blue eyes and blond hair because his mother is German. He is an antagonist, the neighborhood bully, and firm believer in Adolf Hitler’s leadership. He raped Hassan. Assef, who later becomes leader of Taleban, took Sohrab (son of Hassan) from the orphanage in Kabul and forced him to prostitution. Eventually Amir adopted his half nephew Sohrab. They go home to America, but Sohrab remains silent until the two of them kite fight together and win.
The Kite Runner shows parallels to previous American novels, for example, Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn (1884); Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960); and Madison Jonen’s Nashville 1864: The Dying of Light (1997).
Mark Twain’s novel, which opens with Huck as the lead character, is often recognized as his greatest masterpiece. The book tells about two runaways: a white boy and a black man on their journey. Huck is a poor boy (with a drunken bum for a father) who helps Jim, a runaway slave, to escape up the Mississippi to the free states. Through his novel Mark Twain addresses painful contradiction of racism and segregation in American society claiming freedom and equality.
Nashville 1864 is a short American Civil War (1861-1865) novel in which Steven Moore, the lead character, is a 12-year-old boy who experienced the Civil War. The story of two friends (one white and one black) has its roots in Mark Twain’s Adventure of
Huckleberry Finn. The author of the novel tells of the occupation of Nashville, Tennessee, by Union soldiers. The Confederate army was defeated. The two boys Steven and his family’s slave, Dink, were searching for Jason Moore (Steve’s father) believing that he was in the nearby military unit of the Confederate army. On their journey Dink showed more wisdom than Steven. The death of Steven Moore’s slave, Dink, hunt him for the rest of his life, much as Amir’s memory was haunted by his betrayal: to watch in hiding the rape of his loyal servant and firm friend Hassan by Assef, leader of bullies.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird is based on the author’s observation of her surroundings, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was ten years old: A white woman accused a black man of raping her. He was sentenced to death. But according to some letters that appeared, the black man was falsely accused. So his sentence was commuted to life in prison. The author of the novel challenged the social status quo (racial and gender inequalities, unjust society, and lack of compassion). For religious and comparative literary perspectives, see Judi S. Hayes, In Search of Kite Runner (2007), 104 pages/electronic version.
The novel is timely because Afghanistan has become a pivotal point in global arena of imperial ambitions reinvigorated after the 911 catastrophe. It served as a non-military psychological operation. Dr. Hosseini’s novel is a prelude to the idea of “setam’e meli” (national oppression) advanced by Soviet communism and adopted by non-Pashtun Afghan leftists.
Usually a novel is called historical when it replicates a period or event in history, often operates with historical figures as some of its characters, and the event described is at least 50 years old when the fiction is written down. For example, three best novels are worth mentioning here: (1) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997). The story of this novel starts before World War II in 1929, when a 9-year-old girl was sold to a renowned geisha house in Japan, where a girl’s virginity was auctioned to the highest bidder. Geisha means trophy wife or distinguished mistress. (2) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell(1936) is an American Civil War (1861-1865) story, in which the success and failure of an individual is tested to adjust to the new environment, or fail. (3)The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet(1989). Its story takes place in the middle of the twelfth-century England during a time when social, political and religious conflicts collide. This chaos affects the progress of the exquisite Gothic Cathedral on which the novel centers.
King Amanullah (an ethnic Pashtun) became a national hero because during the third Anglo-Afghan war he won recognition of Afghanistan’s independence from the British Empire in 1919. U.S. historian and a leading authority on Afghanistan Professor Ludwig Adamec wrote in 1974 that King Amanullah “had been successful because of the assistance he received from Afghan [Pashtun] tribes in the ‘Independent Tribal Belt’ of the [North-West] Frontier.” (Adamec, Afghanistan’s Foreign Affairs to the Mid-Twentieth Century: Relations with the USSR, Germany and Britain. The University of Arizona Press, 1974, p.92). The North-West Frontier Province, a misnomer, was created by the British Empire in 1901 to curb the revolts of the Pashtuns and to destroy their identity with Afghanistan. King Amanullah (1919-1929) banned the practice of slavery and focused on education and development of his country. When a bandit of non-Pashtun heritage Habibullah Bacha Saqaw, who was supported by the British, overthrew King Amanullah in mid-January of 1929, he began his chaotic rule over Afghanistan for 9 months. Hazara population largely supported Amanullah. The late Soviet-Communist historian and a major expert on Afghanistan Reisner published a pamphlet in 1929. Referring to Bacha Saqaw’s movement, Reisner selected the following title of his pamphlet : “Peasant Movement in Afghanistan.” Bacha Saqaw (Son of Water Carrier) was defeated by Pashtun Nader Shah (Hazaras might have been in favor of him, rather than Bacha Saqaw?).
The “terribly terrible” Taleban were a considerable source of stability in the region important to energy battlefield of Eurasia. Taleban’s harsh rule (September 1996-mid November 2001) deserve recognition for four functions: overthrowing Masood-Rabani chaotic rule, bringing law and order-however harsh it may be-to the most parts of society under their rule, preventing Afghanistan from territorial disintegration, and considerably reducing opium cultivation and corruption. After the 911 catastrophe President George Bush wanted Taleban to turn over the “prime suspect” Bin Laden to America. They responded that they would relinquish him to an Islamic country after the U.S. government would submit a formal request along with evidence regarding the alleged criminal. President Bush declared war, and U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Even eight months after that doleful October day, the FBI director Mueller was unable to identify the person responsible for the 911 horrific attacks on America. According to Prof. Chomsky, “The most” the FBI director could deliver was to “believe” that the idea of the plot might have emerged in Afghanistan, but its planning and implementation were done in United Arab Emirates and Germany. Yet, Afghanistan was invaded by the U.S. forces, and to the contrary United Arab Emirates and Germany were exempted from the U.S. military attack!? See, Prof. Noam Chomsky and Prof. Gilbert Achcar, Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice (Paradigm Publishers, expanded edition 2009), pp. 71- 82. Instead of accepting “a carpet of gold” (black gold and blue gold/oil and gas business) before 911 attacks, Taleban received a “carpet of bombs” after the 911 catastrophe. Jean-Charles Brisard co-author of the book Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth (La Verite Interdite), interview with the author on November 15, 2001, see Julio Gody, “U.S. Policy Towards Taliban Influenced by Oil”, November 15, 2001, electronic version/Common Dream.org.
(3) Safya was a non-Pashtun Shiite female teacher in Kandahar (Shiite are a very tiny minority in among Pashtuns in the city of Kandahar.) Kandahari Pashtuns called her “Amajan” (Dear Aunt), and Pashtun women in Kandahar elected her as the head of the provincial women affairs administration during the Karzai period.
(4) Educated in Germany, Engineer Gholam Mohammad Farhad was of Yousufzai-Pashtun heritage. The people of the capital city Kabul gave him the honorary title “Papa” (Father). He was the most prominent leader of Afghan Social Democratic Party (1966=1344 A.H.). Engineer Farhad was the first elected mayor of Kabul. He won the mayoral elections with Hazara vote. Also, in the parliamentary elections he relied on the Hazara vote and won the seat in the House of Representatives. Hazara elders are still in touch with Papa Farhad’s family members, especially with his brother, politician and historian Qodratullah Hadad Farhad.
(5) In cooperation with the Communist faction Parcham (Flag), Masood and Rabani took over the government (April 1992-September 1996). Their rule brought chaos, destruction and civil war to Afghanistan. For this reason, their rule was called “The Second Saqawi”(anarchy, banditry). In early October 1929, the progressive King Amanullah fell victim to the anarchy of a non-Pashtun bandit Habibullah Bacha Saqaw (Son of Water Carrier). Supported by the British, Saqaw forced King Amanullah’s abdication. In his struggle against Saqaw and the British, King Amanullah was supported by Hazaras.
(6) The speech of Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of Hazaras’ Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, in July of 1993 (1372 A.H.) might be quite instructive for those who are beating on the drum of ethnic antagonism. Mazari believed that his people Hazaras have to fight together with other “Persian-speaking” people against the Pashtun domination. But “the issue of Chandawal and Afshar” [the killing of Hazaras in two sections of Kabul by non-Pashtun Masood-Rabani group, 1992] convinced Mazari that during the past 250 years not all Pashtuns, but “a power-hungry family”[yak khanadan-e jahtalab] had oppressed Hazaras. Since the day Masood-Rabani group came to power[April 2,1992] in Kabul, they “waged eight wars in the name of Islam against you[Hazaras],” Mazari emphasized in his speech. Masood and Rabani were referring to Hazaras as “the progeny of Genghis Khan.” ( Genghis Khan or Changes Khan was the Mongolian warrior-ruler [c.1155-1227], who seems to have had controlled a larger territory than any other ruler in the history.) For original Persian text of Mazari’s speech, see Nada-e Wahdat, No. 13/July 1993, quoted in Rahmat Rabi Zirakyar, X-Ray of Afghan National Consciousness (original in Pashto), Publisher Pashto Yoon, New York, submitted to publisher on 19 February 2001(30 Salwagha 1379 A.H.), printed in Peshawar, Pashtunkhwa, 2003 (1382 A.H.)pp. 79-80, from the facsimile printed in Afghanistan Mirror (Ayena-e Afghanistan, Vol.32/June-July1993=Jauza-Sartan 1372 A.H., pp. 71-72).
(9) Prof. Abdul Wahab Sorabi of Hazara heritage was member of the Advisory Constitutional Commission (1964). He was the first Hazara cabinet member with portfolio (1967-69) under King Zaher Shah (1933-1973). Thereupon Prof. Sorabi became the cabinet minister, 1969-1971, Secretary of Planning( de plan wazir). Engineer Mohammad Yaqub Lali was also a Hazara and cabinet minister, 1967-69, Secretary of Public Affairs (de ama shegano wazir). Abdullah Khan, who was like a prince (sardar-e Hazaras) in his community, was chosen by King Zaher Shah as a member of the Senate. He was in fact close to the King. Barat-Ali Khan was also Hazara and quite influential in the National Bank. Let’s take a look at U.S.: The first black U.S. cabinet minister was Robert C. Weaver, 1966-1968, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Linden Johnson. The first black female cabinet minister was Patricia Harris, 1977, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter.
(10) In mid-1990s (most probably in December of 1995) the Afghan “royal Shiites” (tashayo-e darbari), namely the Tajik Shiites Mohseni, Akbari, and Sayed Fazel, had launched a campaign to incite Afghan refugees (mostly Shiite Hazaras) in Iranian cities (Qom and Mashhed) against the “Giant Pashtun” (Ghool Pashtun). A declaration by Mohseni in Qom and Mashhed reads: “The strategic alliance with Pashtunism and Communism was an irreparable mistake in the history which pushed Hazaras backward for one hundred years.” This is reported by an honest and concerned Afghan Shiite (most probably Hazara) who condemned the Iranian involvement in Afghan affairs. He also rejected Mohseni’s hate campaign against “Pashtun brothers.” For original Persian text, see Zirakyar, X-Ray of Afghan National Consciousness, op. cit., pp.74-78.
Two things may contribute to the creation of a poor historical novel: (First) the oversimplification of historical issues (ignoring essential details of historical subjects), and (second) a perceived or broad generalization about a particular social or racial group (a stereotyping of the “good” and “bad” guys). In contrast to this, a good historical novel usually depends on the author’s ability to thoroughly understand the history of the period he/she is covering. The following passages from the novel will illustrate that Pashtuns are singled out and negatively impacted, which do cause injury to their reputation (defamation innuendo). Amir is the lead character and narrator of the story. King Zaher Shah and Amir’s father, both Pashtuns “got behind the wheel of their father’s Ford roadster. High on Hashish and mast on French wine, they struck and killed a Hazara husband and wife on the road.” (p. 24) The character Assef is Pashtun and a bully, who raped the Hazara boy Hassan. “Born to a German mother and Afghan father, the blond, blue-eyed Assef towered over the other kids.” He admires Hitler: “About Hitler. Now, there was a leader. A great leader. A man of vision.” Assef’s “blue eyes flicked to Hassan [the Hazara boy]” and said: “Afghanistan is the land of Pashtuns. It always has been, always will be. We are the true Afghans, the pure Afghans, not this Flat-Nose here. His people pollute our homeland, our watan. They dirty our blood.” Assef “will ask the president [Prince Mohammad Daud, the founder of the Republic of Afghanistan in 1973] to do what the king[Mohammad Zaher Shah, 1933-1973] didn’t have the quwat [power] to do. To rid Afghanistan of all the dirty, kaseef Hazaras.” (pp. 38-40) Assef brought Amir a birthday gift. “It was a biography of Hitler.”(pp.96-97) Assef, who became leader of Taleban, took Sohrab (son of Hassan) from orphanage in Kabul and forced him to prostitution: “How is that whore these days?” While Assef was present in his office, “One of the guards pressed a button and Pashtu[or Pashto is the language of Pashtuns] music filled the room” and Sohrab “danced in a circle.”(pp. 278-280) The Taleb with the whip “shouted something in Pashtu.”(p.272) Or the guard said “something in Pashtu, in a hard voice”( p.279). Or “One of the guards said something in Pashtu”(p.291). The tribe of the Taleban is Taleban. But the author tries to connect Taleban and Pashtuns through their language Pashto and this way diminish and discredit the majority Pashtuns, succinctly to dehumanize them. Soon after the 911 catastrophe, “America bombed Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance [a collection of non-Pashtun warlords who collected U.S. $70 millions within the first few weeks of the war] moved in, and the Taliban scurried like rats into the caves.”(p. 362) Dr. Hosseini’s statements are embedded in social discrimination based on basic psychological impulses of fear and Pashtun-bashing. “…the kind of thinking which presents any ethnic or national group in terms of a crude, unflattering caricature is undesirable and sloppy at best.” Dr. Michael F. Connors, Dealing in Hate: Anti-German Propaganda. Institute of Historical Review, Newport Beach, CA, 1996, 48 pages. Electronic version [Nov. 11, 2009].