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Unfiled December 13, 2001
AfghanWorld: Let Afghanistan Be Afghanistan
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 2 of 4
The way the Left has dropped Cultural Relativism was something of a surprise to me. I must be naive, but I really thought that it might come into play when we discuss the way Central Asian cultures deal with things like marriage or war. I thought we weren't supposed to look at other cultures and say, "Be like us!"

I mean, wasn't there some rule about that? Did you guys all miss the lectures in Anthro 101 when they told us about the 300-year-old tradition, starting with Montesquieu, which taught that other cultures developed moral codes different from but not less than ours? Did you professors chuckle to yourselves, up there at the podium, as you told us about the intellectual history of the past three centuries, in which all the best minds, from Montesquieu to Nietzsche, shouted against European provincial snobbery? Were we supposed to know not to take that seriously?

The central fact about Cultural Relativism is this: NOBODY'S TRIED IT YET. Like the "Liberalism" Rush Limbaugh rails against, Cultural Relativism has no power, no defenders, at all. The coverage of the Afghan war has made this very clear. It goes without saying that the Pashtun/Taliban attitude toward gender roles and war is Wrong. And that means WRONG, a wrong grounded in moral certitude which Queen Victoria would have envied.

(Has anybody checked out Rush Limbaugh -- I mean medically, anatomically? I have a horrible feeling he may be Victoria in drag. Not very good drag, though. Gives a whole new, horrible meaning to the phrase "Victoria's Secrets.")

There are no advocates of cultural relativism; there haven't been since Nietzsche fell. The intellectual history of ethical philosophy in the twentieth century can be summed up concisely: Nietzsche died, leaving no heirs. Looters, yes -- Foucault comes to mind -- and a few honorable mourners like Deleuze -- but no heirs.

The proof of this assertion is in every story, every photo out of Afghanistan. What is the most obvious thing in every photo from there? The fact that these people enjoy war, consider it essential to every man's life. Try this: a photo from the slaughter in the Mazar fortress showed two turbaned victors leaning over a corpse. One was manipulating a long tweezer, while the other watched, their turbans almost touching the corpse's white face. They were fishing -- fishing for a gold tooth in the mouth of the defeated adversary. What delight was in their faces! What joy, plundering the dead for their gold!

Or this: a Tajik strolling across a field of bodies at Mazar, AK over his shoulder, carrying one dress shoe and looking for a matching one among the corpses. The Western commentator says, scandalized, "Most of the corpses had already lost their shoes."

On the Tajik's face, on the faces of all the fighters, was this great big grin. Even the losers, locked into steel containers, looked interested at the next turn their stories might take, and more than resigned to the prospect that the next episode might be their last.

Here, in your face, is the central fact: they have their own culture, and in that culture, war is fun. The killing, the dying, the shouting, the threats, the sobbing over bodies, the zooming around on Toyota pickups loaded with RPG rounds.

THEY LIKE IT. It's the way they've lived for thousands of years. What the hell happened to the idea that other cultures have the right to do things differently -- not just the way they make their egg rolls but the way they feel about war?

The arguments against allowing the Afghans to live their own way are mostly pictures of kids crying. If a kid cries in Anaheim, it's having a tantrum; if a kid cries in Mazar, it's a haunting image of the horrors of war. The crying child is an actor in an alien culture; its cries are part of the harmony which comprises that culture. When Afghan women cry and howl for the cameras, they are performing a prescribed cultural duty; they are not offering a critique of the current regime. The widow's crying over the husband is one of the pleasures offered to women in Homeric culture, and the wife performing it would be astonished and outraged to learn that her great moment has been hijacked for what amounts to an ideologically-driven broadcast slandering her culture.

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