So, when I was in Iraq, in 2005, there was a detainee who was handed over to us as a possible insurgent. When I read his file, it was clear he wasn’t an insurgent but that his neighbors had turned him in for raping the local boys. He confessed to his crimes; I wrote it down, then we turned his case over to the Iraqi police, as this was a civil matter. No intelligence indicated that he was an insurgent. Later, I asked my interpreter what might happen him, and she said, “Probably nothing, especially if he has money to bribe the authorities. But if he were an insurgent who had attacked the police, they would have taken turns running a train on this man, raping him.”
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will joke about “man love Thursday“, which describes Jihadi male-orgies undertaken the night before the Sabbath-day, Friday, as a last hurrah. There exist grainy long range surveillance videos showing this kind of behavior that were passed around by units overseas.
When the incident in Iraq happened, I sarcastically recalled a line from one of my favorite movies, Airplane: “Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?” “What a fantastic people that we’re here to liberate!” I thought. But even as I consoled myself with humor, I knew there was a logical explanation and it was not a laughing matter. I had read in an anthropology book in college that poor, tribal cultures sometimes practice homosexual pederasty. The logic presented was that it takes little away from the boy to be the victim of an adult’s sexual advances but it would erode a girl’s marriage value if she were defiled, and so older men substitute the young boy in moments of passion. This is even considered moral behavior, because it doesn’t denigrate the woman, and gives the man an “outlet” for natural feelings.
I know, it’s strange, right? But this tradition might in part, at least, contribute to the practice of adult males using rape to punish other males in power situations in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the widespread acceptance of pederasty.
Western society is not immune to such behavior: atrocities within our police forces, the sexual torture Al Qaeda detainees while in U.S. custody, and individual cases of abuse come to mind. But here, importantly, these activities are considered immoral and aberrant; American culture does not honor excuses for rape. It’s not a tradition.
Recently, there’s been some political noise about a Special Forces NCO who has been kicked out of the Army because he got physical with an Afghani child abuser.
From a human rights point of view, objectively, sexually assault, especially against little boys, is a crime. There is a power difference: the child cannot defend himself from the stronger adult. Though cultural anthropology may explain it, it doesn’t excuse this behavior. Slavery and racial oppression are just as explicable (so is murder) and just as wrong.
The logic of tolerating Afghan abuse is that it’s a step B problem because if we tried to disqualify Afghani men who engage in pederasty from the Afghan army that we’re building, step A, there would be no one to put in the army. It’s entrenched in the culture. Nevertheless, the NCO in question should not have felt it was necessary to take matters into his own hands. We’re asking too much of an American soldier to ignore child abuse. We have to respect our culture, too.
We can do better. When America helped defeat Germany and Japan in World War II, we respected what good these two powerful nations had brought to global society, but we did not respect, and indeed severely punished, the immoral behavior they conducted. We can’t punish the Afghanis for acting in a way that seems normal to them, but we can certainly try to educate them to have a more enlightened view; we can discourage the Chai boys and provide support for our soldiers who are deeply offended by this behavior and motivated to act out.
There has to be a way. We should be able to honor the disparate cultures of the Afghans and Iraqis, of any peoples with whom we engage militarily, and not be forced to back down from our values.