How War Affects Mindset

One of my countrymen tells a story of torture and punitive punishment at the notorious Guantanamo prison. He was incarcerated there for several months—imprisoned with a number of fellow insurgents. He told me that one dark night the lights were suddenly switched on, and when he looked up he saw that some Americans soldiers had entered his cell.  “One of them yelled to me: ‘You’re f**ked! F**ked!’

He kept staring right at me! Then another, a strong but attractive female, asked me in a tone of sexual innuendo, ‘Can you tell me, buddy, when your heavy missile is going to hit my open ground?’”  My countryman was shocked at being addressed by this female soldier in such vulgar, barbarous language.

We all know that objective realities have practical consequences and can severely affect mental attitudes. Some of our Afghan traditions have mutated into barbaric practices due to decades of violence and war. Many of us have become accustomed to conflate words of virtue with those of negativity.

Afghanistan may embrace a community of very loving fathers, but decades of war and turbulence have left their mark upon that love.  For example, in attempting to motivate their offspring to consume the food set before them, it is not uncommon for a loving father to slap a child while invoking hatred: “Oh, you donkey, you have to eat more so that tomorrow you’ll have the strength to defeat your enemy.”

The word “harami” denotes an active, clever and naughty person in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Hindku, Saraiki, and Dari languages, whereas it literally means “bastard” in all these languages and as well in English urban slang, yet we employ it as a word of encouragement as well.  In English, the “kapir” means cruel, but in Pashto when we say “Dir kapir sarai dai” we mean to convey that “he is a sufficiently strong man,” giving a positive spin to a negative word.

Then again, whereas “spai” means “dog” in Pashto, when we say “dir spai sarai dai” we are commending a person for being bold and strong. Moreover, the word “kustizan”–“f**ker” in English—is normally a highly pejorative word, but it’s also employed in Afghanistan in a positive sense.  And again, the word “khardimagh” has both negative and positive connotations in Dari and Pashto, so that when we call the Afghan vice president a big “R D Khardimagh sarai dai” what we mean to say is that he is bold enough to tackle the worst of situations at any cost.

Psyches that have been traumatized by incessant bombings, explosions and violent conflicts tend not to respect educated, intellectual, and well-mannered persons but rather those who can boast of having killed hundreds of Afghans.  And it is the latter we choose to elect to high-ranking office. Recently, many poorly educated ministers were promoted in garnering high numbers of votes in the parliamentary “Wolasi Jirga” of Afghanistan, whereas an intellectual like Abdul Bari Jahani barely managed election with the lowest successful vote total of all.

The traumatic effect of war on the Pakistani psyche is revealed in sayings like “America ka ik he elaaj – Al-jihad, Al-jihad”, which means, “There is but one solution to the problems of Pakistan–that there should be a continuous war with America.” The sentence, “Sari fisad ki jar America, Isreal, bagawa bagawa America ko,” presents the notion that the source of all evils is America and Israel, and that both should be dashed to the ground.

“Mein nokar sahaba da’’ is a Punjabi phrase which means “I am only the slave of the companions of the prophet Muhammad,” and while I strongly believe that no one needs their slavery, still they go writing that slogan on the walls of Lahore.   The Pakistani Urdu phrase demanding a ban on music, theater, and other sources of entertainment, while insisting that women wear the veil–“Fahishi band karo parda aam karo”—clearly reflects the program of patriarchal domination.

The mullahs, our ersatz clergy, speaking on Friday FM radio broadcasts, seem preoccupied with encouraging the suppression of women while discussing the methodologies of sex during before, during, and after Ramdhan, whereas when some young man expresses an interest in exploring sexual topics in the discussion then these selfsame Salafis denigrate his spirit of inquiry–although there’s little problem with it when the mullah’s talking!

In Pakistan, a war-driven psychology is preeminent.  The Christian vows to live as a Christian, die as a Christian, and to be proud of being a Christian.  The Muslims responds that he is adamant to live as a Muslim, die as a Muslim, and is proud to be a Muslim.  Others trumpet their resolve to live as a Pakistani, die as a Pakistani, and their pride at being Pakistani.  Yet in the end such avowals don’t engender democracy in any way, nor do they guarantee non-interference in each other’s business; on the contrary, they bode conflict and sectarian hatred eventually leading to bloodshed.

“We are against secularism” they bellow, asserting that it’s a sin and the source of all evils, while proclaiming “Fitana Qadyaniat Murdabad”, i.e., friendship with the Qadyani sect is a betrayal of the prophet Muhammad, and in advocating the destruction of a religious minority they thereby reveal their thinking that religion can be a sin as well, so long as it’s someone else’s.

Strident political hatred is rampant in Pakistan:  “Crush, crush, America–hate, hate America”; “Kill those who insult our leader”; “Down with America”; “Down with Israel”; “Down with NATO”; “The killer of millions of Muslims is nobody but India, India”; “Let’s come together and destroy America and Israel”; “From Kashmir to Palestine, Jihad till victory”; “Kafir Shietes, Kafir Khuminey, Kuta Khuminey”, (Shiites are not of us and have to be killed, and Khamenei is a Shiite and he is a dog); “Freedom of expression is open aggression”; “Our prophet’s honor comes from heaven and no one on earth can take it away”; “Hollywood means Zionwood”; “Jihad is an obligation, now or never”; “Mumtaz Qadri, murderer of the late governor of Punjab, is our hero”; “America ka jo yaar hein, wo ghadar hein, ghadar hein,” (the friend of America is a traitor); “The cartoonists must be hanged immediately”; and “Islam is not pacifism, but religion of the sword!”

Such mindsets give rise to confusion and bewilderment in the younger generations.  We need to consider the nature of this problem in very realistic terms and we need to examine why these people are taking the most negative perspective on things. The consequences of such thinking among men who would govern the world must be addressed.  Won’t such preoccupations engender wholesale conflict and destruction? Are there intellectual solutions to this problem? Or do material comforts promise a way to ameliorate their appetite for rapine?  If so, then what is the problem with the Arab world? 

The philosophical system of Marxism, for one, aspires to resolve the political, economic, and social problems of society—but at the cost of a violent struggle against private property and the market system.  Seeking a religious solution only gives birth to barbaric attempts by one sect, insistent on a dogmatic orthodoxy, to suppress the rights of the next.

Only a pragmatic, humanistic, and non-violent approach to the political, social, educational, and economic problems of Afghanistan and the region and the world offer any real hope for the future.  Anger, frustration, deprivation and poverty cannot be adequately addressed by means that have failed to resolve such problems in the past.

We need to adopt a philosophical approach that entails a frank examination of the problematic realities bedeviling our country then bravely adopt methods that are as logical as mathematical principles and have been proven to work, in order to find a path that leads away from hatred, destruction, and danger and into a future that is governed by brotherhood and mutual respect for the rights of our fellow humans.

Written by Khan Wali Khan Basharmal, a journalist with a focus on Pak-Afghan region

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the CSA BUSINESS.