Continuing the Discussion on “Warlords of Afghanistan”

[Note: Initially I posted this in the comments section here in response to comments made by Matt Weems of Warlords of Afghanistan and other readers, but seeing that it clarifies my position on a number of important topics, and more importantly, that writing it ate up almost all of my “blogging time” for today, I will put it here as another post. To those who visit ُSafrang for fresh commentary on current happenings in Afghanistan and will feel shortchanged by this: put up with it -it is, after all, my blog!]

I would like to thank Shaharzad, Ronin, and Jay for their input to this conversation. I especially appreciate the comments from Ronin, whose balanced tone we would all do well to try to emulate.

I would hate to disappoint, but this is not going to be another lengthy response (that is, if I can help it… after all, as Mr. Weems has figured it out about me, as just another Afghan I am sure to follow a similar line of ethnocentrist thinking as those who comment on his website’s forum and engage in name-calling and ethnic slurring against other groups!)

I think that I have done my best through a previous post to address all of Mr. Weem’s concerns about my initial post and to provide some backup for why I felt that some information on his website and products were misleading. All I have done since is to try to substantiate the critiques in my initial post with evidence from his website, and not to backtrack, or as Mr. Weems suggests in his last comment above, to “take it back.”

However, it seems that Mr. Weems subscribes to the preferred mode of discourse in some American circles who view inflexibility -even in the face of truth- as a virtue, and view any changes of position or qualifications of initial statements as weak, or at best, flip-flopping. If you think I am being unfair, please refer to Mr. Weem’s comment above (first paragraph) where he says about the passage in his website: “…it says what it says and doesn’t then back track, apologize or qualify.” I am aware that this this biting statement is at least partly directed at me for the largely tonal qualifications I made in my follow-up post, and for conceding to two of his criticisms (which I will point out below.) This does not bother me at all, because I view myself as a gladly spineless follower of Gandhi and Mahmoud Dervish, who also took delight in the way their thoughts fluttered freely the more they learned the truth -in Dervish’s words, as if a leaf flutters with the wind.

To this end, and because of my commitment to truth and to civility in discourse, I have conceded that my initial statement was harshly critical without sufficient specific citations from the source I was critiquing, and that I was unfair to single out two of the poorest sources on Mr. Weem’s reading list. Similarly I would have gladly backtracked and taken back my criticism -even if it is on the web for all to see- had I had found evidence that, for instance, Hazaras are exclusively or predominantly Mongol in their ethnic make-up; that they are all Shi’a (and unlike Mr. Weems I tend to think that such nuances are important to point out -after all, most of the biographical and other sketches on just about every other group and “warlord” on Mr. Weem’s website -including the ones on Jezail and the Burqa- are lengthier: surely a few crucial qualifications would have not rendered his three paragraphs about the Hazara too long for what I assume to be coasters of similar dimensions); or that Hazaras have historically enjoyed the friendship and military support of the Persians and continue to do so today; or that as Shi’as, the Hazaras are seen as heretics by other Sunni Afghanistan; or that all other ethnic groups in Afghanistan despise the Hazaras; or…

While we are on that note, I would encourage Mr. Weems to think deep and hard about his own sentiments about race relations in the US and his perceptions of his African-American compatriots, because, notwithstanding issues of structural discrimination or incidents of racial slurring such as the recent one with Don Imus, African-Americans are not “despised” by ordinary people of other races in the US, and one might risk giving away one’s own deeply-held prejudices by insisting that they are.

Others have amply made it clear why Mr. Weem’s statement that “surely it is better that the public learn something about Afghans rather than nothing?” is problematic. I should just point out that what is at issue here is precisely falsity and misinformation. My qualification that “Where I did not find any concrete proofs of falsity…” comes after the sentences preceding it, that “reading the website led me to question the accuracy and factuality of some of the statements in it.” It is entirely possible that my failings as a non-native English speaker might have led Mr. Weems to read other interpretations into this (and with many other statements on my blog -where, at times, he has extracted far-fletched “insinuations” from my writing) but it seems to me that in the first sentence I have made it clear that some statements on Mr. Weems website are subject to question on grounds of factuality and accuracy; and then after that, and separately, I point out that where factuality is not at issue, some statements are questionable for their certitude in tone even though they are not backed-up. And because in such cases counter-factuality is also not possible, I have inserted the qualification that Mr. Weems singles out, i.e. “where I have not found concrete proofs of falsity…”

All in all, I feel dragged into the kind of out-of-context and selective quoting and point-scoring that, as I pointed out earlier, gives the air of electoral politics and election-cycle partisanship. Had I been less patient with such debates, or had I been insecure in my claims and sources, I would have shied away from participating in it. But as it is, I welcome it. In the spirit of my two gurus, Edward Said and Michel Foucault, I embrace the task of challenging the inherent authority of authorship on behalf of people on the periphery, and say that: Beware! the native has started to speak out!
Of course I am aware that I am flattering both myself and Mr. Weems with such sloganeering, but let there be no doubt that I view the task quite seriously and see Safrang as a small start, and my career as focused around this goal (forget for the moment the fact that I am intern and consultant with DC think-tanks; or if you can’t ignore it, bill it as “working from the inside!”)

Last but not least, I find Mr. Weems insinuations that the reason that I have devoted time and energy to writing such lengthy response about the “Hazara” segment of his website unfair -especially after I have painstakingly explained that:

1. I have chosen the topic precisely because, for both personal and academic reasons, I know more about than other topics on his website (and as a general rule, I prefer to talk about that which I know a thing or two about – incidentally a trait that I find desirable in others as well),
2. that as a personal value I shun irredentism, ethno-nationalism, and tribalism of the sort that has so plagued Afghanistan, and the evidence of which can be found aplenty on Mr. Weems website’s forum.

I see myself as one among the vanguards of a generation that is ready to do away with the poisonous discourse of tribal nationalism, ethno-linguistic supremacy, and other such thinking that is based on hatred and xenophobia. As such, I would appreciate it if Mr. Weems did not make such insinuations in the future. Had I been any less secure in my patriotism and my sentiments on this topic, I would have been far more outraged. But as it is, I am solidly grounded in my beliefs, and it takes a lot more to disturb my tranquility.

Lastly, below I will post the complete text of the passage in question on Mr. Weem’s website, i.e. “Hazara – The Bottom Rung” (as available on 04/16/2007) as a backdrop for the exchange:

With the Asian eye fold and sparse beards, the Hazara are Turkic in origin like the Uzbeks, but they speak a Persian dialect and are Shiite Muslims. About 10% of the overall population, the Hazara live in the mountains and valleys of Bamiyan Province, central Afghanistan. Many also live in the cities, especially Kabul and Mazar. The Hazara are supposed to be Mongols left in Baiman after Ghengis Khan had it depopulated. Once thought to be mythology, genetic studies show that a quarter of all Hazara are descended from Ghengis Khan, confirming the story.

The Hazara once controlled much more of Afghanistan. In the 1880s they revolted against the Pashtun Amir, Abdur Rahman Khan, and he destroyed them. He massacred thousands, enslaved thousands more, and punished the rest with high taxes. Twenty years later the slavery was ended, but they remained lodged at the very bottom of the Afghan social ladder, despised by Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbek alike. As such they are free game for abuse, their women are not respected and they frequently are employed in jobs that resemble their former slavery. To make matters worse, Hazara are Shiite, which makes them heretics in the eyes of other Afghans.

The Hazara have only one friend in the world, the Persians. Because they speak a Persian dialect, and especially because they are Shiite, Persians resent it when Sunni murder them. When the Afghan state broke down and the Soviets arrived, the Persians helped the Hazara arm, organize and throw the Pashtuns out of Bamiyan. Hazara in the cities had a more difficult time, but they did manage arm themselves and cause enough mayhem that they can no longer be treated as slaves.


4 Responses to Continuing the Discussion on “Warlords of Afghanistan”

  1. Matt Weems says:

    Good God. I am not a racist for pointing out that blacks are poorly treated in this country. I’m not an enemy of Hazara for saying they are poorly treated in Afghanistan. If you want to be taken seriously you might consider making Julius Ceasar a guru and cutting out the flowery language. “Stripped down like an athelete” they said of his writing. All that means is he had enough respect for his readers to make his words count. In the same spirit don’t just blather without checking your facts.

  2. J.Z. says:

    I am not pleased with the way I have let this futile exchange drag on. Futile, because I have no idea what I was thinking in trying to change anyone’s mind about the subject.
    I have tried by taking the time to explain my views and substantiate them with sources, often with patience and at length, and I don’t see what else I can bring to bear on the matter.
    As such, I intend to put the issue of Warlords of Afghanistan and its material about Hazaras of Afghanistan behind me once and for good. The facts are out there for anyone who wants to see them, and the issues I have raised in this exchange should serve, at the very least, to point out areas of concern and scholarly contention.
    I also admit that the facts are not crystal clear all of the time, but more than anything else, this lack of clarity invites caution in reporting them as certitudes.
    My best to those who have contributed with insight and input into this conversation, and to Mr. Weems who has proved as graceful as any target of criticism in engaging us in the exchange. As to his criticism above about my writing style, I can only say that unlike him, I am not a native speaker of English, and I hope he puts my shortcomings in getting my points across to this account. I also hope he would forgive my hesitation to model my writing after a Roman tyrant than those orators whose death he instrumented.

  3. […] speculations to rest once and for good. Also, a few days ago here on Safrang we had our own little discussion related to this topic. The episode revealed to me the inherent difficulty of not having reliable […]

  4. jan says:

    Nice post and cool info
    all the best

    you can read about hazara history

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