SF Chronicle cluelessness about Afghan paedophilia

Fareena Alam flagged up this article — Afghanistan’s dirty little secret — which is about the Pashtun custom known as bacha bazi, in which boys dress as girls and dance for grown men who then take them home and sexually abuse them. According to the article, when US soldiers kept noticing local men walking with young boys and behaving in ways unlikely for a father, they hired an investigator who came out with a report titled “Pashtun Sexuality”, the contents of which startled nobody in Afghanistan but appalled Western forces. Some research suggests that half of Pashtun “tribal members” in southern Afghanistan are involved.

These claims are nothing new — there was a documentary on the subject (on Channel 4) in this country a few months ago, and I have seen claims about such practices in tourist guidebooks (on Pakistan, I believe) — but what sticks out about this article is the ridiculous justification for the practice, which I don’t believe could possibly come from any Muslim:

Sociologists and anthropologists say the problem results from perverse interpretation of Islamic law. Women are simply unapproachable. Afghan men cannot talk to an unrelated woman until after proposing marriage. Before then, they can’t even look at a woman, except perhaps her feet. Otherwise she is covered, head to ankle.

“How can you fall in love if you can’t see her face,” 29-year-old Mohammed Daud told reporters. “We can see the boys, so we can tell which are beautiful.”

Even after marriage, many men keep their boys, suggesting a loveless life at home. A favored Afghan expression goes: “Women are for children, boys are for pleasure.” Fundamentalist imams, exaggerating a biblical passage on menstruation, teach that women are “unclean” and therefore distasteful. One married man even asked Cardinalli’s team “how his wife could become pregnant,” her report said. When that was explained, he “reacted with disgust” and asked, “How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean?”

That helps explain why women are hidden away - and stoned to death if they are perceived to have misbehaved. Islamic law also forbids homosexuality. But the pedophiles explain that away. It’s not homosexuality, they aver, because they aren’t in love with their boys.

Afghanistan is far from the only place where women cover their faces, and you get paedophilia everywhere but on nothing like this scale. Furthermore, people in Afghanistan marry young and they will have seen girls when growing up, so they will have some idea of how they will look as women. There is simply no possible Islamic justification for this: there are hadeeths about how devils follow “beardless youths”, i.e. boys of precisely the age of those involved in this custom, more than they follow women, and books by Deobandi scholars (and the Taliban were strongly influenced by the Deobandis in Pakistan) warning men against looking lustfully at boys.

The claim about a “biblical passage” obviously reflects the ignorance of the author. The Bible as it exists today has no relevance to Muslims, and its laws are not taken into account at all. What the Bible says about menstruation doesn’t apply to Muslims who get their law from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which principally consists of the sayings of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and how they were acted on and interpreted by the early generations of Muslims. Muslims actually don’t regard menstruating women as unclean and, while they are barred from ritual activity, they are not prohibited from touching people or food, or from being touched, as they are in other religions such as Orthodox Judaism and some branches of Hinduism. It’s forbidden to have sex with a woman who currently has her period on, but it is not forbidden for her husband to touch or sleep with her during that time.

This could well be a custom that pre-dates Islam in that region — after all, similar customs existed in ancient Greece and are referred to in such texts as Plato’s Republic. I studied that at A-level and was puzzled by the lead character, named Socrates, talking about his companions being “bitten with a passion for boys in the bloom of youth” as if that was somehow normal. There is simply no way you can twist any Islamic text to show that it’s OK for a man to have sex with a young boy. It just isn’t.

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