February 19, 2007

Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 2/19/07
Stationed in
: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url:

Just when I think nothing will surprise me, Afghanistan throws me a curve ball. Let me set the stage. Maj Apple, Wali, Hamid (our interpreters) and I were sitting in our office having a Deep Discussion about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Somehow the topic of gays serving in the military came up, and Maj Apple and I both think they will be able to openly serve in the military very soon. (I mention this to set the stage, not to start a debate. Personally, it wouldn't bother me. If they want to come over and fight for their country, it's fine with me. Welcome.)

Once this topic came up, Wali asked why people were allowed to be openly gay in our country. We explained that in a free society, people are allowed to do pretty much what they please, as long as they are not hurting others, etc.

"But it is so revolting. A man would shame himself to do this."

"Wali," I asked, "What would happen to a man in Afghanistan if he openly declared he was gay?"

"That would never happen," replied Wali, acting as though that was as likely as the Pope converting to Islam.

"I know. But let's just pretend. For instance, let's say a famous TV personality decided he wanted to try to change things here, so he announced on TV that he was gay."

Wali interrupted. "But that would never happen."

"Maybe it would. Just tell me what you think would happen."

"His family would kill him immediately," he said without batting an eye. Remember, Wali represents moderate, westernized, Islam in Afghanistan.

"Why would you kill someone just for being gay?" I pressed.

"Because my religion says so." Again, as matter-of-fact as though he was explaining why a rock falls to the ground if you pick it up and then let go.

"Let's suppose he escaped from his family. What would the government do? Would they arrest him?"


"And would they then kill him?"

"Yes. This is an Islamic Republic. Our religion says to."

"And if someone wanted to leave Islam and join another religion, they would be executed for that too, right?"


The sad thing is, we could have been talking about football scores or the weather. He was not remotely embarrassed or hesitant in any of this. Hamid, however, was very quiet the whole time. I wonder what was going through his head.

"Well, if you believe all this, why would you want to move to America? We allow people to switch religions if they wish, or believe in nothing at all."

"Do you have people from different religions marry each other?" he asked.

"Yes, all the time," replied Maj Apple.

"What do they teach the children?"

"Usually they teach them both religions, and let them decide for themselves," said Maj Apple.

Wali seemed a bit surprised by this. Steam was starting to come out his ears.

"America is not like Afghanistan," I continued. "Our government does not tell us what to believe. We are free to believe whatever we wish. That is our greatness. We can say whatever we wish, as long as we aren't threatening to kill someone or violently overthrow the government. We can get on TV and say we think the government is awful, and no one will arrest us."

Maj Apple gave a brief explanation of how our country was founded by people who wished to worship in their own way. Once this was done, I asked again, "Do you think you could be happy in America? Muslims can leave the faith there, and no one will kill them."

"That's okay, as long as I can worship my way, I don't mind what others do."

So there you have it, the incongruity of a man who thinks it is perfectly normal to execute gays and apostates in this country, but doesn't think it's a big deal if he's living in the US. No matter what your views on homosexuality, I doubt any readers of The Sandbox want to execute gays (well, maybe some Taliban reading this trying to gather intel). Same thing with people who leave your particular faith. Would you kill them? (Hopefully that's a rhetorical question). Yet I live with seemingly normal, pleasant, hard-working people who would think nothing of doing this. This is not an isolated incident either. Other Americans have heard the same thing from their interpreters.

Now take this mindset, set temperature to high, and nuke for ten minutes, and you have some idea of the hatred and violence in the hearts of the men we are fighting against. Do you think diplomacy is going to work?

Do you think you can reason with them?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


You made a good case, and maybe he saw a different world for a second.

Then, maybe, he will tell someone else about the conversation. While trying to explain your pont of view, maybe he will begin to understand it.

Its a terribly small start... but what other options do we have?

:quote: So there you have it, the incongruity of a man who thinks it is perfectly normal to execute gays and apostates in this country, but doesn't think it's a big deal if he's living in the US. :endquote:

Your Afghani comrade seems to be saying that Afghanistan as a nation or society rightly affirms its Muslim character by enforcing Muslim law (as it is understood there); in the U.S., which doesn't have a Muslim character, it's not up to the individual to enforce Muslim law.

There are questions here at the intersection of personal, national, and religious identity, and they are not simple. In the US, we have separated religion and national identity widely (if not perfectly); but there are still people who say this is a "Christian" country, and who seek to have their "Christian" beliefs become civil (or even vigilante) law -- and that's 370 years after Roger Williams founded colonial Rhode Island on the principle of religious liberty.

On the other hand, for Al Qaeda, religious identity trumps national identity (as it was supposed to do for old-time communists); in a continental or global caliphate, there would be no need for nation-states.

Apparently your Afghani comrade is somewhere in the middle, hoping that a recognizable Muslim Afghanistan can come out of all this. For him (as for many Israelis) it may be hard to imagine a secular national identity.

But in a world in which all nations and all cultures are ever-closer neighbors, I hope the insight of our Founding Fathers will one day dawn on the rest of the globe: in a heterogenous society, religion and politics is just too incendiary a mix.

I wonder about the effects you are having on the people of Afghanistan in the long term. I suspect that what we would call brutal intolerance is being shaken up by having American with different views serving side-by-side with Afghanis. It may be that such simple exchanges are promoting a subtle change in attitudes. I hope so anyway

Does it really matter what you think? What they think?

You cannot understand their culture, anymore than they can understand ours.

We did not invade to install our social diplomacy in Iraq.

Who should be afraid? Those who mistake the reasons we are there. Those who think that by destroying a homeland and setting muslim against muslim, justice is somwehow served.

Bah. Ideology at its finest.

i think that the ideology that these people have lived under is misunderstood by most of our country, including the leadership. It would be nice if everyone here could understand what you wrote, and what you now see. however i doubt that will happen because as a nation we are very narrow minded (everyone no matter how enlightened you think you may be).

I would very much like to know what Wali's opinions were regarding inter-religion marriage; especially for religions other than his own. (Could this make his brain explode? To admit there are other religions? and advocate a point of view from another religion? Yow!) What if he comes to the U.S. and his kids fail to meet his religious standards? Would he be obliged to kill them?
Does he know that there are gay women, too?
He might find the U.S. unbearable.
I don't think diplomancy will work, and I don't we can win a fight in Afghanistan either. Nor can I forget that we used to fund and train the the Taliban.( Apparently, we once had a functional relationship with these guys.) Nope, I think were going to have to fall back on the guy fundementalists love to hate: Darwin.

I think that a lot of us seem to forget that this opinion, this religious fanaticism, this way of life for most Muslims in the mid east is not going to change over night. This is a multi-generational project. What we start today, will be carried on by the grand children of our children. We are trying to lay the foundation for a separation of church and state, and we are doing it one brick, one day, at a time. It will never be easy and most of us won't see the true fruits of our labor in our lifetimes, but it is nonetheless very much worth the costs.

Right on, RJinPA!

Unfortunately you've painted a more rosy image of the US than exists. A very large number of Americans feel the very same away about homosexuals as that interpreter-- because of the teachings of Pastors in Christianity.

Journey to any Charismatic Christian church in any state of the Union and you will find people who say that homosexuals should be killed without batting an eyelash as well.

During the miners' strike in the UK, when mining communities across the north were being run into the ground by the strike and didn't have enough money to feed themselves, the Gay Pride people down in London got together and raised quite a lot of money for the miners' families.

Now, northern mining villages were fairly socially conservative places, full of old-school, stern working class men who know what they like, and it isn't gays or southerners. But after the show of solidarity from Gay Pride, things changed. A few months after the event, there was a gay pride march in London - and down there marching with them was a delegation from the National Union of Miners, hard hats, union banners and all.

The thing that changes attitudes isn't talking to people - it's action. When material living conditions start to change in Afghanistan or anywhere else, then the way people see the world will change with it. In an Afghanistan where the bread isn't coming from the Mullahs and the Taliban, but where people are organising themselves, educating each other and working out their problems together, not under the whip of the fundamentalists, then ideas will start to shift.

Adnan Ali, founder of the British branch of al-Fatiha, an organisation for gay and lesbian Muslims, told that "a person with such an obsession about execution of human beings is not even entitled to be addressed as Imam." "Islam is a very tolerant religion and celebrates the human diversity in its core message," Ali said. "The holy book Qur'an does not mention anywhere about the execution or killing of human beings on the basis of their sexuality

I just wanted to remind everyone that "Afghani" is the unit of currency used in Afghanistan. The proper way to refer to the Afghan people is as "Afghans."

I have NEVER been in a Christian church where it was said "kill the gays"... I am a Christian and my favorite saying is "hate the sin, love the sinner" ... My point being, everyone's interpetation of their religon is different... We can say "all Muslims..." or "all Christians..." but there are exceptions and different interpetations everywhere...

Thanks for all the thoughtful and intelligent posts. Certainly there are hate-filled people in the US, and a small minority (I hope) that would actually want to execute homosexuals. The Old Testament taught this very thing. But as a society we will not stand for it today. In Afghanistan, society will. No one will admit to being gay here, just as no one will admit to leaving Islam. Death would be almost certain.

The poster "Passerby" is incorrect about the inability to understand each other. I understand Wali very well. What he says makes perfect sense based on his world-view. Passerby also needs to know that Muslim was fighting Muslim over here well before 9/11. We did not "invade" with that goal in mind. But that's another article.

isnt there a muslim saying that women are for babies and men are for pleasure,and dont muslin men hold hands and kiss,my son was in iraq twice and he told me that the sheep ride in front and the women ride in back.any religion that does not respect women is not good.and if god or jesus was there they would tell them they were wrong.

This is why I am skeptical about the claim we are bringing "freedom" to these people.

They use that freedom to impose religious rule; to kill gays, and oppress women.

And these are the people who are on our side!

Why should American soldiers die to empower a government that kills gays and insists on religious rule?

We need to kill Bin Laden, and make sure his group doesn't have an overt presence anywhere.

That is a realistic goal.

But there is no way these people in Iraq or Afghanistan will use their freedom to have a tolerant truly
"free" society, where religous and social minorities are protected.

And if they wont do that, we should not send our troops to die for them.

Very Enlightening. How does our media machine in the West gloss over this kind of stuff?
Gays in the U.S. worrying about "inequality" should help how their kind are treated in the Middle East and South Asia. Talk about differences in culture. Comment on the Diplomacy comment at the end. I agree of course no negotiations with the like of Taliban and terrorist in surgents. But what about Iran? Remember Nixon's visit to China? Nixon, a vehement anti-communist visited a nuclear armed nation that our government didn't even recognize as legitimate. And the great Reagan visited the Soviets even after denouncing it as an "Evil Empire." -Increasing moderate movements that led to Democracy.

So, we went to free Afghanistan from a repressive, religious based government so free Afghans could develop their own repressive, religious based government?

What was the point?

Are these the 'moderate muslims' that people talk about? They can't be fanatical because we wouldn't back them, right?

I would suggest that we might be better off engaging with the Islamic world, but not getting neck deep in its affairs as we've done so far. Further, we should take steps to ensure Islamic mores and culture don't seep into westernized cultures.

The two simply aren't compatible and will always cause conflict where they meet.

The key to "winning" in the long run is guys like your friend Wali in countries all over the world. He seems to be at a point between us and the Taliban. The question about all our actions, military or diplomatic, should be do they make people like Wali want to become more like us or more like them?

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