Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Afghanistan: Sex or starve! What’s the Issue?

If the stories are true – and there does seem to be some confusion in the accounts – then Hamid Karzai’s government sneaked into law on 27 July an amended version of the Personal Status Law for Afghanistan’s minority Shi’ite population. (Around 15% of the country’s 30 million citizens – the vast majority of whom are Sunnis, to whom the new law does not apply.)

The coming into law of this measure certainly does seem ‘sneaked’. With the likes of Barrack Obama, Gordon Brown, France’s Human Rights Minister Rama Yade and NATO boss Jaap de Hoop Scheffer joining the international chorus of protest against the original version of the bill in the Spring, Karzai promised to review the measure before implementing it. Now, just days before the increasingly tightly-contested elections, he appears to have sneaked it into law with some different words but the same meanings.

Human Rights Watch says it has seen a copy of the final law that requires Shia women to satisfy their husbands’ sexual appetites at least every 4 days, an article which critics have said could be used to justify marital rape. It enshrines a husband’s right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to comply with his sexual demands. (Cue: Western media frenzy about frustrated husbands starving their wives…!)

The law also requires women to get permission from their husbands to work and grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. Additionally, it is claimed that it effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’ to a girl who was injured when he raped her.

The law was designed, initially in secret, by a powerful, hard-line Shia leader, Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, and is supported by conservative Shia leaders in parliament. And it is clearly the votes of Shia fundamentalists Karzai is hoping to win with this measure.

The fact the new law is actually in flagrant contravention of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban constitution simply doesn’t seem to bother Karzai. Small wonder that the Pashtun people, who comprise most of the Taliban’s cannon fodder, regard Karzai’s people as far less trustworthy than the fundamentalists.

Which leads to the question: has the West once again, through an inability to understand cultural differences – different memes for the BLUE vMEME – inappropriately backed unhealthy, corrupt RED? (In recent history just think: the Shah in Iran…Saddam Hussein in Iraq….)

Perspective needed?
Of course, to Western GREEN, Karzai’s new law is horrendous – a betrayal of both the rights of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban women (supposedly protected by the constitution) and the democratic values the West’s costly military mission is meant to support.

But maybe some perspective is needed here…?

Certainly Karzai’s regime is riddled with corruption. The man himself appears neither to have the dread authority of a feudal lord nor the understanding of Western-style Democracy and the commitment to make it work. As such, he seems unfit to lead Afghanistan through the transition from primitive theocracy vs warlord banditry (pre-2001 invasion) to multicultural Democracy, the West’s avowed aim for this society. Yet the West, by its espousal of the bloodstained warlords of the Northern League and its use of their men as its footsoldiers in the 2001 invasion, approved corruption, blood lust, rape, torture, war crimes, etc, by small-minded leaders. What kind of people did the West really expect to emerge from the dust of battle to assume power in its new regime?

Karzai’s record shows him to be a formidable operator but he seems completely at sea at times in mastering his own government. It’s not beyond possibility that he personally is relatively clean; it’s just that his regime, born from the Western-backed excesses of the Northern League, seems irredeemably corrupt.

If Karzai is becoming more and more a weakling desperately trying to cling to power through foul means or fair, then let’s not forget WHERE he came from and WHO put him where he is.

As to marital rape – and Mohseni denies his law explicitly authorises this as Islam is against women being forced to have sex – how ever offensive the very concept might be to sophisticated Western thinkers in the first decade of the 21st Century, let’s not get too precious about this. It was only in 1994 that the Criminal Justice Act made marital rape illegal in the UK.

Though there’s a good deal of no-consequences RED driving decisions at the personal level – eg: the recent expenses scandals – at the strategic/policy level British political thinking tends to have been dominated post-1960s by the BLUE, ORANGE and, increasingly, GREEN vMEMES. Afghanistan is largely dominated by the PURPLE, RED and, to some extent, BLUE vMEMES. So it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect Afghans overall to share the same values as a modern Western democracy. On the Spiral their thinking overall, as a society, is just not where much of the West is…yet.

(Which is not to say there aren’t individuals and even sections of Afghan society with much more complex thinking, just as there many parts of Britain where PURPLE and RED dominate the thinking of local populations, rather than BLUE or ORANGE.)

Using the Lower Quadrants of 4Q/8L, therefore, we can see that, if there is to be balance – homeostasis – then the thinking of the people in terms of what is socially acceptable behaviour (Lower Left) – has to be reflected in the laws under which they are governed (Lower Right). Actually, when you think of the Personal Status Law in these terms, Karzai has matched a law specifically to the sub-culture concerned. How ever offensive GREEN-led Westerners might find this law, in terms of 4Q/8L, it may not be too bad a match.

As to males having exclusive guardianship of children, as any social anthropologist will tell you, pre-industrial societies in Africa and the East often have had ways of managing descent and parenting which seem at odds with modern Western values – yet these ways have worked successfully for their societies for generations.

When the Western media work themselves up into the kind of outraged frenzy they have over the past 48 hours, it does nothing for the causes of our troops and diplomats in Afghanistan. All it does is drive another wedge between the Afghan government and the West and convince the hardliners that we have no understanding or respect for their values.

Of course, the Personal Status Law should be reported on – as should the marches against it in Kabul in April by women protestors (and the rough treatment they received) – but in ways that seek to understand it in terms of their culture primarily, rather than ours. Otherwise, we operate from what cross-cultural researcher John Berry (1969) called an imposed etic – treating other cultures as though they should be operating from our values and then judging them negatively because they don’t.

Afghanistan has greater priorities – first things first!
In the grand scheme of things, allowing a smallish ethnic minority to conduct their marital relations in a way many Westerners consider offensive these days is proverbial ‘small beer’.

What is ‘big beer’ is defeating the Taliban militarily while sucking their less ardent supporters into more mainstream politics. Using the Assimilation-Contrast Effect, we need to draw the moderates into consensus, not drive them into the arms of the extremists by condemning their values.

Does that mean I would condone a woman being faced with having to give in to her husband’s demands or going without food? Does that mean I want women being controlled by men?

Not a bit of it! But I don’t have to share Ayatollah Asif Mohseni’s values to appreciate that they are what we have to work with for that group of people.

From Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) through the Graves Model (1971) to Spiral Dynamics (1996), the principle is clear: lower level needs and aspirations need to be met before people can move onto higher level needs and aspirations. First things first! PURPLE tribes need safety and security and good intra-tribal health which their leaders’ RED does not abuse to the point where trust in them becomes compromised. BLUE needs to really get into the machinery of the state to make it more efficient and less corrupt. BLUE also needs to dump the RED-BLUE zealots out of the mosques and make sure what is taught is focussed on those Pillars of Islam, such as Zakah (charity), which build up community cohesion.

Then ORANGE entrepreneurship can get on with wealth creation and the development of future-focused leaders, allowing GREEN to start to work its way through with the egalitarianism which will undermine male control of women and eventually outlaw marital rape.

Working through 4Q/8L’s Lower Quadrants, we need to make sure every level is developed healthily…organically. We can’t jump levels or apply incredible pressure and expect it all suddenly just to fall in place. Each level needs to be nurtured to its nodal peak and then encouraged to give way to the vMEME which is next.

Thanks to Don Beck’s MeshWORKS (1998) concept, it is possible to work with multiple vMEMES at once, thus making the process both faster and much more integrated. But close attention still needs to ensure that, as one vMEME’s health is developed, it supports the development of the health of the next vMEME above it on the Spiral.

Thus, from an Integrated SocioPsychology perspective, through gritted teeth, we can let Hamid Karzi introduce his ‘obnoxious law’ as a means to an end, knowing the respect it shows Shia traditions and values will help to minimise drift to the Taliban. And we know also that, eventually, GREEN will be strong enough in Afghanistan to dissemble that law.

But only if we work with the values those people have now – what is – rather what we think they should be. As John Berry undoubtedly would say, healthy cultural development is grown, not imposed. It’s a mistake the West has been making for 600 years – and it’s time we stopped!



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