The type of sexual abuse being experienced by Afghanistan's
"dancing boys" is commonplace, say sociologists, in cultures where women
are viewed as "simply unapproachable" and inferior to men.
It's a situation that has parallels to certain mindsets
and abusive behaviors within Roman Catholicism.
When I interviewed Dr. Simon Rosser in 2004 for CPCSM’s Rainbow Spirit journal, he made the following observation:
In my experience, fundamentalists of various varieties – Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Christian – appear to perceive science and medicine as a threat, and seem to confuse their particular brand of God’s revelation with ultra-conservatism. They all interpret their special brand of ‘truth’ to condemn homosexuality. Curiously, all of them are simultaneously displaying the scandals you get when ultra-orthodoxy runs amok – scandals of power, pedophilia, and abuse. What do the Taliban, Catholic clergy, and the ex-gay movement have in common? All of them are mired in sex abuse scandals – the Taliban in gang rape of Afghani boys, Catholic priests in child molestation of boys, and the ex-gay ministers in orgies and abuse of clients. Clearly, we Catholic don’t have a monopoly on abuse, but sadly, our sexual theology is very impoverished.
In my opinion, several of the Church’s recent statements on sexuality read as if they were written by a 12-year-old, or someone attracted to 12-year-olds.
I was reminded of Dr Rosser’s quote when I recently observed (on Michael Hamer’s always informative blog) a San Francisco Chronicle story about the widespread societal phenomenon in Afghanistan of “dancing boys” and “boy players.”
In his September 2 post, “Priestly Celibacy and Afghanistan’s ‘Dancing Boys’,” Hamer echoes Rosser’s perspective when he states that “this long standing societal practice in Afghanistan . . . in some ways mirrors the Church hierarchy’s approach of turning a blind eye toward sexual abuse [of boys and others] by priests.”
Also, for both Roman Catholic priests and unmarried Muslim men, women are “simply unapproachable” in terms of intimate physical relationships. These men's religious sensibilities and their standing within their patriarchal religious traditions are seriously undermined and threatened by such relationships - even when consensual. And contrary to what defenders of the Vatican ban on female priests may say, women are clearly considered inferior to men - a mindset that, sadly, all patriarchal-based religions have a hard time transcending. Yet until they do, women will continue being demonized in various ways - subtle and not-so-subtle. And some of the frustrated men of these women-demonizing cultures, will, it is argued, continue to sexually exploit and abuse the most vulnerable around them, namely children and/or youths.
All that being said, following are excerpts from Joel Brinkley’s San Francisco Chronicle article “Afghanistan’s Dirty Little Secret.”
Western forces fighting in southern Afghanistan had a problem. Too often, soldiers on patrol passed an older man walking hand-in-hand with a pretty young boy.
. . . For centuries, Afghan men have taken boys, roughly 9 to 15 years old, as lovers. Some research suggests that half the Pashtun tribal members in Kandahar and other southern towns are bacha baz, the term for an older man with a boy lover. Literally it means “boy player.” The men like to boast about it. “Having a boy has become a custom for us,” Enayatullah, a 42-year-old in Baghlan province, told a Reuters reporter. “Whoever wants to show off should have a boy.”
In Kandahar, population about 500,000, and other towns, dance parties are a popular, often weekly, pastime. Young boys dress up as girls, wearing makeup and bells on their feet, and dance for a dozen or more leering middle-aged men who throw money at them and then take them home. A recent State Department report called “dancing boys” a “widespread, culturally sanctioned form of male rape.”
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.
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.
As one boy, in tow of a man he called “my lord,” told the Reuters reporter: “Once I grow up, I will be an owner, and I will have my own boys.”
I must say I find it mind-boggling that this form of abusive behavior is viewed in Afghanistan and elsewhere as somehow acceptable, while the loving and committed relationship between two consenting adults of the same gender is considered evil, “disordered,” and, in some places, worthy of death. What’s going on here?
Recommended Off-site Links:
Islam and Homosexuality: More Rampant Paranoia and Hypocrisy
– Barry Duke (The Freethinker, September 13, 2009).
Ignored By Society, Afghan Dancing Boys Suffer Centuries-Old Tradition – CNN via The Reality of Life in Afghanistan (October 27, 2009).
Afghan Boy Dancers Sexually Abused by Former Warlords – Reuters via The Reality of Life in Afghanistan (November 19, 2007).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Blood-Soaked Thread
To Be Gay in Iraq is to Be a “Defenseless Target”
An Unholy Alliance in Iraq
The Scourge of Homophobia in Economically Impoverished Countries
Coming Out in Africa and the Middle East
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
The Vatican’s Actions at the UN: “Sickening, Depraved and Shameless”
A Prayer for International Day Against Homophobia