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Saturday, April 14, 2007


The first time I went to an Afghani wedding something very much astounded me-- well, more than something, many things. It was 1969 and it was in a small city southwest of Kabul, Ghazni. I was staying with some college pals who were living and working there and we all got invited to a wedding. The first thing I noticed was a total separation of the sexes. The women-- including the bride, the groom's mother and sisters, etc.-- were in a different part of the house and we never saw them. So the wedding was kind of like a bachelor's party or maybe two bachelor's parties, one for men and another for women-- although not seperate-but-equal. The men were served a sumptuous feast. Servants and dogs were fed after we were done and then leftovers were sent to the women. That was all pretty shocking-- and I know that less than 30 years later our clueless commander in chief thinks he's building a pluralistic, democratic, secular society there (on the cheap... and fast) which is safe for women. That's called arrogance, cultural imperialism and hubris.

But what I saw as the inequality-- and even abuse-- for the women wasn't even the most shocking aspect of the wedding. After dinner the entertainment commenced. There was a small band that had been hired-- and a troupe of young drag queens. The band played traditional music and the drag queens danced. They were pretty bawdy. And many of them were pretty young. Everyone was smoking some powerful opium-laced hashish from Mazar-i-Sharif but many of the guests seemed genuinely disturbed when the groom's grandfather grabbed one of the young boys and dragged him behind a building and had his way with him. Later the boy, straightening his disheveled garb, came back and danced some more.

When I first saw this headline online-- After Drag Queens Are Beaten Up... Villagers Attack Taliban-- my immediate thought was some kind of incident between transvestites and Muslim fundamentalists in NY's Greenwich Village. But it turns out to be a report on an incident in a small town near the village of Adbulkhel, Pakistan, not far from Afghanistan.

The culture of the Pathan tribes on either side of the Afghan-Pakistan border are identical. The border is a colonial construct that has no relevance to their lives except as a sometimes annoyance. When Taliban religionist zealots beat up the local drag queens, shaved their heads and took away their instruments-- they react to nonconformity and music the same way, albeit usually more violently, western religionist zealots do-- the villagers got into a pitched battle, using heavy weapons and rockets, with the Taliban extremists.

The Afghan-Pakistan tribal regions seem like an utterly different world-- or millennium-- from Pakistan's big cities. And, in fact, the central government is engaged in a fierce and probably unwinnable war-- a very bloody one-- against the tribal areas right now. Karachi has different tribes, different cultures, different mores than the traditional-- and very primitive-- northwest. Small town, traditional hijras are very different from drag queens in the westernized big cities.

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