Gay Afghanistan News & Reports 2007-11

More information about Islam & Homosexuality
Middle East Youth

Gay Islam discussion groups:
Muslim Gay Men     LGBT muslim
Queer Jihad           Bi-muslims
Trans-muslims       Lesbian muslims

1 Boys of the Taliban 1/07

2 Stigma, Lack of Education, Prevention Efforts Fueling Spread of HIV 3/07

3 A New Sorrow for Afghanistan: AIDS Joins List 3/07

4 Dancing Boys of the North 10/07

5 Dancing boys a mark of prestige in Afghanistan 10/07

6 Afghan boy dancers sexually abused by former warlords 11/07 (Re-hash of previous stories, this time by Reuters.)

7 U.S.-Britain gay-bashed Afghanistan 12/07

8 In the rush to ‘define’, have we forgotten 5/08

9 The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan 9/09

10 Afghan Men Struggle With Sexual Identity, Study Finds 1/10

11 The organized sexual abuse of adolescent boys 4/10

12 Laws against homosexuality ‘spreading HIV infections’ 7/10

13 The Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk 12/10

14 Sodomy and Sufism in Afgaynistan 1/11

January 1, 2007 –

Boys of the Taliban

by Jamie Glazov
Just recently, the Taliban issued a new set of 30 rules to its fighters.
Many of the instructions were to be expected: rule No. 25 commands the murder of teachers if a warning and a beating does not dissuade them from teaching. No. 26 outlines the exquisite delicacy of burning schools and destroying anything that aid organizations might undertake — such as the building of a new road, school or clinic. The essence of the other rules are easily left to the imagination, basically involving what militant Islam is about: vile hate, death and destruction.

But there is a curious rule that the Western media has typically ignored. Rule No. 19 instructs that Taliban fighters must not take young boys without facial hair into their private quarters.


(Cough and clearing of the throat).

Aside from the question of what is permitted if a young boy does happen to have facial hair, this new Taliban commandment brings light to a taboo pathology that underlies the structures of militant Islam. And it is crucial to deconstruct the meaning of this rule — and the horrid reality that it represents — because it serves as a gateway to understanding the primary causes of Islamic rage and terror. Rule No. 19 obviously indicates that the sexual abuse of young boys is a prevalent and institutionalized phenomenon among the Taliban and that, for one reason or another, its widespread practice has become a problem.

The fact that Taliban militants’ spare time involves sodomizing young boys should by no means be any kind of surprise or eyebrow raiser. That a mass pathology such as this occurs in a culture which demonizes the female and her sexuality — and puts her out of mind and sight — is only to be expected. To be sure, it is a simple given that the religious male fanatic who flies into a violent rage even at the thought of an exposed woman’s ankle will also be, in some other dysfunctional and dark secret compartment of his fractured life, the person who leads some poor helpless young boy into his private chambers.

The key issue here is that the demented sickness that underlies Rule No. 19 is by no means exclusive to the Taliban; it is a widespread phenomenon throughout Islamic-Arab culture and it lies, among other factors, at the root of that culture’s addiction to rage and its lust for violence, terror and suicide. There is a basic and common sense empirical human reality: wherever humans construct and perpetuate an environment in which females and their sexuality are demonized and are pushed into invisibility, homosexual behaviour among men and the sexual abuse of young boys by older men always increases. Islamic-Arab culture serves as a perfect example of this paradigm, seeing that gender apartheid, fear of female sexuality and a vicious misogyny are the structures on which the whole society functions.

It is no surprise that John Racy, a psychiatrist with much experience in Arab societies, has noted that homosexuality is “extremely common” in many parts of the Arab world. [1] Indeed, even though homosexuality is officially despised in this culture and strictly prohibited and punishable by imprisonment, incarceration and/or death, having sex with boys or effeminate men is actually a social norm. Males serve as available substitutes for unavailable women. The key is this: the male who does the penetrating is not considered to be homosexual or emasculated any more than if he were to have sex with his wife, while the male who is penetrated is emasculated. The boy, however, is not considered to be emasculated since he is not yet considered to be a man. A man who has sex with boys is simply doing what many men (especially unmarried ones) do. [2] And this reality is connected to the fact that, as scholar Bruce Dunne has demonstrated, sex in Islamic-Arab societies is not about mutuality between partners, but about the adult male’s achievement of pleasure through violent domination. [3]

While secrecy and taboo surround this phenomenon, some courageous Arabs have dared to discuss and expose it. Walid Shoebat, for instance, a former Palestinian terrorist, has openly related the abuse of young boys in Palestinian Muslim society. He himself witnessed a line of shepherd boys waiting for their turn to sodomize a five-year-old boy. [4] Amnesty International has also reported that Afghan warlords routinely sexually victimize young boys and film the orgies. [5] (The sexual abuse of young girls in this environment is also obviously widespread). [6]

While she was in Afghanistan in 1961, author and scholar Phyllis Chesler saw homosexuals roaming the streets, holding hands in broad daylight and gazing into each other’s eyes. “One of the pair,” she writes, “might sport a flower behind his ear; another might be wearing lipstick or have rouged cheeks.” At the same time, Chesler observed that everyone, including her Arab husband, was in denial about this common social reality, refusing to admit that this widespread behaviour was, in fact, homosexuality. [7] In the dysfunctional and morbid paradigms of this culture, the idea of love is, obviously, completely absent from men’s understanding of sexuality. Like the essence of Arab masculinity, it is reduced to a form of prison sex: hurting others with violence. A gigantic rupture inevitably develops between men and women, where no harmony, affection or equality is allowed to exist. [8]

The sexual confusion, humiliation, and repression that develop in the mindset of many males in this culture are excruciating. And it is no surprise that many of them find the only avenue for personal gratification in the act of sexually abusing young boys and, of course, in humiliating the foreign "enemy," whose masculinity must be violated at all costs — just as theirs once was. Islamist terror, therefore, is, in part, very much a release of the terrorists’ bottled-up sexual rage in connection to sexual frustration and desperation — and to the humiliation connected to feelings of emasculation, which culminates in the act of striking out against “the enemy” and violating his masculinity. The inner workings of this mindset explain why Islamic terrorists consistently engage in sexual mutilation of their victims. Psychiatrist David Gutmann notes this phenomenon in the context of Arab Jew-hatred:

The Israelis perform in this Arab psychodrama of gender as a potent, destabilizing threat: to begin with, as a people they broke out of the deprecated but tolerated status of Dhimmi – a kind of submissive "woman" – to the "masculine" status of pioneer, rebel, warrior and nation builder. In retaliation, in their wars and Intifadas the Arabs strive to castrate the uppity masculinizing Jew — and this project is carried out quite literally on the battlefield, where the bodies of fallen Jews have been mutilated in the most obscene ways. [9]

This lust for violence against “the enemy” and the accompanying yearning to die in the process are fuelled by the morbid earthly existence that is engendered by militant Islam. Indeed, there exists very few reasons for males to value their time on earth; their freedom of action and ability to experience joy and pleasure are extremely limited in terms of what is allowed. To be sure, most young men have absolutely no experience in love, sex, affection or friendship with females, and they have no outlet for their libido, which, to further pathologize the mindset, they regard as evil temptation. Killing and dying, therefore, become the only areas where free will can be exercised.

This lust for death is further compounded by the theological underpinnings of Islam itself, which promises the Muslim male sexual treats in the afterlife which are forbidden to him on earth. Indeed, if a Muslim male dies in the cause of jihad, he will enjoy a blissful union with virgins in paradise (Suras 78:31, 37:40-48, 44:51-55). And for those Muslim warriors for whom women are not of interest, there will be young pre-pubescent boys at their service — and they will be like “scattered pearls” of “perpetual freshness” (Suras 52:24, 56:17, 76:19).

Thus, for the Taliban fighters who are frustrated with the new obstacles posed by Rule No. 19, there no doubt exists an even greater incentive to get to paradise a little faster. In essence, suicide through jihad represents a form of perverted liberty through which an individual can express himself. In so doing, the Islamic radical strikes out at what tempts him, avenges his own emasculation and, through the act of suicide, cleanses himself of his own temptation by ridding himself of his earthly existence.

Theodore Dalrymple offers a profound analysis of this phenomenon in the context of the Muslim fundamentalist’s agonizing hate and self-hate inside a Western society. Analyzing the motivations of the Pakistani suicide bombers who struck in London in June 2005, he demonstrates that they saw no way out of their confrontation with freedom and modernity except death:

What more convincing evidence of faith could there be than to die for its sake? How can a person be really attached or attracted to rap music and cricket and Mercedes cars if he is prepared to blow himself up as a means of destroying the society that produces them? Death will be the end of the illicit attachment that he cannot entirely eliminate from his heart. The two forms of jihad, the inner and the outer, the greater and the lesser, thus coalesce in one apocalyptic action. By means of suicide bombing, the bombers overcome moral impurities and religious doubts within themselves and, supposedly, strike an external blow for the propagation of the faith. [10]

All of these inter-related phenomena serve as windows of understanding for us, through which we become able to grasp the demented and psychopathic psychology that creates the need for a rule such as the Taliban’s No. 19. It is a rule that exposes a fanatic mindset that holds the sight and reality of an unveiled woman to be a horrific nightmare and the greatest sin, yet simultaneously considers the forced rape of a young prepubescent boy to be in the normal swing of things.

It is on this eerie and putrid plateau that we come to see the factors that spawn the yearning for death and suicide inside militant Islam. Circumscribed in the most vicious and sadistic of ways, the men imprisoned in these cages long to regain a masculinity and humanity that was violently robbed from them as children. In a setting where healing through contact with feminine affection is denied and considered evil, self-extinction through hurting the “enemy” — and the tempter — becomes the only way out.

[1] David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs (Chicago: Irvin R. Dee, 2002), p.131.
[2] Bruce Dunne, “Power and Sexuality in the Middle East,” Middle East Report, Spring 1998. For a further discussion on the widespread homosexuality among men in Muslim societies in North Africa and South Asia, and how married men having sex with boys and other men is considered a social norm, and not “homosexual,” see Arno Schmitt and Jehoeda Sofer (eds.), Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Muslim Societies (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1992).
[3] Dunne.
[4] Chesler, The Death of Feminism, (Macmillan: New York , 2005), p.144.
[5] Chesler, p.144.
[6] Author Nawal El Saadawi, gives an account of the horrifying and widespread sexual abuse of young girls in the Muslim-Arab world, a crime for which the perpetrators are exonerated. See Sadawwi, The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World, pp.12-24. While it is obvious that this abuse, as with the abuse of young boys, is connected to the unavailability of women for men in the culture at large, Chesler notes that the widespread sexual abuse of female children in the Muslim world “is one of the main ways of traumatizing and shaming girls into obedience and rendering them less capable of rebellion or resistance when they grow up.” (Chesler, p.145)
[7] Chesler, p.88 and p.144.
[8] Dunne.
[9] David Gutmann, “Symposium: Purifying Allah’s Soil,”, January 27, 2006.
[10] Theodore Dalrymple, “The Suicide Bombers Among Us,” City Journal, Autumn 2005.

March 19, 2007 –

Global Challenges | Stigma, Lack of Education, Prevention Efforts Fueling Spread of HIV in Afghanistan

Stigma and a lack of education and prevention efforts are fueling the spread of HIV in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, there are 69 recorded cases of HIV in the country; however, some health officials say the actual number of cases is much higher. The World Health Organization estimates that about 1,000 to 2,000 Afghans are HIV-positive. Nilufar Egamberdi, a World Bank consultant on HIV/AIDS, said the WHO estimate is "not even close to reality." According to the Times, Afghanistan "faces the additional vulnerabilities of countries emerging from conflict — lack of education and government services; mass movements of people; and a sudden influx of aid money, commerce and outsiders."

In addition, Afghanistan’s proximity to Russia, China and India — which have some of the fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemics worldwide — and the migration of its residents are fueling the spread of HIV. The country, which produces the largest amounts of opium and heroin in the world, has about one million injection drug users, according to United Nations estimates. In addition, about 30% of blood used for transfusions in the country’s hospitals is screened for HIV, according to a World Bank report. According to Saifur Rehman, director of the National AIDS Control program at the Ministry of Health, about 80% of government hospitals screen blood for HIV, but many other institutions do not. Rehman added that health providers in the country are not well-informed about HIV and often reuse needles. A lack of knowledge about the virus among commercial sex workers in Kabul, the country’s capital, also is contributing to the spread of the virus, according to the Times.

A 2003 survey by the German international aid organization ORA International found that one of 126 surveyed sex workers was familiar with condoms and that one had knowledge of HIV/AIDS. There are no treatment centers in the country, and one clinic in Kabul monitors HIV/AIDS but does not provide access to antiretroviral drugs, the Times reports. According to the World Bank, which is providing $10 million to fight HIV/AIDS in the country, although several organizations are working to implement needle-exchange programs and to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, a wider program is needed. Stigma is the "most difficult" challenge in fighting HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan, according the Times.

Health providers in the country say that HIV-positive people will face ostracism and possibly death if their communities learn their HIV status. The Ministry of Health keeps the identity of HIV-positive people confidential to prevent stigma. The health ministry also is working with the country’s Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs to educate religious leaders, who often are the most influential people in villages, to promote HIV/AIDS education and reduce stigma surrounding the disease, the Times reports (Gall, New York Times, 3/19).

March 19, 2007 – New York Times

A New Sorrow for Afghanistan: AIDS Joins List

by Carlotta Gall
Kabul, Afghanistan – Sitting and eating quietly on his father’s lap, the 18-month-old was oblivious to the infection in his veins. But his father, a burly farmer, knew only too well. It was the same one that killed his wife four months ago, leaving him alone with four children. The man started to cry. “When my wife died, I thought, well, it is from God, but at least I have him,” he said. “Then I learned he is sick, too. I asked if there is medicine and the doctors said no. They said, ‘Just trust in God.’ ” Cloistered by two decades of war and then the strict Islamic rule of the Taliban, Afghanistan was long shielded from the ravages of the AIDS pandemic. Not anymore.

H.I.V. and AIDS have quietly arrived in this land of a thousand calamities. They remain almost completely underground, shrouded in ignorance and stigma as the government struggles with the help of American and NATO forces to rebuild the country in the face of a new offensive by Taliban insurgents. The father of this boy, the youngest Afghan known to have H.I.V., agreed to speak to a reporter only if their names and other details were omitted. He has not even told his family what his son has. He said he believed that his wife contracted it through blood transfusions in Pakistan years ago.

The few surveys that exist suggest that Afghanistan has a low prevalence of H.I.V. — only 69 recorded cases, and just three deaths. Yet health officials warn that the incidence is certainly much higher. “That figure is absolutely unreliable, even dangerous,” said Nilufar Egamberdi, a World Bank consultant on H.I.V./AIDS. The World Health Organization has estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 Afghans are infected, but Ms. Egamberdi said even that was “not even close to reality.” Dr. Saifur Rehman, director of the National AIDS Control program in the Ministry of Health, agreed. Afghanistan, a deeply religious and conservative country — sex outside marriage is against the law — may still be less at risk of the spread of the virus than other places. But international and Afghan health experts warn that it faces the additional vulnerabilities of countries emerging from conflict — lack of education and government services, mass movements of people and a sudden influx of aid money, commerce and outsiders.

Geography and migration make Afghanistan particularly susceptible. It is surrounded by countries with the fastest-growing incidence of AIDS in the world — Russia, China and India. Other neighbors, Pakistan and Iran, have high levels of drug addiction and a growing number of H.I.V. infections, as does Central Asia to the north, experts say. AIDS can easily cross borders, carried by migrants or refugees who pick up drug habits or have sex with infected people in those countries and return home. Rates of drug addiction are rising in Afghanistan, with its booming opium and heroin trade. Though the Afghan government and senior religious leaders have won praise for making H.I.V. a national priority, they are struggling with many problems.

“In Afghanistan, all the traditional risk factors for rapid spread of H.I.V. exist concurrently,” said Dr. Fred Hartman of Management Sciences for Health, a Boston-based group working in Afghanistan. He has worked as technical director of Reach, an American-financed program to expand health care to Afghanistan’s rural communities for three years, and has advised the government on H.I.V./AIDS. Afghanistan experienced a trade boom in the last five years, and hundreds of thousands of Afghans go abroad, especially to Arab countries in search of work.

A European doctor, who asked not to be identified because his work was confidential, worked in a hospital in the United Arab Emirates where foreign workers went for mandatory testing and said that in 2001 and 2002, 23 Afghans were deported after testing H.I.V.-positive. “There were only 30 known cases in Afghanistan then, and I knew of 23 more,” he said. The return home of more than two million refugees is another way the disease is likely to spread, said Renu Chahil-Graf, regional coordinator for Unaids, the United Nations program, who was visiting Pul-i-Charkhi prison in Kabul, where a voluntary testing clinic has opened. Some of those returning to Afghanistan have drug habits, and they spread AIDS by sexual contact with spouses, prostitutes and street children.

Afghanistan, the biggest opium- and heroin-producing country in the world, has nearly one million drug users, according to United Nations estimates. Most users still smoke the drug, but five years ago, injectable heroin hit the streets of Kabul, the capital. Now there are an estimated 19,000 intravenous drug users here, according to the World Bank. Addicts are not difficult to find, living in bombed-out buildings in the old part of the city and in Kota-e-Sangi, a neighborhood on the city’s south side. They are homeless or returned refugees, mostly young men, according to Miodrag Atanasijevic, a coordinator for Doctors of the World, a French aid group that runs a clean needles program in Kabul. “It will become a huge thing,” he said. “In this country you have a lot of drugs.”

Even after five years of international assistance to the health sector, only 30 percent of blood used in transfusions in hospitals is screened for H.I.V., according to a recent World Bank report. Dr. Rehman said that 80 percent of government hospitals screened blood, but he acknowledged that many other institutions did not. Health workers remain ill-informed and careless, often reusing needles even when they know it risks spreading the disease, he said. While several organizations are working to provide needle exchanges and to increase H.I.V. awareness, a far wider program is needed, according to the World Bank, which is providing $10 million to fight H.I.V./AIDS in Afghanistan.

A recent study of 461 intravenous drug users in Kabul showed that 3 percent were infected, Dr. Rehman said. Stigma is perhaps the most difficult challenge in dealing with H.I.V./AIDS in Afghanistan. The Taliban government, with its stoning and execution of adulterers and homosexuals, may be gone, but sex outside marriage and homosexual sex are still socially unacceptable. Doctors and health workers here warn that AIDS patients will face ostracism, even death, if their communities learn they are infected. The Ministry of Health closely guards the identity of the few people who have tested H.I.V.-positive.

Dr. Muhammad Farid Bazger, H.I.V./AIDS coordinator of the German aid organization ORA International, has seen firsthand the cruelty communities are capable of. During his work in villages and refugee camps in Pakistan, he came across an unmarried man who had returned from the Arabian Peninsula infected with H.I.V. The man told his father, who, not understanding the consequences, told others. Soon, villagers told the father he should kill his son. The son ended up locked in a brick cell in the family yard, with only a small opening where food was thrown in.

Dr. Bazger and his colleagues eventually rescued him and made a film about him, which has been shown on Afghan television. ORA has also worked among women in the sex trade in Kabul. In a 2003 survey of 126 of the women by ORA, only one was familiar with condoms and only one had knowledge of H.I.V./AIDS. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed were married. Eighty-four percent were illiterate. Scores of foreign prostitutes have arrived in Kabul in recent years, along with the influx of foreigners and foreign assistance. Afghans are using their services as well, particularly the well-paid young men employed by foreign organizations, health officials say.

Sex between men is an even worse taboo in Afghanistan, but health officials say it does occur. Ms. Egamberdi, who is from neighboring Uzbekistan, said sex between men was a reality in much of Central Asia, including Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s efforts to combat AIDS have been stymied by the lack of urgency among donors who believe Afghanistan has a low prevalence of H.I.V., Dr. Hartman and others said. Even United Nations agencies have been slow to develop H.I.V./AIDS education, Ms. Egamberdi said. “At least do awareness campaigns,” she said in frustration. Until this year, the members of the government AIDS team worked out of a shipping container on the grounds of the Health Ministry. They have graduated to a drafty unheated hall inside the main building. While the World Bank granted Afghanistan money to gather data and work with high-risk groups, Dr. Rehman’s hopes for an AIDS treatment ward in Kabul, country-wide testing and antiretroviral drugs remain unfulfilled.

The Health Ministry has enlisted the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs to educate mullahs, often the most influential people in villages, to help promote basic health education and mitigate the stigma of AIDS. Yet they have barely reached the population beyond the capital. The father of the infected 18-month-old said his village mullah had never talked about AIDS. Nearly a year of tests on the father have found no H.I.V., and the older children are clear, but his smallest child tested positive at 10 months. “The doctor asked me a lot of questions — did you have an operation, did you have illegal sex?” he said. “But I knew I was a Muslim, and I don’t have illegal sex, and I trusted my wife, too. So then he said it was from her operation.”

Six years earlier, his wife lost a baby and had several transfusions in Pakistan. After she became sick and was found to be infected, “I told the family her blood was not good and to avoid eating with her,” he said. “And I tell them not to kiss the child.” When he was told he could indeed kiss his son, he burst into tears. “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I have sacrificed so much since my marriage. I mortgaged half my land to pay for her medical care.” The father can do little for his son but keep his secret. There are no AIDS treatment centers in Afghanistan, only a single confidential clinic in the capital that just monitors the disease, and no antiretroviral drugs are available.

October 2007 – Afghan Press Monitor
Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Dancing Boys of the North

Wealthy strongmen recruit adolescent boys for entertainment and sex, with the local authorities powerless to stop the practice.

by Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif
(Note: some observers with direct knowledge have citicized this article for it biased and homophobic point of view. Critical comments by one observer have been inserted in blue to point out these shortcomings.)

"Some men enjoy playing with dogs, some with women. I enjoy playing with boys," said Allah Daad, a one-time mujahedin commander in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. He is one of a growing number of men involved in what is known as "bacha baazi"- literally, "boy-play" — a time-honoured tradition, deplored by human rights activists and clerics, that is seeing a revival in the relatively secure north of Afghanistan. The boys are kept by powerful older men, made to dance at special parties, and often sexually abused afterwards. (This statement is based on the assumption that all sex between bacha-baaz and bacha is non-consensual and abusive.) Known as "bacha bereesh" — literally, "beardless boys", they are under 18, with 14 the preferred age. (This statement gives the false impression that there is almost always a wide age gap between bacha-baaz and bacha. In fact, the gap can be as small as 2 or 3 years – say, between 20-yo bacha-baaz and 18-yo bacha. Also, on what basis can the author definitively say that “14 is the preferred age”? Did he canvass a wide range of opinion?)

"When I was young, I had a bacha bereesh who was the best in the region," recalled Allah Daad, 44. "He danced like a flying pigeon…. Nobody could take his place afterwards. I kept him for three years, then left him when he matured. (This quotation falsely implies that ending the relationship completely is the norm. In fact, a friendship often continues, and sometimes even the sexual relationship continues, after the bacha passes the age of 18.) Allah Daad has kept many boys over the years, and says he enjoys his "hobby". "I am married, but I prefer boys to women," he said. "You can’t take women with you to parties in this region, and you can’t make them dance. These boys are our [mark of] prestige. Large halls known as "qush-khana" provide the venues for bacha baazi parties where the boys’ "owners" or "kaatah" invite their friends to watch them dancing.

Late in the night, when the dancing is over, the boys are often shared with close friends, for sexual abuse. (Again, this implies that all sex between bacha-baaz and bacha is non-consensual and abusive.) Allah Daad explained how the boys are enticed (pejorative word) into the arrangement. "First we select boys in the village and later on we try to trick them into coming with us," he said. "Some of them stay with us for money; they get a monthly allowance, and in return we can have them any time we want. They don’t stay with us all the time – they can do their own jobs and then just come to parties with us." If a boy refuses to become a bacha bereesh, he said, there is little a man can do to make him. "We can’t force them," he insisted.

"Only the very powerful can have boys with them all the time. The owner will take his boy to wedding parties to show him off to other men. "When the party starts, the boys are dressed in special clothes, called ‘jaaman’," continued Allah Daad. "Then Mazari dancing bells are tied to their feet and they dance in time to the music. Several different types of dances are popular, he explained, each with its own beat. If the boy refuses to dance or performs badly, his master beats him with a long stick. (Is this the norm? How does the author know?) "We have to do that," said Allah Daad. "We spend money on these boys, so they have to dance. Allah Dad’s current bacha, who is 16, refused to be interviewed.

Another owner forced his 14-year-old boy to speak, although he would not give his name. "I was dancing last night," he said, looking exhausted. "I have been doing this for the past year. I have no choice – I’m poor. My father is dead, and this is the only source of income for me and my family. I try to dance well, especially at huge parties. The men throw money at me, and then I gather it up. Sometimes they take me to the market and buy me nice clothes."

The tradition of older men maintaining adolescent boys is by no means restricted to the north of Afghanistan, but the custom is in abeyance in the south, where the Taleban and their strict moral code act as a deterrent. (This statement is absolutely false. Bacha-baazi is as common in the south and east as it is in the north. The Taleban not only do not control the south and east with their “strict moral code,” but the practice flourished even when they held absolute sway over the whole country. Talebs themselves practiced bacha-baazi; the well-publicized executions of men for same-sex conduct were few in number and were part of the Taleban’s overall terror campaign against supposed enemies of the regime.)

In the north, no such curbs exist, and bacha baazi has seen a massive resurgence in the past few years. "Bacha baazi has increased tremendously lately and is still on the rise," said Baz Gul, a resident of Kunduz. "In the past, people were ashamed of it, and tried to hide it. Now nobody is shy about it, and they participate openly in these parties. He explained that there were several reasons why the practice had become more common, one of which was the growing influence of local strongmen, who regard bacha baazi as status symbols. These militia commanders are supposed to have demobilised their forces and handed over their weapons, but as IWPR has reported, many still rule the roost on the ground and retain the power to intimidate the local population.

Baz Gul said poverty was another reason why boys could find themselves ensnared, while the government had failed to do much about the problem and its police force enjoyed little public confidence. "It used to be that only a few people had boys. Now everyone owns one and the authorities don’t care about it at all," he said. "It’s got to the point where almost no party takes place without dancing boys. It’s seen as a disgrace if you don’t have dancing boys at your wedding. This has led to a rise in immoral behaviour among boys, and if nothing is done about it, this trend will continue.

For some, a bacha bereesh is a status symbol. "I am not really rich, but I am just as good as the wealthy," said Nasruddin, known as Nasro Bay, who lives in Baghlan province. "I want as many bacha bereesh as possible, so that when I go to parties I am no worse than anybody else. Nasro Bay insisted that the dancing boy tradition was a good one. "It’s a good thing," he said. "We have our own culture. In foreign countries, the women dance. We have our own dances which don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Militia commanders and other men of substance buy and sell good-looking boys, using the bacha baazi parties as marketplaces.

"Commanders and wealthy men arrange parties in order to select a bacha bereesh," said Nek Mohammad, a resident of Baghlan’s Andarab district who frequently attends dance parties, although he does not own a bacha bereesh himself. "Many of the men make their boys dance at these parties, and other men choose one and pay for him. By the end of the party, the boy has acquired a new owner. He said substantial amounts of money changes hands in these transactions. Like Nasro Bay, Nek Mohammad sees public ostentation as part of the bacha baazi tradition. "Commanders often take their boys to a market and buy them beautiful clothes, as a challenge to other commanders. Sometimes they even give them cars. That gives them a very big reputation," he said.

Religious scholars condemn the custom, which they count as one of the most sinful acts possible. "Making boys dance and sexually abusing them is strictly prohibited by Islam," said Mawlawi Ghulam Rabbani, a religious leader in Takhar province. "Those who engage in it should be punished. They should be thrown off a mountain and stoned to death." Local officials admit the practice is prevalent but are at a loss as to how to combat it. "Yes, bacha baazi is practiced a great deal, especially in the Khost-o-Fering and Andarab districts," said Hafizullah Khaliqyar, head of the prosecutor’s office for Baghlan province. "Boys are forced to dance, they are sexually abused, and they are even bought and sold. Fights take place over these bacha bereesh. It’s increasing day by day, and it’s catastrophic." Khaliqyar said there was little that prosecutors could do. "The police and district heads won’t cooperate with us," he complained. "They don’t send us their files, so we can’t take action."

He said the paramilitary commanders involved were so powerful that no one — not even the police — would raise a hand against them. "Regional commanders engage in this practice and support it," he said. "They have money, power and weapons, and neither the district heads nor the local population dares to tell us about this. However, Khaliqyar said he is committed to fighting the practice and had had some successes. "We treat this matter very seriously. It’s against the law, and the perpetrators should be punished," he said. Police in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan, recently raided a bacha-baazi hall and arrested 30 men. "Their case is currently with the Supreme Court. We have sent several men to prison on these types of charges," said Khaliqyar.

In Takhar province, the head of the local security agencies, General Sayed Ahmad Saame, also complained about lack of cooperation from the public. "We have closed every bacha baazi centre we have found," he said. "We have forwarded seven cases to the prosecutor’s office so far this year But there is only so much the police can do. "This practice has such a long history in this province that local people treat it as a respected custom, and won’t cooperate with us. This is a serious obstacle to our work," said Saame.

General Asadullah Amarkhail, the security chief in Kunduz, agreed that public cooperation was needed if the practice was to be curbed, although to date 27 people had been arrested in his province. Mohammad Zaher Zafari, head of the northern branch of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, bemoaned the government’s inability to take action. "Unfortunately I have to say that this type of dancing, sexual abuse and even the sale of boys has been going on for years," he said. "It is a despicable culture. The boys involved are usually poor, underage or orphans, and they are forced into it by their economic circumstances. It’s shocking from both a humanitarian and a legal point of view." (This quotation excludes the possibility that there might be a genuine friendship between bacha-baaz and bacha.)

"The boys who do this have a very dark future ahead of them – they will always be ashamed and they grow into frustrated human beings, and, pose a threat to community." (There is no evidence of this. When bachas reach adulthood, their past as a bacha is usually forgotten. Many of them “flip” and become bacha-baaz.) The government has taken no action on this issue, and child abuse is still being practiced. Khaliqyar took a similar view of the damage done to the bacha bereesh, saying it destroys their identity. "If the United Nations and the government don’t take this issue as seriously as they do child-trafficking and drug-smuggling, and punish the offenders, it’s going to be almost impossible to prevent it," he said.

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Afghan Press Monitor is published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, an independent non-profit organisation supporting regional media and democratic change.Internet:

19th October 2007 – PinkNews

Dancing boys a mark of prestige in Afghanistan

by Joe Roberts
Young boys are being sexually abused in Afghanistan in line with a tradition where they are bought by older men to dance at parties. The practice of "bacha baazi", meaning "boy-play", is enjoying a resurgence in the North of Afghanistan where ownership is seen as a status symbol by militia leaders according to Afghan news site, e-Ariana. While condemned by clerics and human rights groups, authorities are doing little to end it. Dancers, known as "bacha bereesh" or "beardless boys", are under 18, with 14 being the "ideal" age.
Owners or "kaatah" meet at bacha baazi parties in large halls where the boys dance late into the night, before being sexually abused. Bacha baazi also serve as marketplaces, with good-looking boys being traded for money.

"Some men enjoy playing with dogs, some with women. I enjoy playing with boys," said 44-year-old Allah Daad, a one-time Mujahedin commander in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, who participates in bacha baazi. "I am married, but I prefer boys to women," he adds. "You can’t take women with you to parties in this region, and you can’t make them dance. These boys are our prestige."

Often poor and orphaned, the boys are lured into bacha baazi by money. Some receive a monthly allowance while others have jobs of their own and only work at parties. Many are treated to expensive clothes and even cars by owners eager to have them reflect their own wealth and social standing. But if they refuse to perform or don’t meet their owners expectations, they are beaten. While the long-standing tradition enjoys some public support in the north, religious leaders have denounced it as one of the most sinful acts. In the Taliban controlled south of Afghanistan, where a strict moral code is enforced, it is no longer practiced.

Mawlawi Ghulam Rabbani, a religious leader in Takhar province, told e-Ariana: "Making boys dance and sexually abusing them is strictly prohibited by Islam. Those who engage in it should be punished. They should be thrown off a mountain and stoned to death." As those who organise bacha baazi are usually leaders of armed militia groups, however, police and government are fearful to intervene. Hafizullah Khaliqyar, head of the prosecutor’s office for Baghlan province said: "Regional commanders engage in this practice and support it. They have money, power and weapons, and neither the district heads nor the local population dares to tell us about this." Mohammad Zaher Zafari, head of the northern branch of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, sees a dark future ahead for the boys involved. And he believes that without external aid, the situation will continue long into the future.

"It’s shocking from both a humanitarian and a legal point of view," he told e-Ariana. If the United Nations and the government don’t take this issue as seriously as they do child-trafficking and drug-smuggling, and punish the offenders, it’s going to be almost impossible to prevent it."

Nov 18, 2007 – Reuters

Afghan boy dancers sexually abused by former warlords
(Re-hash of previous stories, this time by Reuters.)

by Pul-E Khumri, Afghanistan
They are known as "bacha bereesh", boys without beards, teenage boys who dress up as girls and dance for male patrons at parties in northern Afghanistan. It’s an age old practice that has led to some of the boy dancers being turned into sex slaves by wealthy and powerful patrons, often former warlords, who dress the boys up as girls, shower them with gifts and keep them as "mistresses". Afghan police are battling to crackdown on the practice which has angered Islamic clerics who say those involved should be stoned for sodomy, forbidden under Islamic law. In a society where the sexes are strictly segregated, it is common for men to dance for other men at weddings in Afghanistan. But in northern Afghanistan, former warlords and mujahideen commanders have taken that a step further with competitions for their dancing boys.

" Every boy tries to be the first. They are dressed in women’s clothes, have bells on their feet and have artificial breasts," said Mohammad Yawar, a former mujahideen fighter against the Taliban and resident of the northern town of Pul-e Khumri. The practice, called "bacha bazi" — literally "boy play" — has a long history in northern Afghanistan, but sometimes it does not stop with just dancing. " I very much enjoy hugging a boy. His smell and fragrance kills me," said Yawar. The 38-year-old businessman said he recruited a 15-year-old boy three years ago to help him with his work. " I have had him for at least three years, since he was only 15. He was looking for a job and I gave him somewhere to stay," said Yawar, showing the boy’s picture. " I don’t have a wife. He is like my wife. I dress him in women’s clothes and have him sleep beside me. I enjoy him and he is my everything," he said, kissing the photograph.

Mark Of Prestige
Having the best-looking boy and the best dancer is a mark of prestige. " Everyone tries to have the best, most handsome and good-looking boy," said a former mujahideen commander, who declined to be named. " Sometimes we gather and make our boys dance and whoever wins, his boy will be the best boy." Former mujahideen commanders hold such parties in and around Pul-e Khumri about once a week. " Having a boy has become a custom for us. Whoever wants to show off, should have a boy," said Enayatullah, a 42-year-old landowner in Baghlan province. " I was married to a woman 20 years ago, she left me because of my boy," he said. "I was playing with my boy every night and was away from home, eventually my wife decided to leave me. I am happy with my decision, because I am used to sleeping and entertaining with my young boy."

The men say they lavish money and gifts on their boys. " I was only 14-years-old when a former Uzbek commander forced me to have sex with him," said Shir Mohammad in Sar-e Pol province. "Later, I quit my family and became his secretary. I have been with him for 10 years, I am now grown up, but he still loves me and I sleep with him." Ahmad Jawad, aged 17, has been with a wealthy landowner for the past two years. " I am used to it. I love my lord. I love to dance and act like a woman and play with my owner," he said. Asked what he would do when he got older, he said: "Once I grow up, I will be an owner and I will have my own boys." But Shir Mohammad, at 24, was already getting too old to be a dancing boy. "I am grown up now and do not have the beauty of former years. So, I proposed to marry my lord’s daughter and he has agreed to it."

Many local residents have called for a crackdown, but are skeptical it will work as many of the men are powerful and well-armed former commanders. Jahan Shah, who lives in Pul-e Khumri, said government and security officials should take tough action against unIslamic and immoral acts. " If they don’t stop this, it will become a custom and hundreds of other boys will be involved in it," he said. Police and security officials in northern Afghanistan say they have been doing their best to arrest the men involved. " It is sad to state that this practice that includes making boys dance, sexual abuse and sometimes even selling boys, has been going on for years," said General Asadollah Amarkhil, the security chief of Kunduz province. " We have taken steps to stop it to the extent that we are able," he said.

Amarkhil said poverty, widespread in Afghanistan after nearly three decades of war, forced teenage boys into compliance. " We have taken very strict measures to save the lives of the boys and punish the men," he said. "We are monitoring to find out where these men and boys gather, then go there and arrest them."

Those found guilty of abuse would be jailed for at least 15 years, said Baghlan chief prosecutor Hafizullah Khaliqyar. " We have 25 cases of such immoral acts. They are being processed and we are trying our utmost to tackle the problem," he said. Islamic scholars recommended harsher punishment. " Those who do this are the devil," said Mawlawi Mohammad Sadiq Sadiqyar, a scholar and prayer leader in the main northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. "Under Islamic law, those who practice this should be stoned to death." But some of the men say they are not interested in women. " We know it is immoral and unIslamic, but how can we quit? We do not like women, we just want boys," said Chaman Gul, aged 35 of Takhar province.

December 18, 2007 – Workers World

U.S.-Britain gay-bashed Afghanistan

by Leslie Feinberg
In the months after the autumn 2001 imperialist military invasion, a rash of gay-bashing and gay-baiting articles about Afghanistan appeared in the U.S. and British corporate media. Many of these articles purported to analyze sexualities and genders and the organization of the sexes in Afghanistan. In some of the coverage, “experts”—who are not Afghan—focused on sexual and social organization in Pashtun culture, the majority culture in Afghanistan, as though it was the only culture. Other non-Afghan “authorities” didn’t differentiate between the diverse cultures in that ancient land, including the Durrani, Ghilzai, Wardak, Jaji, Tani, Jadran, Mangal, Khugiani, Kuchi, Safi, Mohmand and Shinwari; or Uzbek or Arab.

Most reports did not differentiate between peoples of the lowlands and those in the mountain ranges. Or between peoples who lead nomadic lives, and those who dwell in crowded cities. And speculations only focused on same-sexuality between male-bodied individuals. Colonialism and imperialism have always studied the cultures they sought to conquer and destroy. The job of embedded anthropologists is ultimately always to claim cultural superiority—the rotten plank on which white-supremacist ideologues stand. Not a word coming from the imperialist occupiers about Afghan cultures has any validity. Some of the most bigoted theories these articles rehash and spew about same-sex love and gender expression, and their relation to women’s oppression, do need to be exposed and combated.

Imperial anthropology
The organization of the sexes, socially accepted sexualities and gender expressions in Afghanistan are rooted in that country’s ancient history, and are not the same as in the U.S. or Britain. The existence of other forms of social organization and sexual and gender expression challenges the biological determinists who argue that sexuality is genetically fixed in the human species. Therefore, colonialists and imperialists have historically used racist characterizations like “obsessive sodomy,” “promiscuity” and “unnatural sexuality, and gender-phobic baiting of oppressed males as “effeminate” or “hyper-masculine” to excuse the inexcusable: imperial domination and exploitation.

Brian James Baer, associate professor of Russian Literature and Translation at Kent State University, wrote about the bias in the spate of Western reporting about sexualities in Afghanistan in an article in the Gay and Lesbian Review, March-April 2003. Baer noted, “Journalists repeatedly used Western concepts such as ‘gay’ and ‘the closet’ to characterize the Kandahar situation, thus imposing their notion of homosexuality as a minority identity.” And, he added, “In their reporting Western journalists insisted on reducing relationships that are often long-term emotional bonds to a crude sexual bargain.” Baer pointed out: “Maura Reynolds of The LA Times noted that ‘there is a strong streak of dandyism among Pashtun males. Many line their eyes with kohl, stain their fingernails with henna or walk about town in clumsy, high-heeled sandals.’ But this equation makes sense only if we accept two Western assumptions: that homosexuality and effeminacy are automatically linked; and that the practices described are in fact ‘effeminate.’” Baer stressed: “Despite statistical evidence demonstrating that pedophilia in the West is more common among heterosexual men, the
association of homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children remains prominent in Western anti-gay discourse, propelling ‘save our children’ campaigns to restrict their contact with gay adults. By constructing age-stratified homosexual activity in Kandahar as pedophilia, Western journalists provided themselves a link to the ever-popular issue of child abuse—especially hot, what with the unfolding scandal in the Catholic Church.”

Baer took journalist Michael Griffin to task for writing in The Times of London that the Taliban hated women and that resulted in making sex with other males popular in Afghanistan. On the eve of invasion, articles in the imperialist media centered on the claim that the Taliban was repressing same-sexuality. Baer also challenged Griffin for flipping the argument in the same article by claiming that woman-hating appears to be “the product of a repressed homosexuality.” Readers were spared theories about what is at the root of women loving women.

The claim that same-sex love arises from hatred of women or that misogyny is rooted in unexpressed homosexual desire pits sexes and sexualities that are both oppressed under patriarchal class rule against each other. Most of the imperialist war-time media reports claim that many males in Afghanistan have sex with each other because of “extreme segregation of the sexes.” Some of the same journalists did not attempt to reconcile the contradiction to their theory when they quoted Afghan males who are married to women and have sex with other males.

The “prison” theory of homosexuality is an old one. It assumes that heterosexuality is hard-wired and “natural” and that sex between males or females only takes place when the sexes are segregated. Even the term “segregation” is judgmental. Every society has its own organization of the sexes. However, in pre-class societies, in which women were not ruled over by men, same-sex organization in collective households or hunting or rituals was not oppressive. On the whole, such societies made room for more sexes, sexualities and gender expressions, and socially accepted sex reassignment than is allowed for in the patriarchal organization of modern imperialist societies. Dubbing Afghanistan as a “prison culture” for oppressed sexes and sexualities allowed post-invasion articles in the U.S. and British media to make it seem as though “gay liberation” was a collateral benefit of imperialist massive bombing raids, invasion and military occupation. But imperialism has tried to lock down Afghanistan like a prison. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” Pentagon command didn’t bring liberation from the Taliban. It brought the Taliban. It was the CIA and “Defense” Department that armed and trained the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and other counter-revolutionary forces to crush the 1978 Revolution—which was taking action, with women in the lead, to liberate Afghanistan from semi-feudal rule.

After the Pentagon hammered the country with bombs, and Special Forces battered down the doors of homes, U.S. and British journalists in Kandahar followed behind, demanding that peoples under siege and under occupation talk publicly about sexualities in their cultures. While admitting, “There appears to be no shame or furtiveness about them, although when approached, they refuse to talk to a western journalist,” Reid turned around and charged the Pashtun with “lying” because they did not confess to his definition of their sexualities. Maura Reynolds quotes Mohammed Daud, a motorbike repair person, in her Los Angeles Times article. “These are hard questions you are asking,” he says. “We don’t usually talk about such things.” (Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2002)

Rambo gay bashing
The Pentagon brass—which carry out a crusade of terror against gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans GIs in its own ranks—gay-bashed Afghanistan, too. Just days after the Pentagon began dropping a torrent of high-tech ordnance from the sky over Afghanistan, the Associated Press released worldwide a photograph of a gay-bashing epithet, “High Jack This F—-,”scrawled on one of the bombs on a fighter jet parked on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise. The widely circulated photo created uproar among lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) organizations in the United States. However, all but one of these groups debated it from the standpoint of a hate-speech issue; they did not denounce the aerial bombardment and post-9/11 Pentagon military aggression against Afghanistan.

AP spokesperson Jack Stokes used the weapon of xenophobia to deflect anger, saying that the photographer “is not American, and that [epithet] meant nothing to him.” Stokes didn’t bother taking a stab at explaining how the photo got past everyone else in the process of selection and production. At the Pentagon, Navy Rear Adm. Stephen Pietropaoli said the ship’s crew had been told to edit “the spontaneous acts of penmanship by our sailors.” He concluded, “We want to keep the message positive.” Pietropaoli is referring to messages written on bombs about to drop on the population below.

The release of the photograph was very much in keeping with the menacing psy-op messages of U.S. and British imperialism. Political pundits, late-night-television comics, newspaper and Internet cartoons gay-baited and transgender-baited the Taliban and Osama bin Laden—including threats of anal rape. The threat of rape and sexual and gender humiliation is a primary weapon of CIA and mercenary interrogators of Muslim men and women.

The following quotes, vicious and offensive, are repeated here solely to spotlight the threat of violence that smolders in these reports, which are broadcast around the world. In an article in The Scotsman on May 24, 2002, journalist Chris Stephen wrote, “In Bagram British marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat—being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers.” British Royal Marine James Fletcher said: “They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village.”

“It was hell,” said Corporal Paul Richard. “They put some music on and ask us to dance. I told them where to go,” said Cpl. Richard. “Some of the guys turned tail and fled. It was hideous.”

These quotes from military aggressors are a “homosexual panic defense,” by which gay-bashers later claim in court that they were justified to torture and murder because the victim made sexual advances. Even after the U.S. and British invaded Afghanistan—dominating the country militarily and crafting a legislative and political façade of independent government and law—the imperialists did not remove the law which they had said in pro-war agitation made same-sex love a capital offense.

Next: Same-sex rights: Dec.18 New York Times pits Iraq and Iran. Read parts 116 and 117 on Afghanistan and the entire Lavender & Red series at Look for the Lavender & Red logo. Email:

March, 2008 –

In the rush to ‘define’, have we forgotten Southasia’s long history of blurring the boundaries of love, of the distinction between the platonic and the sexual?

by Aunohita Mojumdar
Young men wander hand in hand, giggle together, sit on each other’s laps. At weddings and parties they dance together sensuously, usually without any woman around. In many places, such overt displays of physical bonding between the same sex would be immediately slotted as homosexual. Whether viewed with liberal acceptance or castigated with opprobrium, it would first be categorised. Yet in the scene sketched here, most of the young men are intensely interested in girls, not boys.
In today’s Kabul, whether due to the unforgiving taboos on overt displays of heterosexual behaviour, or having grown up under the Taliban regime, which managed to make women disappear from sight, intense displays of physical affection between men are the norm, even more so than in other Southasian cities and towns. Despite the extreme sexual repression that continues to exist in Afghanistan, this ‘permission’ to exhibit physical tenderness towards the same sex simultaneously challenges the stereotypes of homosexual, heterosexual and even bisexual identities, which often form the core of gender politics elsewhere.

Though there has been considerable documentation of the denial of women’s rights in Afghanistan, as well as some cursory examination into issues of gay identities, the behavioural norm that blurs the distinction between sexual and platonic relationships remains almost completely unexplored. This continues in spite of the fact that there is a long history of such relationships in official records and cultural traditions of the region. Take, for example, two widely known works of literature, the Baburnama (Book of Babur) and the works of the 13th-centruy poet Rumi. The former was written by an emperor who came from Uzbekistan to make Hindustan his home, but all his life longed for Kabul, for its resemblance to his childhood home. The latter, though born in Balkh in northern Afghanistan, ultimately left the region for Turkey. Zahiruddin Muhammed Babur, who lived between 1483 and 1530, was the founder of the Mughal dynasty in the Subcontinent. In his astonishingly frank autobiography, the Baburnama, he provides an extensive record his longing for a young boy. Unfortunately, this infatuation also coincided with his marriage. Though wed at the age of 17, to one Ayisheh Sultan Begum, he soon loses both his interest in and fondness for his wife. “Once every month or forty days,” the emperor recalls, “my mother, the khanim, drove me to her [Ayisheh] with all the severity of a quartermaster.” Readers are never told exactly what the results were of these disciplinarian efforts. And, of course, as is the norm with the history of kings, we know even less of Ayisheh’s feelings. What we do know, however, is of Babur’s real interest. “During this time there was a boy from the camp market named Baburi,” he writes.

Even his name was amazingly appropriate. I developed a strange inclination for him – rather I made myself miserable over him. Before this experience I had never felt a desire for anyone, nor did I listen to talk of love and affection or speak of such things. At that time I used to compose single lines and couplets in Persian. I composed the following lines there:

‘May no one be so distraught and devastated by love as I;
May no beloved be so pitiless and careless as you.’

Occasionally Baburi came to me, but I was so bashful that I could not look him in the face, much less converse with him. In my excitement and agitation I could not thank him for coming, much less complain of his leaving. Who could bear to demand the ceremonies of fealty? Another time, coming suddenly across the subject of his affections, Babur recalls being so embarrassed that he nearly went to pieces. In the throes of love, in the foment of youth and madness, I wandered bareheaded and barefoot around the lanes and streets and through gardens and orchard, paying no attention to acquaintances and strangers, oblivious to self and others. When I fell in love I became mad and crazed. I knew not this to be part of loving beauties. Sometimes I went out alone like a madman to the hills and wilderness, sometimes I roamed through the orchards and lanes of town, neither walking nor sitting within my own volition, restless in going and staying. I have no strength to go, no power to stay. You have snared us in this state, my heart. What appears to have been a passing infatuation ends here, however, and little more is heard of Babur’s love and longing. Much of the rest of the Baburnama is instead devoted to more ‘manly’ pursuits, particularly Babur’s extensive military expeditions.

Inside the unsayable
Preceding Babur by three centuries was Jelaluddin Balkhi, commonly known as Rumi, the mystic Sufi poet. Unlike Babur, love was not a passing infatuation for Rumi, but rather formed a core of both his life and work. Born in 1207, Rumi married young and had a family. But it was not until 1244 that he came across what was to be his strongest and most abiding relationship – with the wandering dervish, Shams of Tabrizi. Writing of this friendship, the translator and Rumi scholar Coleman Barks says: “We cannot say much about love at first sight. It happens and we live in the wake of a new life. Dante and Beatrice. Rumi and Shams. Part of the love mystery explored in Rumi’s poetry is how presences flow together, evolve, and create in tandem.” Describing his own intense relationship with Rumi’s poems, Barks writes: “I loved the unpredictable spontaneity, the push-pull of great tenderness and great loneliness, of living beyond psychology, of drifting at ease inside the unsayable.”

Much is now made of Rumi’s role in bridging cultures. As a Sufi poet whose verse transcended the narrow boundaries of not just one religion but also the more narrow interpretation of man’s relationship with god, Rumi is now held up as an example of the religious tolerance that existed. His poetry is often quoted and used to buttress the more liberal interpretations of religion and tolerance, especially since he came from a region that has recently seen a great deal of intolerance. But even today, little is said of Rumi’s role in blurring the boundaries of love. Soon after they met, Shams and Rumi became inseparable. “Their friendship is one of the mysteries,” Barks writes. “They spent months together without any human needs, transported into a region of pure conversation. This ecstatic connection caused difficulties in the religious community.” As a teacher of religion, after all, Rumi would have been expected to be beyond ‘worldly’ longings, while his students are also said to have felt neglected by this obsession with Shams. Shams eventually disappeared, only to be brought back at Rumi’s urging. “Shams stayed in Rumi’s home and was married to a young girl who had been brought up in the family. Again the long mystical conversation (sohbet) began and again the jealousies grew.” Shams disappeared again, this time probably murdered by Rumi’s own family.

In despair Rumi travelled to Damascus, realising only then: “Why should I seek? I am the same as he. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself.” Yet even so, Rumi needed his muse. Barks states, somewhat obliquely, “After Shams’ death and Rumi’s emotional ‘merging’ with him another companion was found. Saladin Zarkub.” And, after Zarkub, there was another, Husam Chelebi – all of them male. It was to Shams, however, that Rumi addressed his most intense poems, included in a masterwork collectively referred to as “The Shams”. “There’s no more wine; my bowl is broken,” Rumi laments, “I am terribly sick, and only Shams can cure me.

Do you know Shams, the prince of seeing,
who lifts the utterly drowned up out of the ocean
and revives them, so that the shore looks like
multiple marriages are going on at once,
easy laughing here, a formal toast,
a procession without music.

Shams is a trumpet note of light
that starts the atoms spinning,
a wind that comes at dawn
tasting of bread and salt.

Contemporary history does not say whether the love of Rumi for Shams, or of Babur for Baburi, ever had a physical element. If this were so, these couples would perhaps be called homosexual. But what if it were not so? In the narrow categorisations of homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual, where would these friendships fit in – traversing the space between sexual and platonic, between friendship and love? Babur and Shams may well have also been homosexual. Or, like the boys of Kabul today, it might be just that they were uninhibited and intensely attached to others of the same sex. What enables young men in Afghanistan today to hold swinging hands as they walk together is a lack of awareness that such behaviour is nowadays stereotyped as ‘gay’. Caught in something of a time warp, isolated by three decades’ of fighting, Afghanistan, in a paradoxical way, provides some spaces and freedoms that are a direct result of its years of social seclusion. Now on the path of assimilation into the ‘global community’, perhaps it will not be long before Afghan youth, like others in the region, become aware of ‘modern’ behavioural codes, and the displays of physical affection that are now the norm will quickly be labelled as ‘deviant’.

September 12, 2009 – The Guardian

The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan

by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
It was an ancient tradition banned by the Taliban but now it’s back: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports from northern Afghanistan on the hiring out of young male dancers by older men.
The night’s rituals unfolded slowly. In a small house in a village near the town of Taluqan in northern Afghanistan, a dozen men huddled in a cold, dark room, wrapped in thick blankets and squatting on red cushions. The wind sliced through a plastic sheet nailed to a wooden frame in the mud wall, and a strong aroma of hashish lingered in the air.

A young boy brought a small metal pot, poured warm water on the men’s hands and dried them with a small, stinking towel. Dinner was served: plates of meat stew, thick loaves of bread and bowls of yogurt. Then, when the meal was over, one of the guests opened his sash and pulled out four small bottles of Tajik vodka. Solemnly and with half-embarrassed smiles, the men raised their glasses, whispered, “Salamte” and drained them.

As more vodka was drunk, the party grew louder. Its host – a former Taliban commander now in alliance with the Afghan government and Americans – chatted jovially to his guests, mainly local farmers and shopkeepers. Then one of the men produced a sitar and a dancer entered the room.

Dressed in a flowing shirt and long, red skirt, with sherwal pants beneath and small silver bells fastened to hands and feet, the dancer stepped across the floor, face hidden behind a red scarf. The bells chimed with the movement, the skirt brushing past the watching men who stretched out their hands to touch it. The sitar player sang loudly, a love song about betrayal. The dancer twisted and sang hoarsely with him, arms thrown high above a lean, muscular body, moving faster and faster until finally the scarf dropped, revealing a
handsome young man’s face with traces of a moustache and beard. One of the men quickly grabbed the scarf and started sniffing it.

The practice of taking young boys to perform as dancers at private parties is known as bacha bazi (literally, “boy for play”) and is an Afghan tradition with very deep roots. Under Taliban rule, it was banned, but it has crept back and is now widespread, flourishing also in the cities, including the capital, Kabul, and a common feature of weddings, especially in the north.

The bacha dancers are often abused children whose families have rejected them. Their “owners” or “masters” can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery, as concubines. The bachas are usually released at the age of 19, when they can get married and reclaim their status as “male”, though the stigma of having lived as a bacha is hard to overcome. The Afghan authorities and human rights groups are aware of the plight of bacha boys, but seem powerless to stop it.

In an adjacent room, 16-year-old Mustafa was preparing to dance next. His owner opened a small bundle of clothes and produced a long, blue skirt, crimson shirt, leather straps and bells. Mustafa stood on a table and nervously smoked a cigarette. Holding his thin arms over his head, he allowed two bearded, turbaned men, giggling and laughing, to dress him like a doll. One combed his long hair, and invited the other to have the “honour” of wrapping the straps around his hands and feet.

Later, when he had finished his performance, Mustafa told me his story. “My grandfather kept telling me when I was a child to be careful of men because I was handsome,” he said. “One day a mechanic in the town attacked me, my family rejected me and I had to go and stay with that man. Now I am with someone else and he taught me how to dance.” He spoke matter-of-factly, then started explaining in great detail about where he buys his women’s clothes. How did he feel about the men dressing him? “It’s OK,” he said.

In Kabul and other Afghan cities, bacha bazi CDs and DVDs are widely on sale from street stalls and carts, serving an audience who can’t afford the real thing. In many of the cafes, men sit drinking tea and watching grainy images of boys dancing.

Most of Kabul’s musicians congregate in the southern part of the city, an area that was half destroyed by the civil war. In a crumbling hotel, an aged guard opened a gate that led to a dark staircase surrounded by metal grilles. The air was damp and heavy with the smell of hashish, opium, urine and burned oil. On the first floor was a small hall and a few rooms, with shoes and flip-flops piled high outside. On Thursday afternoons, dancing boys and their owners come here to wait for clients to hire them for weddings or parties.

The hotel was crowded with musicians and singers, including 30 Pakistani Pashtun musicians who had come to Kabul to seek refuge from the clampdown in the north-west of their country. One, his hair parted with a ruler in the middle and greased with cream, told me, “The Afghans like us as much as their own musicians. Even Kendeel Kuji [a famous Pakistani singer] is here.” In the same room I met Habib, a dancer, dressed in a spotless white salwar kameez. Two gold rings decorated his manicured fingers. His face was plump and he had a thin, well-groomed moustache above thick, red lips. Why did he start dancing? “I love it. No one forced me to do it – I love it.”

When he was 13, he said, his family disowned him, so he went with his lover to Peshawar, fleeing the Taliban. “There I learned how to dance. We could do everything there; I could dress like a woman and dance. Here in Kabul we can’t do much: I can only put some red on my lips and dance.” He stroked his face with his delicate hands and pushed back his hair with a shake.

After the fall of the Taliban, Habib came back and settled in a small hotel near Kabul. “People accuse us of being homosexuals and transsexuals, but we are not,” he said firmly. “We are not trying to be women, we are just dancers. Some men like my dancing and give me tips, but other men like to do other things with me. I have to be careful – they can be dangerous. I know how to maneuver to take their money and not let them harm me.”

Why did he think other young boys dressed as women and danced? “Because men like women and they are not available, so we act like women. We wink at the rich men in the room, we excite them and they pay us. Two weeks ago, in a town north of Kabul, the elder paid me 4,000 Afghanis [around £49]. But after the programme I had to shout so he would be embarrassed in front of other people, because he wanted to do things with me. Sometimes we get a lot of money.

Sometimes we have to spend the night with them and they don’t give us anything. “I am normal, but I like to walk and talk and to perform like a woman. Once, a man offered me $20,000 [£12,250] to become his lover and stop dancing, but I said no because I love to dance. I took only $1,000. Now we are together. Yes, he is married. But he still likes me.”
Shivananda Khan of NFI conducted a desk review of current literature on HIV and male-male sexualities, behaviours and sexual exploitation in Afghanistan for UNICEF (2008), where there is a discussion on the bachi bazi tradition described in the article above.

See ‘Everybody Knows, but Nobody Knows’ on the NFI website. A companion report on a Rapid assessment of male vulnerabilities to HIV and sexual exploitation in Afghanistan (2009) is available.

January 28, 2010 – Fox News

Afghan Men Struggle With Sexual Identity, Study Finds

An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns — though they seem to be in complete denial about it. As if U.S. troops and diplomats didn’t have enough to worry about in trying to understand Afghan culture, a new report suggests an entire region in the country is coping with a sexual identity crisis. An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns — though they seem to be in complete denial about it.

The study, obtained by Fox News, found that Pashtun men commonly have sex with other men, admire other men physically, have sexual relationships with boys and shun women both socially and sexually — yet they completely reject the label of "homosexual." The research was conducted as part of a longstanding effort to better understand Afghan culture and improve Western interaction with the local people. The research unit, which was attached to a Marine battalion in southern Afghanistan, acknowledged that the behavior of some Afghan men has left Western forces "frequently confused."

The report details the bizarre interactions a U.S. Army medic and her colleagues had with Afghan men in the southern province of Kandahar. In one instance, a group of local male interpreters had contracted gonorrhea anally but refused to believe they could have contracted it sexually — "because they were not homosexuals." Apparently, according to the report, Pashtun men interpret the Islamic prohibition on homosexuality to mean they cannot "love" another man — but that doesn’t mean they can’t use men for "sexual gratification."

The group of interpreters who had contracted gonorrhea joked in the camp that they actually got the disease by "mixing green and black tea." But since they refused to heed the medics’ warnings, many of them re-contracted the disease after receiving treatment. The U.S. army medic also told members of the research unit that she and her colleagues had to explain to a local man how to get his wife pregnant. The report said: "When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked, ‘How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.’"

The Pashtun populations are concentrated in the southern and eastern parts of the country. The Human Terrain Team that conducted the research is part of a military effort to learn more about local populations. The report also detailed a disturbing practice in which older "men of status" keep young boys on hand for sexual relationships. One of the country’s favorite sayings, the report said, is "women are for children, boys are for pleasure." The report concluded that the widespread homosexual behavior stems from several factors, including the "severe segregation" of women in the society and the "prohibitive" cost of marriage.

Though U.S. troops are commonly taught in training for Afghanistan that the "effeminate characteristics" of Pashtun men are "normal" and not an indicator of homosexuality, the report said U.S. forces should not "dismiss" the unique version of homosexuality that is actually practiced in the region "out of desire to avoid western discomfort."

Otherwise, the report said, Westerners could "risk failing to comprehend an essential social force underlying Pashtun culture."

April 20, 2010 –

The organized sexual abuse of adolescent boys

As the United States deepens its commitment to Afghanistan, FRONTLINE takes viewers inside the war-torn nation to reveal a disturbing practice that is once again flourishing in the country: the organized sexual abuse of adolescent boys.

In The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi (Behind Taliban Lines) returns to his native land to expose an ancient practice that has been brought back by powerful warlords, former military commanders and wealthy businessmen. Known as "bacha bazi" (literal translation: "boy play"), this illegal practice exploits street orphans and poor boys, some as young as 11, whose parents are paid to give over their sons to their new "masters." The men dress the boys in women’s clothes and train them to sing and dance for the entertainment of themselves and their friends. According to experts, the dancing boys are used sexually by these powerful men.

In detailed conversations with several bacha bazi masters in northern Afghanistan and with the dancing boys they own, reporter Quraishi reveals a culture where wealthy Afghan men openly exploit some of the poorest, most vulnerable members of their society. "What was so unnerving about the men I had met was not just their lack of concern for the damage their abuse was doing to the boys," Quraishi says. "It was also their casualness with which they operated and the pride with which they showed me their boys, their friends, their world. They clearly believed that nothing they were doing was wrong."

Under the guise of doing a documentary on similar practices in Europe, Quraishi gained the confidence of Dastager, a former mujahideen commander and wealthy businessman whose business interests include importing autos from the Far East. With Dastager as his guide, Quraishi takes viewers inside the world of bacha bazi, where prominent men compete to own and use the boys. "I had a boy because every commander had a partner," says Mestary, a former senior commander who is well connected with major Afghan warlords. "Among the commanders there is competition, and if I didn’t have one, then I could not compete with them."

"I go to every province to have happiness and pleasure with boys," says an Afghan man known as "The German," who acts as a bacha bazi pimp, supplying boys to the men. "Some boys are not good for dancing, and they will be used for other purposes. … I mean for sodomy and other sexual activities."

"It’s a disgusting practice. … It’s a form of slavery, taking a child, keeping him. It’s a form of sexual slavery," saysRadhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. special representative for Children and Armed Conflict. "The only way to stop bacha bazi is if you prosecute the people who commit the crime, and that’s what we need, because the laws are there in the books against this practice." In the documentary, Quraishi interviews local police officials who insist that men who participate in bacha bazi will be arrested and punished regardless of their wealth or powerful connections. Later that day, however, Quraishi’s cameras catch two officers from the same police department attending an illegal bacha bazi party.

"Many of the people who do this work for the government," says Nazer Alimi, who compiled a report on bacha bazi for UNICEF. "They speak out against it but are abusers themselves. … I personally cannot mention any names because I am scared." Quraishi speaks with some dancing boys who fear they will be beaten or killed. "If they stray, they get killed," says a 13-year-old dancing boy. "Sometimes fighting happens among the men who own the boys. If you don’t please them, they beat you, and people get killed."

Quraishi also talks with the family of 15-year-old Hafiz, who reportedly was murdered after trying to escape from his master, a well-known drug baron and warlord. In Hafiz’s case, a suspect — the policeman who supplied the gun that killed Hafiz — was arrested and convicted. Sentenced to 16 years in prison, the officer was released after serving only a few months. Hafiz’s family says they suspect the boy’s former owner bribed local officials to win his release.

"If only these people were punished, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen," Hafiz’s mother says. "Whoever commits these crimes doesn’t get punished. Power is power."

The program concluded with a detailed update of attempts to arrange the rescue of one of the dancing boys profiled in the film, an 11-year-old boy bought by Dastager from an impoverished rural family. It is a dramatic final chapter, full of new shocks and surprises, and, in the end, provides a measure of justice for the boy and his master.

Reaction from
I find it puzzling and infuriating that numerous adult men willingly and openly gather before one another to indulge and display their homosexual tendencies yet if two of these men were found having sex with each other they might well be killed by their peers. It’s psychotic.

Is the presence of an effeminate young man/boy so disconnected from heterosexual male reality that he is seen as a woman/girl and hence the homosexual aspect is removed from the dancing parties?

The men are seeing girlish figures dance in dresses and so they imagine this gives them permission to act sexually toward them? Do they see their sexual abuse as heterosexual or homosexual?

There is a very deceptive process going on: seeing boys and imagining girls. But it’s easy to do since the chosen boys are girlish. It’s a kind of delusional self-contained selection process.

Whatever the mental tricks going on, the blindness and indifference toward the inhumanity of the abuse puts these men outside normal civilized norms. Are they guys gay? I doubt it. They are more primitive than that: they are animal pleasure seekers who succeed because of money, power and fear. The same weapons as war.

Richard Ammon

July 21, 2010 – PinkNews

Laws against homosexuality ‘spreading HIV infections’

by Jessica Geen
Anti-gay laws in the Asia-Pacific region are causing higher rates of HIV infections, the UN has warned. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), such laws mean that gay men and trans people are less likely to seek medical help and be aware of how to prevent HIV transmission. In a statement released at the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, the UNDP said: "Some 19 of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region
continue to criminalise male-to-male sex.

"These laws often taken on the force of vigilantism, frequently leading to abuse and human rights violations. Correspondingly, HIV prevalence has reached alarming levels among men who have sex with men and transgender populations in many countries of the region." Some of the countries in the region which criminalise gay sex are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Kiribati and Malaysia. The report said that while some of these countries identify men who have sex with men of being at particular risk of HIV, police target gay men and trans people leading to assaults, extortion and imprisonment.

It added that health workers, many of whom are gay or trans, are also targeted, which leads to the disruption of safer sex and health care schemes. Events on HIV prevention and publicity materials are often censored, the UNDP said, while banning gay sex discourages support groups being set up.

The report claimed that half of all new HIV infections will be found in gay and bisexual men by 2020 if current trends continue. It recommended repealing anti-gay laws, supporting community-based education and implementing anti-discrimination policies across the region.

31 December, 2010 – MSM Global Forum

The Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk

The Front Line Award is granted annually to one human rights defender who has made an exceptional contribution to defending the rights of others in their country – often at great personal risk to themselves. In addition to giving publicity to the work of the winner, Front Line hopes that the publicity will act as an additional form of individual protection to the human rights defender in the future and that the programme of high level political meetings will enable the winner to build up a network of useful contacts for future advocacy.

The Award consists of a cash prize of €15,000 – a personal honorarium of €5,000 and a contribution of €10,000 to the work of the recipient’s organisation. The winner of the 2010 Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk is Dr Soraya Rahim Sobhrang of Afghanistan who is a commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission with particular responsibility for human rights.

As Commissioner for Women’s Rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Dr Soraya Rahim Sobhrang is responsible for the monitoring, protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout Afghanistan. Dr. Sobhrang, like many prominent women human rights defenders in Afghanistan, has faced constant harassment, defamation and death threats since taking up her post. Women human rights defenders in Afghanistan have been regularly threatened and some have been killed.

The predominant culture of inequality and misogyny is still widespread. Despite the dangers she faces Dr Sobhrang continues her courageous struggle to defend the rights of women in Afghanistan. “ Despite the clear commitments made in the new Afghan constitution to uphold and protect the rights of women – as the security situation has deteriorated – so has respect for women’s rights also deteriorated ”, said Mary Lawlor, Executive Director of Front Line.

Front Line is currently accepting nominations for the Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders At Risk 2011. Front Line Award nominations are open until 31st December and should be sent to Nominations should give details of the human rights defender’s work, the risks or negative consequences experienced as a result of this work, why you think he/she should receive the award and how he/she might benefit from it. Nominations must be supported by two referees who can attest to the nominees work, their integrity and their commitment to non-violent means.

Individual nominees may not be a leading member of a political party and must be currently active in human rights work (the Front Line Award is not intended to recognise a historical or posthumous contribution.) Self nomination is not permitted. Each January, Front Line drafts a shortlist of nominees for final selection by a jury of Irish elected representatives. The Award is presented at a ceremony in Dublin in May.


January 10, 2011 – Asia Times

Sodomy and Sufism in Afgaynistan

by Spengler
Social scientists attached to the Second Marine Battalion in Afghanistan last year circulated a startling report on Pashtun sociology, in the form of a human terrain report on male sexuality among America’s Afghan allies. The document, made available by military sources, is not classified, just disturbing. Don’t ask, don’t tell doesn’t begin to qualify the problem. These are things you didn’t want to know, and regret having heard. The marines got their money’s worth from their Human Terrain adjuncts, but the report might have considered whether male pedophilia in Afghanistan has a religious dimension as well as a cultural one. I will explain why below.

Most Pashtun men, Human Terrain Team AF-6 reports, engage in sex with men — boys — in fact, the vast majority of their sexual contacts are with males. "A culturally contrived homosexuality [significantly not termed as such by its practitioners] appears to affect a far greater population base then some researchers would argue is attributable to natural inclination. Some of its root causes lie in the severe segregation of women, the prohibitive cost of marriage within Pashtun tribal codes, and the depressed economic situation into which young Pashtun men are placed."

The human terrain team responded to scandalous interactions between Pashtun fighters and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops, some reported with hilarity by the media. An article in the Scotsman of May 24, 2002, reported, for example: "In Bagram, British marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat –- being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers. An Arbroath marine, James Fletcher, said: ‘They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village.’ While the marines failed to find any al-Qaeda during the seven-day Operation Condor, they were propositioned by dozens of men in villages the troops were ordered to search."

Another interviewee in the article, a marine in his 20s, stated, "It was hell. Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing makeup coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises." The trouble, the researchers surmise, is "Pashtun society’s extremely limited access to women," citing a Los Angeles Times interview with a young Pashtun identified as Daud. He only has sex with men, explaining: "I like boys, but I like girls better. It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful. But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is beautiful."

Many of the Pashtuns interviewed allow "that homosexuality is indeed prohibited within Islam, warranting great shame and condemnation. However, homosexuality is then narrowly and specifically defined as the love of another man. Loving a man would therefore be unacceptable and a major sin within this cultural interpretation of Islam, but using another man for sexual gratification would be regarded as a foible — undesirable but far preferable to sex with an ineligible woman, which in the context of Pashtun honor, would likely result in issues of revenge and honor killings."

Read article

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, Senior Editor at First Things magazine.