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Overcoming Sexual Terror

“He brought up the fact he likes to rape little boys…He’s telling me how he likes to use a knife on them.”  -Cpl Travis Schouten

What happens when the core sexual attraction of men to women is so tainted with terror that it disappears? It’s practically science fiction to imagine living in a culture that has so effectively terrorized the natural desire for sexual union between men and women, one of the deepest instinctive connections in humanity, that it is all but gone. What it creates is a society turned on its head, where misogyny rules and pedantry is rife. Boys as young as 11 become the most sought after commodity for a pent up, rageful male sex drive. Sexuality has become so divorced from tenderness or intimacy, that the rape and abuse of boys and young men is sport and the clearest marker of social status. The more boys a man can boast violating and is surrounded by, even if they are chained to his bed, the more powerful he is. One former warlord boasted of having over 3000 boys over a 20 year period.

Tragically, this is not some plot twist out of a Hunger Games film I am describing, but an actual snapshot of accepted cultural norms in present-day Afghanistan, where conservative estimates show over 50% of men participating in the practice called “Bacha Bazi” which translates into “boy play”. Primarily practiced within the Pashtun tribe, which numbers near 50 million, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, this widespread practice flourishes through the combination of severe illiteracy and the selective, liberal translation of Islamic law and what constitutes homosexuality. The terror that these practices invoke in tribal life is hard to imagine, as is the generational debilitating legacy left in its wake. What becomes of a society, which is completely bereft of female energy and presence when the primary association of what it is to be a woman is perceived as dirty and untouchable, with the only role left to her perceived as the subhuman confines of utilitarian procreation.

It is no wonder then that Afghanistan continues to slip into chaos and a worthy home for terrorist activities. In the complete absence of healthy relationships and mutual respect between genders, the underpinnings of a culture which protects children and basic human rights is also gone. Current practices are debilitating to both marital integrity and a woman’s maternal rights. Even within sanctioned marriage, husbands have increasingly less skill and interest in passionate intimate connections with their brides. Women’s voices have been all but silenced and their protective roles as mothers diminished as their sons are stripped from their care by the age of 7.  One man took his wife to a doctor for infertility concerns, only to learn that she was a virgin. Even the basic biological urges of procreation suffers as the male dominated culture of anal rape becomes normative. Stories of mothers who are beaten as they attempt to rescue their sons from this practice are not uncommon.

The story came to light again recently as several of our Marines beat a couple of the particularly despicable warlords torturing some boys nearby. The military stance on this has been to look the other way. One Marine was quoted, “The reason we were there was because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights…But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”  And in fact, during the Taliban rule, the practice of Bacha Bazi was eliminated entirely.  Anyone who practiced sexual abuse with children were killed. Like most wars, the good and bad are not evenly split on two sides. To ignore the deep cultural damage that rampant and unbridled sexual abuse creates is its own form of terrorism and more than one of our soldiers have died at the hand of the desperate sex slaves. Upholding the power of the abuser makes us participants. Relieving the soldiers that could not ignore their morale imperative to stop the suffering of helpless boys should be rewarded not punished.

When cultures are so destructive to their own future, our involvement needs to begin with education.  The evil of the Taliban is clearly seeded in the side we are on and to ignore it only deepens the corruption of our involvement and increases the alienation of the people we are trying to help.  Afghanistan is crippled by its own ignorance and the absence of shame at its own abuse. If we do not actively provide education, which lifts the terror associated with loving female relationships and the pervasive damage that they are inflicting on the male future of their country, beating the Taliban will make no difference. Afghanistan is on its way to becoming a nightmare that we truly have to fear.

Sexual abuse is a terror that deserves and demands our attention and resources. We ignore this suffering at our own peril. I have long believed that if we could heal only one thing for humanity and it was our relationship to our sexuality, we would actually heal almost all of the other problems as well. Afghanistan is a case in point.