Nov
10
2008

The Peculiarities of Afghan Society

New reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan (37 dead) were covered in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. The story provides a decent sense of thedeath toll, but near the end makes a rather bizarre point (see bold):

Afghan weddings are traditionally large, drawn-out affairs, and wedding parties several times have been the target of errant airstrikes, in part because from the air the gatherings can appear similar to concentrations of Taliban fighters.

In Afghanistan's clan-based society, civilian deaths can cause otherwise peaceable villagers to declare a vendetta against those they consider responsible for killing their kin–in many cases, Western forces.

This isn't the first time corporate media have strained to interpret normal human reactions to violence as uniquely tribal or regional. When an Iraqi family refused a cash payment after their child was killed by Blackwater contractors, the L.A. Times (5/4/08) chalked it up to the "deep disconnect between the American legal process and the traditional culture of Iraq…. traditional Arab society values honor and decorum above all." A New York Times article (8/25/08) about house raids in Afghanistan noted that they"are seen as culturally unacceptable by many Afghans who guard their privacy fiercely,"and that detaining hundreds of Afghans without trialhave "stirred up Afghans' strong independent streak and ancient dislike of invaders." SoI suppose it's no great surprise to read that being upset about civilian deaths is the kind of thing that happens in a "clan-based society."

More intriguing–or perhaps troubling–is that this is happening in Afghanistan. Think about this for just a second: U.S. airstrikes are continuing a war that started seven years ago in response to the 9/11 attacks. Villagers in Afghanistan had nothing to do with those attacks, but they're on the receiving end nonetheless. And corporate media puzzles over the peculiarities of an Afghan "vendetta."

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.