Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Questions to those who claimed seventeen Afghan lives in one night

By now, everyone is probably aware of the gruesome, violent incident in which seventeen persons, including two women, were beheaded in a nocturnal attack in the Kajaki district of the volatile province of Helmand, still partially under the control of the Taliban, in Afghanistan.

We humans, a violent species, live in a violent world, cherish and nurture violent tendencies, often engage in violent actions over meaningless and trivial reasons, and are exposed to expressions of violence on a daily basis, in the news, in the popular media, in culture and traditions and so forth - so much so that we, as a species, have probably gotten inured to violence by now. I, for instance, am not easily moved by depictions of extreme violence televised or projected onscreen, perhaps because I am never unconscious of the unreality, the make-believe, the clever and painstaking CGI that brings forth such gory effects to life. But the news of the beheadings - the horrific violence perpetrated in real life - bothered me, upset me, and shocked the normally garrulous me into silence on this, until now.

People die violent deaths every day, some even the result of self-inflicted injuries. But the deliberate beheadings were something else, almost surreal - something we read about in scary parts of childhood stories (remember the 'Queen of Hearts'?), something that always happens to someone else; we are conditioned to grieve when it happens to a favorite character, and cheer when it happens to a perceived enemy. In real life, however, a beheading is an unspeakable act of violence with a touch of finality, a sign of the perpetrator's complete control over, and the absolute vanquishment of, the victim. And to think, seventeen hapless victims were beheaded, seventeen lives were irretrievably extinguished, in course of one night. Shudder! According to one report, the victims were not even given dignity in death - it wasn't clear whether they were shot before the beheading.

And all this for what? What was their crime which merited such monstrous vigilante-style punishment?

Nimatullah (alternatively, 'Neyamatullah' according to some reports), the governor of the neighboring Musa Kala district, speaking to Reuters, said, "The victims were killed for throwing a late night dancing and music party when the Taliban attacked." In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was quick to accuse "irresponsible members" of the Taliban, ordering a full investigation into the "mass killing". The US embassy in Kabul, the United Nations and European Union sharply condemned the killings in separate statements. Given the past proclivities of the odious Taliban, this is not unusual and may well be the truth, as reported by almost all major newspapers, as well as news magazines and websites, of the world (a simple Google search will bring up all these sources) - a few even pointing out the inequities of Taliban in the recent past, along the lines of its well-documented ├╝ber-strict interpretation of Islamic traditions, hardline misogyny and opposition to normal interaction between the sexes. Slate has a nice short article explaining some facts, especially scriptural ambiguities, surrounding the abhorrence for music and dance that marks some fundamentalist Islamic and Christian schools of thought, and demonstrating that the specter of religious proscription against performance arts is not even universal amongst practising Muslims and Christians.

However, buried in the subtext and natural anguish over the incident is the fact that Taliban didn't claim the deed. In fact, it appears that Taliban spokesman and overseer of operations in Southwest Afghanistan, Qari Yousuf, speaking to Reuters, denied any involvement of the group. "I spoke to our commanders in those villages, but they know nothing of the event," he told Reuters. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the cause of these grisly murders may not be religious at all; wrote CSM:
But a provincial government official said later that those killed were caught up in a fight between two Taliban commanders over two women, who were among the dead. Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial government, said shooting broke out during the fight. He said it was unclear whether the music and dancing triggered the violence and whether the dead were all civilians or possibly included some fighters.

I have no way of ascertaining the truth here, for it's way beyond my capacity to unravel the multi-layered and labyrinthine politics of a disturbed region. However, irrespective of whoever is ultimately responsible for this crime - and the reason for it - the questions that keep haunting me are about those men that descended upon the party that night, and mercilessly beheaded seventeen individuals; regardless of their ideologies, they must have been infants, toddlers, kids and teenagers once - son to some, brother to some, friend to some. Like other sundry children, they must have been fed, clothed, loved, nursed when ill, and taken care of by someone or other. Then...
  • At what point, at what juncture of their lives, did they become such monsters? Why and how did this radical transformation come about?
  • Was this an unusual congregation of psychopaths lacking a moral center?
  • If yes, how did they get together and why do they submit to the will and designs of some other persons, perchance a leader?
  • If no, how do they live with themselves knowing what horrific crimes they committed?
  • Regardless of whether they were forcibly establishing the diktats of their religion or settling some personal vendetta, what exactly motivated them to perpetrate this extreme and dastardly act? Did they think this violent retribution against seventeen individuals was worth it? Why?
So many questions, but I suspect no reasonable answers would be forthcoming soon.

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