Saturday, April 17, 2010

PBS: Sex Trading Dancing Boys in Afghanistan

After watching an excerpt from this soon-to-air TV documentary, I made a note on my calendar to watch the full episode. A recent article in the New York Review of Books about a possible deal with the Taliban, in a passage about about their ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, shed light on a topic I was totally ignorant of: man boy love as part of the Afghanistan culture:

After the Soviets left Afghanistan, Zaeef became a mullah in a small village near Kandahar. He describes how the situation deteriorated in the south as warlords and criminals extracted tolls from trucks on the road, kidnapped and raped women, and held young boys captive to become their forced lovers.

Until I read that last part, I had no inkling of this aspect to the Taliban or other Afghan men. Now, PBS will examine the sex trade of adolescent and pubescent males in Afghanistan, expanding my knowledge about this practice:

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, airing Tuesday, April 20, 2010, at 9 P.M. [...] Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi [...] 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.” [...]

“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,” says Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. special representative for Children and Armed Conflict. [...]

News to me, this bacha bazi custom and its longstanding practice. I'm not familiar with male-on-male attractions and sexual outlets among Afghan men, and given the hard-line Muslim attitudes of the region, I wouldn't expect a flourishing market in sexual trading of dancing boys, much less an openness by adult males to allow a camera to record their activities.

The Afghan situation correlates somewhat to the man boy love scandals plaguing the Vatican right now, in that repressive religious beliefs have dire consequences on the lives of children when the various sexual needs of adult men don't have healthy and consensual outlets, especially of a male-on-male nature.

What does surprise me is that this may be the first documentary on this Afghan practice. If there's another TV account about bachi bazi, lemme know about it. Here's the PBS excerpt that is quite a queer eye-opener:


Anonymous said...

I can';t find the YouTube link, but the Dutch TV had an item some time ago about the warlord's keeping boytoys as status symbols. The US military practice of being clean shaven (to allow a good seal for the gas mask is the stated reason) in that culture means "comfort boy" and has caused some misunderstanding with the Afghan allies. There was also a piece several years ago in the Brit papers about how their SAS troops found it very disconcerting that the Afghans found them very attractive (again, they are clean shaven).

There is also a growing literature in English re Arab and Persian gay culture. Google (and Amazon) is your friend, as is the recent NYT article about Iranian gays fleeing to Turkey.

Shawn said...

I think it's really irresponsible to state that the sexual abuse of boys results from repressive religious beliefs. Sexual abuse of children occurs in the U.S. as well (and not only by clergymen). Those who abuse children are labeled sexual predators, and the behavior is only associated with sexuality by the most extremist, homophobic conservatives (usually it's put in some line, along with bestiality, as a reason why gay marriage can't be allowed because if it is, then what next?). But if the abuse happens to take place in the Church or in Afghanistan, it must have to do with sexually-repressive institutions/societies? That doesn't make sense.

Also, I don't understand your surprise that rape or adults exerting disturbing, disgusting power over children occurs in Afghanistan. Sadly, these practices likely occur everywhere, in every culture, and are perpetuated even by those that do have healthy sexual outlets. Rape, alas, is not about sex.

Anonymous said...

Could we please stop pretending that at least some measure of the sex crimes committed against boys is not a consequence of cultural and religious sexual prohibitions? The concurrence of sexual assault and trafficking of boys in the Catholic church where priests' sexuality is twisted or where priests with twisted sexuality find shelter and some Islamic cultures where sex segregation is extreme is not entirely coincidental. Sexual exploitation of boys by adult men occurs with disturbing regularity in both places. It may be rare but that doesn't mean its not institutionalized in some venues in these cultures. It does not happen to the same extent everywhere. I know for a fact that U.S. embassies and consulates in some Arab and middle eastern countries warn parents of the presence of sexual assault of boys and instruct them to take precautions. Religious repression of healthy adult sexuality doesn't explain all pedophilia, but its ridiculous to say it doesn't explain some of it.