That 7-year Old Afghan Boy Mattered

At 7 years old, most boys in the U.S., and much of the world, are still playing with toy cars and watching cartoons.  We expect them to learn some basic reading and math, and we might take away TV time if they pick on their younger siblings or require some simple chores around the house.  The Taliban, however, has a different outlook on things.  They found a 7 year old boy in Afghanistan, who “may have informed the police or soldiers about planted explosives,” to be a spy, and executed him by hanging.  (via Ann Althouse)

The only reports say that the boy may have been the grandson of a tribal elder; we don’t know his name or face.  We don’t know his mother and father, although we can imagine their grief and shock. 

In September, 2001, I was a college student enrolled in an introductory Anthropology class.  I had class that Tuesday, but it consisted mostly of us staring at a television set that someone had wheeled into the classroom in shock and disbelief, waiting in horror as the first, then the second, tower collapsed and attempting to sort through the early, confused reports of what had happened at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. 

The next class was Thursday, two days later.  Almost every television station was still playing non-stop news coverage; every conversation was still tinged with the week’s grief and fear.  The countries vast fleet of airplanes remained grounded.  The anthropology professor greeted us with a word, underlined, written on the blackboard: Ethnocentrism. Defined by Encarta as: “conviction of own cultural superiority: a belief in or assumption of the superiority of the social or cultural group that a person belongs to.”    Encarta adds another word to the definition as well, a “description of use” that my professor made all too clear: “(disapproving)”.  Despite what had happened, we were not, not to believe that our culture was superior to that of the men who had hijacked those planes.  We were no better, we must know. 

No.  Our culture, most cultures, are better than the culture of the Taliban.  If it is not, then that little boy, the one without a name, doesn’t matter.  If it is not, than his loss is no different than any injustice born of our country’s culture, without regard to time and place.  If it is not, and the culture of the Taliban is equal to our own, there is no point in improvement, and no point in making the changes that our brave men and women are making in Afghanistan. 

But we are better.  The culture in Afghanistan can be better, too, and it will be.  The Taliban, however, the ones who tied a rope around the neck of a child, cannot be better.  They need to be gone.

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