Most of the students in the evening section of my Introduction to Sociology course at AUAF work fulltime during the day with government ministries, NGOs or banks. They are a tight-lipped group and very reluctant to talk about controversial issues, especially matters of morality governed by their Islamic faith.
This past week our topic was families and because our primary textbook was published in the United States, much of the assigned reading was about U.S. families, with a fair amount of attention devoted to the ongoing public debate about gay marriages. Gay/lesbian marriage is an unthinkable topic for public discussion in Afghanistan. Simply acknowledging the existence of gay and or lesbian peoples in Afghanistan is, by itself, pushing the envelope.
I tried to get the students, who are all men with one exception, to talk abut what they know about homosexual behavior in Afghanistan. No dice. I didn’t even bother asking my only woman student because I already knew better. She has never uttered one peep this semester and that even includes the time I looked directly at her, made eye contact, and asked her a question. Nothing, no response, my query just evaporated. (Now, in all fairness, she has since talked to me outside class, it was just a few quick questions about an assignment. I, in turn, asked about her academic plans and the conversation was over as quick as it began.)
Anyways, I asked about the practice that has long existed in parts of the Arab world and around the Mediterranean in which older men have sexual relations with boys. Yes, that still occurs, one student explained. “Is that considered homosexual behavior in your culture?” I asked. No, I was told, because the older man is married. “Well, OK, how about the boy? Is he considered homosexual?”
I know that in some cultures in which men have sex with men, the only one of the two considered homosexual is the “receptor.” The “penetrator” preserves his heterosexuality.
No, it was explained to me, neither male in this type of relationship is considered homosexual. OK, I thought.
As the class concluded, the last student to leave class said, “I will email you a story about this subject when I get home.”
The story, entitled “Dancing Boys of the North” and written by Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, first appeared in Afghan Recovery Report No. 268 (10 Oct 2007), a project of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. The first few paragraphs follow; the link will take you to the full story.
“Some men enjoy playing with dogs, some with women. I enjoy playing with boys,” said Allah Daad, a one-time mujahedin commander in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz.
He is one of a growing number of men involved in what is known as “bacha baazi”— literally, “boy-play” — a time-honoured tradition, deplored by human rights activists and clerics, that is seeing a revival in the relatively secure north of Afghanistan.
The boys are kept by powerful older men, made to dance at special parties, and often sexually abused afterwards. Known as “bacha bereesh” - literally, “beardless boys”, they are under 18, with 14 the preferred age.
“When I was young, I had a bacha bereesh who was the best in the region,” recalled Allah Daad, 44. “He danced like a flying pigeon.... Nobody could take his place afterwards. I kept him for three years, then left him when he matured.”