Nov 14, 2009

Two weeks is not enough for eating democracy

“Sorry mate, but I’m not going to eat it,” the last words, said Stefan Gates, in Cooking in the Danger Zone, a documentary film by BBC.

Stefan Gates is a food “adventurous”. He pops up wherever eating is a challenging task; Afghanistan, Tonga, U.S. Army, India, Venezuela, and this time, South Korea. Maybe, South Korea can’t be considered as a high-risk region in terms of security, but, definitely it is challenging when it comes to eating dog. Well, nothing seems more enjoyable than challenging an undiscovered land for a Westerner. How about when it is the matter of culture? Something deeply engraved on spirit of a human being, grown from hundreds of years of customs. Stefan Gates could not eat dog, within two weeks try during his stay in South Korea. So, why must West expect Afghan people to become democratic only after a few years?

Stefan Gates wants to have an experience of tasting dog’s meat. Koreans, through two weeks, tried their best to convince Stefan that eating dog is something completely normal in their culture. It’s regarded as a “traditional medicine and a cornerstone of the culture.” However, “just like the dog meat industry itself, it wasn't pretty,” concluded Stefan.
I was just wondered how Stefan, who claims “I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to food” , can’t eat dog. Stefan, himself, says, “I don’t see anything particularly wrong with eating dog.” But, he can’t eat it.

We don’t eat dog because dog is a pet. But, cow and sheep can also be pets. So, what’s wrong? Culture. Culture says you shouldn’t eat dog. It is based in hundreds of years of traditions and customs. So, fairly nobody should expect to digest it within two weeks!

Stefan may refuse to eat dog. But, how about our people in Helmand when they are being taught democracy, secularism, women empowerment… in classrooms like Bagwa desert, and with chalks like B-52? They may not refuse to learn. They are condemned to learn democracy.

My aim, here, is not to prove that democracy is something as disgusting as eating dog for Afghan people. However, there would be the danger of such an assumption if they were forced to adopt it within a short period. Such phenomena as democracy and secularism are deeply rooted in Western culture. It has been achieved “gradually over the course of nearly 300 years, allowing new ideas of governance time to filter down to all levels of society.” In Afghanistan, however, Europeans and Americans want the people to learn such concepts during one night.

After 9/11, the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan to destroy Taliban and eliminate terrorism. This is not the first time that the U.S. tries to remove an anti-American regime, in the international arena. After the World War II, the U.S. removed the Nazism in Germany, and established a democratic government. In Afghanistan, the same strategy is applied. However, establishing democracy requires a considerable time, allowing all democratic institutions to root in a society. In Germany, there was no need for such time since all of its democratic institutions were already in place. In Afghanistan, however, we need to start from the beginning; learning this that democracy is not something bad at all!

For establishing democracy in Afghanistan, Europeans and Americans first need to build an image of themselves for Afghans as if they are here to really help us. (Though, they are doubtful about it, among themselves, as “Is counterinsurgency [in Afghanistan] meant to achieve the goal of counterterrorism or state-building, or both?”) In last semester at American University of Afghanistan, spring 2009, we had a course titled University Success. Part of the course was “service-learning component”, in which “students apply what they have learned by doing a community service project.” What we did was helping the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), settled in a camp around Kabul. Through two months work within four groups, we held a Fun Fair Day on campus to raise the initially estimated US$2,000 fund. We got it. Also, by the brilliant initiative of one of the class fellows, we acquired a US$72,000 grant from The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), in the form of Hygiene Kit packages. Finally, we went to the camp and distributed the kits. The project was successfully implemented.

“By far […] this has been the most successful project in 7 semesters of my classes,” says Professor Shaw; I agree with him. We did well, but in terms of team working, and not by the end result. To my curiosity and simplicity, I visited that camp another day. I was not surprised when I observed no change in the living conditions of the people. In fact, we spent US$72,000 not to bring an improvement, but to fulfill the feeling of selfishness in ourselves. US$72,000 of the total money, coming to Afghanistan as International humanitarian assistance. I was ashamed of facing those poor people who expected us to help them, not to make them a joke. They needed food, prior to toothbrush!

I can’t describe exactly what grounds the similarity between eating dog and democracy. However, this comparison is inevitable for me, when I have to follow, every night, the news of “today’s number” of killed and injured of Afghan people. I am just wondering how it would be like if Helmandis, too, were allowed not to eat democracy, so fast.

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