A U.S. Army soldier watches the sunrise over Zabul, Afghanistan, 2009.

Credit: U.S. Army / Flickr Creative Commons

Ignoring Serious Crimes In Afghanistan Is Not 'Culturally Insensitive,' It's Unacceptable

September 23, 2015

The New York Times brought a shocking revelation to light this week: that the sexual abuse of young boys by Afghan military commanders was being ignored by U.S. troops—even when that abuse occurred on U.S. military bases.

According to the father of one Marine, U.S. officials told troops seeking to report such abuses to  "look the other way because it's part of their culture." But homeland security expert and "Security Mom" podcast host Juliette Kayyem said U.S. forces had so little understanding of Afghanistan and its culture that they conflated "cultural sensitivity" with condoning serious crimes.

"We were so wrong in our notion of what cultural sensitivity was," Kayyem said. "Let me tell you what culturally sensitivity is. It's not commenting when the Arabs smoke cigarettes in the conference room...cultural sensitivity is not allowing men to bring boys on to military bases—because that is where this is occurring—and rape them."

Had the United States not been supporting local leaders who committed crimes like this, Kayyem said, the nation might be in a less precarious place today.

"One wonders if we weren't so 'culturally sensitive,' if we kept empowering these men who were pedophiles and rapists...who knows how the story of Afghanistan may otherwise have been written. But boy, are we culpable in the story we're leaving behind," she said.

To hear more from homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem, tune in to Boston Public Radio above.


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