Monday, January 26, 2015

Badal...Pashtun for revenge....infects both sides in the war on terror

In her life story, I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai tells of a Pashtun tradition, even rule, named badal, revenge. It is part of the Pashtunwali code, (with which she and her father have considerable difficulty!)
"We are supposed to take revenge  on wrongs done to us, but where does that end? If a man in one family is killed or hurt by another man, revenge must be exacted to restore nang. It can be taken by killing any male member of the attacker's family. Then that family in turn must take revenge. And on and on it goes. There is no time limit. We have a saying: The Pashtun took revenge after twenty years and another said it was taken too soon.
We are a people of many sayings: One is, 'The stone of Pashto does not rust in water,' which means we neither forget nor forgive. That's also why we rarely say thank you, manana, because we believe a Pashtun will never forget a good deed and is bound to reciprocate at some point just as he will a bad one." (P. 72-73)
These Pashtun are Muslims, living in the northern region of Pakistan, where the Taliban eventually shot Malala in the head, for her public advocacy of education for girls. And it would seem only reasonable to extrapolate from her story a couple of things.
First, the culture and the religion are highly entwined.
Second, the culture, like the religion, is embedded with "code" expectations, many of which disable those living within the culture,  as well as potentially  those attempting to "eradicate" radical Islam from the planet. (There is clear evidence that Malala and her family were attempting to live outside the 'code' in their shared pursuit of education, as well as their rejection of the badal aspect of the code. Her father, for example was often sought as a mediator, peace-maker when conflicts arose in the community.)
However, where codes are the norm and where meeting the codes is enforced by those seeking to purify both the religion and the culture, there is evidence from which the world could learn.
Malala is a victim of the kind of code application that emerges from a religion/culture that is attempting to return the world to a kind of legal system that imposes that code on everyone. Some, like the Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, AQAP, and any other of the iterations of a radical commitment to a simplistic code that includes the application of badal are dedicated both to the spread of their ideology and the use of their code in that fight.
Laws, guns, missiles, bombs and all the intelligence in the world will neither eradicate a deep commitment to the code, nor will they remove the indoctrination of some to taking revenge.
Like attempting to legislate something as powerful as love, and control the many tangents of its true and faulty expression, as the church has attempted for centuries without success, to its own estrangement, any attempt to "manage" what appears to be a deeply ingrained cultural attribute like revenge will find itself shipwrecked on many shoals of simple and predictable human behaviour.
There is a kind of historical root to a code like badal, perhaps analogous to some of the biblical codes (like a man must marry the wife of his deceased brother and raise the children of that marriage), from the Old Testament. Education, experience and evolution of both faith and culture in many parts of the western world have removed such expectations from the lives of western men and women, although there remains evidence of considerable empathy and support for the wife and children of a deceased husband, especially in the public arena. (Just this week, there is a public and formal funeral for a deceased member of the RCMP, shot in the head in an altercation with a man in St. Albert, Alberta, whom many believe should have been incarcerated. His widow will now have to raise their sons, although there will undoubtedly be considerable support for her challenge.)
With respect to the Pashtunwali code, badal, there are some glimpses of light that the western world might gain from a closer reflection on the code.
First, most regions of the western world, including its Christian segments, are also living under several codes. There is a kind of legal/moral/religious commitment to punishing an offender that is embedded into our criminal codes, in the deeply-held conviction that punishment will produce a change in the behaviour of the offender. Even though much of the more contemporary evidence from academic research disputes our belief, and some tentative and miniscule steps in favour of rehabilitation and even prevention over mere incarceration and longer sentences can be seen on the horizon, we continue to exact punishment, revenge, or as most would describe it, "justice," when a wrong is committed. In the masculine world especially, in the school playground, our culture is replete with stories of parents telling their children "not to take bullying and to punch the offender in the nose" as part of the "code" of healthy child development. No parent wants his/her child to be the "wimp" on the block. And, there is some evidence that when a bully is "confronted" with his "own medicine" his bullying stops.
However, in the Irish culture, in the story of the dispute between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's, the original injustice has long been lost, forgotten or misconstrued yet the conflict, the resentment and the revenge remains. And that story is certainly not exclusive to the Irish culture.
Western culture, including many law libraries and many novels and plays, is filled with narratives of revenge, so deeply embedded that not only are such stories the stuff of much western entertainment, but also that those stories are also the "soil" in which our children are raised. The code may not be as clearly and unequivocally articulated as the Pashtun's badal, but the reality is still part of our collective unconscious and conscious.
George W. Bush's most memorable moment is recalled by millions in his megaphoned cry, while standing on the rubble of the Twin Towers only days after the tragedy, "I hear yah, and the rest of the world will hear us very soon!" to the cheers of the first responders who were attempting to rescue survivors and begin the process of the clean-up. There is no mistaking his intent: "Whoever did this had better take note because we are coming after you!" He did not use the word "revenge" but clearly that was his intent, however polite circles might reframe it as justice against the offenders.
Revenge, in fact, continues to haunt the strategy rooms of all western nations in their planning and strategizing to eradicate the radical terrorism that besets the civilized world. Clearly and tragically,  revenge also infests the tents and the caves of all those leaders of terrorism. And in a conflict in which revenge is the sine qua non of the motives of both sides, there is no foreseeable termination to the fight and the terror.
Is it possible that given the compulsion to seek revenge that besets both sides in the war against radical terrorism, that the world may be finally reaching a point of awakening in which the futility and the costs of hubristic revenge outweighs the benefits of pursuing such revenge.
And the hubris on both sides is palpable! Just as is the revenge! And it is reinforced with every report of another "successful event" from both sides.
We are potentially locking ourselves into a pattern of seeking revenge, while rationalizing our motive as "eradicating this scourge" in order to keep the world safe from these terrorists. Meanwhile the terrorists themselves are committed to ALL methods at their disposal, including  beheading and suicide bombers, extortion and brain washing, in their pursuit of their own form of revenge against what they perceive as western "injustice" against Islam, or their perceptions of Islam, merely a cover for their pursuit of their own perverted version of that faith.
It can be, and needs to be more forcefully argued that no God, not the Christian God nor the Jewish God nor Allah, would condone the violence that is being perpetrated in His/Her/It's name. Self defence is not the same as revenge, and to conflate the two is an act of distortion needed to bend the minds of millions of people to justify the actions on all sides. Revenge is also not the same as real justice. In fact, western legal systems are careful to attempt to guard against prosecutions, court proceedings and convictions based on revenge. At least, this is the public face of the justice system.
Many violent acts in the west are, in fact, a response to a previous offence, as they are in many hockey games, with only the second offence earning a formal penalty. Some even advocate for "revenge" in the world of hockey, as an integral component of what they call the "code of honour" that expects a teammate to inflict punishment on an opponent who has offended one of his team.
However, we need to parse very carefully the words and the actions of our leaders in the execution of this  conflict with radical Islamic terrorists, and not permit ourselves, or indeed our leaders, to be seduced by the honour codes to which we are all committed.
I used the word "committed" and not the word "addicted" but the difference is so subtle as to be easily crossed in our determination and our obsession to eradicate this revenge-based cancer from our collective body politic.
Let's not sleep-walk our way through a more deepening commitment to additional dependence on a hard-power solution to what is clearly a soft-power enemy, revenge. And revenge is deeply embedded in the minds, hearts and spirits of people on both sides.....It could be reasonably argued that only if and when one side abdicates its need for revenge that the conflict will have only one side.
There is phrase in scripture, perhaps often overlooked by many practitioners of the Christian faith: "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord!" in a clarion call to "turn the other cheek" and to refrain from its pursuit. There is still much "ministry" left to do among those calling ourselves Christians. And there will never be a more propitious time to start that transformation than in the middle of a viscious conflict with an external enemy addicted to vengeance.

No comments:

Post a Comment