An Interesting Place to Visit (or at Least to Read About Visiting)
I have to say that P.J. O’Rourke manages to make Afghanistan seem like a nice place to visit and converse with the locals. Of course, it’s not true that the world is populated by near-Americans, but neither is it true that people can be entirely foreign to each other. Bridging a language barrier and making note of some cultural pitfalls, human society is translatable and common ground can always be found and developed.
I’m especially intrigued by an Afghan parable with which O’Rourke closes his essay:
There was a student who had been studying for many years at a madrassa. He had memorized the Koran and learned all the lessons his teacher taught. One day he went to his teacher and said, “I am ready to leave and go be a mullah.” …
Finally the student came to a village where a corrupt old mullah was using the mosque as a stall for his cow. The student was outraged. He gathered the villagers together and told them, “I have studied at a madrassa. I have memorized the Koran. It is a great sacrilege for your mullah to use the mosque as a stall for his cow.”
The villagers beat him up. …
The [student’s] teacher gathered the villagers together and told them, “I see you have a beautiful cow being kept in your mosque. It must be a very blessed animal. And I hear the cow belongs to your mullah. He must be a very holy man. In fact, I think that this cow is so blessed and your mullah is so holy that if you were to take one hair from the cow’s hide and one hair from the mullah’s beard and rub them together, you would be assured of paradise.”
The villagers ran into the mosque and began plucking hairs from the cow’s hide. The cow started to buck and kick and it bolted from the mosque and disappeared. Then the villagers ran to the mullah’s house and began plucking hairs from the corrupt old mullah’s beard. And they tugged and they yanked so hard at the mullah’s beard that he had a heart attack and died.
“You see,” said the teacher to the student, “no cow in the mosque and a need for a new mullah—that is wisdom.”
By “intrigued,” I don’t mean to express endorsement. Indeed, the tale describes a dishonest and cynical manipulation of religious belief, by a supposedly wise elder, for the material benefit of a clerical clique. If the mullah’s call is to lead people closer to God, then creating confusion about plucking hairs from holy cows must be a grave dereliction of duty.
I should stress that O’Rourke heard this story from a political figure in Afghanistan, not a religious leader. It does, however, generate some food for thought regarding cultural differences and, perhaps, the route toward resolving them.