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Flashback: In 2007, NYT Published Op-Ed Saying Afghan Child Rape Was No Big Deal

Now the New York Times is horrified by U.S. military turning a blind eye to Afghan child rape. But a few years ago, they published someone who praised it.


U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies,” blares the headline at The New York Times. The story is horrifying:

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

Gregory Buckley Sr. believes the policy of looking the other way was a factor in his son’s killing. Credit Kirsten Luce for The New York Times
The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban. But soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.

“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” said Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. “But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”

It’s somewhat odd for The New York Times to publish this expose of our toleration of the practice considering that in 2007 they published an op-ed critical of the military for not being more culturally relativist. As the 2007 op-ed notes, approvingly, if you can believe it, we turn a blind eye to child rape because our military bought into ideas from academic elites that it would be the right thing to do.

The point of the piece by Richard A. Shweder, an anthropologist and professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, was that we weren’t going far enough. The piece criticizes one anthropologist for wearing a uniform and being armed and worries about anthropologists being co-opted by the military to advance military missions. Note this part:

Nevertheless the military voices on the show had their winning moments, sounding like old-fashioned relativists, whose basic mission in life was to counter ethnocentrism and disarm those possessed by a strident sense of group superiority. Ms. McFate stressed her success at getting American soldiers to stop making moral judgments about a local Afghan cultural practice in which older men go off with younger boys on “love Thursdays” and do some “hanky-panky.” “Stop imposing your values on others,” was the message for the American soldiers. She was way beyond “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I found it heartwarming.

That sounds like our New York Times!

And it’s a completely unsurprising argument in a time and place overrun by cultural relativism.

Compare, for instance, how Sir Charles James Napier, an early 19th-century British general and Commander-in-Chief in India, discussed Sati, the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. Napier conquered the Sindh province in present-day Pakistan. When Hindu priests complained to him about British authorities banning the practice, he said:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”