Okay. I'll say it out loud. I've been thinking about it for two days now, since the Orlando attacks and hearing that the murderer was both Afghani and Pashtun.
There is an Afghani practice known as Bacha Bazi. (Literal translation: boy play.) Another word for this is to have a "tea boy."
One Pashtun song begins: "There is a boy across the river with an ass like a peach: but alas, I cannot swim."
In a culture where women are kept in purdah and honor killings are a fact of life, there is no way to have an affair. And for decades if not centuries, boys--young boys--have filled that gap. Men kidnapped or purchased or were given the care of young boys, who they used as servants and for sexual favors. This is not considered homosexuality and the men--men of power--who victimize young boys--are often warlords and village heads. The boys who are sold by their families or given by them--large families, an urge to be connected to someone in a position of authority--will be used sexually by their overlords and lent out by them until they age out of the system.
Those who practice this sexual abuse of power no more consider themselves homosexual than married men from restrictive cultures who nevertheless haunt the down low.
The practice of Bacha bazi flourished among mujahideen during the war with the Soviets. No one knows how big the problem is, but it is insidious and it is everywhere. An Atlantic article from 2010 quotes a solider as saying: "I want to say that the soldiers on the ground know about this and know it is rampant. We used to call it "man love days." We noted that attacks on our base did not occur during these events as all the men with money (Talibs) were engaged in this kind of activity. It is truly a disturbing sight to see something like this occurring and you can't do anything about it. We were told it was a "cultural thing" and it wasn't our business."
An article in Newsweek called Confessions of a Afghan boy sex slave, quotes a sixteen year old dancer named Kamal, who says that when his father died, his mother placed him in the care of a family friend. Kamal was fourteen and had never heard of bacha baz, where Bacha Bereesh (literally beardless boys) are recruited from poor communities and brought to wealthier ones.
The World Weekly quotes Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi's The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, in an interview with a former mujahideen commander and wealthy businessman "regarded to be at the centre of the local bacha bazi business in the northern city of Takhar. Priding himself on having a chai boy (a tea boy) Dastagar was more than willing to accept an interview request.
"We're looking for a boy," Dastagar says, "who's good for dancing, around 12 or 13, and very attractive, very attractive." Asked if he sleeps with them, he replies, "Of course!"
"Having a boy has become a custom for us," says a local man in his mid-forties, interviewed by Mr. Quraishi. "Whoever wants to show off should have a boy."
"I go to every province to have happiness and pleasure with boys," says another Afghan man known as "The German," who acts as a pimp. "Some boys are not good for dancing and they will be used for other purposes. I mean for sodomy and other sexual activities."
Boys are lured by the need for food, a place to stay and money. Sometimes, they know what the future has in store and in some cases, their families use them to bring in money. In other cases, they have no idea what is in store, but once in, a boy is considered his owner's property. At the end of the party, he is often shared for sex. Many men are attached to their boys, but children are sometimes sold to the highest bidder.
This practice is at least hundreds of years old, according to poems and tales. Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur, the first Mughal Emperor (1483-1530) wrote in his autobiography about his "frothing up of desire and passion" for a "fairy-faced young boy called Bahuri and composed couplets for him.
Homosexuality was common in the Mughal army. The third Mughal emperor, Akbar (1542-1605) tried to discourage and suppress it, with little success. Many warriors were known to have homosexual relations with military servants, slaves and eunuchs but were still seen as deeply masculine men.
And, like victims of child abuse everywhere, the children involved often find someone other than their abuser to blame.
Kamal, the dancing boy of the Newsweek article, says, proudly, that his owner paraded him around "like his little prince." Kamal "bacha baz. “He never hurt me,” he insists. “He was always tender. He never traded me around with his friends as some did.” Kamal." A recent study says that one in ten boys in Afghanistan are touched by the tea boy trade.
The Orlando murderer's father is Pashtun and reportedly unstable himself. In his TV program, the father has said he despises homosexuals. The murderer reportedly visited the gay nightclub that he subsequently shot up, and also went on homosexual dating sites.
I wonder if, as more information is uncovered, we learn that an ancient and horrendous type of child abuse haunted the actions of an unstable killer who then destroyed the lives of so many people in Orlando who freely, openly and joyously accepted their sexuality.