Afghanistan 101 is an introduction to Afghan culture. More specifically, this dimensional analysis discusses Power Distance (PD), Uncertainty Avoidance (UA), Individualism (IND), and Masculinity (MAS) in the Afghan national culture. These dimensions are based on the work of the well-known Dutch anthropologist Geert Hofestede. The manifestations of these cultural dimensions explain the attitudes and actions of Afghans. Each chapter on dimensions also includes a section where the implications of a particular dimension are pointed out to the Westerner working in Afghanistan.
Power Distance, the first dimension of culture, describes the relationship between a less powerful person and a more powerful one. As Afghanistan is on the high side of PD, social power is coercive in Afghanistan. One comes to power by force and is ousted by force; wealth and power are inseparable; decision making is autocratic and consultative; expert power does not carry much weight; age and charisma are important; and in Afghanistan, it is the authority of the person rather than the authority of position or rule that counts most.
Uncertainty avoidance, the second dimension, involves dealing with fear and ambiguity--fear of nature, fear of other men, and fear of the supernatural. UA is negatively related to PD. A high PD society is on the low side of UA. Cultures use three methods to deal with fear and ambiguity: law, technology, and religion. Being on the low side of UA, Afghans rely heavily on Islam to reduce fear and uncertainty because they cannot rely on technology or the rule of law. The fundamental religious beliefs that help Afghans cope with fear and uncertainty are (1) life in this world temporary, (2) the source of both good and evil is God, and (3) God is just and will punish the oppressors and evil-doers in this world and in the next.
Individualism versus collectivism, the third dimension of culture, relates to the relationship of an individual to a collectivity. In nonindividualistic societies such as Afghanistan, one's loyalty and devotion is first and foremost to the family, ethnic or other collectivity, rather than to the country as a whole. Such loyalties are characteristic of nonnation-states, and are best explained as "Afghan nationalism" that is based on ethnicity, sect, region, and ideology.
Afghanistan is not and has never been a nation-state. In a nation-state, people rally around the constitution, the flag, the national anthem, and other such symbols instead of their ethnicity, sect, region, ideology, and so on. Furthermore, a nation-state is based on the rule of law, checks and balances, human rights, freedom of the press, political parties, free and fair elections, accountability, and transparency. The concept of a nation-state is a Western phenomenon, although the roots of a nation-state are deep in some Islamic countries, shallow in others, and nonexistent in others. Turkey, the first Islamic country to have become a nation-state, falls into the first category whereas Afghanistan, into the last. For Afghanistan to move in the direction of becoming a nation-state, some type of federalism may be the only way to prevent further ethnic conflict and another civil war.
Masculinity, the fourth dimension of culture, describes the degree to which there is a gender gap within a culture.
Afghanistan is on the high side of MAS. As such, sex roles are set in the family and are reinforced in the schools, workplace, and other social organizations. In general, males are taught to be assertive and females, nurturing. In Afghan society, male assertiveness generally involves aggressiveness, bravery, endurance, leadership, power, dominance, and independence. Female nurturance, on the other hand, is characterized by submissiveness, patience, tenderness, and affection. It is Islamic fundamentalism and Afghan cultural tradition, rather than mainstream Islam, that limits the rights of women in Afghanistan, making the country a high MAS culture. To the extremists, women are supposed to stay indoors and be at the service of men. In Afghan cultural tradition, women are often regarded as cattle, to be exchanged in compensation for a crime or to settle a debt or to make profit (bride price). Poor justice system, illiteracy, and poverty are the primary causes of violence against women. And finally, the primary purpose of marriage in high MAS societies is reproduction rather than love and companionship.
Finally, the Appendix describes the four major ethnic groups in Afghanistan: Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. It discusses the characteristics of each ethnic group along with their rivalries, past conflicts, and political parties.
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June 07, 2010
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