I wrote this on 12/17/08.
The story “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini is a piece of historical fiction that reads all too true as a story that could have actually taken place. The novel is a work that can draw on many sociological perspectives as it has so many issues especially about race and ethnic conflict in Afghanistan that can be discussed. It is the story of an upper-class Afghan boy Amir growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970’s along with the son of his father’s servant Hassan. When he is 12 years old Amir watches Hassan get raped by another boy named Assef and does nothing about it . Feeling guilty and unable to face up with his own inaction Amir eventually has Hassan and his father driven from Amir’s home. In this same time period political turmoil started to envelop Afghanistan and Amir and his father flee Afghanistan in 1981 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. They wind up first in Pakistan and then immigrate to the United States. In America, his life is a complete turnaround in class as Amir and his father become working class people. Years later after his father dies and Amir gets married, Amir travels to Pakistan and meets an old friend of his father who informs Amir that Hassan was actually was his brother, and Hassan is now dead with a son who has become an orphan named Sohrab. Amir travels back to Afghanistan for the first time in many years with the mission of leaving the country with Sohrab. Amir finds his nephew living with Assef who has become a member of the Taliban. Amir then fights Assef and manges to escape with Sohrab’s help. At the end of the novel Amir ends up adopting Sohrab.
For this Final Project I have decided to focus on a paragraph on page 25 of the novel where a young Amir talks about how despite how he and Hassan would have seemed to actually be friends, Amir never thought of Hassan as a friend and nothing could change the fact that they were of two different ethnic groups, one superior and the other one inferior. This section of the book elaborated just how fixed and closed the race relations and religious differences are between the ethnic groups, the Pashtun tribe and the Hazara tribe in Afghanistan.
“The curious thing was, I never thought of Hassan and me as friends either. Not in the usual sense, anyhow. Never mind that we taught each other to ride a bicycle with no hands, or to build a fully functional homemade camera out of a cardboard box. Never mind that we spent entire winters flying kites, running kites. Never mind that to me, the face of Afghanistan is that of a boy with a thin-boned frame, a shaved head, and low-set ears, a boy with a Chinese doll face perpetually lit by a harelipped smile.
Never mind any of those things. Because history isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi’a, and nothing was going to change that. Nothing.”
From this section of the book we see it clear the distinct class distinctions that existed between the majority Pashtun tribe and the Hazara. The Pashtuns make up about 42% of the overall Afghan population, and Pashtun has sometimes been synonymous with Afghan. The Hazaras are smaller in number and make up about 9% of the population. Despite Amir growing up with Hassan and sharing so many things during childhood, their relationship was that of one between and a servant and master not that of two friends, since a Pashtun and Hazara could not be friends as Amir learned from his father. The distinction between Pashtuns and Hazars was clear and it was definite and unchanging. Afghanistan has different ethnic groups but the country is dominated by the majority Pashtun tribe. Smaller ethnic groups in the country include Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. According to the constitution of Afghanistan all Afghans are considered equal in front of the law but reality has shown that has not been the actual case. Afghanistan is a heavily socially stratified country with discriminations going back centuries as in the case of the Hazaras who have been brutually subjugated by the Pashtuns in the past and subjected to social exclusion. Hazaras are discriminated against not just because of their race but also because they are Shiite Muslims while the majority of the population are Sunni Muslims. The hatred between Sunnis and Shi’as goes back even farther than the rivalry between Hazaras and Pashtuns, and has sparked a lot of violence in other Muslim lands. Hazaras were considered to be the lowest group on the social scale, and relegated to jobs as servants with no social status. According to Max Weber’s theories the Hazaras fit the very definition of being a pariah group. The opportunities provided to other groups are denied to the Hazaras. Hassan didn’t go to school as he was expected to be like his adoptive father Ali was, a servant for life. Being born and living such a life also shows a lack of social mobility in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan for the Hazaras there exists no upward social mobility for their group due to the hatred felt for the Hazaras and their status as second class citizens. Afghanistan doesn’t have situational or symbolic ethnicity as a Hazara will always be a Hazara. The fact that Hazaras are Shi’a in a Sunni society where religion matters strongly also does not help out their situation also as the rivalry between the Sunnis and the Shi’a is a centuries old rivalry which has seen a lot of bloodshed. As mentioned later in Kite Runner the Hazaras were also the victims of ethnic cleansing in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, and Hazaras were massacred during an uprising in 1892 which also saw large numbers of Hazaras displaced from their homeland of Hazarajat. The situation of the Hazaras is very similar to that of lower groups in a caste system. A lot of people avoid associating with Hazaras and even those who are familiar with Hazaras do not consider them as friends. Assimilation does not exist in Afghanistan as shown so clearly by the thoughts of Amir. In Afghanistan pluralism is the order as all the different ethnic groups exist side by side with very little mixing. With the amount of hatred and mistrust and centuries old rivalries that exist in Afghanistan it is very difficult to ever picture an Afghanistan that has all the ethnic groups living peacefully side by side.
It can be shown by statistical data that countries like Afghanistan which are not considered free as defined by the Freedom House survey of freedom in 2006 (Giddens, 2007, p.396) are generally proven by statistical data to be some of the poorest nations on Earth, while also being some of the hungriest nations on the Earth as listed in the UN FAO map of 2003. (Giddens, 2007, p.264) (Giddens, 2007, p.268) Afghanistan also had the lowest life expectancy in all of Asia as of the year 2002. (Giddens, 2007, p. 637) On the reverse side, from the World Bank Development Indicators Map of 2005, almost every country in the high income range is also listed as a free country. Almost every country listed in the high income range also is listed with hunger as an extremely low problem. In those statistics it is easy to see a trend that exists. Generally the poorer the country the less free it is, while the richer the country the more free it is for the most part. The work of Rostow applies heavily in the case of Afghanistan as it looks as it is the traditional cultural values of Afghanistan that is holding the country back. The hatred of Hazaras due to race and religion, and the rise of religiously backed governments who rule to the detriment of the country at large has definitely hurt the country and hurt development. It can be argued that if Afghanistan were more of a free country striving to protect all of its citizens then Afghanistan would be more of a modernized country. Afghanistan has taken steps forward in this decade under the presidency of Hamid Karzai progress has made been made in race relations and more freedoms for the populace. Hazaras have been allowed to join the army and some have started to hold government positions. But, with the progress that has been made there is still a long way to go in Afghanistan.
Ethnic tensions and also religious tensions sometimes go a long way in defining a nation’s identity. The country of Afghanistan is a country that has been shaped by its ethnic and religious tensions. By understanding these tensions it’s easier to come closer to an understanding of Afghanistan.
4. Giddens, Anthony. Introduction to Sociology 6th ed. New York, 2007.