best of intentions that we think convey we want to help, that we are big, blundering, and stupid. The Afghans have taken great advantage of that. Just as they did when the Soviets and the British did the same things. Our entire approach towards trying to train up Afghan security forces has been completely backwards from an Afghan point of view. The focus on literacy, while admirable as a concept in and of itself, is squarely a western-centric one. Do I think Afghanistan would be better off if it had high literacy
rates? Without a doubt. Should that be one of the primary foci of our training mission? Not at all (though it should be of an overall societal developmental one). The Afghans that we have been trying to train, specifically those who are illiterate, are experiential learners. Their entire way of life is built around being experiential learners - what they can visually and auditorially observe and memorize. The key to preparing them to do security for themselves, either as police or Army, is to leverage this reality and expertise. While not every training cohort will have a hafez (one who has memorized the Quran for recitation), given the importance placed on becoming a hafez within Islamic culture, there are likely to be several Afghans in each class who have memorized significant
portions. Identifying and leveraging these men would have been essential to a successful training strategy. Identify them, ask them if they would honor their classmates and us by reciting from the Quranic verses they have memorized. By doing so we build them up a bit in the eyes of their classmates and we demonstrate that we understand both the importance of becoming a hafez and respect for Islam. This then creates an opportunity to engage them on the tools they learned to memorize the Quran from hearing it recited and then to leverage them to help teach these skills to their
classmates. Once that is done, then we utilize this Afghan way of learning and knowing to teach the policing or soldiering materials that we need the Afghans to learn. At the same time we attack the literacy problem from the bottom up with a focus on getting Afghan children to be able to read and write and then utilize them to help teach their parents, cousins, etc. This is actually one of the ways we attacked adult illiteracy in the US and other places - through leveraging children. Our emphasis on trying to bring the Afghans in training to a basic standard of literacy fails to do this. We should have first had the Afghans teach us how they teach themselves and how they learn, then built what we needed them/wanted them to learn around their frameworks so it made sense within their understanding of learning. In reality we just exported our own ideas... One of the major reasons we need socio-cultural inputs and cross-cultural compentency is to prevent us from mirroring ourselves onto those we need to interact with in a negative way!***
Instead we still can not stop looking at this from an American perspective. We first got frustrated because they were not literate, then became frustrated because they were not becoming literate fast enough (because overcoming hundreds of years of cultural mistrust of anything written or of the educated White occupiers and their fancy books was going to happen in the space of a year in a classroom - the literacy issue goes beyond the individual functionality problem and to a larger socio-cultural understanding), then we basically decided it was good enough, then said that the Afghans were becoming good enough. In some ways we are the most easily self-deluded folks on the planet and this pamphlet gets to the heart of it. It is the Afghans' country, not ours, all this pamphlet will do is demonstrate to them that we have learned nothing about them, that we do not care about their ways, but expect them to care and respect ours, and will only be seen as the latest in a long list of slights and insults from people who do not look like them, come from strange faraway places, and do not have the good sense to stay in those places and out of places like Afghanistan.
The other thing that 3C is supposed to get us is cross-cultural empathy. And forget the touchy feely nature of the phrase, what I mean when I use it is the ability to not mirror, recognize how the people we are interacting with see the world, recognize how that makes sense to them and how it would in our context, and then act accordingly. So in this case imagine how a random group of twenty year old enlisted US Army personnel would feel, if we brought in large amounts of British, Italian, German, Israeli, Japanese, etc trainers to teach them how to be proper soldiers from a multinational environment. And we did this here at home in the US. And after our personnel had spent months shaking their heads in amusement, frustration, anger, shame, or some combination at the behavior of those foreigners that they were being afflicted with, having the foreigners dictate to them in a handbook why the foreigners are not bad folks they are just different and our personnel had to tolerate and accept those differences that had become points of contention, and we have to be patient with them because they are not from here, just what do you think the response would be? It would not be positive or patient or understanding - it would be anywhere from this is stupid to further enraging as it would be seen as something else imposed by those idiot outsiders who were forcing their ways on us. The only difference here is that because of how we do our initial military training (IMT), and our professional NCO Corps, that it would likely not result in violence directed against the foreign trainers, perhaps, outside of the occasional drunken bar brawl...
This is one of the best examples of how we are so cross-culturally unaware that we are trying to make the Afghans cross-culturally aware and sensitive and understanding because we cannot be bothered to properly do it to ourselves! Basically we think the Afghans are stupid and they aren't. The Afghans think we're stupid and we are - or at least we're doing a really good impression." Our entire approach in Afghanistan, just as in Iraq, has paid lip service to the bottom up - to learning local knowledge and ways of doing so we can build and package what we are doing in ways that the host country nationals can accept. Yet we live in fortified gated communities. Sure we build them smack dab in the middle of towns, villages, settlements, what have you and tell ourselves we are embedded in the local community. And we are, if, by embedded we mean scarfing up prime real estate, heavily fortifying it, and then subjecting the locals to demeaning security screenings to ever set foot on Post. I am not sure this is what Robert Frost meant when he wrote that "good fences make good neighbors". Because we commute to work, so to speak, we do not have a feel for Afghan life because we do not
actually live within the lives of the Afghans. We helicopter in (sometimes literally), then fly or ride back to our safe (temporary) homes on base. Sure there are some ODAs and some Joint Security Stations for training teams where we have American and/or coalition personnel living with the Afghans, just as we did with the Iraqis, but the former have a better understanding of how to do this stuff and the latter are still living under heavy
security. Sadly, the only thing this is likely to lead to is more bad feelings and more violence. This cultural awareness guide is a great example of why we need Good Idea Fairy Sniper Teams...