There's been a troubling uptick in "green on blue" violence as its known -- Afghan troops turning on their NATO counterparts and at times, killing them. Now, it seems an Afghan military official and a NATO chaplain have pinpointed a cause: cultural misunderstandings, where Western troops accidentally and unknowingly gravely insult Aghan troops. The two leaders have written a pamphlet for the Afghan troops, explaining that mortally offensive gestures to them are often completely meaningless to the Westerners.
It warns Afghan soldiers that their international allies may blow their noses in public or "show their excitement by patting one another on the back or the behind", both taboos in Afghan culture.
The pamphlet, entitled “Cultural Understanding — A Guide to Understanding Coalition Cultures", also cautions that Westerners may put their feet up desks without realising that showing the soles of feet is considered a serious insult in Islamic culture.
"They are by no means trying to offend you. They simply don’t know or have forgotten the Afghan custom," according to a translation seen by the [Washington] Post.
The 18-page guide is being distributed after a sharp rise in the number of "green on blue" attacks, the nickname for incidents in which Afghan troops turn their weapons on Nato soldiers.
This year 51 Nato troops have been killed by members of the Afghan security forces, including nine British soldiers.
The booklet is being accompanied by three one hour-long seminars designed for new recruits, many of whom are from isolated areas with little or no exposure to Western culture.
It also tries to give a sense of the distant lands where Nato's forces originate from, describing the US as "a little like a lovely carpet. Different colored strands combine to make a beautiful whole.”
That's a lovely description of America -- and an accurate one, too! It may seem somewhat ridiculous that a pamphlet like this is necessary, but it's a timely reminder of the stark contrast of our two cultures. Apparently, one man's stuffy nose is another man's insult to his manhood. Here's hoping for greater understanding, and far less intra-coalition violence.
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