On Culture, Clashes, and Kite Running
In his novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini depicts his homeland Afghanistan as a host to many different cultures and classes, such as Pashtun and Hazara, Sunni and Shiite, with this dichotomy of beliefs and attributes being powerful enough to shape diverse, sometimes negative relationships amongst the characters of the novel and their behavior to each other, as well as establish that individual’s identity. Each person interprets the impact of the role of belief and social status differently, while all living in the same setting, adding to their complexity and depth as a character in the novel with many different figures tied together by the same geographical and cultural conditions.
Hosseini provides the reader with a wide gamut of personalities, some fitting in, and some contrasting the conservative nature of Afghanistan presented in the novel. Baba, Amir’s father, is an example of an individual that stands out as a rather liberal character given the context of his setting. Ignoring the rigid doctrine widely accepted regarding right and wrong, he boldly states: "Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft... When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness... There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir". (Hosseini 17) In a society where adultery was punished by death,, as seen by those being stoned in the stadium, and Mullahs hold citizens to a certain moral expectation, Baba, rather than succumbing to a dogmatic view of ethics, finds his own meaning in how to judge the actions of others. It is because of this sense of self determination that Hosseini celebrates Baba as a well respected, well off figure, possessing an exceptionally secular nature in a God fearing society. However, his constant burden of having to pay for his adulterous act, considered one of the ultimate sins in his conservative Sunni Islamic environment, coupled with the tragedy of his wife’s death leads Baba to also be portrayed as a less of a father and more of having an immature personality in the way he deals with his son. Hosseini’s purpose in this complex relationship with Amir was to highlight how different the circumstances were in Afghanistan given more extreme social conditions Americans are unfamiliar with. This conflict leads Hosseini to somewhat reconcile Baba’s bad parenting as being a product of the trade-offs necessary to living in context of that particular belief system. His preoccupation with relieving his guilt prevented him from being the father Amir secretly desired him to be.
Quite the antithesis of Baba, an outspoken liberal, is Assef, best described in Hosseini’s eyes as a local radical. Radical not in his strict obedience to Islamic jurisprudence, but ironically in his dedication to the perversion of it, being a part of the Taliban that “reigned over years of theft, rape, murder and torture under the pretense of abiding by Islamic Law” (Sandstrom 2). He uses religion as nothing more than a pretext for the pathological cruelty he shows to others he deems more inferior, despising minorities like Hazaras whist idolizing the idea of ethnic cleansing practiced by Hitler and the Nazis. The way he saw it, Hazaras “didn’t look the way Afghans should look and didn’t worship the way Muslims should worship” (Zabriskie 1). Despite Baba and Assef both claiming to practice the same core Sunni Islam, both of their interpretations lead to drastically different results, with Baba being portrayed as a relative moderate in the eyes of our society today, and Assef ending up as a hypocritical, drug intoxicated, sadistic member of the Taliban movement. The stark contrast serves as a means by which to mark the extreme ends of the Afghan society...
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