Friday, 14 December 2012

The Cultural balance

-originally written 9th Decemeber 2012

by Peymana Assad

Many Afghans living in the west would class themselves as political refugees, forced to leave their homeland because of continuous war. We came here in the hope of finding peace, education and the freedom to practice our religion without being persecuted. That is exactly what we found but there have been a few things that we have had to fight harder to keep, our culture. Culture is not just confined to speaking an Afghan language or following the customs set by it, according to Afghan tradition it is also marrying an Afghan. Marriage in the Afghan community in the west is slowly starting to bring up different problems, though some may see this topic as controversial , let us not deny there are underlying issues here that is our duty as Afghans to uncover.

A continuing number of Afghan girls and boys are returning to Afghanistan and choosing a life partner from there, bringing the problems of their partners finding it difficult to assimilate into British Afghan culture. Whilst others choose to marry a non Afghan putting into question the importance of culture as a whole. Whether you see these two occurrences as problematic or not, I want to ask why is this happening?

Speaking to the parents of these children and the children themselves they claim there are no well educated and cultured Afghans left in the west. The boys claim the girls living in the west have lost their culture and become too westernised, whilst the girls claim the same problem in the men. However this is not true. Afghans are not behind other ethnic communities living here, we are just as educated and cultured as them, if not more. Then why are those claims so difficult to ignore and who is to blame?

The blame falls on us, the Afghan community as a whole.

The problem is not that we are losing our culture living in western countries. It is because we are failing in moderating between our culture and western culture. Parents don’t know how to find the balance. They are either extremely demanding of their children or not at all. Those parents who are strict, have high demands in education and social conduct from their children, risking pushing them away from embracing Afghan culture and pursuing successful professions of their own choice. In comparison to those who are very relaxed with their rules, who fail to teach their children the importance of holding onto culture and its significance for the future of their community.

Living in Britain, Afghan children have the opportunity to be something other than a doctor, engineer or teacher, leading a comfortable lifestyle is no longer confined to a certain profession. They also want the opportunity to use social networking sites, go out to the cinema with friends and interact with classmates, which are of the opposite sex, without being punished for it. You cannot expect your child to pursue the career choice you want nor can you expect them not to want the same freedoms as other children their age.

It is these social pressures that confine Afghan youth to seeing Afghan culture as suffocating and western culture as liberating. Leading to a wave of youth that dislike their culture, only pursue education to a satisfactory level rather than the ability they could have and push for more social freedom by causing friction with their parents. And this adds up. In the future it is these children that are sent to Afghanistan to find a life partner or end up themselves choosing to marry a non Afghan, bringing a wave of other problems.

If we want the next generation to admire Afghan culture then we must find moderation between ourselves and the western society that we face. Balance is essential, not only for the health of a community but for the mind of the community.

A Chinese proverb says that if you hold a fish too tight it will fall out of your grasp and if you hold it too loose it will also fall out of your grasp. The Afghan child is the fish we are holding. We need to grasp it in such a way that it stays with us but is also content being there. For if we fail in this test, any hopes of future generations one day returning to their homeland will also fade.

- The writer recently completed my MA at Kings College London and tweets at @PeymanaAssad
- Original BBC Pashto Column

- Translated BBC Urdu Column

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