Citizens and the Quest for Equality
Rangin Dadfar Spanta
The notion of differentiating between tribes and nomads and using these differences as a justification for humiliation has been around for a long time. This was especially prevalent during the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, where there was a clear distinction between Arabs and non-Arabs, and various forms of discrimination were commonplace. However, the modern concept of racism as we know it today can be traced back to the modern age and the ideas of Joseph Arthur de Gobineau. Nowadays, racism is distinct from the ancient practice of slavery, where discrimination was directed at family members and others. Modern racism can be divided into three distinct historical periods.
1- Racism became a systematic part of colonialism and developed into the ideology of sovereignty. Even great scientists and philosophers such as Kant, Montesquieu, and many wise men of the Enlightenment era were not immune to it. On one hand, it is a tarnished and disgraced side of dialectical modernity, while on the other, rationalism and enlightenment have been associated with it. In this era, concepts of superior and inferior races and ‘peoples without history’ (Hegel) were proposed as a modern and codified ideology to justify the legitimacy of European white sovereignty. White men saw themselves as the messengers of civilization and the liberation of humanity, and used this ideology to invade other lands, bringing cannons and holy books to ‘civilize’ the ‘barbarians’ (wild and uncivilized people). This time, however, it was done with a modern ideology, using the knowledge of biology, anthropology, philosophy, etc.
2- With the rise of German National Socialism and Italian fascism in the early 20th century, anti-Semitism emerged as a form of racism, which was the main element of these ideologies. This period saw the most systematic ideology of biological racism, which was more aggressive in German fascism than in Italian. Knowledge was used to justify racial theories, with German universities measuring heads, determining the color of human hair and skin, and measuring the length and width of noses. This led to the systematization of the terrible theory of biological superiority and racial dominance, which was founded by fascist jurists and philosophers using natural knowledge and illusions in the guise of knowledge to ‘academize’ the existence of the superior race. As a result, peoples and nations with a single root, a single origin, Aryan blood, and people with blue eyes and golden hair were deemed the superior race. The ‘biological’ reasons for the superiority of the Aryan race over all existing races were then explained and spread. Racism ranked all human beings, with the Germans, followed by the peoples of the Scandinavian countries and others, at the top of the Aryan race pyramid, and blacks and Jews at the bottom.
The intellectuals and historians of Reza Shah’s era introduced this type of racism into Iranian discourses, which eventually spread to Afghanistan. The inhabitants of the land had created the glorious and old civilization of Greater Iran through their thoughts, work, and struggle, though it had nothing to do with Iranian (Aryan) blood and race. Some Iranian nationalists have since then limited this ancient civilization to the geographical area of current Iran and to the Iranian (Iranian-Aryan) people in terms of descent. In reality, all inhabitants of cultural Iran, Iranian, Turanian, and others, contributed to its creation. Turani sages played a significant role in the glorious creation of Iranian culture, yet they were considered a nation, especially with the return to the trans-ethnic civilizational language (Persian). This idea was then transformed into an ideology of ethnicizing the Afghan nation in a very primitive way, with a kind of de-Persianization. At the same time, another trend emerged from the ‘Left’ which had a great impact on our historical discourse.
The Bolshevik Revolution’s victory in Russia in 1997 caused the Communists to consider how to handle the colonial lands of the time. One of the first wise decisions of the Bolsheviks was to recognize the independence of the Tsarist Russian colonies and annul all colonial agreements with other countries. As a result, the eastern parts of Turkey were returned to the country, Russia withdrew from the plan to divide the Middle East (West Asia) after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat, the colonial pressure was removed from Iran, and Bolshevik Russia acknowledged the independence of Afghanistan and the Republic of Turkey. In 1920, the ‘Congress of the Peoples of the East’ was held in Baku. During this period, Georgian Stalin had the responsibility of the People’s Commissariat in the Communist government. Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, gave a speech, and the principle of ‘determining the destiny of peoples’ was recognized. These slogans, which had been included in the international social democracy struggles many years prior, became one of the anti-colonial demands after this congress.
In a short writing, Lenin stated that in a pamphlet titled ‘Marxism and the National Question’, Stalin discussed the issue of the right to self-determination of nations and solving national problems. This pamphlet made Stalin one of the most prominent theorists of the communist world at the time. Communists used to tell stories, anecdotes, and quote from this pamphlet to persuade others. For decades, Lenin and Stalin’s perception of these issues shaped the discourse of the right to determine the fate of nations and concepts such as nation and nationality. In the political literature of Afghanistan, the term ‘condemned nationalities’ is a legacy of this era, which was later replaced by the word ‘ethnic’ due to the influence of neoliberalism, opposition to the literature, and concepts left by intellectuals. As a result, ethnic groups were registered in the country’s constitution in 2004. Many may rightly consider this a step forward in the identity of the Pashtun people to prevent their ethnic dissolution. On the other hand, the failed religious model of Lebanon entered Afghanistan’s system as ethnic groups (we know that in the failed political system of Lebanon, the Christian president, the Sunni prime minister, and the speaker of the parliament must be Shia).
The Bolsheviks maintained control over Central Asia and the Caucasus, without any discussion of the right to self-determination until the formation of independent national governments. Subsequently, Stalin formed the countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan from the Emirate of Bukhara, where Persian was the cultural and international language. Similarly, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (which appeared to be autonomous Soviet republics) were created from the nomadic khanates of Kyrgyz and Kazakhs.
Bolshevik literature from the left, fascist literature from the right, and Iranian antiquity all had an influence on the historiography of Afghanistan. Even esteemed and freedom-loving historians contributed to the formation of the nation of Afghanistan before the emergence of modern nations and the reductionism and Afghanization of concepts such as feudal socio-economic formation. Historiography in Afghanistan also evolved into the history of class struggles. Professor Habibi used historicism to describe Pashtun archaism as ideologies. The Malalai of Maiwand myth and numerous other poets and writers were introduced by the book Pata Khazāna, which was accompanied by demythologizing and de-historicizing in dealing with the Persian speakers of the country, disregarding or underestimating the shared history of our cultural field. The totality of trans-ethnic and inter-ethnic civilizations of Iran and Khorasan became a geographical part of Iran. It was as if Afghanistan had been turned upside down overnight, with the kings and Amirs of the land, including the father of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, referring to themselves as the Amirs of Khorasan. For example, on the headstone of Amir Afzal Khan was written the father of Amir Abdul Rahman:
The two regiments of East and West were described together
Amir Malik of Khorasan became Amir Afzal
Gul Mohammad in praise of Amir Abdurrahman Khan, says:
The Lord of Khorasan is brave
His name is spread all over the world
Malik al-Shu’ara (poet laureate) of Amir Abdurrahman Khan, Mirza Shirahamd Jalalabadi wrote a satire about his cousin Amir Ishaq Khan. part of it says:
There is no more place for you in Khorasan
O donkey, take it easy on the way to Iraq
I do not intend to deny Afghanistan’s history; rather, I wish to emphasize that this land has a shared cultural and civilizational heritage with other nations in Central Asia and modern Iran, spanning both mythical and historical eras. We must not reject our land’s past and deny a significant portion of our civilization through tribalism and racism.
3- With the defeat of fascism, the peak of civil movements, and the rise of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements in the second half of the 20th century, particularly in light of the difficulties faced by immigrants in European countries at the end of the last century, biological racism was replaced by cultural racism. Nowadays, with the exception of certain less developed countries such as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, where its educated generation still supports biological racism by advocating blood and lineage, it is difficult for developed countries to support biological racism. This is due to the bloody experiences of fascism, the advances in evolutionary theories, the negation of races based on biology, the progress of non-Europeans such as those from East and Southeast Asia, and the rejection of the white race’s supremacy myth, which make it impossible for people to advocate biological racism. As a result, cultural racism has taken the place of biological racism in the discourse of European and North American racism.
Today’s racists in Europe have outlined various positions of cultures in opposition to rationalism, enlightenment, women’s rights, human rights, and religiosity, as if European civilization, the inheritor of the Greek (classical), Jewish and Christian tradition, is the only culture that is able to be adapted and modified. On the other hand, citizens of Islamic countries are portrayed as being unalterable, irrational, and ignorant. The truth is that European civilization is not timeless, and its evolution is not only the result of enlightened people’s opinions, but also a consequence of a series of violent events. In other words, millions of people have been sacrificed in order to reach this stage. This interpretation was accepted by fundamentalists, Muslim extremists, and supporters of cultural relativism. However, since most of today’s ruling discourses come from the West, the discourse of cultural racism also emerged, and people were divided into civilizing and barbaric cultures. The forms of this approach are very varied, but at its core, there is still a kind of Eurocentric trend, which geographically includes Western Europe, North America, and Oceania. The majority of the people in these regions are white and Christian, and some of their scholars played a crucial role in initiating colonial disasters, world wars, and the formation of fascism.
Racism is not the only issue faced by rulers and governments. There are numerous racist individuals, groups, and organizations around the world, including in Afghanistan. In modern democratic Europe, the main proponents of racist ideology are typically out-of-power and opposition movements that are attempting to bring about a revolution from the right. In Europe today, the lower classes of society are disproportionately affected by racism. Furthermore, the notion that anti-discrimination activists cannot be racist in their efforts to combat systemic racism is often incorrect.
In the civil rights movement of African Americans, both progressive and anti-racist whites were present, and Martin Luther King Jr. never attempted to exclude them from their ranks. Similarly, in the African National Congress (ANC), both whites and anti-apartheid blacks fought together. Denis Goldberg, a white member of the South African Communist Party, was a close comrade of Nelson Mandela, who spent many years in prison in the struggle against apartheid. However, despite its own experiences of atrocity, Idi Amin’s movement in Uganda eventually became a racist regime. Similarly, local racists in present-day Afghanistan limit the ranks of progressives and justice-seekers to those of a certain ethnicity or descent.
In their youth, Pashtun, Qizilbash, Hazara, Uzbek, Tajik, and other freedom fighters united to fight for democracy, justice, and against ethnic discrimination. While I do not wish to defend those ideologies, it is worth noting that their people were united by their beliefs, not their race. In the past, ethnicization of politics was not a factor in any progressive political movement in Afghanistan. However, it is now practically impossible to create trans–ethnic movements.
When one of the anti–Pashtun intellectuals realized that I, a Persian–speaking individual, did not accept race as a scientific concept and ethnocentrism as a governing or liberating ideology, they referred to me as “a person of no origin!”
In the literature on anti–racism, intellectuals and educated people formulate and systematize racism as a powerful and hegemonic system of theories. While the masses may spread hatred, engage in violence, and take up arms, they are unable to formulate coherent theories. This allows oppression to be transformed into racism and anti–racism as an ideology, which is then protected from criticism. These intellectuals produce theories that deny people of their humanity and connection with other human beings. In Afghanistan, the Enlightenment Movement did not receive the necessary support due to the descent and weight of technicism. Even today, the lack of support from like–minded Pashtun fighters for the freedom–loving movements in Afghanistan, such as those in Panjshir and Andrab against the Taliban, can be attributed to the problem of extreme genealogy of politics. The fall of internationalist communists from the left and nationalist and internationalist Islamists from the right can be seen as a form of racism.
In contemporary discourses of nationalism, it is possible to identify four types of macro–nationalism when taking into account the differences.
1- The concept of ethnic nationalism or descent nationalism is the idea that a single nation should be composed of a homogenous group of people with a single ethnic origin. This ideology is based on the German discourse of the nation and is reflected in the laws and political literature of some countries in the region. It has been implemented in the legal systems of countries such as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, leading to ongoing tensions. In Afghanistan, all members of the nation are either Afghans (Pashtuns) or Afghanized. The interpretation of Afghan in the executive perception and distribution of power resources and public goods is ethnic and not citizenship, which I believe is the root of the problem. According to the laws of Turkey, all Turks of the world are members of the Turkish nation and all Pashtuns of the world are considered members of the Afghan nation, which is clearly contradictory.
There is no nation in the world where descent is not an ideological illusion rather than an objective reality. In this era of global communication and diversity, accompanied by a heightened sense of identity, it is impossible to include the ‘others‘ within the units of descent without resorting to permanent separation and an eternal conflict rooted in the ideology of domination. The collapse of countries is not due to a foreign conspiracy or the actions of a few traitors, but rather to the rule of repressive ideologies that seek to force the assimilation of cultural and social units, leading to public dissatisfaction and creating the conditions for conflicts, wars, disintegration, and even interventions and conspiracies.
2- The notion of a cultural nation emphasizes shared linguistic, literary, artistic, and general cultural traits. According to this perspective, all individuals with French civilization, language, and culture are considered part of the French nation. This idea was the prevailing belief among French nationalist circles, at least until the Algerian liberation movement’s victory.
3- The nation–state theory is not supported by the aforementioned indicators. From this perspective, the foundation of a nation is the presence of a government. This government can promote individuals of a single race or culture to the nation–state. During the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan from 2002–2020, the dominant discourse of nation–building was a combination of this notion and the interpretation of ethnic nationalism, which was heavily influenced by the literature of the liberal Anglo–Saxon political system. Many of Afghanistan‘s academic elites are still heavily influenced by this idea, the only difference being that some emphasize the concept of the descent nation while others emphasize the concept of the cultural nation.
4- Citizen Nation is based on the tradition of normative democratization, which emphasizes individual rights, freedoms, equal conditions, and opportunities to participate in political processes while preserving collective identities. This theory respects the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity of people, and does not subject the identity diversity of society‘s citizens to dissolution. Instead, people in a specific geography decide their democratic politics within the framework of a social contract. Contrary to the common misconception, the theories of democracy based on the constitution are not only for explaining and guaranteeing the desires of the majority and leaving the affairs of the society in the hands of politicians. In other words, the decisions and actions of the majority of citizens are democratic when they are made within the framework of the basic principles proposed according to the rule introduced in the democratic constitution.
The legitimacy of citizens‘ government is established when the actions of government institutions are subject to the law. The concept of the rule of law is thus legitimized in such a political and legal context. The purpose of having a constitution is to protect society from the potential harm caused by the majority’s unrest, emotions, and biases, by adhering to the law and rights system. This principle became especially important after the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s, which was able to gain power by using democratic tools such as elections. Therefore, the decisions of the majority do not automatically have legal legitimacy, but become legitimized when adopted within the framework of the constitution. To ensure this, democratic countries establish various restrictions to prevent the abolition of democracy and the right of people to rule through democracy.
In my opinion, Afghanistan can have a united future if it renounces the belief of creating an ethnocentric country and instead embraces the values and principles of a nation of citizens that enshrines all the social and cultural rights and freedoms of men and women regardless of race, language, religion, and gender. However, considering the experience of a century of rule–based struggles in our country, this is not possible unless the people of the districts and localities are allowed to decide on the organization of their local affairs based on the principle of free elections within the macropolitical framework and the unified national legal system. Furthermore, the organization, procedure, and executives of the government should be chosen based on rational and worldly principles and not ethnic or religious.
No country in the world has collapsed as a result of the implementation of freedom, justice, and equality. On the other hand, attempting to erase identities, ignoring discrimination, prejudice, and the homogenization of societies, and attempting to create mono–ethnic nations will lead to the collapse of countries. It is not possible to keep nations united by force or to make them think the same. This is an ideal plan that can be achieved in the long run. It is important to note that there is a significant distinction between idealism and ideology. Certain ideals can be implemented through the democratic process, although this is a difficult and lengthy process that requires strategic patience.