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Rohullah Amin "Dehumanizing Stereotypes of the ‘Other’ in Afghan Ethnic Relations”

On January 26th, 2015, Dr. Rohullah Amin, director of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies in Kabul, gave a talk entitled “Dehumanizing Stereotypes of the ‘Other’ in Afghan Ethnic Relations64% of all Afghans currently live with some form of mental illness. Certainly, in this post-war society still racked with interethnic conflict, this number is not entirely surprising.  But as a psychiatrist might tell you, there are tangible, negative effects of untreated mental illness on individuals. Extending and exploring these effects within a society are not new ideas: memory and trauma studies have already begun theorizing as to what constitutes communal trauma and what communal responses it elicits. But whereas many of these theories draw from historical, literary, and rhetorical analyses, few have used ethnographic or survey work.

 Dr. Amin, however, conducted survey research in Afghanistan to find out more about stereotypes among different ethnic groups. As Dr. Amin himself pointed out,  this approach is not without its flaws,. However, this ambitious undertaking is already yielding positive results. In a talk at Indiana University on January 26th, he shared some of his detailed findings.

Afghanistan is a diverse country with a number of ethnic groups: Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Balochis among many others. While these groups share many similarities and a cohesive Afghanistani identity, they speak different languages and have their own unique cultural practices. Historically, there have been some tensions among these groups resulting in stereotypes still found today in common speech like idioms and jokes. In Dr. Amin’s research, these idioms share one key commonality: in Afghanistan, the harshest and most personal insults are directed towards one’s family instead of one’s own self. Not only does this vary from standard American constructions of self-worth, but it reflects a greater emphasis on communal identification.

Given the region’s history, it should not be surprising that these group identities are mired in centuries of (sometimes hostile) interactions with each other (explaining, for example, relations between the Pashtun and Uzbek or the Pashtun and Hazaras). Layered on top of ethnicity are further stereotypes that focus on gender/sexuality and a group’s location (like in various cities or in urban/rural areas).

In addition are myriad other contemporary factors that are recharging these identities and reshaping stereotypes today. One of the biggest ones is the construction of a modern Afghanistani identity and its claim to a sense of postwar solidarity. Dr. Amin pointed out that local media are helping make strides in bettering ethnic relations.

This event was sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs and the School of Global and International Studies.