Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghans Question Own Culture of Hospitality ; When Should a Foreign Guest No Longer Be Welcome?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghans Question Own Culture of Hospitality ; When Should a Foreign Guest No Longer Be Welcome?

Article excerpt

Many displaced families living in the squalid tent camp outside this dusty desert town near Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan are so destitute, they have to boil grass and brush to make tea.

Yet, when a foreign reporter arrives at the Kum Kushloq camp - home to about 8,000 desperately poor people who have escaped Taliban rule in the south - refugee Palawan Abdul Rashid insists on sharing a pot of the steaming brew his veiled wife has just prepared.

"It is a great honor to have a foreign guest in my home," he says with a sweep of his hands across his canvas tent.

Afghans across this war-devastated country take great pride in showing visitors - especially foreign ones - effusive hospitality. Thus, refugees like Mr. Rashid will invite a reporter to join his family of 14 for dinner, even though they subsist on foreign donations of wheat, cooking oil, and what they can scavenge from surrounding fields.

Understanding the importance of this time-honored tradition among the Afghan people is crucial to comprehending the Taliban view in terms of its current impasse with the United States over Osama bin Laden. Taliban leaders are refusing to hand over the Saudi extremist, whom US authorities are calling the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks on Washington and New York. The Taliban call Mr. bin Laden a foreign guest who helped their nation - mainly with his vast financial resources and connections to Islamic extremist groups - in Afghanistan's time of need during the 1980s, when the mujahideen were battling Soviet invaders.

The Taliban, which has claimed up until now to be curtailing bin Laden's communications with the outside world, say those restrictions - and any others on him - have ended. They say this move is justified by the US-led air assault against Afghanistan. …

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