Today I am very pleased to introduce you to the delightful Susan Froetschel, who will take MIE readers to a brand new location--Afghanistan. I met Susan because we shared a panel together at Malice Domestic. She is the author of five mystery books. Her Fear of Beauty – about a fictional Afghan village bullied by a band of extremists and the woman who resists – was a nominee for the 2014 Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award, Mystery Writers of America. Her next book, Allure of Deceit, will be published by Seventh Street Books in February. Based in Michigan, she writes for YaleGlobal Online, based at Yale University’s MacMillan Center. A review in Calliope noted: “For readers numbed by a decade of news reports from war-torn Afghanistan, Froetschel provides a fascinating glimpse into life in a humble village… The magic of reading this book is that we become Sofi, and we leave better for the experience.” Here is her take on a plight of women in a place that has been wartorn for decades.
In countries like Afghanistan or Nigeria, it takes only a few to terrorize entire communities with brutal attacks on schools, police, or courts. The victims, so often women or children, cannot follow the old advice to ignore bullies and walk away.
Research on religious bullying tends to focus on varying beliefs among religions or sects. One definition describes religious bullying as “repeated acts of aggression in which the power of institutional religion is used to mock, humiliate, or threaten others who do not share the same religious beliefs or practices.”
Nations dominated by one religion are not immune from such bullying. Competition for power turns into a self-righteous effort to be “holier than the rest” and insistence that no alternative points of view exist. Adult bullies may take on the role of teacher, “disguising demeaning and cruel behavior as appropriate disciplinary responses,” suggests David R. Dupper in School Bullying: New Perspectives on a Growing Problem.
Women in Afghanistan must worry about the Taliban and other extremists having any role in government. “The Taliban has turned into Frankenstein’s monster; a few crumbs will not satiate it,” writes Kamila Hyat for the News International in Pakistan. “Perhaps this is why those who are ‘pro-talks’ have not said what their formula for a compromise would be or how they plan to tame a monster which is growing stronger as we hum and haw over what to do with it.” She warns that communities that don’t speak out against bullying can expect to see their communities weakened.
Without zero tolerance, bullying spreads.
In their quest for power, bullies target both the weak and successful. Bullying is repeated, intentional and can escalate, warns a National Centre Against Bullying in Australia brochure, printed in several languages. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry describes some warning signs: Bullies thrive on controlling others with physical or verbal responses. The bullies are insecure and often have a history of being bullied themselves. Many claim they are under attack even as they bully others, trying to achieve power.
Unfortunately, experts such as those at BullyingStatistics.org admit that little can be done about adult bullies even in the West: The bullies “are not interested in working things out and they are not interested in compromise. Rather, adult bullies are more interested in power and domination. They want to feel as though they are important and preferred, and they accomplish this by bringing others down. There is very little you can do to change an adult bully, beyond working within the confines of laws…”
Rule of law is shaky in Afghanistan. About 80 percent of criminal and civil disputes in Afghanistan are resolved by small and informal community forums rather than official courts, the U.S. Institute of Peace has reported, and the track record of protecting the vulnerable can be hit or miss. In hostile communities, the vulnerable cannot count on enforcement or justice.
Research suggests that influencing the onlookers to speak up and resist may be more effective than containing the bullies. “There is increasing agreement among researchers and policymakers that interventions against bullying should be targeted at the peer group level rather than at individual bullies and victims,” notes Christina Salmivalli for Education.com. The professor of psychology at the University of Turku, Finland, writes about children but the principles apply to the marginalized adults, often insecure, who also try to control through bullying. When onlookers don’t speak up, the bullies view that as acceptance of their behavior. “Converting their already existing attitudes into behaviour is a challenging task, but it might nevertheless be a more realistic goal,” Salmivalli explains.
Those who oppose the bullying culture must resist, finding supportive bystanders and speaking out together. Parents must raise their children to detest the swaggering tendencies, in others and themselves. Fortunately, members of the Taliban may number no more than 75,000, relatively few in a country of more than 30 million people. Many join the Taliban movement for economic rather than ideological reasons or are coerced.
Unless communities identify the controlling behavior and resist it together, spreading courage and support, bullying can become entrenched among some adults. A recent Duke University linked bullying with risk of psychological disorders in adulthood. A 2006 Canadian study of adolescents suggests that identification of the bullies and awareness can ease the reinforcing dynamics.
Social media has taken a lead in identifying and labeling religious bullying for what it is – cruel power grabs. A swell of global support for any one community helps all under attack by bullies.
Young women train as midwifes in Nigeria, with support from Great Britain
Students share books in Helmand.