So, this is the first of my series on my experiences in virtual Pashtun communities. I don't mean to make them sound ill - they're not. They're just not for me. (NOTE: I'm referring here to only one particular forum that I was active in for over a year, but I left it last week for reasons I'll explain below in this post and in the ones to come soon.) I'll explain as I write more. I won't give links to the last forum, the one I left, for obvious reasons, unless you're a researcher and are sincerely interested in knowing what goes on in the online Pashtun world, in which case I will e-mail you the link to the one that compelled me to start this series and to write on online Pashtun communities.
But, still, I feel like I "need" to be involved in them as a researcher. But not the one that's currently the most active one. I am hopeful, quite desperately, for the one before this particular one to revive again.; it was called Chai Khana. That website is currently not functioning, and almost all of the people I know whom I met on that previous one miss it and know that nothing, no other community can ever replace that one. I am one of them, and we've been creating petitions to beg--like, literally BEG-- the owner of that site to renew it. so far, it's all been in vain, but, hey, you never know.
This is just an intro, so don't mind the disorganized thoughts.
Basically, as I pointed out in my post "Research Ideas: Online Pashtun Communities," there's a whole new "culture" out there online for Pashtuns. Most of the users of these communities seem to based outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan, so it becomes particularly important for the current and upcoming generations. Why? Because new ideas and thoughts and values are being perpetrated through the Internet, and the division between the Pashtuns of Pakistan/Afghanistan and those abroad continues to grow. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'm not concerned with that. I'm only interested in what exactly that means for the future of my people.
For many Pashtuns who use these communities, I have observed, their interaction with Pashtuns online is the only access they have to their culture, people, history, origin. Many of us go there to revisit our language, which not all of us speak in our homes with our families. Others go there just to chill. And this matters because not all of us are fortunate/unfortunate enough to live among Pashtuns in the west. Where I live, for example, there are very few Pashtun families, and they're not united enough for me to feel as if I can interact with them any time I like. There are also always fears of "what will they say behind my back to other families?" (As you might know, this is common with many eastern families, not just Pashtuns.) So, we, especially females, are often forced to behave and look and think differently when around them, which creates a feeling of discomfort and unease. The Qrratugai that I am, this doesn't always go well with moi! hah. But online? Well, theoretically, you can be whatever you want to be behind the screen, even pose as someone of the opposite gender to achieve whatever goals you might have. Or can/do you? As my friend Hina once noted, even though Pashtun women have this excellent opportunity when online to say *whatever* they want without facing any consequences, even though they can speak their minds without revealing their real identities, most don't appear to be doing so. Hina and I find this very interesting and worth exploring. What is it that still prevents them from speaking their minds? That's not to claim by any means, though, that no Pashtun woman online does that. No, a lot of them do -- it's just not common, and when it does happen, it's not appreciated much, especially by males. (By the way: When I joined the very first Pashtun forum ever, back in October 2008, there were questions about my gender. For a while, no one wanted to believe that I was female. They said that if I'm a female, then I'm not a Pashtun; if I'm Pashtun, then I'm not female because Pashtun women are (supposedly) too submissive to talk the way I do. hah. In the one I left last week, there were obviously questions about my religious beliefs. hah. More on this soon, I promise.)
I'm saying all this to show that these communities have become an integral part of the lives of many Pashtuns who use them. For some Pashtuns, the only Pashtuns they know in real life are the ones they meet online and exchange contact information with if they trust them enough and become lifelong friends. I know several like this. For a large number of Pashtuns, also, both women and men, it is via these communities that they meet their life partner. In another post later on, I will talk about how exactly (and how cleverly) they later go about marrying that person, as I know of a few who have done this. And, while some like to see this as an affront to traditional Pashtun values, which require that the elders find our marraige mate for us, others realize the necessity of this trend: Because there are not enough or any Pashtuns around in their "real" lives, or the ones who are around are not suitable for them, it makes all the sense in the world to expect to marry someone you met on these forums or discussion groups who shares your interests and understands and respects you and later, if is male, sends rishta, to your parents' house -- that is, to ask for your hand in marriage through his parents. Of course, if you dare to enter any of these forums with the intention of finding a life partner, you WILL be screwed, kicked out, abused, humiliated, and simply ridiculed in every other possible way. And, so, smart people don't do that.
Oh, and, although I'll explain this in another post I'll be writing for this series, I have to mention this: when they meet online, the couples never make it known to the public, especially to their parents, because their parents won't let them marry then. I'll explain why this is so later on. But for now, just know that online communities have become important in several ways, not just for sharing information about Pashtuns and learning about our culture/people, etc. Their roles, and the importance of their roles, become obvious and appreciated, I think, once one enters them and observes what goes on there, what people say to each other, what people discuss there, how debates are handled, how each gender is treated and presented and represented, and so on. And it's for these reasons that I find them very fascinating for myself and enjoy looking around them.
I have stopped, however, participating in the last one I was a part of. Why? Because they didn't know how to handle me. They too frequently misunderstood what I was saying, and it's not like what I "meant" to say was misunderstood: it's that what I *said* was understood. And the reason they misunderstood was that they're not used to Pashtun women who are like me: I question, I reason, I think; I am critical, and I don't shy away from making it known to them that there's more than one way of reading and seeing and interpreting something that they dismiss as wrong just because they lack the ability to understand it a different way. And so, what almost everyone there, including the "administration" (i.e., the moderators and administrators), resorted to doing eventually when they could no longer handle the criticism they were receiving by having me be so active on there was to ridicule and mock me as much as possible so that I eventually was compelled to say, "To hell with you jerks. Delete my account from here. You really don't deserve to have me here." And the admin finally deleted me, albeit reluctantly ... well, reluctantly 'cause he knew that if I left, the forum would lose much of the diversity that's crucial to a forum as active as that one. (By the way, according to the admin there, he got a lot of complaints about me from "big Pashtun media people" (what the hell?) because of what I said on there... and it's not like I didn't know how to present my views to my audience: it's only that they didn't know how to respond to our differences; I sort of infringed on their artificial sense of "unity," which, to them, unfortunately means having the exact same opinions! To be in a surrounding where everyone thinks the same way is hell for me, k, damnit?!So, supposedly, even some big media people complained about me ... and never to me, mind you! Only to the admin. Being myself, I dismissed that as amusing, and I still do.)
Anyway, you get the idea: I left it because it was not a hospitable environment for me. It may be a totally different experience for you, I don't know. But for me? I'd be crazy to ever return there, other than to observe and pity most of the people there and to learn from the few ones whose immense knowledge I admire.
My posts for the series of my experiences in online Pashtun communities will include the following:
~ Why I left the last forum I was active in
~ What my very, very first experience on any online Pashtun community was like
~ Why and how I was "demoted" from the position of a moderator on one of these communities
~ How Pashtun women are (re)presented in these communities
~ Pashtun nationalism and the virtual world
More later, ka khairee.