How Discrimination Against Shi’a Muslims Mirrors a Country’s Wrongful Assumptions
The novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini discusses alienation, and it reveals that the bigotry and disparity between various religious beliefs and ethnic/ physical features of groups of people are typically a direct reflection of the cultural, social, and economic conditions of the surrounding society. Hosseini’s work discusses the concept of ethnic discrimination in Afghanistan by constantly reminding the readers of the rigid divide in treatment between the Pashtun and Hazara people. Afghans who classify themselves as Hazara practice an Islamic sect, and face intolerance as Shi’a Muslims. This group of Muslims are considered minorities among Afghanistan’s majority Islamic faction, Sunni Muslims. Amir, the main protagonist in this novel, practices Sunni Islam, while his best friend, Hassan, is a Shi’a Muslim. Throughout the story, Hassan experiences an exorbitant amount of discrimination, oppression, and hardship simply because of his unpopular religious views and ethnicity, and it eventually reaches a point where this said oppression seemingly has no limit and no end in sight. Adversity constantly weighs on Hassan as a result of uncontrollable situations, and the torment he faces while living in Afghanistan depicts both the society’s moral values and further explains the prejudice he endures on a daily basis. The most authentic and vulnerable evidence of not only Hassan’s hardship and suffering, but that of most Hazara Afghan people, derives from two of Hassan’s life changing moments: his rape and his death.
Although both Shia and Sunni Muslims are subsections of Islam that share vast similarities, both groups possess a seemingly unreasonable amount of hatred for the other. Even at a young age, Afghani children know the difference between majority and minority, and their social and cultural assumptions of the minority Islamic faction result in nothing but violence— physical, emotional, and otherwise. Bullied by a young Pashtun (Sunni Muslim), Assef, as a child, Hassan quickly learns that “religion plays an important role in many [Afghan] lives” (AmirDabbaghian and Solimany 2). In Kabul, Afghanistan, home of both Hassan and Amir, children participate in “kite fights”, where kites soar through the skies in masses— their strings coated in small bits and shards of glass, ready to cut away at the string of an opponent’s kite. When a kite’s string is cut, the wind carries it away, and other children chase after it to collect the prize; they are subsequently named kite runners. Hassan works as Amir’s kite runner, and during a tournament where Amir cuts the last kite in the sky, Hassan dashes after it, only to soon be cornered in a grimy alley by Assef and his friends. What follows suit is sadistic and an act of absolute degradation, and through Assef’s unwarranted rape of Hassan, readers witness that to many Shi’a Muslims, “oppression [became] almost ritualistic” in Afghan culture (Hosseini and Jones 3). This undesired and aggressive incursion upon Hassan further defines the hatred-fueled separation and oppression of the Hazara Afghans. A society in which a child rapes another child with the sole justification of religious hatred is presumptively on a dark path to economic, social, and cultural turmoil. As a result of nothing but his ethnicity and religious preference, Hassan is alienated from groups of children his age, and acts as a transparent demonstration of Afghanistan’s near-arbitrary assumptions and hatred of minority Islamic classes. Ultimately, due to the increasing agitation and frailty of the entire country, the Taliban comes to power, increasing already-present threats to minority groups, murdering women and children, and presently displaying that “the tribe-based racism that motivated Assef’s attack [on Hassan]…is for Hosseini the key to Afghanistan’s self-destruction” (Conlogue 2).
Amir and his father, Baba, leave their house for Hassan to maintain when they depart to the United States for better social and economic opportunities. During this time, the Taliban obtains an exorbitant amount of authority throughout Afghanistan by means of violence, utter tyranny, and the continued hatred and opposition of certain Muslim sects. Hassan, now an adult, spends most days keeping to himself in the family home, but the tranquility of his nearly reclusive lifestyle is soon disrupted by a small clan of Taliban members who arrive on his street, loaded weapons in tote. Understanding that Hassan is not the owner of Amir’s home, they rip him out of the house and demand answers to why he, a Shi’a, is residing in the home of Sunni Muslims, and ultimately, Hassan loses his life in that moment to the Taliban’s unrequited, deeply rooted hatred for minorities and desire to complete a process of “ethnic cleansing through religion” (Hosseini 134). Hazaras are profoundly discriminated against, and as a result of the “political change throughout the book [that] influenced people in Afghanistan”, no Muslims, Shi’a or Sunni, are willing to step forward and defend Hassan in the final moments before his sadistic, baseless, public execution (AmirDabbaghian and Solimany 1). Plenty of Afghan people understand that this unlikely circumstance is nothing more than murder through unsolicited hatred and, therefore, an act of pure injustice, but not a single soul dared to “risk anything for [a] … Hazara servant” (Hosseini 104). If Hassan were a Sunni Muslim, the possibility of his fate remaining identical would significantly decrease; the fact that his life is ripped out of his hands and completely disposed of in a matter of seconds is deplorable, and the idea that he would still be alive if he were not a minority is sickening and a genuine representation of the chaotic society that bigoted views and assumptions create.
The basic alienation and intolerance of Shi’a Muslims in Afghanistan perpetuates an ideology of normality regarding bigotry. Specifically, Hassan’s rape and eventual death are both results of the extreme oppression he battles from other Afghans who practice the majority, or favored, Islamic sect. It is simply assumed that due to ethnic background or religious preference, an accurate, tangible assumption of an entire group of people can be made, though this is far from the truth. Hassan does nothing but openly accepts his fate as a Hazara, quickly learning at a young age that others around him will perpetually view him as wildly more expendable than a Pashtun. The complexity and terminal anguish of his narrative reveals the hatred-infused ideologies that drive deep into the chaotic core of Afghanistan’s culture. Concepts of bigotry and constant alienation are not frowned upon by most, for they are not openly discussed or acknowledged ? instead, they act as a driving force in both the life of Hassan’s character and a reader’s overall perception of the society which surrounds him.