Khaled Hosseini is an Afghan-born American novelist. He has written four novels The Kite Runner(2003), A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007), And the Mountains Echoed (2013), and Sea Prayer (2018). These novels portray the real circumstance of Afghanistan to the world and stand as evidence for how morality and honesty are degraded by political conflicts and by social and economical conditions. His novels deal with the social, economic, religious, and political issues of Afghanistan and the plots are knitted with political, social, and historical events including ethnic differences and religious controversies. The background and the life events in the novels mirror the real history of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a multiethnic society. The population of the country is divided into a wide variety of ethnolinguistic groups. This study tries to explicate the sufferings of suppressed Afghan people due to their gender, ethnic discrimination, and preoccupations in their religious lives. In Afghanistan, the suppression of the people is done in the name of religion. Hosseini vividly describes the atrocities which are done in the name of religion. It does not say that the religious faith of the people is immoral but it highlights the sufferings of the people who are seen as victims. The characters in the novel internalize their inferior or superior status in their minds and it is passed on to the next generations.
The term “Afghan” is synonymous with one of the ethnic names “Pashtun”. Pashtuns are the traditional rulers of Afghanistan. They practice the principles of Sunni Islam. Sunni Islam is the largest division of Islam. According to one of the Pashtun legends, Pashtuns are descended from Afghana, a grandson of the biblical King Saul. This descended history and the largest population make them be proud and dominate other ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
The Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. They are Persian-speaking and reside mainly in the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan and most of the Hazaras practice Shia Islam. “The Hazaras, the main Shia Muslim group in the country” (Friedman 71). Throughout history, these ethnic discriminations have given birth to numerous domestic wars. “Afghanistan has been a battleground for centuries” (67).
The socio-economic conditions in Afghanistan demonstrate the inequality between the Sunni Muslims and the Shi'a Muslims and how people discriminate against each other based on their physical features and ethnic groups. Pashtuns are the largest and traditionally ruling ethnic group in Afghanistan; most Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims. As Miller in her essay quotes
Pashtun culture rests on Pushtunwali, a legal and moral code that determines social order and responsibilities. It contains sets of values pertaining to honor (namaz), solidarity (nang), hospitality, mutual support, shame, and revenge which determine social order and individual responsibility. The defense of namuz, even unto death, is obligatory for every Pushtun. Elements in this code of behavior are often in opposition to Shariah.
This study analyses the discrimination in society by emphasizing ethnic discrimination which is predominant in society; gender discrimination where women are dominated by patriarchal society and on the whole, the society is dominated and ruled by the Taliban regime. These discriminations are dissected and determine the individuals as superior or elite and inferior or ‘subaltern’. The dominant group considers the remaining people as other and is treated as subordinate with their power and control. Khaled Hosseini tries to describe these differences in society and the effect of Taliban terrorism in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime is considered as the dominant group and their interest, faith, and attachment towards the religion are generalized to the entire society. Hosseini combines political history and the life of the people to exhibit the speechless situation of the Afghan people. Afghan citizens, consciously imbibe their status in society because if they fight against their position, they will be rewarded with the penalty of death.
In The Kite Runner, Hosseini picturizes the life’s journey of the subaltern characters, who are suppressed and denied from their speech because of their internalized fear. This novel includes the autobiographical details of the author. Amir, the protagonist of the novel, was born in Kabul to a wealthy family and he was raised by his father, his mother having passed away during his birth; Amir lives a happy life with his friend Hassan, until the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan. Then he and his father flee to Pakistan as refugees and later settled up in America. In the United States, his father becomes a gas station manager and Amir meets Soraya, the daughter of a former Afghan general, and marries her. Then Amir receives a call from Rahim Khan, a friend, and former business partner of his father. Amir flies to Peshawar to meet with him. Rahim Khan reveals that Hassan, Amir’s childhood friend, is the presumed son of the family servant Ali. In reality, Hassan is Amir’s half-brother, his father’s illegitimate son with Ali’s wife. In the latter part of the novel, Hassan and his wife were killed by the Taliban. Rahim Khan wants Amir to go to Kabul and bring Hassan’s son to Peshawar. After much hesitation, Amir brings the child to America for adoption. “This novel gives a vivid picture of not only the Russian atrocities but also those of the Northern Alliances and the Taliban” (Noor 45).
The subaltern aspect in this novel is highlighted through the characters Hassan, his father Ali, Farid-Amir’s driver, and Shorab, Hassan’s son. They were dominated by the Taliban regime and by other ethnic groups. The voice of the subaltern characters is denied; due to ‘power’ and ‘domination’, the characters in the novel are fragmented and escape from the homeland and become refugees in other countries. The struggle for the rights of these characters in the novel leads to the violent, cruel, and public execution by political and Taliban rules.
The Kite Runner portrays multiple facets of oppression of an individual in Afghan society. It focuses on the domination over men and women through social, political, and religious rules. In this novel, Hosseini presents many men characters who are dominated by other men in the name of Islamic rules and by their ethnic differences.
The socio-political issues in Afghanistan affect the people and they are marginalized by their ethnic differences. “The Pashtuns had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. It said the Hazaras had tried to rise against the Pashtuns in the nineteenth century, but the Pashtuns had “quelled them with unspeakable violence.” ” (Hosseini 8). These ethnic differences in the society, made the Pashtuns be proud because of their ethnic community and they dominate over other ethnic people.
Amir, the protagonist of the novel belongs to Pashtun ethnic group. Hassan, Amir’s friend “a face like a Chinese doll chiseled from hardwood: his flat, broad nose and slanting, narrow eyes like bamboo leaves, eyes that looked, depending on the light, gold, green, even sapphire” (Hosseini 3). He belongs to the Hazara community.
Most of the subaltern people were deprived of education, in the same way, Hassan was illiterate. Amir goes to school and Hassan used to prepare his bag and lunch box. Amir has the pride that he is educated and he belongs to the Pashtun community. The social issues in Afghanistan are due to the economical status of the lower rank people and their inborn ethnic identity. Even though Amir and Hassan are good friends, Amir fails to see Hassan as his friend and companion. Hassan is treated as Baba’s favorite so that Amir had jealous of him. Amir fails to understand Hassan’s affection towards him and his concern towards him was that Hassan is his childhood friend and he belongs to Hazara.
In the novel, Hosseini presents the domination of power in many incidents like the conversation between Hassan and the soldier and the fight between Assef and Hassan. The soldier insulted Hassan by criticizing his birth and his mother because the identity of Hassan is seen as Hazara who is dominated by power. He never spoke for himself and he never had the opportunity and education to speak for him. Ali and Hassan may seem to be minor characters but their silence speaks throughout the novel.
Assef is a dominant figure in the novel, who believed that Pashtuns are the real men of Afghanistan. Assef turns as the chief of the Taliban. The Islamic people who are educated from Pakistani religious schools are Taliban. Their strict religious rules made the entire society suffer. Assef says to Hassan, “Afghanistan is the land of Pashtuns. It always has been, always will be. We are the true Afghans, the pure Afghans, not this Flat-Nose here. His people pollute our homeland, our watan. They dirty our blood.” He made a sweeping, grandiose gesture with his hands. “Afghanistan for Pashtuns, I say. That’s my vision.” (38)
Assef had the pride of being a Taliban and he dominates the subjugated characters.
The victim of Assef’s power is Hassan and his son Sohrab. Both of them are raped by Assef. They did not have a voice among the Pashtun people. They accept their lower rank and continued to accept the ill-treatment of Assef. This shows the speechless condition of the Hazara people in Afghanistan. The inborn social and economical status of an individual leads to oppression. They are treated as the other and they cannot speak for their rights and for their identity.
In the later part of the novel, Amir remembers Hassan as a good friend and not as Hazara. Hassan’s silent affection and his faith in friendship made Amir realize his mistakes. When Assef rapes Hassan, Amir neither fights nor protest for his friend. He worried about his life by being selfish and escaping from the violent situation. Sometimes subaltern people are neglected and pushed into helpless conditions. Their true nature is not shown to the others and they live in silence. The subaltern cannot speak because they “have nothing, no access to mobility at all” (Spivak 73).
The ethnic differences in Afghanistan are not only seen as a social issue but also as a political subject. The politics in Afghanistan plays important role in Afghans life. The governing characters in the novel are also ruled and subjugated by other characters by the means of political power. The arrival of the Taliban is the additional feature for the discrimination of Afghan people through religion. In this novel, the ‘low-rank or ‘inferior’ changes from one system to another system.
The effect of Taliban terrorism is seen in the latter part of the novel which shows the life of the characters after Talibanisation. The rules of the Taliban are based on God and religion. The strict rules of the Taliban ended up as terrorist activities. “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furthermore of political or social objectives” (Pachnanda 5). In the novel, one of the Taliban says, “God says that every sinner must be punished in a manner of befitting his sin. Those are not my words, nor the words of my brothers. Those are the words of the God” (248). The characters in the novel depict the atrocities committed by the Taliban riots and the changes in their lives.
The novel starts with the domination of ethnic differences at the social level and proceeded to political issues. The domination is continued by religious rules. The center and the margin, the hierarchal setups are relocated in the society in turn there is a constant power shift in Afghanistan. These shifts subjugate the characters and the marginalized cannot speak for their rights. Representing the margin is a step ahead to describe the lives of subaltern people.