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Bacha bereesh by any other name

An article in the November issue of Vanity Fair, Mad About the Boys, examines the career of boy-band impresario Lou Perlman.

As Perlman sits in a Florida jail awaiting trial on a charge of bank fraud, Vanity Fair quotes former associates of his who allege his interests in Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter and members of British band Take That were more than musical. Steve Mooney, a boy-band singer who reportedly lived in Pearlman’s home for two years, alleges that when he asked Pearlman what he had to do to get into a band the music czar, clad in a white terrycloth robe and matching underwear, spread his legs and said, “You’re a smart boy. Figure it out.”

Perlman may feel right at home in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. In an Oct 14 article on the e-Ariana website — an Afghan satellite television channel with a mailing address conspicuously less than a half hour’s drive from the White House — writer Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi examines the respected Afghani custom “bacha baazi” (boy-play).

Boys known as “bacha bereesh” (beardless boys) are kept by powerful older rich men, made to dance at special parties and are often sexually abused or enjoy sex afterward. The boys are usually between the ages of 14 and 18. They are usually poor kids that are wooed by lavish gifts of money, expensive clothing or cars. They are status symbols to be showed off to other men and sometimes traded for substantial prices to new owners.

“I am married but I prefer boys to women,” says Allah Daad, a one-time mujahedin commander in Kunduz. “You can’t take women with you to parties in this region and you can’t make them dance. These boys are our [mark of] prestige.”

Ibrahimi writes that there is a resurgence of the open public display of bacha baazi and blames the growing influence of local Afghani strongmen. According Ibrahimi affluent militia commanders were supposed to demobilize their forces and hand over their weapons to the Afghan government but many have retained their power by intimidating local populations. They are so powerful, writes Ibrahimi, that no one, not even the police, would raise a hand against them.

Police in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan, recently raided a bacha baazi ball and arrested 30 men, reports Ibrahimi.

“Making boys dance and sexually abusing them is strictly prohibited by Islam,” Mawlawi Ghulam Rabbani, a religious leader in Takhar province told Ibrahimi “Those who engage in it should be punished. They should be thrown off a mountain and stoned to death.”