McGee (2008) cautioned that working in Muslim countries like Afghanistan, U.S. personnel must maintain an understanding that the U.S. does not seek to “transform” cultures or to make their belief systems compatible with America’s belief system. He noted that while the goal of the U.S. is to “spread democratic ideals” it is not, nor should it be, an effort to transplant American culture and values or to impose our religion(s) on the Muslim world (p. 21). He stated that if America and its NATO allies are to succeed in their nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and throughout the region, “we cannot simply dismiss those elements of culture and civilization with which we disagree” (p. 22). Rather, he argued for the potential to build bridges of meaning across the cultures to identify shared objectives in the realms of education and economic improvement.
Understanding and remaining responsive to the culture in which one operates — in other words, demonstrating cultural competency — can yield significant dividends for U.S. personnel involved in interventions in other countries. This is true for the traditions and values that have shaped Afghan society over the centuries. Andersen and Kooij (2007) reported on an adult literacy program implemented in Kabul through a coordinated effort between a local Afghan women’s rights’ organization and a U.S. nonprofit organization known as Kabultec. The literacy program was aimed at married couples and the strategy for reaching one of the target populations (Afghani women) was to work within the Afghan socio-cultural construct by acknowledging the important influence of patriarchal beliefs.
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