KABUL — As the sun rises over Shar-e Naw Park, hundreds of men walk onto the dirt-covered grounds with elaborately decorated cages carrying chukar partridgesthey have raised.
The men gather in circles, exchange money and one by one open the cages. With winter yielding to spring, it is one of the first days of bird-fighting season, and the men are excited."Last year, it beat seven birds," Haji Sher Alam, who runs a private high school, said, pointing to his prized bird. It looks something like a tall, fat pigeon.
Just like some people in the UnitedStates, some Afghans pit dogs and roosters in bloody, violent matches while betting big money. In Afghanistan, where it is legal, they also fight birds, horses, rams and, in some parts of the north,camels.
Haji Faiz Mohammad, 76, who came to watch Friday's bird fights, said animal-fighting has become part of the Afghan culture after decades of nearly non-stop war. He said people have grown toappreciate the art and nature of fighting.
"I've grown up in war," Mohammad said. "So anything that involves a fight, I love."
Alam sees it the same way. "Since the people of Afghanistan have alwaysbeen fighting," he says, "what else can we love except fighting?"
Even when families gather on windy hilltops to fly their ubiquitous kites, they do it to fight them. Despite a strong thunderstormFriday, hundreds showed up at a hill in central Afghanistan to battle.
"It's boring if you're not fighting," said Mohammad Akmal, snapping his line to try to take down a competitor's kite.
Kitefighting is a source of national pride, popularized by the 2003 novel The Kite Runner. Some Afghans, though, don't like the idea of having their identity characterized by vicious animal fighting.
FazelAhmad Manawi, a member of the government's council of religious scholars, said the fighting and betting involved in animal fights are against Islamic law. Such fights were banned under the Taliban...