Khaled Hosseini, the Afghan-born author of the international best-seller "The Kite Runner," Thursday shunned the notion that the Taliban, whom U.S. forces are battling in Afghanistan, are inherently evil, despite the evil that they have been accused of perpetrating by many.
"I think some of the things that they continue to do [are] evil," Hosseini said, during a rather relaxed question-and-answer session in Alumni Arena on the University at Buffalo's North Campus.
Hosseini, a trained medical doctor who moved to the U.S. with his family as a youth in 1980, was the featured guest for UB's 22nd annual Distinguished Speakers Series.
"I dismiss the entire notion of evil defined in such simple terms in real life, which is part of the reason I'm a little disturbed when our political leaders [take that tack]. I don't think it's quite that simple," Hosseini explained, in response to the moderator's query about whether the religious rebels were irredeemably terrible.
Born in Kabul where his father was a diplomat, Hosseini spoke Thursday of an almost idyllic childhood growing up in his native city in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a city he described as having a rich artistic, social and cultural life.
The Kabul of his youth provided the backdrop for the young protagonists in Hosseini's first novel, "The Kite Runner," which was released in 2003.
"It's not autobiographical," Hosseini said, "but it's very difficult to write stories in a vacuum."
Hosseini's novel tells the story of Amir, a Pashtun boy from Kabul, who winds up carrying lifelong guilt for having betrayed his childhood friend Hassan, who is also the son of his father's Hazara servant. Their lives are played out against several tumultuous events that changed Afghanistan -- the fall of the monarchy following the Soviet invasion, the mass exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the U.S. and the rise of the Taliban regime.
"The true name of the Taliban now means something else from when they first came," Hosseini explained.
"Most of the Taliban were young men who were basically refugees of the war against the Soviet Union. Many of them had lost their fathers and their mothers . . . They'd been raised in these horrible, squalid camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he added.
War and misery were all they knew, Hosseini said. That, and religious teachings that they received at the madrassas, "where they were taught a very militant and very unforgiving brand of Islam."
"I want to think that for many of them, their actions came from a place of conviction, that it wasn't just that they felt they were bad people who enjoyed torture," Hosseini said.
When they sought political asylum in the U.S. in 1980, Hosseini's family settled in San Jose, Calif., where they at first eked out a meager existence.
After graduating from Independence High School in San Jose, Hosseini earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1988 and went on to earn his medical degree from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine in 1993.
Hosseini practiced medicine until just after "The Kite Runner" was released. His second novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," was released in 2007.