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Date: 2022-07-04 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00020898

Women of Afghanistan

Umair Haque ... How the World Erased the Women of Afghanistan ... Think Nothing Was Accomplished in Afghanistan? Think Again, and This Time, Check Your Misogyny

Image Credit: Pajhwok News Agency
Original article:
Islaam in general has sidelined women, but Islaam in Afghanistan has been particularly bad. I did some work in Afghanistan with/for the UN in the early 1990s after the Soviet occupation had ended and there was an opportunity to help with post-Soviet reconstruction. The UN plans for a comprehensive development program did not get the support of the USA and no funding was forthcoming, setting the stage for civil war and Taliban rule starting in 1996 and a home base for international terrorists. The war in Afghanistan maybe has failed since 2001, but the under-reported social progress has been substantial even while corruption was huge and generally unaddressed.
Peter Burgess
How the World Erased the Women of Afghanistan ... Think Nothing Was Accomplished in Afghanistan? Think Again, and This Time, Check Your Misogyny

umair haque umair haque

August 18th 2021 ·

“We haven’t achieved anything in Afghanistan! So what difference does it make if we withdraw, anyways?” This is the attitude which prevails in America, and across the West. I’m here to try to teach you how misguided, how ignorant, this attitude really is. When I say “teach you,” I mean it, too. Have you met the Taliban? I have. I grew up among them. Their ilk have threatened my life on multiple occasions.

What did we achieve in Afghanistan over the last twenty years? One major, major accomplishment was the beginnings of the development of civil society. “Civil society” means what Westerners take for granted — the basic norms and institutions of a modern way of life. Let me make that clearer.

Over the last two decades, Afghani women started to become free. Until this week, 40% of students in Afghani higher education were women — a number that was steadily climbing. Women became journalists and lawyers. They became involved in politics. They became activists. They became YouTubers and bloggers. They became popstars and Olympians. Things that were not possible for them 20 years ago. That might not sound like much to you, but it is a major, major accomplishment. Why?

First, recognise that when people say “but we achieved nothing in Afghanistan!” it devalues, minimizes, and erases the huge, huge steps that women took. It insults the gains women have made. Brave women. Incredibly brave. It’s not as if a hyper conservative society like Afghanistan was particularly friendly to women becoming lawyers and doctors and journalists. Especially not to becoming bloggers and YouTubers. They did it anyways.

Again, you might be minimising all that. “So what? Who cares?” You might say. You should care. You. Because one of the formative conclusions from decades of research into how societies democratise and become modern is that women’s rights play perhaps the most crucial role. When women are “allowed” to work, to speak, to become the vital parts of society they are and deserve to be — then societies progress by leaps and bounds.

How so? Societies with womens’ rights grow economically — they tend to have big bangs of growth. They develop norms and values of tolerance and equality and dignity. They tend to have more robust institutions of law, governance, media, and education. All that is development economics 101. You should know it.

Western media has done a particularly bad job of telling this story. That, yes, something amazing and beautiful and significant was achieved in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Women became much, much freer — they freed themselves — and that was to be a crucial step in stabilising and modernising the whole region. That this story isn’t told is a measure of patriarchal Western media really is. But this story is radical, brave, and true. I’ll come back to it, and tell it a little shortly.

Yet now all that — all those startling gains that women made — is undone.

What’s life under the Taliban like for women? It’s so regressive it’s almost unbelievable. Here’s a quick summary:
  • Women can’t be outside of the house, alone, without a blood relative.
  • Women can’t laugh too loudly in public, so men don’t become aroused.
  • Women can’t speak in public, in case a (male) stranger hears her voice.
  • Women can’t wear high heels, because men shouldn’t even hear their footsteps.
  • Women can’t have their pictures taken, and their pictures can’t be shown in media.
  • Women can’t be on their own terraces.
  • Women have to wear burqas in public, at all times.
  • Any woman or girl, from the age of 12 to 45, can be forced to marry a member of the Taliban.
Did you get some of those? Women can’t even speak in public.

For any of these, women can be beaten with sticks, or flogged in public. They can be maimed for life for laughing.

Decades of progress for women are going to simply go up in smoke. They are going to be forced to live like chattel, like objects, like property — women will go back to a less than medieval way of life. Because the Taliban doesn’t see women as people. To the Taliban, women are property. And that is a form of fascism — patriarchal fascism.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s how the Taliban’s Sharia law punishes women. A woman was shot, last week, for her burqa being “too tight.” A woman can be flogged, in the public square, for talking to a man on the phone. A woman can be stoned to death for “adultery.” As in, you’re pounded by rocks until you die. Men participate, and watch, and laugh, as they beat you with stones until your body can’t take it anymore. That’s what stoning is. That’s what is going to happen to women from now on in Afghanistan.

All of that brings me to Biden and Blinken. I liked Biden. I don’t like Blinken. Together, they seem to have formed a kind of super creature of patriarchal misogyny.

Biden keeps on repeating this line: “Americans shouldn’t fight a war Afghans won’t fight for themselves.”

This line is false. Because it is badly, badly misogynistic.

How do we fight fascism, as a society? Not just with guns.

What were all those women doing, when they became lawyers and doctors and journalists? YouTubers and Bloggers? They were fighting, too. They were fighting against reactionary, ultra conservative norms and values. They were fighting for modern values and norms, like freedom of speech, association, expression, the right to work and be educated, the right of self-determination.

They were fighting for those rights by enacting and expressing them. And not to understand that, too, is a form of misogyny.

Maybe you don’t understand why, so let me explain. Do you know how brave you have to be something like a YouTuber or blogger in a place like Afghanistan? Not now, but before the fall. Even before the fall, for a woman to stand on a street corner, and talk about her life — that was a radical act. For a woman to discuss her life for all to see, for everyone to comment on — that was a radical act.

Why? Because even before the fall of Kabul, freedoms like speech, association, expression, self-determination, were not things that were universal. They were still very much uncertain. Every woman that spoke for herself, made her own decisions and choices, resisted the brutal, backwards ideas that women were property, not to be seen or heard — they were creating a better, more modern society, simply by living one. They were becoming the example they wanted to see in the world, to put it in Western terms.

Take another example. A woman becomes a lawyer, doctor, teacher. Maybe she runs for government. What is she really doing, in a place like Afghanistan? She is fighting fascism in the deepest way there is. She is being much, much braver than someone who simply shoots a gun. She must stand her ground, face all kinds of criticism, insults, resistance, enmity, death threats. She is changing society simply by having the courage to exist as she wants and needs to.

Maybe that same woman who became a lawyer one day runs for office. And there, slowly, she begins to have the power to make political changes. Maybe that YouTuber becomes someone millions of young people watch. That changes social norms. That inspires young girls and women. Maybe that woman, who became an activist, wins the admiration of the nation — that changes values.

All these are ways of fighting fascism, too. They are ways that are far, far more powerful than simply firing bullet. Because they change the deep structures fascism relies on. The patriarchal, supremacist ideas of ownership of people, of hierarchies of existence, of genetic inferiority, of racial and religious purity.

Why isn’t this story told in the West? Because the West, too, is victim to a deep misogyny of its own. Biden and Blinken don’t see — can’t see — that women becoming lawyers and journalists and activists and doctors is people fighting for their country, too. Fighting hard. Bravely, nobly, in ways that require much, much more courage than picking up a machine gun.

Western pundits and columnists can’t see it either. Hence, the “narrative” — that odious term — that’s now forming: “nothing was accomplished in Afghanistan, so what difference does it make if we leave?”

But something crucial was accomplished. Women were freer. Not totally, absolutely free. Not even free in the way they are in the West, which has its own progress to make. But they were able to begin liberating themselves. They could work. They could get educated. They could speak and associate and express themselves. And by doing all that, they could help their nation come that much closer to a big bang of modernisation.

It’s so disappointing to me this story isn’t being told the way it should be. That the narrative of “nothing was achieved” is forming. That nihilistic attitude leads nowhere for anyone, even for Americans. If nothing was achieved — then women are nothing.

In that sense, this narrative is a suicide pact between the American Idiot and Muslim fundamentalists. America and the Muslim world are more alike than either cares to admit. No, Washington DC isn’t Kabul. But both places agree on many things: violence, brutality, repression, and, crucially, misogyny.

That brings me to my final point. Western leaders and media have done something sinister as this takeover happened. The West wrung its hands sympathetically, all while acknowledging that the Taliban would be the new government, that they’d have to talk to them anyway, that they’d continue to give them aid. They “implored” them to uphold women’s rights. They said they’d “leverage” women’s rights with the Taliban.

Have we forgotten the Taliban is a terrorist group? Are we really talking about negotiating with terrorists?

But apparently that’s where we are in what passes for “discourse” today. So you can see (male) Western pundits beginning to stroke their chins and, incredibly, say things like: “Wow, this Taliban, they seem like pretty good guys!” “This Taliban member is a pleasant and moderate man!”

Why? Because the Taliban have promised to be a pinch nicer to women. Sorry, do we trust a misogynistic, fascist terror group now? What planet am I living on? On the same day the Taliban vowed to “respect women,” they killed a woman for not wearing a burqa. I cannot believe I have to remind people that you cannot trust terrorists.

Yes, the Taliban has said they’ll “respect women within the limits of Sharia Law.” Press them, and they’ll admit — women can be educated, but only to about age ten. “Adultery”? Sorry, you still get stoned, and that means beaten to death with rocks. Women can “work,” sure, but only with permission, at “approved” tasks. Going out in public without a man? Forget it.

Even more incredibly, I find myself reading odious takes from “leftist” men declaring the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban a “victory of anti-imperialism.” Hello, imperialism was when America trained the Mujahideen, which became the Taliban. America leaving Afghanistan to deal with the imperial fascist monster they created is not anti-imperialism. It’s imperialism.

Then there’s the whataboutism. “What about Saudi? Women are treated terribly there, too, and you don’t care! This is manufactured moral outrage!” Hello, things in Afghanistan are so bad, even Saudi is better for women at this point.

Then there’s the point that America used the excuse of women’s rights to invade Afghanistan. Okay. That doesn’t change the fact that things got better for women. That women, for 20 years, were given the space to free themselves, to make progress — only to have that brutally snatched away, in the blink of an eye, while the world now rationalises turning their back on them.

“The Taliban have said they’ll be nicer!” “What about women in Saudi?” “Those Taliban seem like okay dudes!” It’s almost like you’re using any argument to justify not having to care about women. Imagine how little you must care about women to be placated by a spokesperson for a terrorist organisation saying they’ll “protect women’s rights within the limits of Islam.” Imagine how little you must care about women to even remotely see the Taliban as “moderate” or “pleasant.”

What kind of unbelievable, massive idiot…trusts…the Taliban? Now we know the answer to that question, and it includes much of the West’s public sphere.

Why is that? Because all these dudes — pundits, Biden, Blinken, columnists, this whole weird Axis of Idiots that’s, incredibly, asking the rest of us to trust the Taliban — are doing so because they’re misogynists.

They’re misogynists. Sorry, but there’s no other possible conclusion here. Let me tie up all those strands. It’s patently false and deeply insulting to say no progress was made in Afghanistan — for women, who are, let’s see, half of all of us, stunning progress was made, by women. It’s misogyny not to see that, pure and simple, erasing women, devaluing their lives and possibilities. And it’s an even worse form of misogyny to ask the rest of us to trust the Taliban in the face of the violence they are already enacting on these women.

Because Afghani women, clearly, don’t. They’re fleeing for their lives, if they can. The doors of prominent women have already been marked. They’re in hiding, erasing all their social media history, because the Taliban is using it to stalk them, locate them, and charge them for the crimes of existing. You can see women pleading, crying desperately, screaming for help from American soldiers in videos. Why would they do that if no progress had been made? Are you kidding me?

See the many, many problems here? Here’s one more. Forced marriage? Sexual slavery? The Taliban is known for it. Only we’ve normalised atrocities against women to such an extent that no one in the media is even pointing out that these are violations of the Geneva Conventions. Sexual slavery is a crime against humanity. That’s the scope of what the Taliban is doing. That’s the fate Afghani women have been left to, while Western pundits claim the Taliban have turned over some kind of new leaf.

What does it say about us that we don’t think of what the Taliban are doing to women in Afghanistan right now as terrorism? As atrocities specifically designed to make an example of women, to frighen them into submission, to subjugate, erase, destroy, terrorise them? The Taliban are terrorists, and they’re terrorising women. Americans watch the Handmaid’s Tale as entertainment — meanwhile, Afghani women are living it.

Almost every woman I know has spent the last few days watching the news in shock, in horror, in a kind of anger that’s hard to express. The anger of watching the world do essentially nothing as women face brutality we can’t even imagine. Meanwhile almost every man I know has spent the last few days rationalising the world turning away from Afghani women.

The Taliban is obviously going to do what it does. Which is brutally repress women. To ask the rest of us to trust men this odious, this ignorant, this backwards and violent and brutal — because they’re now your bros, because you want to turn away, because it’s convenient, because you’ve chosen not to care — is misogyny on a scale that defies belief, it’s so amazing and mind-blowing. America’s never really met a form of misogyny it didn’t like. Sadly, one thing that America’s patrarichal elites, from Biden and Blinken on down to your average pundit, and the bearded mullahs emerging from the caves agree on? Women don’t matter. Because they never did in the first place.

Umair August 2021
Eudaimonia & Co

WRITTEN BY Umair Haque
Umair Haque
August 2021
The text being discussed is available at
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