The topic of this report isn’t Islam or Afghani religious beliefs but I think it’s still very relevant to our contemporary debates about gender relations in Islam, as it’s an illustration of the savage practices many of us used to support, whether actively or passively, in the name of Islam.
There was a time, before the international media shamed us into reexamining our priorities, when many, many Muslims effusively praised the Taliban for being "traditional" (by which was often meant closed-minded and rigid) on gender issues. That’s an embarassing phase that many of us now pretend never happened. It’s reminiscent of a goofy teenage fad, except that most of were old enough to know better.
I realize that specifically Afghani cultural factors are at work here to a certain extent, but I think these chilling reports are a reminder of the kinds of evil one can inadvertantly condone when using the all too common single-issue litmus tests to judge other Muslims.
By the standards of a lot of Islamic discourse, the Taliban were model Muslims, as their top priority at all times keeping women’s presence in the public sphere "modest" (read: as invisible and anonymous as possible, and necessitating no patience or self-control on the part of men) and stamping out all "bida’" and doctrinal dissent. They had the same priorities a lot of the rest of us did at the time (and, I suspect, often still do). They didn’t have a "Progressive Muslim" bone in their bodies, and you sure didn’t have to worry about them letting a woman lead prayer, much less entertaining doubts about hijab. And gays? No need to worry–they’d burn ’em at the stake.
So they deserved our support, right?
Today, some of the Taliban’s old friends in the community are frantically doing interfaith dialogue with anything that moves–the safest place for yesterday’s fire-breathing mullah is singing "Kumbaya" with the kafirs, after all–and, irony of ironies, preaching about women’s rights for the cameras.
It reminds me a bit of how we see all these inspiring commercials against underage smoking that are funded by cigarette companies, the villains who worked enthusiastically to create the problem in the first place.
The special rapporteur of the United Nations Commission for Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Erturk, expressly said [….]
”Violence against women remains dramatic in Afghanistan in its intensity and pervasiveness, in public and private spheres of life,” she had observed, while urging the international community to link donor support to human rights and the protection of women, particularly.
”The violence has to come to an end,” she had appealed. ”Action has to be taken now to protect women, save lives, if the government is to gain legitimacy and credibility,” she said.
Excessive repression of women began after the fundamentalist Taliban established its rule over Afghanistan in 1998, when girls over the age of eight were banned from going to school and women excluded from employment.
After United States and its allies militarily ousted the Taliban from power in 2002 there was hope that the lot of Afghan women would improve. But now, rapes, murders, forced marriages, family feuds, and abductions by armed men, are driving up crimes against women in Afghanistan.
In November 2005, poet Nadia Anjuman, 25, well-known in literary circles in Afghanistan and neighbouring Iran, died after being severely beaten by her husband in western Herat town. Provincial police chief Nisar Ahmad Paikar confirmed that her husband has been arrested for the murder.
The U.N. condemned the killing of the Herat university student. "The death of Nadia Anjuman is tragic, and a great loss to Afghanistan," U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards observed.
Most investigations by the authorities into complaints of violent attacks on women are neither routine nor systematic, and few result in prosecutions, the rights watchdog Amnesty International stated in its 2005 report on Afghanistan.
Violence against women is widely accepted by the community and inadequately addressed by the government or judiciary. Instead, ”societal codes, invoked in the name of tradition and religion, are used as justification to deny women the ability to enjoy their fundamental rights”, Amnesty has said.
There are reported increases in forced marriages and some women have killed themselves to escape, including by self-immolation.