Getting a Grip
Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan
By Michael I. Niman
There’s a stadium in Kabul that doubles as a soccer facility, a remnant
of Afghanistan’s attempts at a cosmopolitan past, and as an arena for public
executions, a reminder of Afghanistan’s present medieval reality. Often the two functions merge, as is the case when the
Taliban interrupt soccer games for an execution break.
George Bush’s Texas might have taken the trophy as the United States’
execution capital, recently outraging international human rights groups with the
execution of a mentally retarded man, but Afghanistan is going for the World
Cup. Recent victims have ranged
from Islamic scholars who point out that the Taliban’s murderous policies are
contrary to Islamic law, to a woman who had taken enough abuse from her husband
and beat him to death.
It was this last execution, that of the faceless woman clad in the
compulsory head to toe burqa and shot in the back of the head with a Kalashnikov
rifle that shocked the world. It
shocked us because we saw it. And
we saw it because women from the Revolutionary Association of Women of
Afghanistan (RAWA) risked their lives to document it with a hidden video camera.
Today, the horrors of everyday life in Afghanistan are documented and
available for all to see at the RAWA website (http://www.rawa.org).
Other RAWA activists are traveling the globe, telling first hand accounts
of atrocities at the hands of the Taliban.
There’s stories of women beaten with clubs, sometimes to death, by
Taliban morality officers who caught them dressing “immodestly,” which in
Taliban controlled sections of Afghanistan, could mean peering out from behind a
veil, allowing one’s eyes to be seen by a man.
There are stories of men, summarily executed for failing to paint their
windowpanes and properly hide their wives and daughters.
RAWA also remind the world that
Afghani women are banned from schools and are prohibited to see male doctors.
Of course, since women are banned from schools, female health
practitioners are in short supply and women are dying by the score for lack of
medical care. The list of Taliban human rights violations documented by
these brave women is long – and it’s sickening.
To ease the Suffering of Afghani women, RAWA volunteers have returned to
Afghanistan and have organized underground schools for girls.
RAWA is also working in Afghani refuge camps in Pakistan, where they are
providing food, health care and schooling.
They are also working to foster democratic institutions of governance in
the refugee camps, creating a model of what a liberated Afghanistan may look
like. Such work is not without its
risks, as Taliban supporters in Pakistan pose an ever-present threat to RAWA
Since their formation in 1979, RAWA resisted the Soviet backed Afghani
government, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA backed Mujahideen
fighters, the Northern Alliance occupation of Kabul, and finally, the Taliban.
Lately, they’ve been traveling the world, actively opposing the US air
strikes on Afghanistan. With the same horrific eloquence they used to describe
the Taliban’s “medievalist” scourge, they’re now penning testimony about
the death and destruction of civilian homes in the wake of US air strikes.
They’re also frightened of the prospect of the Northern Alliance
retaking Afghanistan’s population centers, repeating the holocaust of rape and
murder they reined upon Kabul during their occupation of that city from 1992
through 1996. This week they
decried the US support of the Alliance, arguing that it has “plunged our
people into a horrific concern and anxiety in fear of re-experiencing the
dreadful happenings” suffered under Northern Alliance rule.
Their fears are certainly not without cause.
The Alliance is an unsavory crowd with a pretty dismal record on
women’s rights, which began when they took control of Kabul and banned women
from media and government jobs. Within
two years they forced women from all jobs, throwing many into dire
poverty. It was the Alliance,
during this period, and not the Taliban, who first required women to wear
full-length burqas, covering themselves from head to toe.
Women who didn’t comply were beaten, murdered or raped.
Things are no better with the Alliance today. Their “Deputy Premier,” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, reportedly has taken the Taliban perversion of Islamic laws regarding women to a new level, arguing that men should not even “speak” with women. Their recently assassinated commander, Ahmed Shah Massood, now canonized in the American Media, led organized rampages with his fighters systematically raping women belonging to the rival Hazara ethnic group.
Put simply, the women of RAWA have reason to be concerned.
While the US has politically capitalized on the plight of Afghani women,
using their torment as evidence of the brutality of the Taliban regime, they
have made no effort to include RAWA or any other Afghani women’ group in
planning for a post-Taliban Afghani society.
Today the name Taliban is synonymous with misogyny and the oppression of
women. Industrialized western
democracies, despite their own horrific rates of domestic violence and rape,
self-righteously define their opposition to the Taliban as a human rights
imperative. The Taliban is evil and
we represent righteousness. For the
US, this revisionism omits our role in creating the Mujahideen and the Taliban,
and in effect, causing the current cataclysmic oppression of women in
Afghanistan. It also ignores the
fact that as recently as July, we still attempted to curry political favor with
the Taliban. Had they turned over
bin Laden, in fact, we might never have opposed them.
Our sudden feminism is shallow and reeking of hypocrisy.
If our little war puts the Northern Alliance back into power, our complicity in the decade old war against Afghani women will be unforgivable. We can’t let this happen. Our botched policies in Afghanistan have caused enough suffering for Afghani women. Now that we’re back on the Afghani political landscape we shouldn’t repeat our mistakes. The women of Afghanistan and groups such as RAWA must be consulted as this war continues and must be included as major players in any post-war Afghani government.
Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous articles about “The War on Terror” are available online at http://mediastudy.com/articles.
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