Dark Shadow of 9/11: Women in Afghanistan Remind Us About Courage & More
Is it okay to tolerate subjugation of women in the name of tradition and religious ethos anywhere in the world?
"The Erinyes, that under earth take vengeance on men,
whosoever hath sworn a false oath"
Facing whips, batons, and bullets, they refuse to be forgotten. Au contraire, the women of Afghanistan are like the Furies that are out to seek vengeance for the injustices meted out to them. The Erinyes, also known as the Furies, were female deities of vengeance, living in the underworld, in ancient Greek religion and mythology.
There is something extraordinary going on in Afghanistan that can teach the rest of the world a thing or two. No, not the sardonic lesson on how not to abandon one's allies, nor the strategic lesson on how not to fight insurgencies. The message is simple: sometimes fury and courage is all you have and that's all you need when nobody is standing in your corner.
Price For Peace in Afghanistan
The Taliban have ostensibly brought 'peace' to the war-torn Afghanistan, and most regional and Western players want to give them a 'chance' — relegating the issue of equality, as usual, to the background — at the cost of women's rights.
"Let there be peace, rights may come later," peaceniks seem to be telling the women of Afghanistan.
The women are saying, "NO" — loudly, clearly, dangerously.
Abandoned by the world community, the so-called international feminism, and even their own men in some cases, Afghan women have taken matters in their own hands across the country from Kabul to Herat, Balkh to Nimruz, and Khost, Badakhshan to Ghor.
Burden of Men's Wars on Women's Shoulders
History bears witness to a pattern of male leadership, in most situations, throwing women and their rights under the bus as long as it ensured a face-saver. Recall that folklores of sacrifice of a fair maiden to save the polis or the village are strewn across space and time. Forget about slaves, even princesses are not spared. Iphigenia, the granddaughter of Zeus, is sacrificed by her father King Agamemnon in order to win the Battle of Troy.
It is a convenient and fairly low-cost plan to end a war on terms that become a burden for mostly women to carry. Men begin and end grand pursuits and leave a trail of suffering women in their wake.
Women of Afghanistan, however, are beginning to break this chain, with their bare hands — holding placards — one protest at a time. The eruption of women's marches and protests that Afghanistan and the world has seen in the past three weeks is unprecedented. Demanding equality and dignity, these women protesters are not waiting for anyone to take up the cudgels on their behalf.
Afghan Women's Resistance to Taliban
These women, unarmed and unprotected, are pitted against the Taliban, a bunch of angry young and old men that do not hide their contempt for women. The latter are also basking in the glory of bringing the most powerful country in the world to its knees.
It comes as no surprise that the Taliban have done away with the Ministry of Women's Welfare in their newly announced interim Cabinet. They are doing exactly what they intended to do, and only the votaries of a reformed Taliban 2.0 might appear crestfallen at this and the lack of 'inclusivity'.
The women of Afghanistan knew what was coming their way and tried their best to escape an inevitable life without equal rights. Some, however, have chosen to stay back to mount a resistance, however hopeless it appears. Like Pashtana Zalmai Khan Durrani, who is not giving up on educating girls in rural Afghanistan.
And those hundreds of women rallying across the country looking sophisticatedly armed Taliban soldiers in the eye, demanding rights to equality.
Along with beatings, these women now face serious prosecution and even death, as these protests have been declared illegal by the Taliban.
It was being said when the women started their protests immediately after the fall of Kabul that they were drawing strength from the presence of foreign press and military in the city. It is now clear, after the cameras and the boots have left Kabul to its fate, that these women have nothing to fall back on, except fury and fire in their belly.
Radical Islam: The Elephant in the Room
One of the catastrophic fallouts of 9/11 for Muslim women across the world, along with gendered Islamophobia, has been the hesitation amongst non-Muslim allies to rally behind them when it comes to "community matters". Many well-meaning women-rights supporters, within and outside the community, choose not to bring women's issues to the fore lest it be used to fan Islamophobia further.
For example, the issue of hijab is a minefield of cultural sensitivities. On one hand is the racist, communal abuse of women who wear it, while on the other is a tribe of women, emerging mainly under Islamic regimes, seeing it as an instrument of oppression. The latter category of women faces violence, arrests, and even death for defying the dress diktats of men.
A discourse is already emerging about the presence of two Afghanistans — a tribal one and a Westernised one; protesters demanding women's rights are being touted as elitist, westernised, as opposed to the Taliban being welcomed as an anti-Imperialist force.
However, what the visuals from the streets of Badakhshan, Khost, and even Kunduz, where women rallied in support of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ably aided by Taliban soldiers, show is that Afghan women refuse to reconcile or retreat.
Some Women Might Support the Taliban, But For How Long?
Yes, women from Kandahar and Helmand — the Pashtun-majority provinces that have been the traditional strongholds of the Taliban — are not out on the streets. But remember, they once were and that did not please the Taliban at all. When a car bomb killed 16 civilians outside a sports stadium in Lashkar Gah in March 2018, women of Helmand, in a surprise move, occupied the public space next to sit-ins organised by local men, demanding peace.
In response, Taliban spokesman Qari Mahammad Yousuf Ahmadi issued a statement saying, “The Islamic Emirate is seriously concerned that the enemy circles will misuse your name ... Allah forbid, if something were to happen then responsibility will be placed squarely on your shoulders because you understand that we are at war, are facing various enemy plots and will be forced to take serious steps in pursuit of their neutralisation”.
Yes, Shakira of Helmand might welcome the Taliban now, but it's unlikely that her granddaughters would do the same at the cost of their personal liberties.
And let us think deeply whether it really is okay to tolerate subjugation of women in the name of tradition and religious ethos anywhere in the world.
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