“Liberating” the Women of Afghanistan

Time magazine must be experiencing a severe case of amnesia, judging by the cover of this week’s issue which asks, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan .” At best, this effort by Time is irresponsible slick journalism; at worst, it is one of the most blatant pieces of pro-war propaganda seen in years. The world owes Afghanistan’s women an honest answer as to why we apathetically allow their condition to deteriorate from horrible to simply unspeakable. Instead, Time is willingly deceiving readers into thinking that the condition of Aisha – the woman pictured on the cover – is a product of the Taliban 10 years ago. It is not. Aisha’s scarred face is a heart-wrenching reflection of the state of Afghan women today in the year 2010, and under the absurd assertion of democracy and the presence of thousands of US and NATO troops in the country.

Aisha was attacked by the Taliban last year, the same time that thousands of foreign troops were running around the country under the guise of liberating it. Time is repeating the inexcusable and now redundant mantra used by the Department of Defense and by just about every neocon politician: We’re in Afghanistan to save the women. Here’s the problem: as US troops remain in the country and have dominated it for the past 10 years, violence against women in Afghanistan has been increasing – not decreasing. The actions of the Taliban have been reprehensible and the farthest thing from Islamic doctrine; however, Time magazine and Katie Couric (who gave a humiliating endorsement of the cover and succeeding article) seem intent on fueling the fire of Islamophobia using such images.

The media incessantly teaches us that Muslims – particularly the male gender – are cruel and behave scathingly towards females. In the case of the Taliban this is the truth, and it’s an insult to Islam that such vile characters claim adherence to it. However, equally insulting is the notion of the US being in Afghanistan to protect the women from the Taliban, which was created and funded by the United States during the Cold War against the now-defunct Soviet Union. Those absurd enough to propagate that the US is out to liberate Muslim women seem at a loss to explain why the US is not currently sending F-16’s into Saudi Arabia to free its women from the chains of oppression, and from the threat of honor killings and child marriages. Then again, the United States has no qualms about supporting Saudi Arabia with billions of dollars in military sales and various “aid” packages each year – in addition to whiskey and other unmentionables – in order to maintain the status quo that currently operates the Middle East for American interests.

The same misogynistic warlords and drug lords responsible for mass murder in Afghanistan are now running the government, thanks to the US support they enjoy. Perhaps the only difference now is found in the suits they wear and the masks of so-called democracy. There are currently three major parties at play in determining the fate of women in the country: the US-installed government, the Taliban-influenced insurgency, and the US itself. Here’s a wild thought: at those top secret meetings between these three altruistic set of agendas, the last thing they concern themselves with is whether or not little Fatima or Aisha is allowed to go to school without acid being thrown on her face. Instead, the rights of women becomes a breaking point only when the Afghan government and US make undignified concessions to the insurgency regarding women’s rights, in order to maintain a cease-fire with the insurgents or to obtain more political leverage.

The United States shows such grave concern for the plight of Afghan women that they continue to ensure support for Hamid Karzai, even deeming the latest elections “legitimate” despite the apparent fraud and voter intimidation that keeps him in power. In addition to open negotiations and concessions with the Taliban, Karzai is also gaining concessions from Hezb-i-Islami (Islamic Party) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatya – a faction whose attitude towards women rivals that of the Taliban in cruelty and oppression. There is another myth being promoted by the Afghan and US policy makers that some form of moderate Taliban exists; in reality, it is the same group of terrorists responsible for making life an utter hell for millions of Afghan women, but with more power and money.

The numbers sold to the media paint an upbeat picture of the state of Afghan women. In reality, these statistics are a cruel joke and do nothing to improve the social standing of women. Ten years and 300 billion dollars later, the United States has done little to empower females in the war-torn country. In the Uruzgan province there are officially 220 schools, but only 21 of them function. According to researcher Rachel Reid in Kabul for Human Rights Watch, “only four per cent of secondary school age girls reach grade 10.” Instead of bringing democracy and social equality to Afghanistan, the US helped turn it into the world’s largest opium producer, at 93% of the world’s opium produced. That is hardly shocking when we consider that Hamid Karzai’s brother is the country’s biggest drug dealer. While the warlords are profiting from the neocolonialism brought forth by the occupation, the most recent United Nations Human Development Index ranked Afghanistan 181 out of 182 countries. Around twenty million Afghans live on less than $2 a day. For many mothers in impoverished Afghanistan, the situation has led them to consider selling their children due to their inability to feed them.

Only in Afghanistan can child rapists and war criminals be allowed to enter negotiations with a so-called democratic government, and to top that – with US support. Take the rise of Mohammed Mohaqiq into political power for example. In 2001 and 2002, Hezb-e Wahdat began a systematic targeting of Pashtuns in Afghanistan due to their ethnic ties to the Taliban. As a result, whole villages of civilians were attacked and young girls were abducted on their way to school by Mohaqiq’s armed thugs. In 2002, Mohaqiq landed himself a position as the Vice-Minister of Planning in the new and “democratic” Afghan government. In 2007 he masterminded the Afghan amnesty law which granted total protection and forgiveness to Taliban warlords. The law was not passed in 2007, but during the 2009 Afghan elections – an event which history will forever paint as the paragon of the corrupted – Mohaqiq threw his support behind Karzai who promised him a new position in the new government. Interestingly enough, Karzai would also quietly place in effect the Afghan amnesty law in 2010, subsequently forever immunizing Mohaqiq and his criminal counterpart for their crimes against women.

The “let’s save Afghan women” rhetoric looks terribly hypocritical, considering that the US and NATO stood by idly as Karzai and the warlords mounted the biggest voter fraud scheme in modern history. The Time article ponders the fate of Afghan women once the US stops sending down packages of humanitarian aid on them in the form of drone attacks on civilian populations and attacking wedding parties, among other dangerous targets. However, in defense of the US army, once you legitimize the Taliban and even enter secret negotiations with them, they aren’t really your enemy anymore – so why not bomb the civilians to death? In Afghanistan, the very presence of a foreign army has brought with it indiscriminate bombings by the “forces of freedom,” massacres of civilians by US troops, and wide-spread public corruption by US-installed stooges.

It is an unforgivable sin by the US media and policy-makers to continue shamelessly claiming they are in Afghanistan to liberate its female population.

Perhaps it makes sense for the US and Taliban to enter into agreements, considering that they both have a knack for killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Instead of asking what happens if we stay in Afghanistan, Time is jumping on the pro-war, right-wing media juggernaut and throwing its weight behind the continued destruction of Afghanistan ‘s social and civil infrastructure. The US owes it to Afghanistan ‘s women to at least cease to insult them by claiming that making their living conditions more reprehensible is somehow “liberating” them. These women and young girls have been through enough. Let’s not make them the poster children for more airstrikes on civilian neighborhoods.

Huda Jawad is a writer for Islamic Insights, a weekly publication in North America. Read other articles by Huda.

15 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on August 9th, 2010 at 8:37am #

    YES – The Washington has ‘liberated women’ in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places – but it cannot help women in United States – where a woman is raped every 90 seconds. Washington cannot “liberate” women in Israel where according to Amnesty International – 3000-5000 of them sold into sex-slavery each year….

    Are women in the West not subjected to significant social pressure? Does she not think that publicity, television, films and fashion designers have at least the same control as in other societies? If she thinks Muslim veil subordinates women to men, do not the following have a similar mission? Thong showing, the padded bra, stiletto heels, tight clothes and small sizes, plastic surgery to increase breasts and lips – even in minors – full depilation, weight and shape control, etc. Some Spanish women are very liberated. So much that they dress like prostitutes did not dare to just a few decades ago. However, apart from their skin, they do not have much to show about liberation to women who, with or without the veil, are in the front line in resistance to imperialism, capitalism and machismo……

    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/veiled-vs-the-%E2%80%98liberated-women/

  2. Ellen Lau said on August 9th, 2010 at 8:55am #

    The ‘save the women’ rhetoric is also echoes by Code Pink; Medea Benjamin was in Afghanistan telling the press about how much better things were for women with US troops there.

  3. hayate said on August 9th, 2010 at 11:08am #

    “Medea Benjamin was in Afghanistan telling the press about how much better things were for women with US troops there.”

    Really? That’s really bad. I remember last summer she was one of the promoters of the mossad/cia green “color revolution” against Iran.

  4. hayate said on August 9th, 2010 at 11:26am #

    For an account of how women are treated in the usa, in the american network of concentration camps. See this interview:

    Cruel But Not Unusual: The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons, An Interview with Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn by Susie Day

    05.08.10

    (excerpts)

    Cruel But Not Unusual: The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons, An Interview with Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn by Susie Day

    05.08.10

    Marilyn Buck died on 3 August 2010, less than a month after her release from federal prison. The interview below was first published in the July-August 2001 issue of Monthly Review. — Ed.

    After years of neglect, the issue of women in prison has begun to receive attention in this country. Media accounts of overcrowding, lengthening sentences, and horrendous medical care in women’s prisons appear regularly. Amnesty International — long known for ignoring human rights abuses inside United States prisons and jails — issued a report, two days shy of International Women’s Day 2001, documenting over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse of U.S. women prisoners by their jailers. However, we seldom hear from these women themselves. And we never hear from women incarcerated for their political actions.

    The other thing is the federal conspiracy laws, which are particularly pernicious for women. In 1985, when people heard that I was facing thirty-three years, they were astounded. That seemed like so much time. In 1990, when I ended up with twenty-three years, people were less astounded, because the laws had changed and sentences were much longer. By then, my cellmate had a twenty-four-year sentence on a first offense. This was a drug conspiracy case where it was really her husband who had run this drug ring, and she was swept up in the indictment. Or there’s our friend Danielle, who has a triple-life sentence for another drug conspiracy — her crime was basically refusing to testify against her husband. We found many more women with those kinds of sentences.

    MB: Imagine yourself in a relationship with an abuser who controls your every move, keeps you locked in the house. There’s the ever-present threat of violence or further repression if you don’t toe the line. I think that’s a fairly good analogy of what happens. And imagine being there for fifteen years.

    To be punished, to be absolutely controlled, whether it’s about buttoning your shirt; how you have a scarf on your head; how long or how baggy your pants are — all of those things are under scrutiny. It’s hard to give a clinical picture of what they do, because how do you know, when you’re the target, or the victim, what that does to you? But there’s a difference between being a target and being a victim.

    Can we talk about medical care? The women are getting older. A lot of women in prison are going through menopause. Many have gynecological problems. I had surgery when I was in prison. There you are: you’re bleeding; you’ve had surgery a few hours before. You’re strip-searched, shackled, chained, and you have to walk back to a van. If you’re lucky they’ll have a wheelchair for you to take you back to your unit.

    Especially late, in the middle of the night, when I think about some of my friends, these young women who are doing life sentences. They didn’t kill anyone. They didn’t hurt anybody. They gave a fucking message to someone, or maybe they didn’t turn their husband in, and they knew he had killed someone. They’re doing life, and they have very little chance of getting out. There’s a pain in me that I don’t know how to deal with.

    http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/day050810.html

  5. lichen said on August 9th, 2010 at 3:12pm #

    The men of Afghanistan need to be liberated; they are the victims of extreme violence, discrimination, and forced oppressive gender roles as well. If they weren’t oppressed, through childhood into adulthood, they would not be able to supposedly oppress women. Trying to go in there and liberate only one sex is repulsively ignorant and imperial; it is also disgusting to claim that the taliban and warlords are “misogynistic” when they also lash out, even worse, even more violently at males, along with the US; both see it as an acceptable target to kidnap, kill, and torture males for any reason they can think of. Indeed, it’s worse for males in the middle east.

  6. teafoe2 said on August 9th, 2010 at 3:20pm #

    You can say that again: “Those absurd enough to propagate that the US is out to liberate Muslim women seem at a loss to explain why the US is not currently sending F-16’s into Saudi Arabia to free its women from the chains of oppression, and from the threat of honor killings and child marriages.”

  7. Deadbeat said on August 9th, 2010 at 7:17pm #

    hayate writes …

    “Medea Benjamin was in Afghanistan telling the press about how much better things were for women with US troops there.”

    She was also sitting on the dais of the Albany conference.

    I’ll leave it at that.

  8. Deadbeat said on August 9th, 2010 at 7:26pm #

    lichen writes …

    Trying to go in there and liberate only one sex is repulsively ignorant and imperial

    Totally agree with his comments. The Time magazine article is using “feminism” to promote imperialism. It’s vile and repugnant.

  9. Deadbeat said on August 9th, 2010 at 7:28pm #

    hayate writes …

    For an account of how women are treated in the usa, in the american network of concentration camps

    I certainly didn’t see Gloria Steinem and NOW take up the cause of female incarceration which grew enormously during the Clinton years.

  10. hayate said on August 9th, 2010 at 7:32pm #

    lichen said on August 9th, 2010 at 3:12pm

    “The men of Afghanistan need to be liberated…”

    Let’s send lichen, his leather accouterments and his whip over to Afghanistan to “liberate” those Afghan men.

    :D

  11. hayate said on August 9th, 2010 at 7:37pm #

    Deadbeat

    “She was also sitting on the dais of the Albany conference.”

    I’m probably having a “blonde moment”, but what was the conference about?

    “I certainly didn’t see Gloria Steinem and NOW take up the cause of female incarceration which grew enormously during the Clinton years.”

    Not many of their friends are in jail…. ;D

  12. Deadbeat said on August 9th, 2010 at 10:36pm #

    hayate writes …

    I’m probably having a “blonde moment”, but what was the conference about?

    There was a conference on July 23 – 25 in Albany, NY to “restart” the anti-war movement. Recently I’ve expressed regarding Glen Ford’s relationship with the Left. He spoke at the rally and gave what I thought a good speech. However sitting on the dais to his right is … Medea Benjamin.

    As you point out in her remarks on Afghanistan, her Green Party participation in 2004, and her organization being recipient of Soros dollars her inflated presence (a seat on the dais) looms ominous.

    Her stance on Israel seems to have changed and she now supports the boycott of Israel. However her history IMO means that proceeding with caution is a pragmatic choice.

  13. hayate said on August 10th, 2010 at 9:42am #

    Thanks Deadbeat, I hadn’t been aware of that conference. Ford does make a decent speech there. As for Media Benjamin, her support for the mossad/cia “color rev” against Iran is already grounds enough for caution in my book. I expect more of the same sort of undermining behavour in other areas now. Support for that destabilisation effort is a litmus test of credibility.

  14. teafoe2 said on August 10th, 2010 at 10:59am #

    Please note that Kevin Zeese and Noam Chomsky also addressed the UNAC conference.

    Re “Media” Benjamin, her trackrecord includes many additional instances of “undermining behavior”. So I agree with the admonition to “use caution”. But also quite a bit that is beyond criticism, such as adding her name to the list of prominent figures who have endorsed the Olympia Boycott Committee’s BDS petition. So she remains a moving target…

    BTW, isn’t it interesting that Dr Chomsky finds Rachel Corrie’s parents to be “hypocrites”?

  15. teafoe2 said on August 10th, 2010 at 11:02am #

    re Albany conference, just the fact that G Steinem was sitting on the dias tells me the organizers were badly f****d up.