So these are our allies in the war against terrorism?
A 17-year-old Pakistani girl is unmercifully and publicly flogged by a Taliban thug for leaving her house without a male escort and when authorities are asked to explain, they reply that it was wrong to do it in public. Afghan Shiite women face the prospect of arrest under a new law adopted by the government of Hamid Karzai that critics charge would allow their spouses to incarcerate them at home.
More and more it looks as though American troops are being asked to defend an Afghan government that is close to being little better than the Taliban in its treatment of women. Almost daily there is a report of some new atrocity perpetrated in the name of religious purity that really is just an excuse for maintaining ultra-male dominance.
Western governments now face the prospect of a backlash from their female populations for propping up regimes that in the long run are cut from the same cloth as those they are seeking to defeat. An increasing uneasiness on the home front here and, for that matter, around the world, does not bode well for the prospect of success in the war against al-Qaeda despite an infusion of thousands more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and hopes for United Nations and NATO support.
Although proponents of the Personal Status Law signed by Karzai claim otherwise, critics charge it would permit Shiite men to treat their wives like sex slaves, locked up and unable to go to school or take part in normal activities. During the Taliban era of Sunni Muslim extremism, women were not permitted to seek an education or to work outside the home and the slightest infraction, like an uncovered face, brought severe punishment and even death. They were literally under house arrest.
Supporters of the new law contend that it does not go nearly that far and that women would be allowed outside the home for legitimate reasons. Obviously that depends on how one defines "legitimate," not an encouraging aspect given the 11th century strictures preached by both Sunni and Shiite clerics. That culture clearly regards women as chattel with no voice in family matters or any right to control their own lives. It is a philosophy so ingrained, particularly in the rural villages, that it is nearly impossible to break. Even significant gains in rights for women in the major cities are fragile.
Karzai is facing an election already made increasingly difficult by wholesale corruption that has brought him condemnation at home and abroad. His signing of the new law enshrining male dominance was seen as a political necessity. As is usually the case in these situations, the time is fast approaching when Americans will begin to question the need to continue to feed troops into this cultural morass despite the dire predictions that it is necessary to protect our own interests. Throughout history everyone who tried to change the culture failed. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan played a huge role in the demise of the Soviet Union.
At this time, there seems to be more enthusiasm among U.S. forces for the Afghan operations than there ever was for the invasion of Iraq. Because of the Taliban’s support and protection of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda generally, they see a direct tie to the September 11, 2001, attack on America. But even that sense of justice would be hard to sustain should the current Afghanistan government permit deterioration in what progress women have made in controlling their own destinies. Those who say we should not be concerned with this, that it is the business of the Afghans, are dead wrong.
For this nation to prop up slavery of any kind — religious, cultural, sexual, or racial — would be a denial of all the liberties we have fought so hard to establish here and elsewhere. Karzai and his government should understand that we simply are not in a position to accept that kind of deprivation and eventually women in this country will say enough and that will be that.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)