Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…

Women were treated like human beings, people were free, and music could be enjoyed by all. Then the Taliban came, women were oppressed beyond what most people can even imagine and they were often tortured and killed, music was banned, and any semblance of freedom was destroyed.

Queen Soraya of Afghanistan – from the website Afghanistan Old Photos

The following are excerpts from a September 25, 2001 article in The Gazzette (Colorado Springs) by Cary Leider Vogrin about how life was for women in Afghanistan before the Taliban took over.

Soraiya Edressi Totakhail pushes a piece of paper across her desk toward a visitor. On it is a grainy, black-and-white computer printout of Queen Soraya, who helped rule Afghanistan in the 1920s.
“Look at what she’s wearing,” Totakhail said Monday, pointing to the queen’s sleeveless gown. No Afghan woman, she said, would dare dress like that today for fear of being stoned – or even executed – by the Taliban.
To Totakhail, the picture illustrates the “human rights catastrophe” that has occurred in her native country under the Taliban rule.
“The Taliban really did a systematic destruction of culture,” said Totakhail, a Muslim. “They are just a bunch of terrorists. They are ruthless. They have no respect for human life. To me, they are just a bunch of murderers. I’m embarrassed to even call them Muslims. They do not represent the Afghan people.”

“Their (the Taliban’s) senseless violence, strict segregation and restrictions based on gender – not allowing women to go to school or work – turned professional women to beggars on the corners of streets,” she said.
“They have turned the women to the dark age.”
Totakhail, 43, also mourns the destruction of the capital city of Kabul, where she was raised.
“My roots are all destroyed. There is not much left. It’s all crumbled,” she said. “It was very Western, very open.
“You were allowed to go out alone in public. You could participate in sports. It was a Third World country, but basically people were educated.
“I had all the privileges of the male members of my family. It was a free country.”
RTWT

A November 17, 2001 report by the U.S. State Department, Taliban’s War Against Women, describes the plight of women after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Here are some excerpts:

Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected under law and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society.  Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving toward democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work. These professional women provide a pool of talent and expertise that will be needed in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Afghanistan under the Taliban had one of the worst human rights records in the world. The regime systematically repressed all sectors of the population and denied even the most basic individual rights. Yet the Taliban’s war against women was particularly appalling.

Women are imprisoned in their homes, and are denied access to basic health care and education. Food sent to help starving people is stolen by their leaders. The religious monuments of other faiths are destroyed. Children are forbidden to fly kites, or sing songs… A girl of seven is beaten for wearing white shoes.
— President George W. Bush, Remarks to the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism, November 6, 2001


The assault on the status of women began immediately after the Taliban took power in Kabul. The Taliban closed the women’s university and forced nearly all women to quit their jobs, closing down an important source of talent and expertise for the country. It restricted access to medical care for women, brutally enforced a restrictive dress code, and limited the ability of women to move about the city.
The Taliban perpetrated egregious acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction, and forced marriage. Some families resorted to sending their daughters to Pakistan or Iran to protect them.
Afghan women living under the Taliban virtually had the world of work closed to them. Forced to quit their jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses, and clerical workers when the Taliban took over, women could work only in very limited circumstances. A tremendous asset was lost to a society that desperately needed trained professionals.
As many as 50,000 women, who had lost husbands and other male relatives during Afghanistan’s long civil war, had no source of income. Many were reduced to selling all of their possessions and begging in the streets, or worse, to feed their families.

“The life of Afghan women is so bad.  We are locked at home and cannot see the sun.”
— Nageeba, a 35-year-old widow in Kabul

The Taliban also required that windows of houses be painted over to prevent outsiders from possibly seeing women inside homes, further isolating women who once led productive lives and contributing to a rise in mental health problems. Physicians for Human Rights reports high rates of depression and suicide among Afghan women. One European physician reported many cases of burns in the esophagus as the result of women swallowing battery acid or household cleaners–a cheap, if painful, method of suicide.

In urban areas, the Taliban brutally enforced a dress code that required women to be covered under a burqa — a voluminous, tent-like full-body outer garment that covers them from head to toe. One Anglo-Afghan journalist reported that the burqa’s veil is so thick that the wearer finds it difficult to breathe; the small mesh panel permitted for seeing allows such limited vision that even crossing the street safely is difficult.

Even the accidental showing of the feet or ankles was severely punished. No exceptions were allowed. One woman who became violently carsick was not permitted to take off the garment. When paying for food in the market, a woman’s hand could not show when handing over money or receiving the purchase. Even girls as young as eight or nine years old were expected to wear the burqa.

The fate of women in Afghanistan is infamous and intolerable. The burqa that imprisons them is a cloth prison, but it is above all a moral prison. The torture imposed on little girls who dare to show their ankles or their polished nails is appalling. It is unacceptable and insupportable.
— King Mohammed VI of Morocco

The burqa is not only a physical and psychological burden on some Afghan women, it is a significant economic burden as well. Many women cannot afford the cost of one. In some cases, whole neighborhoods share a single garment, and women must wait days for their turn to go out. For disabled women who need a prosthesis or other aid to walk, the required wearing of the burqa makes them virtually homebound if they cannot get the burqa over the prosthesis or other aid, or use the device effectively when wearing the burqa.
Restrictions on clothing are matched with other limitations on personal adornment. Makeup and nail polish were prohibited. White socks were also prohibited, as were shoes that make noise as it had been deemed that women should walk silently.

The Taliban claimed it was trying to ensure a society in which women had a safe and dignified role. But the facts show the opposite. Women were stripped of their dignity under the Taliban. They were made unable to support their families. Girls were deprived of basic health care and of any semblance of schooling. They were even deprived of their childhood under a regime that took away their songs, their dolls, and their stuffed animals — all banned by the Taliban. RTWT

Ariana Delawari is an Afghani-American who has a new song & video, “Be Gone Taliban”, which Blazing Cat Fur describes as, a “celebration of Afghan girls, and in-your-face-Taliban, dance party.” Here it is, via BCF:

The song is from Ariana’s new album, “Lion of Panshjir”, which was recorded partially in Kabul, where her parents live. Here’s a little background information excerpted from Ariana Delwari’s website bio:

Delawari’s choice to record “Lion of Panjshir” in Afghanistan came with a phone call in February 2007: “It was my mother from Kabul telling me that the Taliban was starting to gain power again,” she says. As part of a reconstruction effort, Delawari’s parents had returned to Afghanistan in 2002; she herself had been going back and forth since then, diligently documenting her travels in photographs and film. The call though, signaled what might be a last opportunity for her: “At this particular moment I had a feeling that things were shifting- that I may never have the chance to record there again.” Three months later she and her bandmates Max Guirand and Paloma Udovic found themselves at her parents house in Kabul. Under the protection of two guards (AK 47s), they recorded the album right in the Delawari household. They collaborated with three Afghan Ustads: a tabla player, a rabab, player, and an 88-year-old dilruba player, the last living master of his instrument. Under previous Taliban rule these talented musicians had once dismantled and hid their instruments due to a ban on music. Delawari and her band spent several days rehearsing and recording with them.

Music was forbidden by the Taliban, as were most things that humans found beauty and simple pleasures in. The Obama administration is currently working with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which may well ensure that brutal oppression and cruelty will once again become the master of the Afghan people as the Taliban grows in power, with Obama’s help.

Update: Here are a video depicting an Afghanistan which is far different from what we see there now:

This post is linked at Blazing Cat Fur. Thank you, Arnie!

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