Friday, 13 August 2010

Aisha - The Girl Who Tried To Get Away

Comment: There couldn't be a more blatant propaganda photo. Such mutilations are common in provincial Afghanistan, and have been since long before the Taliban were created. But this girl is was very pretty. She was extremely lucky to get away from her abusive 'home' and find refuge. In many countries (not only Muslim ones) she would have deserved, and got, an honour killing RP
The maimed face of 18-year-old Aisha, her nose and ears cut off as punishment by her Afghan husband for fleeing his home, made the cover of Time magazine last week and changed the debate over the country's military involvement in Afghanistan. Hitting stands just as a growing chorus of pundits and lawmakers had begun to question the costs, the goals and the point of the country's longest war ever, the gut-punch cover image, beneath a stunningly blunt coverline conspicuously missing a question mark — "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan" — and accompanying story by Aryn Baker, the magazine's Afghan/Pakistan bureau chief, gave a boost to supporters of America's continued military involvement in the country..............

..............And what about Aisha, a new war emblem? While it's long been evident that women have suffered unimaginable horrors under customs practiced in Afghanistan, Aisha's brutal mutilation occurred in 2009, almost eight years into the American invasion.

Meanwhile, in a story light on specifics, there remains some question as to whether the unnamed Afghan judge who ordered Aisha's mutilation qualifies as a "Taliban commander" in any formal sense. And if Aisha's is the face of the notoriously cruel Taliban justice system, the Taliban aren't taking credit. A Taliban press release on August 7 condemned the maiming as "unislamic" and denied that the case was handled by any of its roving judges — to whom many Afghans are now turning, distrustful of Karzai officials.

In the long run, the NATO-backed president, Hamid Karzai, may not be the friend Aisha and other persecuted Afghan women so desperately need. Last August he signed the Shia Personal Status Law, allowing men to starve wives who withhold sex and to punish those who walk outdoors without permission. Under this law — passed by a parliament that is 25 percent female as mandated by the new Afghan consitution — Aisha's decision to leave home would have been considered a crime.
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In fact, Aisha's abuse and mutilation took place last year, with U.S. troops' presence in the country and alongside Afghan women's significant progress on certain fronts. Women For Women in Afghanistan has some more details on her tragic background:

She was sold at the age of 10 by her father to a married man, a Talib. He kept her in the stable with the animals until she was 12 (when she got her first menstrual period). At the age of 12 he married her. From the day that she arrived in his house, she was beaten regularly by this man and his family. Sometimes she was beaten so badly that she couldn't get up for days. Six months ago before she came to us, she was beaten so badly by her husband that she thought that she was going to die. She ran away and went to the neighbor's house. The neighbor took to her to the police.

Such stories are obscene, not at all uncommon, and need to be told. But there is an elision here between these women's oppression and what the U.S. military presence can and should do about it, which in turn simplifies the complexities of the debate and turns it into, "Well, do you want to help Aisha or not?"

While Aryn Baker's story features the voices of many Afghan women who worry that the likely compromise with the Taliban vis a vis a possible U.S. exit will curtail their new freedoms, it doesn't actually forcefully make the case that American military presence is the only solution to their problems. (That's probably because Baker is a reporter, not a commentator, and it's the job of headline writers to grab readers at almost any cost.)

There are, however, conflicting signals about how seriously committed U.S. officials are, in the context of an exist plan, to pushing back at the resurgence of the Taliban as it affects women in the country. One anonymous diplomat tells Baker, "You have to be realistic. We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made." On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told reporters that women's rights are a "red line" that won't be crossed: "I don't think there is such a political solution, one that would be a lasting, sustainable one, that would turn the clock back on women," she said, after relative quiet on the issue last year.

What would turning the clock back mean exactly? This is something the story actually does describe in detail:

During Taliban times, women's voices were banned from the radio, and TV was forbidden, but last month a female anchor interviewed a former Taliban leader on a national broadcast.

Under the Taliban, Robina Muqimyar Jalalai, one of Afghanistan's first two female Olympic athletes, spent her girlhood locked behind the walls of her family compound. Now she is running for parliament and wants a sports ministry created, which she hopes to lead. "We have women boxers and women footballers," she says. "I go running in the stadium where the Taliban used to play football with women's heads."

There is also a 25 percent quota for women in Parliament, although that hasn't always helped protect women's rights, as seen in the case of a bill that "authorized husbands in Shi‘ite families to withhold money and food from wives who refuse to provide sex, limited inheritance and custody of children in the case of divorce and denied women freedom of movement without permission from their families." (That's partly because some of the female parliamentarians are "proxies for conservative men who boosted them into power," according to one of their colleagues.)

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