Burqa

This week in conflict… October 30th-November 5th, 2010

World

  • The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has released its 2010 Human Development Report entitled “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development” that examines progress in health, education and income. The report uses a “human development index” (HDI) which ranks 135 countries for comparable data. The report warned that a continued failure to tackle climate change was the biggest challenge to the anti-poverty drive. It listed Norway, Australia and New Zealand as the best countries in the world to live, while Zimbabwe, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were listed as least desirable places to live. Japan was listed as the country with the highest life expectancy (83.6 years), and Afghanistan had the lowest life expectancy (44.6 years).
  • The first comprehensive report into cluster bombs around the world was released by Cluster Munition Monitor on Monday. The report found that Norway, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Colombia, Moldova and Montenegro have destroyed their weapons and that 11 other countries were in the process of doing so. The UK is said to have destroyed more than a third of its stockpile.
  • Several bombings targeting embassies and major world leaders, including  US bound packages found in Dubai and Britain, a spate of mail bombs in Greece, suspicious packages to France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Germany’s Angela Merkel were intercepted this week. Intelligence agencies have cited both domestic terrorists (in some of the Greek cases), and the Yemen-based group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as possible suspects, and are conferring with the other bomb cases to determine if they were built by the same people.
  • The International Food Policy Research Institute released its 2010 Global Hunger Index this week. Four nations ranked “extremely alarming” were all based in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for generous contributions to the UN peacebuilding fund, that was set up in 2006 to support efforts to augment peace and stability in countries emerging from conflict. The Fund has so far received $342 million, exceeding its initial target of $250 million, with 46 countries contributing.
  • Companies and states investing in large-scale land deals must be held to standards of transparency and accountability to ensure that their deals are not threatening human rights or food security a new report released by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law announced on Monday. The report analyzes the immediate and anticipated impacts of large-scale land deals in parts of Africa and South Asia.
  • A report by the Open Society Justice Initiative was released on “Corporate War Crimes“. The report details how corporate pillage can be tried as a war crime as both the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions prohibit pillage, as well as most domestic jurisdictions and international courts.

Africa

  • Fresh fighting is said to have erupted in southern Darfur on Wednesday between fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and security forces, as rebels ambushed a government food and supplies convoy. JEM spokesmen announced that at least 50 people were killed in the attack. The spokesperson for the South Sudan referendum commission announced on Monday that he was resigning and spoke of deep disagreements with the head of the commission and its secretary general. He also expressed skepticism that the vote will be held on time, suggesting instead it be moved to April or May so that it can be more effective. Sudan’s southern army accused soldiers from the north of ambushing its men on its territory on Sunday, in violation of the 2005 peace deal. The northern army denied it had any troops south of the border. On Tuesday, the government shut down the Khartoum office of Radio Dabanga and arrested 13 of the staff for reporting negatively on Darfur. On Thursday, three people in a Latvian helicopter crew working for the World Food Programme in South Darfur were kidnapped at gunpoint.
  • In a strange move, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered her entire cabinet to take “administrative leave”, a euphemism for suspension, until further notice. She implied in her order that those not ordered back to work, within an unspecified time, should consider themselves dismissed.
  • Guinea’s run-off elections are in threat of being delayed again, as thousands of Guinea voters have been displaced from last month’s violence and will be denied their voting rights. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect issued a statement on Thursday saying the situation in the Guinea requires international action to prevent mass atrocities from happening during the second round.
  • Ivory Coast will be heading to a run-off election next month, after it failed to determine a majority candidate in its first Presidential election in more than a decade. Laurent Gbagbo will now face off against Alassane Ouattara on November 28th. Some 80% of registered voters peacefully cast ballots on Sunday. Third place candidate Henri Bedie called for a recount as the results went against his favor, although the elections have been widely regarded as fair and free. Experts fear an escalation of violence in the upcoming run-off elections.
  • At least 57 Muslim Brotherhood candidates have been barred from Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary election, it was announced on Wednesday. The group, who won 88 out of 444 seats in the 2005 elections, have claimed that the authorities are doing whatever they can to limit challenges to the ruling National Democratic Party, although the government has said the candidates will have an opportunity to appeal the decisions.
  • Tanzania participated in its presidential election on Sunday, with incumbent Jakaya Kikwete reported as the winner with a landslide 61% of the votes. The parliamentary polls were contested by the main opposition leader on suspected fraud, whose claims were later rejected by election officials. A second opposition party criticized the poll on Thursday after the National Electoral Commission admitted on Wednesday that there could have been irregularities in vote tallying. Clashes erupted between opposition supporters and riot police during the delay of vote counting. Some voters were shocked to find their names listed as dead on voter lists while they were still very much alive, along with other irregularities such as missing names, claims of malpractice and protests.
  • A new round of informal talks of fighting parties in the Western Sahara will take place in New York next week. Morocco and Frente Polisario will both send delegates, as well as neighbouring states Algeria and Mauritania. Moroccan authorities say they dismantled two al-Qaeda terrorist cells this week.
  • At least 15 people are dead following an attack by militants on government soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia on Sunday. On Monday, the African Union Mission in Somalia announced it will train an additional 800 policemen to provide security to Mogadishu. Somalia’s parliament approved a new Prime Minister on Sunday, in a vote of 297 to 92. The new PM, Mohamed Abdullahii Mohamed is considered as someone who could potentially bridge the gap between various groups.
  • An explosion rocked a government guest house in Nigeria’s Niger Delta on Wednesday. Officials were not immediately clear on the cause of the blast or who was responsible.
  • A Ugandan newspaper again published photographs, along with names and home addresses of gay Ugandans on Monday. A human rights group is now seeking a legal injunction against the publication.
  • The Central Intelligence Organization in Zimbabwe is said to have seized donated portable radios from villagers in Chitowa district. The radios were distributed by a civil society organization to help improve access to information for marginalized groups in the area. Violence was said to mar the conclusion of the constitutional outreach meetings, as a MDC supporter was stabbed in the head by ZANU-PF thugs. Around 52 meetings have so far been abandoned or disrupted because of ZANU-PF sponsored violence.
  • At least 21 census agents are said to have been abducted while updating votes’ rolls for upcoming elections it was announced on Monday in the Central African Republic. The agents were intercepted by members of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) who confiscated the information that had been gathered and destroyed it and are holding the agents hostage.
  • More than 600 women and girls were raped during the mass expulsion of illegal immigrants across the Congo-Angola border, the UN announced this week. Many of the victims were locked in dungeon-like conditions for several weeks and raped repeatedly by security forces. Many rape victims in the DRC, keen to keep their family reputation in tack and lacking confidence in the police, opt to take justice into their own hands and come to amicable settlements with their attackers.

Asia

  • NATO has claimed that some 30 insurgents were killed in an overnight raid on Saturday in eastern Afghanistan in an attack that wounded five coalition soldiers. Also on Saturday, two ISAF troops were killed in separate incidents in Kabul; and more than 10 suspected insurgents were killed in Helmand. On Sunday, the ISAF announced it had killed as many as 78 insurgents in air strikes. On Monday, Afghan and foreign troops announced that they had seized nearly 24 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, to be used in homemade bombs, killing at least 15 insurgents in the process; two ISAF service members were killed in a roadside bomb in Kabul; a large number of insurgents attacked and seized Khogyani district in Ghazni province; and two female Afghan aid workers were killed in Kandahar. On Tuesday, a NATO troop member was killed in an insurgent attack in Kabul; Afghan and ISAF troops killed several insurgents in the east in an operation targeting a Taliban leader; and an armed suspected insurgent was shot dead and two suspects arrested in an ISAF/Afghan raid in Helmand. On Wednesday, insurgents firing on NATO troops killed five Afghan civilians and wounded nine others in Helmand; five insurgents were killed while trying to plant a roadside bomb west of Kabul; two ISAF troops were killed in separate attacks in Kabul; and Afghan and ISAF troops killed “several” insurgents and detained several more during an operation in Helmand. On Thursday, two ISAF service members were killed following an attack in Kabul; ISAF forces fired a hellfire missile from the air at two people appearing to be carrying weapons by motorcycle in Kandahar; four insurgents were killed in an Afghan and foreign patrol in Helmand; and an ISAF service member was killed in an insurgent attack in Kabul. On Friday, a teenage suicide bomber killed at least 9 people and wounded some 30 others at a bazaar in the west; six ISAF service members were killed in insurgent attacks and roadside bombs; and a senior leader of the al-Qaeda linked Haqqani network and several insurgents were killed in a coalition air strike.  The US special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan has down played reports of reconciliation talks with the Taliban, announcing that while more were coming forward, the leaders were not. The US military’s claim that it had a successful campaign fighting the Taliban in Arghandab Valley infuriated local people who said the conflict destroyed their harvest this week. A US led campaign is also said to have destroyed or damaged hundreds of houses this week, despite a US strategy designed to weaken support for the Taliban by limiting harm to civilians. The UN mission in Afghanistan announced on Sunday that it had set up a group of experts to support the work in the newly-formed peace council. NATO faces a shortage of specialist instructors to train Afghan forces, so has begun to send hundreds to study outside Afghanistan. The Taliban’s ability to produce large numbers of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been reported to be severely constrained this week due to an apparent shortage of ammonium nitrate. The Taliban claimed this week to have struck a deal with as many as 19 police officers who are said to have defected to the Taliban, leaving behind a burning police station.
  • On Monday, a US drone attack killed at least five people in northwest Pakistan, bringing the US drone attack count to 21 in Pakistan in the last month alone. On Tuesday, gunmen kidnapped seven employees of a state-owned oil and gas company in Pakistan. Three attacks by US drones are said to have killed at least 12 suspected fighters in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, a bomb blast damaged a building of an Islamist party in Peshawar. On Friday, a suicide bomber demolished a mosque in the north-west during prayers, killing at least 66 people; and a grenade blast killed at least three people at another mosque on the Afghan border.
  • Indian troops in Kashmir shot dead six separatist militants in firefights on Tuesday. Concerns were raised that militants may be stepping up violence ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit this week.
  • Protesters in southwestern China overturned and torched dozens of vehicles over what they say is an illegal land grab for a construction project on Thursday. Around 2,000 paramilitary and riot police were eventually deployed and around 20 people were said to have been injured.
  • The Philippines was on heightened alert this week for possible terrorist attacks after American, British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand governments warned their citizens of potential attacks. The Philippine military said it did not have similar information on an immediate threat, but took the advisories seriously.
  • Japan issued a warning to Russia following President Medvedev’s November 1st visit to disputed islands in the North Pacific that both countries make claims to. Russia rejected the warning claiming it does not take advice from anyone when traveling within Russian territory.
  • The results of the Kyrgyzstani elections were released on Monday, and were assessed by observers as positive, transparent and well organized. The parliamentary elections took place on October 10th.
  • Last week’s exchange of gunfire across the Korean border was likely an accident and not a provocation, a top lawmaker and former army general announced on Monday. Media reports have downplayed the skirmish, and there have been no signs of escalation. On Wednesday, a North Korean fishing boat allegedly straying across the Korean border in the Yellow Sea, was fired upon by the South Korean Navy with warning shots.
  • Two main opposition parties in Burma/Myanmar have accused the political group of the military government of “cheating” and “threatening” voters ahead of this weekend’s elections. The election has so-far been considered a sham, as reporters and observers are to be denied access to the country during the vote.
  • The government of Cambodia demanded the removal of the director of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country and stated that the government intends to force the office’s closure. The government is claiming that the office acted as a “spokesperson for the opposition party”.

Central and North America

  • Four Americans were killed in separate attacks in Ciudad Juarez between Friday and Sunday, and the charred body of a Canadian businessman was found on Saturday inside the trunk of a car in Guerrero. Suspected drug hitmen tossed grenades at four police stations across Monterrey on Saturday, killing one civilian and wounded 17 others. Mexican authorities found at least 18 bodies in a mass grave near the resort city of Acapulco on Wednesday. Police have not yet confirmed whether the bodies are those of the tourists who went missing in late September.
  • The US military’s ban on openly gay troops is to remain in place while the Obama administration challenges a court ruling overturning the policy. Obama says he supports ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule, but argues that congress and not the courts should make the decision. For the first time, US human rights practices will be under review by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday. The US has announced that it is open to fair criticism of its human rights record. On Friday it was reported that the US defended its “proud” human rights record, which included the Guantanamo scandal, obstacles to Hispanic immigration, discrimination of Muslims and children’s rights and was largely unapologetic for its behaviour.
  • Gunmen in Honduras opened fire on a group of people in a neighbourhood sports fiend, killing at least 14 on Saturday. It was not immediately clear what triggered the attack, but drug trafficking between rival gangs was suspected.

South America

  • Colombia has suspended seven army officers and soldiers for failing to control their troops in connection with the brutal murders of three impoverished children last month. One of the officers has acknowledged raping the young 14 year old girl before she was killed, and has also confessed to having raped a 13 year old girl in a separate incident on October 2nd.
  • Dilma Rousseff won Brazil’s Presidential election to become the first woman to lead the country by beating rival her rival with 55.5% of the vote in the run-off election. Rousseff vowed to eradicate poverty affecting 20 million people in the country.
  • A Peruvian blogger was sentenced to three years in prison, a fine and 120 days of social work for “aggravated defamation” of a politician after posting an article that linked to several media outlets that discussed criminal accusations against a former minister and congressman. The sentence has generated political and media uproar in the country and has been called unprecedented and unconstitutional.

Middle East

  • On Saturday, gunman attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Abu Ghraib killing two soldiers and wounding five people; gunmen wounded a policeman in Kirkuk; a sticky bomb attack killed a driver in Baghdad; an 8 year old boy was killed and two of his family wounded after a grenade he found exploded in the southwest; and a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded three civilians in Mosul. More than 50 people are said to have been killed after Iraqi security forces stormed a Catholic church in Baghdad on Sunday to free hostages being held by gunmen. Also on Sunday, four Iraqi soldiers were wounded after two mortars landed at an Iraqi army base in Mosul; a car bomb exploded in the north, killing one leader of a government-back militia and wounding three passers-by; a roadside bomb wounded one policeman and two civilians in Baghdad; and another roadside bomb wounded two civilians in Baghdad. On Monday, the chief of a northern police station was killed and his driver wounded in a sticky bomb attack; and Kurdistan security forces killed a gunman carrying around 25 kg of explosive materials at a checkpoint. On Tuesday, more than 36 people were killed (later reported to be as many as 63 people) in a series of apparently coordinated blasts in Baghdad; an off-duty policeman was killed in a roadside bomb in Falluja; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded four policemen in Mosul; a roadside bomb targeting another police patrol wounded three policemen in Mosul; a man was found suffocated and torched to death in Kirkuk; gunmen shot and killed a merchant in Kirkuk; gunmen shot and killed a government backed militia leader in front of his house north of Baghdad; and gunmen shot and killed a civilian in Kirkuk. On Wednesday, armed men killed a 17 year old boy in front of his home in Mosul; a roadside bomb on a motorcycle wounded two firemen in Ramadi; another roadside bomb in Ramadi wounded two civilians; a car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded three soldiers in the north; and gunmen threw a hand grenade at a police patrol, wounding a woman in Mosul. On Thursday, four soldiers and two policemen were wounded in three roadside bombs in the west; three children were wounded in a bomb attack in Mosul; police found the body of a man riddled with gunshot wounds to his chest and head in Mosul; three policemen were killed and six wounded during a bomb detonation in the north; two roadside bombs killed a driver in the west; three policemen were wounded in an attack on a police checkpoint near Falluja; three other policemen were wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Falluja; and two interior ministry officers were wounded in a sticky bomb attack in Baghdad. On Friday, nine civilians were killed in a bomb attack in Baquba; and a roadside bomb killed a government-backed Sunni Sahwa militia leader in Kirkuk.
  • Iran has arrested four men it claims were paid by a British based man with Kurdish sympathies to carry out a series of assassinations. The arrests are thought to put further strain on the already troubled relations between Britain and Iran.
  • The government of Yemen has launched a major offensive against al-Qaeda, and in particular a Saudi bomb maker behind a year-long wave of bombing attempts, and is suspected of the bombing of a  major oil pipeline this week. At least two Yemeni soldiers and one attacker were said to have been killed after anti-government fighters attacked a military checkpoint on Wednesday. On Thursday, a car bomb in the south killed two people and wounded at least 13 others; a masked gunmen shot and wounded a soldier manning a checkpoint; and southern secessionists took to the streets in a weekly demonstration to protest against the detention of separatists.
  • A Palestinian leader of an extremist group was killed in an apparent Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, a Hamas police officer shot dead a Palestinian salesman and wounded his assistant in a market in a refugee camp west of Gaza City. Israeli undercover agents have been accused by human rights group B’Tselem of abusing Palestinians during questioning at a detention centre. Israel rejected the allegations.
  • Israel has suspended dialogue with the UK in protest over a British law that allows UK courts to prosecute visiting Israeli officials for alleged war crimes. The UK has said that the law needs to be changed, but have not suggested when.

Europe

  • At least 32 people were injured after a suspected suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. Kurdish fighters have denied responsibility and announced the extension of a unilateral ceasefire. On Thursday, a group connected with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • An Arab woman on vacation in France was attacked by a French retiree for wearing a full-face veil. The case has highlighted potential problems with the recent law enforcing a veil ban.
  • A suspected militant detonated an improvised grenade during a raid on a suspected rebel hideout on Monday, killing himself, and injuring at least 10 police officers in Chechnya.
  • Kosovo’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to oust the governing coalition this week and announced that its first elections since declaring independence from Serbia would be held December 12th. Kosovo entered a political deadlock when the President resigned in September.
  • Anti-government protesters were allowed to rally on Sunday in Moscow’s Triumph Square for the first time in years after authorities granted them permission. Opposition attempts at rallying have previously been broken up, with protesters detained or arrested. Russian police officers conducted an armed raid on Tuesday of a bank belonging to a billionaire. The billionaire suggested that the raid was connected to his support of opposition newspapers. Investigators said they were searching for evidence for a criminal case that was opened some time ago.
  • Georgia announced on Friday that it had detained some 15 undercover agents working in Georgia. The spies are said to have been passing on information about Georgia’s armed forces, weapons purchases, military communications and coordination with foreign armies. Relations between the two countries have remain mostly frozen since the war in August 2008.
  • Britain and France signed defense agreements on Tuesday to expand their cooperation, including the creation of a joint expeditionary force, shared use of aircraft carriers and combined efforts to improve safety and effectiveness of nuclear weapons. The cooperation pact is set to last 50 years and will transform the way the two countries fight wars and compete for defense contracts.
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The United States-led War in Afghanistan and the Implications of the Polarization of the Burqa as a Symbol of the Oppression of Afghani Women

Written by Heather Wilhelm

The United States (US) led war in Afghanistan is one of the most controversial current events in today’s world. After the September 11th attacks on US soil, the government of George W. Bush declared war against the Taliban, the acting government of Afghanistan. It was their belief that the al-Qa’eda terrorist network and its leader Osama bin Laden were responsible for these attacks, and that the Afghan government was in support of and harbouring bin Laden. In an effort to justify the mass bombings of Afghanistan in the weeks (and subsequently years) to follow, the Bush administration created a publicity campaign in which they would claim to be declaring a ‘War on Terror’ against the Taliban in an effort to liberate the women of Afghanistan. They claimed that years of physical and structural abuse against women in this country finally needed to come to an end. This campaign centred around the burqa, a restrictive, all-encompassing religious dress that the Taliban forced women to wear every time they left their homes. The US media began bombarding the American public with visions of women trapped underneath these burqas, in an effort to gain support for the continuing war in Afghanistan. This US government campaign would polarize the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan into an object: the burqa, and would leave the public unaware of the true history of women’s oppression under both the Taliban and US-backed regimes. It would also effectively hurt the progress that could have been made by women after the fall of the Taliban, as little attention was paid to solving the real issues in Afghanistan: gender inequalities and structural and physical violence against women that continue to oppress Afghani women to this day.

In 1964, Mohammed Zahir Shah, the King of Afghanistan created a new constitution for his people that would modernize his country’s political and economic spheres, as well as usher in new democratic legislature that would thrust Afghani women’s rights into the 20th century . The Basic Rights and Duties of the People as listed in articles 25-40 of the 1964 Constitution gave all citizens of Afghanistan equal rights to education, healthcare, and employment. Women were even allowed to enrol with the Armed Forces if they so desired . It was a time for great change and acceptance in the country, and more specifically a time of freedom for women who had been horribly oppressed for hundreds of years. This freedom would not last. In 1973, while Zahir Shah was out of the country for medical treatment, his cousin Daoud executed a well planned out coup d’etat, which would lead to the end of the monarchy that had been established in Afghanistan in 1747 . The end of Zahir Shah’s rein would have terrible consequences for the people of Afghanistan, as only six years after he was ousted from his throne, the Soviet Union would invade the country and the effect of this on the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Afghanistan (especially women) would be disastrous.
It would be during this Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that the United States would become heavily involved with Afghani extremists who were anti-Communist and core fundamentalists . The United States provided these groups with “$30 million in 1980 and increased to over $1 billion per year in 1986-89.” By contrast, opposition groups such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), whose aim was “to unite and fight for the independence of our beloved country” were not provided with any funding. While their aim was to bring about a union of the people to create a lasting democracy, the US was more focused on making the Soviet Union pay a price. To accomplish this, they continued to support exceedingly violent parties who were not above imprisoning, torturing, and murdering innocent civilians in the name of their cause . Even after the Soviets retreated in 1989, the US continued to fund the Mujahideen, which was a group of seven Pakistan-based parties who were equated with Afghani resistance . Interestingly enough, these seven parties denounced the return of King Zahir Shah even though many citizens of Afghanistan felt he was the only hope for their country . After the US-backed Mujahideen government took power, the women of Afghanistan were the first to feel the changes after the ‘Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ was created. Although often attributed to the Taliban’s reign, this Ministry was in fact created under the Mujahideen and called for women in Afghanistan to immediately begin covering practices . In August of 1993, they took it a step further by imposing the following legislation:
Women do not need to leave their homes at all, unless absolutely necessary, in which case they are to cover themselves completely; are not to wear attractive clothing and decorative accessories; do not wear perfume; their jewelry must not make any noise; they are not walk gracefully or with pride and in the middle of the sidewalk; are not to talk to strangers; are not to speak loudly or laugh in public; and they must always ask their husbands’ permission to leave home.

These decrees were almost identical to those that would be practiced by the Taliban after they came into power, however they are solely attributed to their regime by the US government. In fact, between the years of 1992-1996 before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan was embroiled in a bitter internal civil war in which brutal atrocities were carried out against innocent civilians. Thousands were murdered senselessly, and women were often used as rewards to soldiers who had done a good job for the government .
When the Taliban did take power in 1996, Washington was pleased to finally have a chance to end the anarchy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, where the Mujahideen had basically reduced the city to rubble . The Afghan citizens were also relieved to have a new government in power, and they prayed that the Taliban regime would finally lend the way for change in Afghanistan. All parties were quickly proven wrong as the Taliban immediately began imposing laws that some considered even more strict than those of the previous regime. Women were immediately dismissed from work, and forced to remain virtual prisoners in their homes. Girls were no longer able to attend school . While the Majuhideen had placed severe restrictions on women, they had still been allowed to work, attend school and leave home occasionally as long as they were covered in a traditional Islamic covering. The Taliban would not tolerate such offences, and the punishment for women offenders was often public stoning and/or death. Even these egregious human rights violations did not bring reprimands from the United States . It was not until the Taliban began actively attacking US soil that they finally acknowledged the terrorist tendencies of the regime and their support of the al-Qa’eda network of terrorists who had claimed responsibility for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Tower complex in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 1999 attack on the USS Cole. These attacks finally culminated in the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City and on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Not since Pearl Harbour had the US felt the pain of an attack on their own soil, let alone in two of the hearts of their great nation. It was time for revenge, and the administration of George W. Bush decided that war was the only way to make the Taliban pay for their attack.

For years prior to the attacks of 9/11 the US had been unsuccessfully attempting to strong arm the Taliban into turning over Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qa’eda network . Their tactics were no different after September 11th, and the Taliban’s response was unfaltering: they would not hand over bin Laden. A war on Afghanistan was almost immediately declared, with the first bombs being dropped October 7, 2001 . Just over a month later, on November 17, 2001, Laura Bush gave the president’s ‘Weekly Radio Address’, and for the first time, the address was given in its entirety by a First Lady . On this night, Mrs. Bush essentially became the US government’s voice against the oppression of women in Afghanistan, and vowed to end the suffering and subjugation of women under the Taliban government . This fight for the liberation of Afghani women was centred around the burqa, an enveloping outer garment that is worn by women of some Islamic faiths when they are outside their own homes . A brief look at the history of the burqa will help to contextualize the arguments put forth in the remainder of this paper.
The Qur’an is the religious text of the Muslim faith, just as the New Testament is the religious text of Christianity. The Qur’an requires that both Muslim men and women dress modestly while in public, however men are only required to cover from their naval to the floor whereas women are required to cover all but their hands and face . This inequality was mutated even further with the Taliban’s requirement of all women to be burqa-clad while in public . The burqa is the most intense form of covering in the Muslim faith. While some women simply wear a hajib, which is also known as a head scarf, others wear the all-encompassing burqa. A full-length dress fabricated with metres of fabric, the burqa completely covers the wearer leaving only a small hole in front of the eyes covered with mesh to see through. It is a very constrictive garment, and the vast amount of fabric makes it very difficult to walk in, let alone communicate through .
The idea of these personal prisons is a completely shocking thought and vision for the population of the Western world, especially for women who feel they have had the privilege to grow up with equality and independence. The Bush administration used its knowledge of this shock to capitalize on the oppression of women in Afghanistan, and created a publicity campaign that centred on the liberation of Afghani women and girls . They hammered the idea of the Taliban’s mistreatment of women into the psyches of the American public, without a mention of the atrocities women had suffered at the hands of US-backed Afghani regimes in the past . In 2002, the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council (UAWC) was formed in what would be the culmination of the publicity campaign. Although this group looks good on paper, it has still done nothing of any major consequence to help liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead it has focused so narrowly on the burqa and the ‘unveiling’ of Afghani women that the real and still existing problems of social inequality and gender repression are ignored . The US government and the UAWC have chosen a route of educating the general public by selectively placing all of the emphasis on an object: the burqa, rather than examining the deeper, underlying problems that continue to exist in Aghanistan.
While for some women the practice of covering in a burqa may be a demeaning historical practice, for many others the burqa is a religious symbol or a symbol of how hard women in Afghanistan have fought for the freedom that still eludes them . In the religious sense, Muslim people are thoroughly faithful to the Qur’an and that does not end with Muslim men. Muslim women have been raised with the scripture of the Qur’an and just as Westerners have a strong belief in the teachings of the religion they choose to follow, so to do Muslim women. The idea of modesty in clothing and behaviour is what these women believe, and their choice to wear a hajib or a burqa, is just that: a choice. While many Westerners argue that they only make this choice because they ‘don’t know any better’, it is dangerous ground to tread on to assume that one’s culture or religion is superior to another one. There are American Muslim women who choose to cover themselves even after being exposed to a multitude of different cultures, so one should not assume that the women of Afghanistan would choose to change their religious beliefs simply because of a change in government. Alternatively, there were also women who chose to use their confinement in the burqa to further the efforts of organizations attempting to achieve democracy in Afghanistan. Women took to hiding important documents under their burqas, which could easily conceal books, newspapers, and other items due to their masses of fabric . This contraband could then be delivered to others who were part of the resistance to the Taliban. For these women, the burqa became a form of strength, power and resistance, rather than a government imposed personal prison. Many female Afghani activists still believe the burqa is a powerful symbol and are therefore less concerned with the garments they are forced to wear, and more concerned with the democratization of their country, and the hope of equal rights for all . These women do not need to be saved from their oppressors, they need to be given the tools to create a better future for themselves and their families.
It is hard to believe that after six years of US occupation in Afghanistan there have still been very few changes in the social conditions for women and girls in the country . The new puppet government the US imposed upon Afghanistan is still practicing Sharia law, which has an extremely detrimental effect women. Afghan prisons are now full of women who have been convicted of crimes that range from refusing to marry the man their family has chosen, to simply running away from home . There have also been cases of sexual abuse and torture in these prisons. In 2005, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) collected statistics on Afghanistan for the first time, and the results were less than favourable. The country was ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the UNDP human development index, and statistics provided on health, literacy, employment, and lifespan showed that little has changed in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban . The maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world with 1,700 deaths in every 100,000, and if a woman is lucky enough to survive childbirth she will likely not live past the age of forty-five. An average Afghan woman cannot read or write, and even after the fall of the Taliban only 1% of children in school are girls . The question we must ask ourselves however, is not why have there been no changes, but how can we ensure that there will be changes in the future.

The best possible chance for change in the future, is to first open a dialogue about the real history of Afghanistan. This will certainly not be favourable to the United States, but at some point people need to be told the truth about their government’s actions and how those actions have affected other nations negatively. Also, relying on women in the US to run an effective campaign to save Afghani women is not a realistic expectation. There are many capable, experienced Afghani women who have spent their lives dedicated to improving the lives of their fellow female citizens . This is an extremely risky venture to undertake, and many women have been murdered for their involvement in the Afghani women’s liberation movement. Meena, the founder of RAWA, has been touted as a martyr for her work in starting the movement, and she was the first of many assassinated by both the Taliban and US-backed governments . These women have worked on the front lines for decades, and have lived through the constant fear of retribution for speaking out against the government, so who better to ask than them? The difficulty in asking them rests in their total knowledge of the United States’ history in their country. They know of the atrocities carried out by US-supported groups dating back four decades, just as well as they know about the current warlord government of today. The chance of this information getting out is too much for the US to risk, but this truth could truly set the women of Afghanistan free.
Individual activists are also becoming more prevalent in Afghanistan. One of the most famed Afghani women to speak out in recent years is Malalai Joya, who has chosen to tell the true story of the US ‘libertation’ of Afghanistan. She points out that the only success the US has had in their occupation of her country has been to replace one brutal, misogynist regime with another. Joya raised the unspoken topic of the post-9/11 warlord regime and their ruthless abuses of the Afghani people, but was silenced immediately. To date there have been four attempts on her life, as the US-imposed Afghani puppet government continues to try and silence those who speak out for democracy .
A complete attitude shift is required here on the part of the American public. People need to believe that these horrible crimes against humanity are occurring every day. They need to understand that not everyone wants to be an American or live the life of a Westerner, and that we need respect the cultures of others in order to evoke change. It is time for the American public to realize that their government keeps them under a dark cloud of lies and deception, and to start asking the questions that will finally bring truth and democracy to Afghanistan.
-HW


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