Muslim Wire

War and women — It’s a mean world

Posted in Life, Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 24, 2009

Frida Ghitis

Thoughts of Afghanistan have filled my mind ever since someone killed Ben Sklaver there a few weeks ago.

A suicide bomber killed Ben, ending the life of a bright, compassionate, handsome 32-year-old whose future was filled with promise. A friend described him as a “combatant for peace,” an idealistic civil-affairs specialist with an advanced degree in diplomacy, specializing in humanitarian studies. An Army reservist, Ben had recently started an organization bringing water to poor villages in Africa after a tour of duty there.

We should never forget that wars, even the most just and necessary ones, always bring terrible pain and loss.

President Obama and his advisers are now deciding the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. As they discuss a troop request from Gen. Stanley McCrystal, their deliberations focus on the security interests of the United States and its allies.

But there is more.

When I ponder Afghanistan, I picture Ben, but my mind returns to life in Afghanistan before U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban. These ultrafanatical Muslims tried to replicate their vision of seventh-century Islamic life. Even Iran said they went too far.

They destroyed women’s lives. They forbade women’s education, banned them from work, forced them to cover all (even their eyes in public), and banned them from leaving their houses unless accompanied by male relatives. Public executions and beatings for minimal infractions became regular events.

In 1998, Physicians for Human Rights declared, “The extent to which the Taliban regime has threatened the human rights of Afghan women is unparalleled in recent history.” PHR researchers described Kabul in 1998 as “a city of beggars — women who had once been teachers and nurses now moving in the streets like ghosts under their enveloping burqas, selling every possession and begging to feed their children.”

Women could not be treated by male doctors or go to hospitals, except for a dilapidated 35-bed facility with no running water. The Taliban forbade women to wear shoes that made a sound and even banned laughter.

Today most Afghan women still struggle under dismal conditions, but progress is undeniable. Millions of girls go to school, even if resurgent Taliban forces still burn their schools and throw acid on girls’ faces to keep them away. Two women ran for president and campaigned openly in the last election. Women now drive, serve in the police, and work as doctors and teachers and civil servants. Girls may have a future as long as the Taliban forces do not rule.

The president faces a terrible dilemma. As U.S. leaders decide, they will surely consider the fate of people like Ben.

I hope the future of Afghan women also enters the equation.

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