AVOID MUSLIM AFGHANISTAN
2 Afghans face death over translation of Quran
By HEIDI VOGT
February 6, 2009
KABUL (AP) — No one knows who brought the book to the mosque, or at least no one dares say. The pocket-size translation of the Quran has already landed six men in prison in Afghanistan and left two of them begging judges to spare their lives. They're accused of modifying the Quran and their fate could be decided Sunday in court.
The trial illustrates what critics call the undue influence of hardline clerics in Afghanistan, a major hurdle as the country tries to establish a lawful society amid war and militant violence.
The book appeared among gifts left for the cleric at a major Kabul mosque after Friday prayers in September 2007. It was a translation of the Quran into one of Afghanistan's languages, with a note giving permission to reprint the text as long as it was distributed for free.
Some of the men of the mosque said the book would be useful to Afghans who didn't know Arabic, so they took up a collection for printing. The mosque's cleric asked Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a longtime friend, to get the books printed.
But as some of the 1,000 copies made their way to conservative Muslim clerics in Kabul, whispers began, then an outcry.
Many clerics rejected the book because it did not include the original Arabic verses alongside the translation. It's a particularly sensitive detail for Muslims, who regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God. A translation is not considered a Quran itself, and a mistranslation could warp God's word.
The clerics said Zalmai, a stocky 54-year-old spokesman for the attorney general, was trying to anoint himself as a prophet. They said his book was trying to replace the Quran, not offer a simple translation. Translated editions of the Quran abound in Kabul markets, but they include Arabic verses.
The country's powerful Islamic council issued an edict condemning the book.
"In all the mosques in Afghanistan, all the mullahs said, 'Zalmai is an infidel. He should be killed,'" Zalmai recounted as he sat outside the chief judge's chambers waiting for a recent hearing.
Zalmai lost friends quickly. He was condemned by colleagues and even by others involved in the book's printing. A mob stoned his house one night, said his brother, Mahmood Ghaws.
Police arrested Zalmai as he was fleeing to Pakistan, along with three other men the government says were trying to help him escape. The publisher and the mosque's cleric, who signed a letter endorsing the book, were also jailed.
There is no law in Afghanistan prohibiting the translation of the Quran. But Zalmai is accused of violating Islamic Shariah law by modifying the Quran. The courts in Afghanistan, an Islamic state, are empowered to apply Shariah law when there are no applicable existing statutes.
And Afghanistan's court system appears to be stacked against those accused of religious crimes. Judges don't want to seem soft on potential heretics and lawyers don't want to be seen defending them, said Afzal Shurmach Nooristani, whose Afghan Legal Aid group is defending Zalmai.
The prosecutor wants the death penalty for Zalmai and the cleric, who have now spent more than a year in prison.
Sentences on religious infractions can be harsh. In January 2008, a court sentenced a journalism student to death for blasphemy for asking questions about women's rights under Islam. An appeals court reduced the sentence to 20 years in prison. His lawyers appealed again and the case is pending.
In 2006, an Afghan man was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. He was later ruled insane and was given asylum in Italy. Islamic leaders and the parliament accused President Hamid Karzai of being a puppet for the West for letting him live.
Nooristani, who is also defending the journalism student, said he and his colleagues have received death threats.
"The mullahs in the mosques have said whoever defends an infidel is an infidel," Nooristani said.
The legal aid organization, which usually represents impoverished defendants, is defending Zalmai because no one else would take the case.
"We went to all the lawyers and they said, 'We can't help you because all the mullahs are against you. If we defend you, the mullahs will say that we should be killed.' We went six months without a lawyer," Zalmai said outside the judge's chambers.
The publisher was originally sentenced to five years in prison. Zalmai and the cleric were sentenced to 20, and now the prosecutor is demanding the death penalty for the two as a judge hears appeals.
Nearly everyone in court claims ignorance now.
The mosque's mullah says he never read the book and that he was duped into signing the letter. The print shop owner says neither he nor any of his employees read the book, noting that it's illegal for them to read materials they publish.
Zalmai pleaded for forgiveness before a January hearing, saying he had assumed a stand-alone translation wasn't a problem.
"You can find these types of translations in Turkey, in Russia, in France, in Italy," he said.
When the chief judge later banged his gavel to silence shouting lawyers and nodded at Zalmai to explain himself, the defendant stood and chanted Quranic verses as proof that he was a devout Muslim who should be forgiven.
Shariah law is applied differently in Islamic states. Saudi Arabia claims the Quran as its constitution, while Malaysia has separate religious and secular courts.
But since there is no ultimate arbiter of religious questions in Afghanistan, judges must strike a balance between the country's laws and proclamations by clerics or the Islamic council, called the Ulema council.
Judges are "so nervous about annoying the Ulema council and being criticized that they tend to push the Islamic cases aside and just defer to what others say," said John Dempsey, a legal expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace in Kabul.
Deferring to the council means that edicts issued by the group of clerics can influence rulings more than laws on the books or a judge's own interpretation of Shariah law, he said.
Judges have to be careful about whom they might anger with their rulings. In September, gunmen killed a top judge with Afghanistan's counter-narcotics court. Other judges have been gunned down as well.
Mahmood Ghaws said that even if his brother is found innocent, their family will never be treated the same.
"When I go out in the street, people don't say hello to me in the way they used to," he said. "They don't ask after my family."
Taliban vows violent response to US troop increase
By FISNIK ABRASHI
December 8, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban's fugitive leader said the planned increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan will give his fighters incentive to kill and maim more Americans than ever.
Mullah Omar, who is believed to be sheltered by fiercely conservative tribesman on the Afghan-Pakistan border, said battles would "flare up" everywhere.
"The current armed clashes, which now number into tens, will spiral up to hundred of armed clashes. Your current casualties of hundreds will jack up to thousand casualties of dead and injured," said the statement, which was written in broken English and posted on a Web site Sunday that has previously carried militant messages.
Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in the last two years, and 2008 has been the deadliest year for U.S. troops since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
There are more than 60,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including 32,000 U.S. forces. Though U.S. troop levels are already at their highest since the start of the conflict in 2001, American commanders have requested 20,000 more troops to stem the increase in violence that has engulfed parts of the country.
Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain warned on Sunday during a visit to Afghanistan that the situation "is going to get harder before it gets easier."
The rising violence in Afghanistan appears to be coordinated closely with the spike in militant attacks in neighboring Pakistan, and officials increasingly view both countries as part of the same battlefront.
Early Monday, militants in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar attacked a truck terminal, torching more than 100 military vehicles loaded with supplies for American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, a witness and an Associated Press reporter said.
The attack was the second in as many days on the supply line in the city, showing its vulnerability to militants that control large swaths Pakistan's lawless regions close to Afghanistan.
Omar's message, released at the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the "Feast of the Sacrifice," also rejected any talks with the government of President Hamid Karzai while foreign troops remain in the country.
Karzai on Monday, during an Eid address, again asked armed militants who are fighting Afghan and NATO forces to lay down their weapons and join the government.
Karzai last month offered protection for Omar — who is wanted by the United States and is blacklisted by the United Nations — if he accepts Afghanistan's constitution and joins peace talks.
Omar dismissed that call in his latest message.
"Do not ever presume that in the presence of the occupation forces, the followers of the path of Islamic resistance will ever abandon their legitimate struggle merely on your empty and farcical pledges, material privileges and personal immunity," Omar said.
Omar also called on his fighters to administer "Islamic punishment" on anyone who kidnaps people for ransom. He said that the protection of people's lives is a major goal of jihad, or holy war. Kidnappings of Westerners have increased over the last couple of months, but not all the kidnappings are carried out by Taliban-aligned fighters.
Omar went into hiding after the U.S.-led invasion toppled his Taliban regime. Afghan officials have said he is hiding in the Pakistani city of Quetta. Pakistan says he is in Afghanistan.
In his statement, Omar also called on those Afghans who fought against Soviet troops in the 1980s to abandon their government jobs and join the ranks of the Taliban. He also said that the idea of creating tribal militias in order to fight the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the country will not work.
"No Afghan will lower himself to such an irrational and insensitive position to fight against his own brothers for the interests of the invaders and lose his life and faith for ... the pleasure of the invaders," the statement said.
U.S. commanders have said that Afghan tribes are needed as crucial battlefield allies against the Taliban and other extremists in the same way local Sunni militias rose up to oppose al-Qaida fighters in Iraq's western Anbar province.
The tactic has long been endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus — the former top U.S. military official in Iraq who now oversees the Afghan war as commander of U.S. Central Command.
Afghan Gangs on Rise
Troubles with Taliban militants may be on the wane, but robberies and killings are increasing. Some say criminals have friends in government.
By Paul Watson
Times Staff Writer
May 21, 2005
It took Khan two years to establish that his younger brother Nasir, 19, was killed by a gang that allegedly strangled taxi drivers with a rope, and then broke down their cars and sold the parts on the black market in Pakistan.
Just 20 days after Nasir disappeared in April 2003, Khan showed the Nangarhar provincial police chief, a former warlord, a letter from a witness that named a prime suspect.
The police did little to follow the lead, Khan said. So the poor farmer from Barikaw, about 20 miles north of Kabul, began his own investigation. He walked for months along the main highways of several provinces, looking for his brother's body and any sign of his old, battered taxi.
While Khan searched, the gang apparently took more victims, burying some of them in the yard of a Kabul house. His brother's corpse was finally discovered there in February, 80 miles from the bus stop where he had picked up his last fare.
Although he lacks proof, Khan thinks there's a simple reason it took police so long to solve the killings of his brother and at least 26 others.
"These people have friends in Kabul in the Interior Ministry, and in the police stations, who are supporting them," he said of the criminal gang.
Senior officers in the national police share Khan's suspicion that organized criminal groups involved in armed robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder have powerful friends in the government headed by President Hamid Karzai.
Gangsters are like "the snake in the sleeve," and they pose a bigger threat to Afghanistan's emerging democracy than terrorists, said Gen. Abdul Jamil, who heads the police crime branch in Kabul.
"These are the most dangerous enemies because they look like friends," he said. "But in reality they are our enemies, and these are the people who work alongside us in the government. They are really dangerous."
Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, acknowledged that there were criminals in the ranks of the national police who were getting help from some senior government officials. But, given a history of two decades of war, Karzai is making dramatic progress, he said.
"It was to be expected that in Afghanistan this area would be the most damaged, the most corrupted, because this is how past regimes tortured people and committed all their crimes," Ludin said.
After Karzai won last the election in October, he promised to form a government based on merit, not a coalition to appease warlords. Compared to the warlords, he said, the remnants of the Taliban regime were a minor problem.
But at the urging of the U.S. and other Western allies, Karzai continues to accommodate former warlords in the central government in the hope that they will be easier to control inside the halls of power.
Karzai's critics say he is trading one set of problems for another: As the Taliban weakens and terrorism wanes, gangsterism is on the rise.
"This is a big mistake by the government," said Azaryuon, who heads a coalition of human rights groups. Like many Afghans, he uses only one name. "They think they might reform these [militia] commanders. Not only are they not reforming them, but they are also giving these criminals power."
Karzai made one of his most controversial appointments March 1, when he made strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum army chief of staff. New York-based Human Rights Watch and other groups say Dostum is one of several militia commanders who should be prosecuted for war crimes.
When police chiefs and governors start acting more like mobsters, Karzai moves them in the hope that they will be less autocratic off their home turf. In September, he removed Ismail Khan from the governorship of Herat, bringing him to Kabul and giving him a place in his Cabinet.
But betting on cooperation from warlords and shifting them around the country strengthens their grip on power because they are learning to cooperate, Azaryuon said.
"Karzai thinks that if he switches them from one area to another he can control them, but he is wrong because they are all together and united now," said Azaryuon, project coordinator for the Civil Society and Human Rights Network, a coalition of more than 30 Afghan groups.
Karzai has had some success building a professional army with a Western-trained officer corps loyal to the government. The new Afghan National Army cut its desertion rate significantly by boosting wages and now has more than 21,000 soldiers, although far short of the 70,000-troop target. Improved recruitment is leading to a better ethnic balance, but there are still rivalries.
Karzai and the U.S. military say the Taliban and their allies are on the decline despite a recent surge of attacks after a winter lull. Karzai hopes to further reduce the threat in coming months with an amnesty offer to Taliban members not suspected of serious crimes.
But restoring law and order is proving much more difficult.
In some areas, militia fighters have followed their commanders into the local police force, turning it into a private army in police uniform, human rights activists and other analysts allege.
The national highway police, made up largely of former mujahedin trained to protect the main road linking Afghanistan's regions, are considered a key link in the trafficking network that, according to the State Department, supplied almost 90% of the world's heroin last year.
Kabul, the capital, has suffered a surge in major crimes since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. More than 180 people have been killed in the last year, and police are having trouble stopping armed robberies, said Jamil, the police commander.
One of the capital's most feared gangs is headed by Rais Khudaidad, who has safe haven with his men in Kabul's lawless Paghman district, Jamil said. He said several other gangsters in Paghman were beyond the reach of the law "because these people have a lot of friends in the government."
Over the last two years, about 40,000 militia fighters have disarmed under a voluntary program, but it is unclear how many men still carry arms. Warlords who once wore combat fatigues are trying to maintain their power even as they switch to suits. Some are trying their hand at politics, and plan to run for parliament in election scheduled for September.
"Political and military analysts in Afghanistan increasingly recognize that there has been a fundamental change in the commanders' priorities during the past three years," the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a February report.
"Most no longer see the need to maintain large stocks of heavy weaponry, since the coalition presence precludes the waging of open warfare. Instead, they have opted to maintain leaner, lightly armed forces adequate to protect their political, military and economic interests, including narcotics trafficking."
When Lahore Khan's brother disappeared, another taxi driver, in a letter, identified the missing driver's last fare as Shah Mahmood, a tailor. He also warned Khan to be careful because he was up against powerful people.
Khan went to look for Mahmood in his village on the pretext of buying a cow. Mahmood wasn't there. So Khan visited his shop. He wasn't there either. Each time Khan went back, the family said Mahmood was in Kabul.
Khan appealed to a provincial council that includes the governor, his deputy and the police chief, Hazrat Ali, a former warlord who provided militia fighters in the effort to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in late 2001. Some suspect that Ali allowed Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders to escape, a charge he denies.
"I asked them, 'What kind of commanders are you? People are disappearing and you don't care about it,'" Khan said. "And then Hazrat Ali told me that Shah Mahmood is one of his men. He said, 'Find him yourself, then I will punish him.' "
Sitting on the floor of his farmhouse, next to a wall of dry mud dotted with bits of straw, Khan unfolded a letter that he had sealed in plastic wrap to keep it clean. It is on the letterhead of the Bank of Afghanistan and signed by Hazrat Ali.
The undated letter, addressed to "All Security Guards and Policemen," advised that Khan's brother was missing, and instructed them to help "find the person he suspects." No names. No addresses. No orders to investigate a possible murder.
Khan carried on his search alone. He eventually found Mahmood and led the police to him. Khan says the judge who heard the case told him to produce a witness. The taxi driver who tipped him off was afraid to testify, Khan told the court. There was no proof his brother had been killed because his body had not been found.
With so little evidence, the judge sentenced Mahmood to two years in jail, Khan said. Even now, he is not sure what crime, if any, Mahmood was found guilty of. He suspects the judge only acted to protect the rest of the gang. It apparently went on kidnapping and killing until Kabul police uncovered the mass grave and charged seven people, including Mahmood, with murder in the serial killings.
When Khan heard a Radio Liberty report on the arrests and the mass grave, he went to the intelligence bureau of the national police to ask whether he could see the bodies. He was able to identify his brother from clothing, and the license plate of his car, which police found in the gang's house near the shallow grave.
During his hunt, Khan said he was often tailed by a man in a Datsun four-by-four truck. It was only months later, when police in Kabul published photos of seven people charged with the serial killings, that Khan learned his name.
The man was Rahmatullah, and Khan recognized him as a guard at the gate of Hazrat Ali's office in Jalalabad.
In an interview, the police chief said he couldn't recall whether he had met Khan, but insisted his force was clean.
"I did hear many complaints about cars being lost, so that is why I tried my best to arrest the criminals," Ali said by phone from Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. "And finally I did it. But their release or their punishment isn't up to us. It's up to the prosecutors."
Police in the national intelligence unit say Rahmatullah, a thin man with a long black beard and an artificial leg, is the gang's leader. His wife, Shirin Gul, is being held in the women's wing of Kabul's Pul-i-Charki prison. Her first husband was among the gang's early victims, police say. She's glad the gang killed him because, she said, he took her as a bride when he was 45 and she was a 13-year-old orphan and abused her and later forced her to work as a prostitute.
"I will always forgive Rahmatullah because he has saved me and he has fed my children and me," she said, "I think killing a coward and a person who doesn't care about his wife is allowed." Gul's son is also charged.
Police permitted a reporter to see, but not interview, Rahmatullah and Gul's son, Samiullah Khan, in another prison. Authorities gave conflicting accounts of where the rest of the gang, including Mahmood, were being held. Gul says they have escaped.
Despite finding his brother's killer, Khan says he doesn't feel a sense of victory or justice, or even of a long journey ending. He is certain the gang is bigger than the seven people arrested, and after two years of investigating, he thinks their victims number closer to 100 than 27.
He's afraid his children, or three other brothers, could be next. They live in a village not far from the sprawling U.S. base at Bagram, north of Kabul, yet Khan feels he lives at the mercy of criminals.
The suggestion that the system may have finally worked made Khan angry. His eyes flashing, he recalled a popular Afghan adage: "A drum always sounds good from afar."
"This saying is really true in Afghanistan's case because if you are in a foreign country you will always hear about democracy, peace and justice and security here," he said.
"But I don't think any of those exist."
by Phyllis Chesler
On December 21, 1961, when I returned from Afghanistan, I kissed the ground at New York City's Idlewild Airport. I weighed 90 pounds and had hepatitis. Although I would soon become active in the American civil rights, anti-Vietnam war, and feminist movements, what I had learned in Kabul rendered me immune to the Third World romanticism that infected so many American radicals. As a young bride in Afghanistan, I was an eyewitness to just how badly women are treated in the Muslim world. I was mistreated, too, but I survived. My "Western" feminism was forged in that most beautiful and treacherous of countries.
In 1962, when I returned to Bard College, I tried to tell my classmates how important it was that America had so many free libraries, so many movie theatres, bookstores, universities, unveiled women, freedom of movement on the streets, freedom to leave our families of origin if we so chose, freedom from arranged marriages—and from polygamy, too. This meant that as imperfect as America may be, it was still the land of opportunity and of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
My friends, future journalists, artists, physicians, lawyers, and intellectuals, wanted only to hear fancy Hollywood fairy tales, not reality. They wanted to know how many servants I had and whether I ever met the king. I had no way of communicating the horror, and the truth. My American friends could not or did not want to understand. As with my young college friends so long ago, today's leftists and progressives want to remain ignorant.
My Afghan awakening began in New York in 1961 when I married my college sweetheart, Ali. I was an Orthodox Jewish-American girl; he was a Muslim boy from Afghanistan who had been away from home for fourteen years while studying at private schools in Europe and America.
My plan was to meet Ali's family in Kabul, stay there a month or two, study "History of Ideas" at the Sorbonne for a semester, then return to Bard College to complete my final semester.
When we landed in Kabul at least thirty members of his family were there to greet us. The airport officials smoothly confiscated my American passport. "It's just a formality, nothing to worry about," Ali assured me. "You'll get it back later." I never saw that passport again.
Upon our arrival in Kabul, my Western husband simply became another person. For two years, in the United States, Ali and I had been inseparable. He had walked me to my classes. We did our homework together in the library. We talked constantly. In Afghanistan, everything changed. We were no longer a couple during the day. He no longer held my hand or kissed me in public. He barely spoke to me. He only sought me out at night. He treated me the way his father and elder brother treated their wives: with annoyed embarrassment, coldness, distance.
My father-in-law, Amir, whom we knew as "Agha Jan" or "Dear Master," was a leading businessman and an exceedingly dapper man. In Afghanistan, he was a progressive. In his youth, he had supported Amanullah Khan (1919-29) who had boldly unveiled Afghan women, instituted the country's first educational and health care systems, and introduced European-style trolleys in the capital city. Nevertheless, he did not want an American or Jewish daughter-in-law. I was Ali's desperate rebellion. I was flesh-and-blood proof that, for fourteen years, he had actually been living in the twentieth century.
Ali had not told me that his father was polygamous until just before we had arrived in Kabul. Then he told me that, "actually," his father had two wives. He'd been "tricked" into marrying the second wife, with whom he had only two children, Ali explained, "which says everything. She's more like a family servant." Ali's mother treated the second wife Fauzia so badly that Agha Jan finally moved her into her own house. I would visit and have tea with Fauzia. She was grateful for the gesture of respect and for the company.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Agha Jan actually had three wives. This reality was one that Ali would not or could not discuss. He and his brothers blamed their mother for this third marriage to Sultana, which had jeopardized their inheritance considerably; this was a risky, tabooed subject. This third marriage didn't count because it counted all too much.
Agha Jan was in his sixties and stood six feet tall. His black hair was thick and only flecked with gray at the temples. He had a broad, frank mustache, and velvet black eyes that matched his black Italian handmade shoes. Although he wore the jauntiest and most expensive of Afghan-style karakul hats, Agha Jan also wore European-made suits and coats. As a devout Muslim, he neither drank nor smoked. Agha Jan's grown and married children, both men and women, executed a cringing half-bow whenever they greeted him.
Agha Jan's current home, with his third wife, Sultana, had one great European-style room in which he received visitors and dined. He usually ate alone, in a sitting room hushed by thick maroon carpets and thick, European-style velvet drapes. Rozia, his fourteen-year-old daughter by his third wife, served him each dish, bowing in and out of the room, like a servant.
"How can you justify polygamy?" I'd ask Ali. "It's humiliating, cruel, unfair to the wives, it dooms them to sexual celibacy and emotional solitude at a very young age and for the rest of their lives. It also sets up fearful rivalries among the half-brothers of different mothers who have lifelong quarrels over their inheritances."
When he was being Eastern, Ali would say: "Don't be a silly American. You say you're a thinker, God knows, you're always reading, and I therefore expect more understanding and broadmindedness from you. Polygamy tries to give men what they need so that they will treat their wives and children in a civilized way. In the West, men are serial polygamists. They leave their first wives and set of children without looking back. Here, we do not like the earlier wives to be abandoned, impoverished, and ripped from their social identities. If she is a good Muslim wife, accepts and obeys her husband's wishes, he will support her forever, she will always have her children near her which is all that matters to a woman, her world will remain whole."
When he was being Western, Ali would say, "Our country is not ready for personal freedoms. That's why I'm needed here, to help bring my poor countrymen into the twentieth century. It's my destined role and I need you to help me. Don't leave."
As to the veil, my Western husband would say: "You are too impatient about this damn chadari. Afghan women are not stupid. Give them some time. They will, in time, probably all adopt the more Western, freeing clothing."
But Eastern Ali tried to justify the veil in other ways. He said: "The country is dusty and sometimes dangerous and a woman is better protected in many ways by the chadari. Anyway, country women do not wear chadaris when they farm. This is largely a phenomenon of the city and anyway it's dying out." This was not exactly true. Afghan countrywomen almost immediately turned their faces to the nearest available wall whenever a man to whom they were not related walked by. They tended to cover their heads and faces with their scarves.
We lived with Ali's oldest brother Abdullah, his wife Rabiah, and their two children, who all shared a home with my mother-in-law Aishah, or "Beebee Jan" (Dear Lady). Agha Jan had not lived with Beebee Jan for a very long time.
My life was akin to that of an upper class Afghan woman. My experience was similar to—but hardly as constrained as—that which an increasing number of Arab and Muslim women face today. In this first decade of the twenty-first century, women living in Islamic societies are being forced back into time, re-veiled, more closely monitored, and more savagely punished than they were in the 1960s. That said, I had never expected my freedom and privacy to be so curtailed.
In Afghanistan, a few hundred wealthy families lived by European standards. Everyone else lived in a premodern style. And that's the way the king, his government, and the mullahs wanted it to remain. Western diplomats did not peg their foreign policies to how Afghanistan treated its women. Even before multicultural relativism kicked in, Western diplomats did not believe in "interfering."
The Afghanistan I knew was a prison, a feudal monarchy, and rank with fear, paranoia, and slavery. Individual Afghans were charming, funny, humane, tender, enchantingly courteous, and sometimes breathtakingly honest. Yet, their country was a bastion of illiteracy, poverty, and preventable disease. Women were subjected to domestic and psychological misery in the form of arranged marriages, polygamy, forced pregnancies, the chadari, domestic slavery and, of course, purdah (seclusion of women). Women led indoor lives and socialized only with other women. If they needed to see a doctor, their husband consulted one for them in their place. Most women were barely educated.
In Kabul, I met other foreign wives who loved having servants but whose own freedom had been constrained. Some European wives, who had come in the late 1940s and early 1950s had converted to Islam and wore The Thing, as we called the cloaking chadari. Each had been warned, as had I, that whatever they did would become known, that there were eyes everywhere, and that their actions could endanger their families and themselves.
Afghans mistrusted foreign wives. Once, I saw an Afghan husband fly into a rage when his foreign wife not only wore a Western swimsuit to a swimming party—but actually plunged into the pool. The men expected to be the only ones who would swim; their wives were meant to chat and sip drinks.
The concept of privacy is a Western one. When I would leave the common sitting room in order to read quietly in my own bedroom, all the women and children would follow me. They'd ask: "Are you unhappy?" No one spent any time alone. To do so was an insult to the family. The idea that a woman might be an avid reader of books and a thinker was too foreign to comprehend.
Like everyone else, Ali was under permanent surveillance. His career and livelihood depended upon being an obedient Afghan son and subject. How he treated me was crucial. He had to prove that his relationship to women was every bit as Afghan as any other man's; perhaps more so, since he had arranged his own marriage to a foreigner.
After two weeks of marathon tea-drinking and pistachio-eating, my polite smile was stuck to my face. I could not understand what people were saying, I was bored, I wanted to get out on my own and see Kabul, visit the markets and the museum, and see the mountains closer-up. I was under a very polite form of house arrest. "It's not done," "People will talk," "Tell me what you need and I'll get it for you," were some of Ali's responses. And so, I began to "escape" from the house every day.
I never put on the headscarves and long coats and gloves pointedly left for me atop the bedroom bureau. I would take a deep breath, go out, and stride at a brisk, American pace. Always, a female relative or servant would run after me, bearing the scarves. I would smile, shake my head "no," and keep on going. Of course, I was also followed by a slow-moving family Mercedes. The driver would call out: "Madame, please get inside. We are worried that you will hurt yourself."
Sometimes, I'd walk faster, or I'd take a bus or a gaudi, a horse-drawn painted cart. The buses were quite colorful except inside, fully sheeted women sat apart from the men. The first time I saw this, I laughed out loud in disbelief and nervousness. In any event, as women moved onto the bus, men would jostle them, and make sneering remarks I could not understand.
My family was right. They knew their country. Barefaced and alone, I looked like an "uppity" Afghan woman and was thus fair game for catcalls, propositions, interminable questions, rough advances. Men would push themselves against me, knock me around, laugh, joke. But, I could easily have been kidnapped and held for ransom, taken to a cave, kept there for days, raped, then returned. Ali finally exploded at me and told me that this exact scenario had happened to the wife of an Afghan minister who had killed himself afterwards.
I had to be brought to heel. Ali's manhood and future depended upon this. A male servant would prevent me from going out. The family would call Ali and he would call me to yell, threaten, plead, or shame. I presented myself at the American embassy, which was located right next door. The embassy rented the property from my father-in-law.
"I want to go home. I'm an American citizen," I said.
"Where is your passport?" The marine guard would ask.
"They took it away from me when our plane landed. But, they told me that I'd get it back."
Each time, the Marines would escort me back home. They told me that as the "wife of an Afghan national," I was no longer an American citizen entitled to American protection.
I did, on occasion, get to speak with diplomats. Not a single foreign voice was heard protesting the condition of women. The Western media didn't care about what Afghans did to one another, or what men did to "their" women. Gin-soaked diplomats told me that it would be "immoral" to preach to Afghans about their tribal violence or their oppression of women; these were sovereign, sacred, local customs. One American diplomat put it this way: "We can't impose our moral or cultural values on these people. We can't ask them about their system of government or justice, their treatment of women, their servants, their jails. These are very sensitive, very touchy, very proud men who happen to own a piece of land that's important to us. If we aren't careful, their kids would be learning Russian—or Chinese—instead of English and German. You've got to remember, we're guests here, not conquerors."
I was under house arrest in the tenth century. I had no freedom of movement, nothing with which to occupy myself. I was supposed to accept this.
Ali knew he was losing me. We fought bitterly every single night. Was he trying to make me pregnant so that I'd have to stay? I was afraid to go to bed. His eldest sister, Soraya, offered to sleep with me in our bedroom—an act of courage and kindness that I have never forgotten. She must have known what was going on.
Yes, my husband "loved" me and wanted to protect me, but I was, after all, a woman, which meant that he believed he owned me, and that his honor consisted of his ability to control me. Ali was also locked into a power struggle with his father and with his culture. I was the symbol of his freedom and independence, a reminder of his life lived apart. He did not want to lose such a valuable symbol. If I became pregnant, I would have to stay. His father would be forced to stop making things so hard for us.
I devoted all my waking time to planning an escape. I gave up on the American embassy. I stopped confiding in Ali. I began to contact foreign wives, most of whom would not or could not help me. I could only meet people through Ali or through a relative. I was not allowed to talk privately to anyone. All the public tea-houses were for men-only. I could not drift in and strike up a conversation with a man.
I finally found a foreign wife who agreed to help me. She was the German-born second wife of the ex-mayor of Kabul. She obtained a false passport for me. I had secretly written to my parents. I had also called them. They had agreed to send me a money order in care of this woman. Now, I only had to choose a flight and book a seat.
And then, I fainted. I had come down with hepatitis. I learned later that Beebee Jan had ordered the servants to stop boiling my water. Some Afghans seemed to enjoy the spectacle of Westerners succumbing to such illnesses; they took it as proof of foreign "weakness." I was finally taken to the new hospital and accompanied by at least ten family members. The doctor said:
"Honey, you are very sick and you have to get out of here. Will they let you go? If you are strong enough to sit up and walk a bit, get on a plane, go home."
He gave me a pair of dark glasses to hide my jaundiced eyes from the flight attendants. And, he prescribed intravenous infusions of vitamins and nutrients. He sent a nurse to the house.
And then, Beebee Jan tried to pull out the IV and all hell broke loose. I called Agha Jan and begged him to come over. He was the Master of the Universe as far as his family was concerned.
He came. First, he prayed "for my recovery." Then, he asked everyone else to leave, after which he spoon-fed me milk custard. He was tender towards me; only afterwards did I understand that he could afford to be. My illness and probable departure meant that he had won the battle with Ali. Perhaps he did not want a dead American daughter-in-law on his hands either. And, he'd be glad to see me gone. I only spelled trouble for his family, any foreign wife would, especially one who had tried to escape so many times.
"I know about your little plan with the German woman," he quietly said. "I think it will be best if you leave with our approval on an Afghan passport which I have obtained for you. You have been granted a six-month visa for "reasons of health."
And he gave it to me on the spot. The Kingdom of Afghanistan passport has retained its bright orange color. He also handed me a plane ticket. "We will see you off. It is better this way."
Ali raged and swore—and begged me to stay but I remained adamant.
Thirty relatives dutifully came to see me off. Kabul was hidden in snow. I was booked on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow. The minute that plane took off a fierce joy seized me by the throat and would not let go. I was both jaundiced and pregnant. Had Ali discovered this while I was still in Afghanistan, I would never have been allowed to leave. Given my medical condition, it would have been my death sentence.
It was not the last time I would see Ali, though. In 1979, after the Soviet invasion, Ali escaped by crossing the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, disguised as a nomad. Since 1980, he, his new wife Jamila and their two children, Iskandar and Leyla, have been living near me in America. Oddly, but happily, we relate as members of an extended family.
I had experienced gender apartheid long before the Taliban made it headline news. I came to understand that once an American woman marries a Muslim, and lives in a Muslim country, she is a citizen of no country. Never again could I romanticize foreign places or peoples in the Third World—or marriage.
Once a Western woman marries a Muslim and lives with him in his native land, she is no longer entitled to the rights she once enjoyed. Only military mercenaries can rescue her. I have since heard many stories about Western women who have married Muslim men in Europe and America but whose children were then kidnapped by their fathers and kept forever after in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Iran. The mothers were usually permitted no contact.
Today, women in the Islamic world are increasingly pressured into arranged marriages, forced to veil themselves, not allowed to vote, drive, or travel without a male escort, to work at all, or to work in mixed gender settings. Worse, many are genitally mutilated in childhood, and routinely beaten as daughters, sisters, and wives; some are murdered by their male relatives in honor killings, and stoned to death for alleged sexual improprieties or for asserting the slightest independence. Such violations of women's human rights are increasingly taking place among the Muslim community in Europe and in North America.
Westerners do not always understand that Eastern men can blend into the West with ease while still remaining Eastern at their core. They can "pass" for one of us but, upon returning home, assume their original ways of being. Some may call this schizophrenic; others might see this as duplicitous. From a Muslim man's point of view, it is neither. It is merely personal Realpolitik. The transparency and seeming lack of guile that characterizes many ordinary Westerners make us seem childlike and stupid to those with multiple cultural personalities.
A woman dares not forget such lessons—not if she manages to survive and escape. What happened to me in Afghanistan must also be taken as a cautionary tale of what can happen when one romanticizes the "primitive" East.
Did Ali really think that I would be able to adjust to a medieval, Islamic way of life? Or that his family would ever have accepted a Jewish-American love-bride?
There are only two answers possible. Either he was not thinking or he viewed me as a woman, which meant that I did not exist in my own right, that I was destined to please and obey him and that nothing else was really important. He certainly helped shape the feminist that I was to become.
When I returned to the United States, there were few feminist stirrings. However, within five years, I became a leader of America's new feminist movement. In 1967, I became active in the National Organization for Women, as well as in various feminist consciousness-raising groups and campaigns. In 1969, I pioneered women's studies classes for credit, cofounded the Association for Women in Psychology, and began delivering feminist lectures. I also began work on my first book, Women and Madness, which became an oft-cited feminist text.
Firsthand experience of life under Islam as a woman held captive in Kabul has shaped the kind of feminist I became and have remained—one who is not multiculturally "correct." By seeing how women interacted with men and then with each other, I learned how incredibly servile oppressed peoples could be and how deadly the oppressed could be toward each other. Beebee Jan was cruel to her female servants. She beat her elderly personal servant and verbally humiliated our young and pregnant housemaid. It was an observation that stayed with me.
While multiculturalism has become increasingly popular, I never could accept cultural relativism. Instead, what I experienced in Afghanistan as a woman taught me the necessity of applying a single standard of human rights, not one tailored to each culture. In 1971—less than a decade after my Kabul captivity—I spoke about rescuing women of Bangladesh raped en masse during that country's war for independence from Pakistan. The suffering of women in the developing world should be considered no less important than the issues feminists address in the West. Accordingly, I called for an invasion of Bosnia long before Washington did anything, and I called for similar military action in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Sudan.
In recent years, I fear that the "peace and love" crowd in the West has refused to understand how Islamism endangers Western values and lives, beginning with our commitment to women's rights and human rights. The Islamists who are beheading civilians, stoning Muslim women to death, jailing Muslim dissidents, and bombing civilians on every continent are now moving among us both in the East and in the West. While some feminist leaders and groups have come to publicize the atrocities against women in the Islamic world, they have not tied it to any feminist foreign policy. Women's studies programs should have been the first to sound the alarm. They do not. More than four decades after I was a virtual prisoner in Afghanistan, I realize how far the Western feminist movement has to go.
Based upon the Death of Feminism by Phyllis Chesler, copyright 2005 by the author, and printed with permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.
 The chadari is also known as the burqa', a covering worn
by Afghan women.
 See, for example, "U.S. Department of State, Marriage to Saudis," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 74-81.
 New York: Doubleday, 1972.
Afghan Scholars Want Korean Missionaries Out
IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
August 3, 2006
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — More than 500 Afghan scholars pressed on Wednesday, August 2, for the expulsion of hundreds of South Koreans on the grounds they were seeking to promulgate Christianity in the conservative Muslim country.
"They are not needed here," said Sayed Haider Hashimi, an organizer of the protest in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, reported Reuters.
"They have come to promulgate Christianity and the government should send them out."
Another scholar warned the government of "bad consequences" if the Koreans were not sent back home.
But a government official in Mazar-i-Sharif said there was no sign the Koreans promulgating Christianity in Afghanistan.
More than 1,000 South Korean Christians are in Afghanistan for a three-day "peace festival" which they say aims to help Afghans and not to preach Christianity.
The event is organized the Institute of Asian Culture and Development, a South Korea-based Christian humanitarian group that has been in Afghanistan for four years.
The Korean embassy in Kabul confirmed the arrival of its nationals, but declined to give a word on the nature of their mission.
"The South Koreans are here -- more than 1,000. They got tourist visas," an embassy official said.
The South Koreans arrived ahead of the event this weekend on tourist visas despite their government's recommendation against their visit and some attempts to stop them at the borders, embassy and Western officials said.
The embassy has suggested the roughly 200 South Koreans who live in Afghanistan, most of them in the capital, take their holidays abroad until the event is over, an embassy official told AFP.
"Most of them have followed our recommendation -- I've been getting reports that the majority have already left," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"We are very concerned about our own nationals' security. We have given so many warnings to the organizers but they have made their own decision."
In Seoul Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon also expressed his "deep concern".
"We again request that the organizers should cancel the event and that the travelers should give second thoughts to their trip," he told reporters.
A foreign ministry official said Seoul was considering plans for a mass evacuation of South Koreans from Afghanistan if necessary.
Kang Sung Han, a member of the visiting South Korean group in Kabul, denied that their mission was to proselytize in the Muslim country.
"They have come to travel to villages to teach people computer skills, teach them language and provide them educational and health facilities," Han told Reuters.
Proselytizing, a sensitive issue, is banned in Muslim conservative Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghans took to the streets last February to protest the release of an Afghan man, who was facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity.
Abdur-Rahman was later released from prison and then spirited to Italy after the intervention of Western leaders, including US President George Bush, and Pope Benedict of the Vatican.
The New York Times reported in November 2004 that South Korean missionaries were taking the lead in aggressively evangelizing Muslims in Arab countries, applying discreet methods and making use of a seemingly endless financial support.
South Koreans proselytize, not in their own language, but in the language of the country they operate in or in English, said the American daily.
Bomber aimed to destroy embassy in Kabul
By JASON STRAZIUSO
July 9, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The suicide bomber who detonated his vehicle at the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul intended to destroy the embassy itself, the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan said Wednesday.
Ambassador Jayant Prasad also said the death toll from Monday's bombing had risen to 58, up from 41, after several people died of their wounds. Prasad said several school-age children who attend classes near the embassy were among the dead. The Education Ministry confirmed that eight school children died.
"It is our reconstruction of events that the intention of the attacker was to detonate the device within the premises of the embassy and destroy the embassy," Prasad told The Associated Press.
A review of the bomb scene showed that one of the embassy guards killed in the blast still had his hand on the closed gate. The guard likely hadn't opened it because he saw a suspicious car driving close behind an embassy vehicle, Prasad said.
"The suicide attacker then decided to explode his device outside rather than inside, so the maximum impact was taken by the (sand-filled blast) barriers," he said. "So the damage to the embassy wasn't structural."
The blast barriers were installed in the last several weeks, Prasad said, because "we were expecting trouble."
Prasad said the embassy was attacked because of projects India is carrying out in Afghanistan. India has spent $750 million in aid since 2001, Prasad said.
One of India's key projects is the building of a road in southwest Afghanistan that will give the country access to ports in Iran. The road will allow commerce to bypass seaports in southern Pakistan that Afghan trade must now use.
That road project is due to be completed next week.
"We were targeted because we are doing certain things in Afghanistan for the social and economic development of Afghanistan, and some elements, some people, don't want us to do what we are doing here," Prasad said without elaborating.
Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan at New York University, noted in a Web posting this week that there has been a pattern of attacks on Indian road construction teams in southwest Afghanistan.
"These teams are constructing a road linking Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf via the Iranian rail and road network, which would bypass both Karachi and Pakistan's new port in Gwadar," Rubin wrote. "This road also passes through the Baluch parts of Afghanistan and Iran, next to the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, where Pakistan charges India with supporting nationalist/separatist insurgents."
Another major Indian project is the building of electrical transmission lines and substations to bring electricity from Uzbekistan to Kabul.
The ambassador refused to speculate on who might have been behind the attack — the deadliest bombing in Kabul since the 2001 fall of the Taliban. But he said the embassy noted with interest the statements from President Hamid Karzai's office putting the blame on a regional intelligence agency, interpreted as a clear reference to Pakistan.
Early accounts "are pointing in one direction," Prasad said. "We are waiting for the further investigations to confirm or not to confirm that."