WCU Sociology Muslim Laws and Beliefs Regarding Women Reflection

  • What are the main points in the week’s reading?
  • What did you learn from this week’s class discussion and reading?
  • Apply any concept discussed this week on a current event, an observation or incident that happened in your life.
  • Observations could include anything that you noticed about how some of the normal things around us are gendered. For example, how boys’ and girls’ toys are color-coded in blue and pink. It could also include a meme or a post that you observed in social media. It could also be an incident that you observed.

    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    A Reporter at Large
    September 13, 2021 Issue
    In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the
    occupiers who claimed to be helping them.
    By Anand Gopal
    September 6, 2021
    More than seventy per cent of Afghans do not live in cities. In rural areas, life under the U.S.-led
    coalition and its Afghan allies became pure hazard; even drinking tea in a sunlit eld, or driving to
    your sister’s wedding, was a potentially deadly gamble. Photograph by Stephen Dupont / Contact Press Images
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
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    ate one afternoon this past August, Shakira heard banging on her front gate. In the Sangin
    Valley, which is in Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan, women must not be seen by
    men who aren’t related to them, and so her nineteen-year-old son, Ahmed, went to the gate. Outside
    were two men in bandoliers and black turbans, carrying ri es. They were members of the Taliban,
    who were waging an offensive to wrest the countryside back from the Afghan National Army. One of
    the men warned, “If you don’t leave immediately, everyone is going to die.”
    Shakira, who is in her early forties, corralled her family: her husband, an opium merchant, who was
    fast asleep, having succumbed to the temptations of his product, and her eight children, including her
    oldest, twenty-year-old Nilofar—as old as the war itself—whom Shakira called her “deputy,” because
    she helped care for the younger ones. The family crossed an old footbridge spanning a canal, then
    snaked their way through reeds and irregular plots of beans and onions, past dark and vacant houses.
    Their neighbors had been warned, too, and, except for wandering chickens and orphaned cattle, the
    village was empty.
    Shakira’s family walked for hours under a blazing sun. She started to feel the rattle of distant thuds,
    and saw people streaming from riverside villages: men bending low beneath bundles stuffed with all
    that they could not bear to leave behind, women walking as quickly as their burqas allowed.
    The pounding of artillery lled the air, announcing the start of a Taliban assault on an Afghan Army
    outpost. Shakira balanced her youngest child, a two-year-old daughter, on her hip as the sky ashed
    and thundered. By nightfall, they had come upon the valley’s central market. The corrugated-iron
    storefronts had largely been destroyed during the war. Shakira found a one-room shop with an intact
    roof, and her family settled in for the night. For the children, she produced a set of cloth dolls—one
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    of a number of distractions that she’d cultivated during the years of eeing battle. As she held the
    gures in the light of a match, the earth shook.
    Around dawn, Shakira stepped outside, and saw that a few dozen families had taken shelter in the
    abandoned market. It had once been the most thriving bazaar in northern Helmand, with
    shopkeepers weighing saffron and cumin on scales, carts loaded with women’s gowns, and storefronts
    dedicated to selling opium. Now stray pillars jutted upward, and the air smelled of decaying animal
    remains and burning plastic.
    In the distance, the earth suddenly exploded in fountains of dirt. Helicopters from the Afghan Army
    buzzed overhead, and the families hid behind the shops, considering their next move. There was
    ghting along the stone ramparts to the north and the riverbank to the west. To the east was redsand desert as far as Shakira could see. The only option was to head south, toward the leafy city of
    Lashkar Gah, which remained under the control of the Afghan government.
    The journey would entail cutting through a barren plain exposed to abandoned U.S. and British
    bases, where snipers nested, and crossing culverts potentially stuffed with explosives. A few families
    started off. Even if they reached Lashkar Gah, they could not be sure what they’d nd there. Since
    the start of the Taliban’s blitz, Afghan Army soldiers had surrendered in droves, begging for safe
    passage home. It was clear that the Taliban would soon reach Kabul, and that the twenty years, and
    the trillions of dollars, devoted to defeating them had come to nothing. Shakira’s family stood in the
    desert, discussing the situation. The gun re sounded closer. Shakira spotted Taliban vehicles racing
    toward the bazaar—and she decided to stay put. She was weary to the bone, her nerves frayed. She
    would face whatever came next, accept it like a judgment. “We’ve been running all our lives,” she told
    me. “I’m not going anywhere.”
    he longest war in American history ended on August 15th, when the Taliban captured Kabul
    without ring a shot. Bearded, scraggly men with black turbans took control of the Presidential
    palace, and around the capital the austere white ags of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan went up.
    Panic ensued. Some women burned their school records and went into hiding, fearing a return to the
    nineteen-nineties, when the Taliban forbade them to venture out alone and banned girls’ education.
    For Americans, the very real possibility that the gains of the past two decades might be erased
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    appeared to pose a dreadful choice: recommit to seemingly endless war, or abandon Afghan women.
    This summer, I travelled to rural Afghanistan to meet women who were already living under the
    Taliban, to listen to what they thought about this looming dilemma. More than seventy per cent of
    Afghans do not live in cities, and in the past decade the insurgent group had swallowed large swaths
    of the countryside. Unlike in relatively liberal Kabul, visiting women in these hinterlands is not easy:
    even without Taliban rule, women traditionally do not speak to unrelated men. Public and private
    worlds are sharply divided, and when a woman leaves her home she maintains a cocoon of seclusion
    through the burqa, which predates the Taliban by centuries. Girls essentially disappear into their
    homes at puberty, emerging only as grandmothers, if ever. It was through grandmothers— nding
    each by referral, and speaking to many without seeing their faces—that I was able to meet dozens of
    women, of all ages. Many were living in desert tents or hollowed-out storefronts, like Shakira; when
    the Taliban came across her family hiding at the market, the ghters advised them and others not to
    return home until someone could sweep for mines. I rst encountered her in a safe house in
    Helmand. “I’ve never met a foreigner before,” she said shyly. “Well, a foreigner without a gun.”
    Shakira has a knack for nding humor in pathos, and in the sheer absurdity of the men in her life: in
    the nineties, the Taliban had offered to supply electricity to the village, and the local graybeards had
    initially refused, fearing black magic. “Of course, we women knew electricity was ne,” she said,
    chuckling. When she laughs, she pulls her shawl over her face, leaving only her eyes exposed. I told
    her that she shared a name with a world-renowned pop star, and her eyes widened. “Is it true?” she
    asked a friend who’d accompanied her to the safe house. “Could it be?”
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    Shakira, like the other women I met, grew up in the Sangin Valley, a gash of green between sharp
    mountain outcrops. The valley is watered by the Helmand River and by a canal that Americans built
    in the nineteen- fties. You can walk the width of the dale in an hour, passing dozens of tiny hamlets,
    creaking footbridges, and mud-brick walls. As a girl, Shakira heard stories from her mother of the old
    days in her village, Pan Killay, which was home to about eighty families: the children swimming in
    the canal under the warm sun, the women pounding grain in stone mortars. In winter, smoke wafted
    from clay hearths; in spring, rolling elds were blanketed with poppies.
    In 1979, when Shakira was an infant, Communists seized power in Kabul and tried to launch a
    female-literacy program in Helmand—a province the size of West Virginia, with few girls’ schools.
    Tribal elders and landlords refused. In the villagers’ retelling, the traditional way of life in Sangin was
    smashed overnight, because outsiders insisted on bringing women’s rights to the valley. “Our culture
    could not accept sending their girls outside to school,” Shakira recalled. “It was this way before my
    father’s time, before my grandfather’s time.” When the authorities began forcing girls to attend
    classes at gunpoint, a rebellion erupted, led by armed men calling themselves the mujahideen. In their
    rst operation, they kidnapped all the schoolteachers in the valley, many of whom supported girls’
    education, and slit their throats. The next day, the government arrested tribal elders and landlords on
    the suspicion that they were bankrolling the mujahideen. These community leaders were never seen
    Tanks from the Soviet Union crossed the border to shore up the Communist government—and to
    liberate women. Soon, Afghanistan was basically split in two. In the countryside, where young men
    were willing to die ghting the imposition of new ways of life—including girls’ schools and land
    reform—young women remained unseen. In the cities, the Soviet-backed government banned child
    marriage and granted women the right to choose their partners. Girls enrolled in schools and
    universities in record numbers, and by the early eighties women held parliamentary seats and even the
    The Other
    y gAfghan Women | The New Yorker
    office of Vice-President.
    The violence in the countryside continued to spread. Early one morning when Shakira was ve, her
    aunt awakened her in a great hurry. The children were led by the adults of the village to a mountain
    cave, where they huddled for hours. At night, Shakira watched artillery streak the sky. When the
    family returned to Pan Killay, the wheat elds were charred, and crisscrossed with the tread marks of
    Soviet tanks. The cows had been mowed down with machine guns. Everywhere she looked, she saw
    neighbors—men she used to call “uncle”—lying bloodied. Her grandfather hadn’t hidden with her,
    and she couldn’t nd him in the village. When she was older, she learned that he’d gone to a different
    cave, and had been caught and executed by the Soviets.
    Nighttime evacuations became a frequent occurrence and, for Shakira, a source of excitement: the
    dark corners of the caves, the clamorous groups of children. “We would look for Russian helicopters,”
    she said. “It was like spotting strange birds.” Sometimes, those birds swooped low, the earth
    exploded, and the children rushed to the site to forage for iron, which could be sold for a good price.
    Occasionally she gathered metal shards so that she could build a doll house. Once, she showed her
    mother a magazine photograph of a plastic doll that exhibited the female form; her mother snatched
    it away, calling it inappropriate. So Shakira learned to make dolls out of cloth and sticks.
    When she was eleven, she stopped going outside. Her world shrank to the three rooms of her house
    and the courtyard, where she learned to sew, bake bread in a tandoor, and milk cows. One day,
    passing jets rattled the house, and she took sanctuary in a closet. Underneath a pile of clothes, she
    discovered a child’s alphabet book that had belonged to her grandfather—the last person in the family
    to attend school. During the afternoons, while her parents napped, she began matching the Pashto
    words to pictures. She recalled, “I had a plan to teach myself a little every day.”
    In 1989, the Soviets withdrew in defeat, but Shakira continued to hear the pounding of mortars
    outside the house’s mud walls. Competing mujahideen factions were now trying to carve up the
    country for themselves. Villages like Pan Killay were lucrative targets: there were farmers to tax,
    rusted Soviet tanks to salvage, opium to export. Pazaro, a woman from a nearby village, recalled, “We
    didn’t have a single night of peace. Our terror had a name, and it was Amir Dado.”
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    he rst time Shakira saw Dado, through the judas of her parents’ front gate, he was in a pickup
    truck, trailed by a dozen armed men, parading through the village “as if he were the President.”
    Dado, a wealthy fruit vender turned mujahideen commander, with a jet-black beard and a prodigious
    belly, had begun attacking rival strongmen even before the Soviets’ defeat. He hailed from the upper
    Sangin Valley, where his tribe, the Alikozais, had held vast feudal plantations for centuries. The lower
    valley was the home of the Ishaqzais, the poor tribe to which Shakira belonged. Shakira watched as
    Dado’s men went from door to door, demanding a “tax” and searching homes. A few weeks later, the
    gunmen returned, ransacking her family’s living room while she cowered in a corner. Never before
    had strangers violated the sanctity of her home, and she felt as if she’d been stripped naked and
    thrown into the street.
    By the early nineties, the Communist government of Afghanistan, now bereft of Soviet support, was
    crumbling. In 1992, Lashkar Gah fell to a faction of mujahideen. Shakira had an uncle living there, a
    Communist with little time for the mosque and a weakness for Pashtun tunes. He’d recently married
    a young woman, Sana, who’d escaped a forced betrothal to a man four times her age. The pair had
    started a new life in Little Moscow, a Lashkar Gah neighborhood that Sana called “the land where
    women have freedom”—but, when the mujahideen took over, they were forced to ee to Pan Killay.
    Shakira was tending the cows one evening when Dado’s men surrounded her with guns. “Where’s
    your uncle?” one of them shouted. The ghters stormed into the house—followed by Sana’s spurned
    ancé. “She’s the one!” he said. The gunmen dragged Sana away. When Shakira’s other uncles tried
    to intervene, they were arrested. The next day, Sana’s husband turned himself in to Dado’s forces,
    begging to be taken in her place. Both were sent to the strongman’s religious court and sentenced to
    Not long afterward, the mujahideen toppled the Communists in Kabul, and they brought their
    countryside mores with them. In the capital, their leaders—who had received generous amounts of
    U.S. funding—issued a decree declaring that “women are not to leave their homes at all, unless
    absolutely necessary, in which case they are to cover themselves completely.” Women were likewise
    banned from “walking gracefully or with pride.” Religious police began roaming the city’s streets,
    arresting women and burning audio- and videocassettes on pyres.
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    Yet the new mujahideen government quickly fell apart, and the country descended into civil war. At
    night in Pan Killay, Shakira heard gun re and, sometimes, the shouts of men. In the morning, while
    tending the cows, she’d see neighbors carrying wrapped bodies. Her family gathered in the courtyard
    and discussed, in low voices, how they might escape. But the roads were studded with checkpoints
    belonging to different mujahideen groups. South of the village, in the town of Gereshk, a militia
    called the Ninety-third Division maintained a particularly notorious barricade on a bridge; there were
    stories of men getting robbed or killed, of women and young boys being raped. Shakira’s father
    sometimes crossed the bridge to sell produce at the Gereshk market, and her mother started pleading
    with him to stay home.
    The family, penned between Amir Dado to the north and the Ninety-third Division to the south,
    was growing desperate. Then one afternoon, when Shakira was sixteen, she heard shouts from the
    street: “The Taliban are here!” She saw a convoy of white Toyota Hiluxes lled with black-turbanned
    ghters carrying white ags. Shakira hadn’t ever heard of the Taliban, but her father explained that its
    members were much like the poor religious students she’d seen all her life begging for alms. Many
    had fought under the mujahideen’s banner but quit after the Soviets’ withdrawal; now, they said, they
    were remobilizing to put an end to the tumult. In short order, they had stormed the Gereshk bridge,
    dismantling the Ninety-third Division, and volunteers had ocked to join them as they’d descended
    on Sangin. Her brother came home reporting that the Taliban had also overrun Dado’s positions. The
    warlord had abandoned his men and ed to Pakistan. “He’s gone,” Shakira’s brother kept saying. “He
    really is.” The Taliban soon dissolved Dado’s religious court—freeing Sana and her husband, who
    were awaiting execution—and eliminated the checkpoints. After fteen years, the Sangin Valley was
    nally at peace.
    When I asked Shakira and other women from the valley to re ect on Taliban rule, they were
    unwilling to judge the movement against some universal standard—only against what had come
    before. “They were softer,” Pazaro, the woman who lived in a neighboring village, said. “They were
    dealing with us respectfully.” The women described their lives under the Taliban as identical to their
    lives under Dado and the mujahideen—minus the strangers barging through the doors at night, the
    deadly checkpoints.
    Shakira recounted to me a newfound serenity: quiet mornings with steaming green tea and naan
    bread summer evenings on the rooftop Mothers and aunts and grandmothers began to discreetly
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    bread, summer evenings on the rooftop. Mothers and aunts and grandmothers began to discreetly
    inquire about her eligibility; in the village, marriage was a bond uniting two families. She was soon
    betrothed to a distant relative whose father had vanished, presumably at the hands of the Soviets. The
    rst time she laid eyes on her ancé was on their wedding day: he was sitting sheepishly, surrounded
    by women of the village, who were ribbing him about his plans for the wedding night. “Oh, he was a
    fool!” Shakira recalled, laughing. “He was so embarrassed, he tried to run away. People had to catch
    him and bring him back.”
    Like many enterprising young men in the valley, he was employed in opium trafficking, and Shakira
    liked the glint of determination in his eyes. Yet she started to worry that grit alone might not be
    enough. As Taliban rule established itself, a conscription campaign was launched. Young men were
    taken to northern Afghanistan, to help ght against a gang of mujahideen warlords known as the
    Northern Alliance. One day, Shakira watched a helicopter alight in a eld and unload the bodies of
    fallen conscripts. Men in the valley began hiding in friends’ houses, moving from village to village,
    terri ed of being called up. Impoverished tenant farmers were the most at risk—the rich could buy
    their way out of service. “This was the true injustice of the Taliban,” Shakira told me. She grew to
    loathe the sight of roving Taliban patrols.
    In 2000, Helmand Province experienced punishing drought. The watermelon elds lay ruined, and
    the bloated corpses of draft animals littered the roads. In a ash of cruelty, the Taliban’s supreme
    leader, Mullah Omar, chose that moment to ban opium cultivation. The valley’s economy collapsed.
    Pazaro recalled, “We had nothing to eat, the land gave us nothing, and our men couldn’t provide for
    our children. The children were crying, they were screaming, and we felt like we’d failed.” Shakira,
    who was pregnant, dipped squares of stale naan into green tea to feed her nieces and nephews. Her
    husband left for Pakistan, to try his luck in the elds there. Shakira was stricken by the thought that
    her baby would emerge lifeless, that her husband would never return, that she would be alone. Every
    morning, she prayed for rain, for deliverance.
    One day, an announcer on the radio said that there had been an attack in America. Suddenly, there
    was talk that soldiers from the richest country on earth were coming to overthrow the Taliban. For
    the rst time in years, Shakira’s heart stirred with hope.
    ne night in 2003, Shakira was jolted awake by the voices of strange men. She rushed to cover
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    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    herself. When she ran to the living room, she saw, with panic, the muzzles of ri es being
    pointed at her. The men were larger than she’d ever seen, and they were in uniform. These are the
    Americans, she realized, in awe. Some Afghans were with them, scrawny men with Kalashnikovs and
    checkered scarves. A man with an enormous beard was barking orders: Amir Dado.
    The U.S. had swiftly toppled the Taliban following its invasion, installing in Kabul the government of
    Hamid Karzai. Dado, who had befriended American Special Forces, became the chief of intelligence
    for Helmand Province. One of his brothers was the governor of the Sangin district, and another
    brother became Sangin’s chief of police. In Helmand, the rst year of the American occupation had
    been peaceful, and the elds once again burst with poppies. Shakira now had two small children,
    Nilofar and Ahmed. Her husband had returned from Pakistan and found work ferrying bags of
    opium resin to the Sangin market. But now, with Dado back in charge—rescued from exile by the
    Americans—life regressed to the days of civil war.
    Nearly every person Shakira knew had a story about Dado. Once, his ghters demanded that two
    young men either pay a tax or join his private militia, which he maintained despite holding his official
    post. When they refused, his ghters beat them to death, stringing their bodies up from a tree. A
    villager recalled, “We went to cut them down, and they had been sliced open, their stomachs coming
    out.” In another village, Dado’s forces went from house to house, executing people suspected of being
    g ,
    The Other Afghan Women | The New
    , Yorker
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    Taliban; an elderly scholar who’d never belonged to the movement was shot dead.
    Shakira was bewildered by the Americans’ choice of allies. “Was this their plan?” she asked me. “Did
    they come to bring peace, or did they have other aims?” She insisted that her husband stop taking
    resin to the Sangin market, so he shifted his trade south, to Gereshk. But he returned one afternoon
    with the news that this, too, had become impossible. Astonishingly, the United States had
    resuscitated the Ninety-third Division—and made it its closest partner in the province. The
    Division’s gunmen again began stopping travellers on the bridge and plundering what they could.
    Now, however, their most pro table endeavor was collecting bounties offered by the U.S.; according
    to Mike Martin, a former British officer who wrote a history of Helmand, they earned up to two
    thousand dollars per Taliban commander captured.
    This posed a challenge, though, because there were hardly any active Taliban to catch. “We knew
    who were the Taliban in our village,” Shakira said, and they weren’t engaged in guerrilla warfare:
    “They were all sitting at home, doing nothing.” A lieutenant colonel with U.S. Special Forces, Stuart
    Farris, who was deployed to the area at that time, told a U.S. Army historian, “There was virtually no
    resistance on this rotation.” So militias like the Ninety-third Division began accusing innocent
    people. In February, 2003, they branded Hajji Bismillah—the Karzai government’s transportation
    director for Gereshk, responsible for collecting tolls in the city—a terrorist, prompting the Americans
    to ship him to Guantánamo. With Bismillah eliminated, the Ninety-third Division monopolized the
    toll revenue.
    Dado went even further. In March, 2003, U.S. soldiers visited Sangin’s governor—Dado’s brother—to
    discuss refurbishing a school and a health clinic. Upon leaving, their convoy came under re, and
    Staff Sergeant Jacob Frazier and Sergeant Orlando Morales became the rst American combat
    fatalities in Helmand. U.S. personnel suspected that the culprit was not the Taliban but Dado—a
    suspicion con rmed to me by one of the warlord’s former commanders, who said that his boss had
    engineered the attack to keep the Americans reliant on him. Nonetheless, when Dado’s forces
    claimed to have nabbed the true assassin—an ex-Taliban conscript named Mullah Jalil—the
    Americans dispatched Jalil to Guantánamo. Unaccountably, this happened despite the fact that,
    according to Jalil’s classi ed Guantánamo le, U.S. officials knew that Jalil had been ngered merely
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    to “cover for” the fact that Dado’s forces had been “involved with the ambush.”
    The incident didn’t affect Dado’s relationship with U.S. Special Forces, who deemed him too valuable
    in serving up “terrorists.” They were now patrolling together, and soon after the attack the joint
    operation searched Shakira’s village for suspected terrorists. The soldiers did not stay at her home
    long, but she could not get the sight of the ri e muzzles out of her mind. The next morning, she
    removed the rugs and scrubbed the boot marks away.
    Shakira’s friends and neighbors were too terri ed to speak out, but the United Nations began
    agitating for Dado’s removal. The U.S. repeatedly blocked the effort, and a guide for the U.S. Marine
    Corps argued that although Dado was “far from being a Jeffersonian Democrat” his form of rough
    justice was “the time-tested solution for controlling rebellious Pashtuns.”
    Shakira’s husband stopped leaving the house as Helmandis continued to be taken away on imsy
    pretexts. A farmer in a nearby village, Mohammed Nasim, was arrested by U.S. forces and sent to
    Guantánamo because, according to a classi ed assessment, his name was similar to that of a Taliban
    commander. A Karzai government official named Ehsanullah visited an American base to inform on
    two Taliban members; no translator was present, and, in the confusion, he was arrested himself and
    shipped to Guantánamo. Nasrullah, a government tax collector, was sent to Guantánamo after being
    randomly pulled off a bus following a skirmish between U.S. Special Forces and local tribesmen. “We
    were so happy with the Americans,” he said later, at a military tribunal. “I didn’t know eventually I
    would come to Cuba.”
    Nasrullah ultimately returned home, but some detainees never made it back. Abdul Wahid, of
    Gereshk, was arrested by the Ninety-third Division and beaten severely; he was delivered to U.S.
    custody and left in a cage, where he died. U.S. military personnel noted burns on his chest and
    stomach, and bruising to his hips and groin. According to a declassi ed investigation, Special Forces
    soldiers reported that Wahid’s wounds were consistent with “a normal interview/interrogation
    method” used by the Ninety-third Division. A sergeant stated that he “could provide photographs of
    prior detainees with similar injuries.” Nonetheless, the U.S. continued to support the Ninety-third
    Division—a violation of the Leahy Law, which bars American personnel from knowingly backing
    units that commit agrant human-rights abuses.
    In 2004, the U.N. launched a program to disarm pro-government militias. A Ninety-third
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    commander learned of the plan and rebranded a segment of the militia as a “private-security
    company” under contract with the Americans, enabling roughly a third of the Division’s ghters to
    remain armed. Another third kept their weapons by signing a contract with a Texas-based rm to
    protect road-paving crews. (When the Karzai government replaced these private guards with police,
    the Ninety-third’s leader engineered a hit that killed fteen policemen, and then recovered the
    contract.) The remaining third of the Division, nding themselves subjected to extortion threats from
    their former colleagues, absconded with their weapons and joined the Taliban.
    Messaging by the U.S.-led coalition tended to portray the growing rebellion as a matter of extremists
    battling freedom, but
    documents I obtained conceded that Ishaqzais had “no good reason” to
    trust the coalition forces, having suffered “oppression at the hands of Dad Mohammad Khan,” or
    Amir Dado. In Pan Killay, elders encouraged their sons to take up arms to protect the village, and
    some reached out to former Taliban members. Shakira wished that her husband would do something
    —help guard the village, or move them to Pakistan—but he demurred. In a nearby village, when U.S.
    forces raided the home of a beloved tribal elder, killing him and leaving his son with paraplegia,
    women shouted at their menfolk, “You people have big turbans on your heads, but what have you
    done? You can’t even protect us. You call yourselves men?”
    It was now 2005, four years after the American invasion, and Shakira had a third child on the way.
    Her domestic duties consumed her—“morning to night, I was working and sweating”—but when she
    paused from stoking the tandoor or pruning the peach trees she realized that she’d lost the sense of
    promise she’d once felt. Nearly every week, she heard of another young man being spirited away by
    the Americans or the militias. Her husband was unemployed, and recently he’d begun smoking
    opium. Their marriage soured. An air of mistrust settled onto the house, matching the village’s grim
    So when a Taliban convoy rolled into Pan Killay, with black-turbanned men hoisting tall white ags,
    she considered the visitors with interest, even forgiveness. This time, she thought, things might be
    n 2006, the U.K. joined a growing contingent of U.S. Special Operations Forces working to quell
    the rebellion in Sangin. Soon, Shakira recalled, “hell began.” The Taliban attacked patrols,
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    launched raids on combat outposts, and set up roadblocks. On a hilltop in Pan Killay, the Americans
    commandeered a drug lord’s house, transforming it into a compound of sandbags and watchtowers
    and concertina wire. Before most battles, young Talibs visited houses, warning residents to leave
    immediately. Then the Taliban would launch their assault, the coalition would respond, and the earth
    would shudder.
    Sometimes, even eeing did not guarantee safety. During one battle, Abdul Salam, an uncle of
    Shakira’s husband, took refuge in a friend’s home. After the ghting ended, he visited a mosque to
    offer prayers. A few Taliban were there, too. A coalition air strike killed almost everyone inside. The
    next day, mourners gathered for funerals; a second strike killed a dozen more people. Among the
    bodies returned to Pan Killay were those of Abdul Salam, his cousin, and his three nephews, aged six
    to fteen.
    Not since childhood had Shakira known anyone who’d died by air strike. She was now twenty-seven,
    and she slept tfully, as if at any moment she’d need to run for cover. One night, she awoke to a
    screeching noise so loud that she wondered if the house was being torn apart. Her husband was still
    snoring away, and she cursed him under her breath. She tiptoed to the front yard. Coalition military
    vehicles were passing by, trundling over scrap metal strewn out front. She roused the family. It was
    too late to evacuate, and Shakira prayed that the Taliban would not attack. She thrust the children
    into recessed windows—a desperate attempt to protect them in case a strike caused the roof to
    collapse—and covered them with heavy blankets.
    Returning to the front yard, Shakira spotted one of the foreigners’ vehicles sitting motionless. A pair
    of antennas projected skyward. They’re going to kill us, she thought. She climbed onto the roof, and
    saw that the vehicle was empty: the soldiers had parked it and left on foot. She watched them march
    over the footbridge and disappear into the reeds.
    A few elds away, the Taliban and the foreigners began ring. For hours, the family huddled indoors.
    The walls shook, and the children cried. Shakira brought out her cloth dolls, rocked Ahmed against
    her chest, and whispered stories. When the guns fell silent, around dawn, Shakira went out for
    another look. The vehicle remained there, unattended. She was shaking in anger. All year, roughly
    once a month, she had been subjected to this terror. The Taliban had launched the attack, but most of
    her rage was directed at the interlopers. Why did she, and her children, have to suffer?
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    A wild thought ashed through her head. She rushed into the house and spoke with her mother-inlaw. The soldiers were still on the far side of the canal. Shakira found some matches and her motherin-law grabbed a jerrican of diesel fuel. On the street, a neighbor glanced at the jerrican and
    understood, hurrying back with a second jug. Shakira’s mother-in-law doused a tire, then popped the
    hood and soaked the engine. Shakira struck a match, and dropped it onto the tire.
    From the house, they watched the sky turn ashen from the blaze. Before long, they heard the
    whirring of a helicopter, approaching from the south. “It’s coming for us!” her mother-in-law
    shouted. Shakira’s brother-in-law, who was staying with them, frantically gathered the children, but
    Shakira knew that it was too late. If we’re going to die, let’s die at home, she thought.
    They threw themselves into a shallow trench in the back yard, the adults on top of the children. The
    earth shook violently, then the helicopter ew off. When they emerged, Shakira saw that the
    foreigners had targeted the burning vehicle, so that none of its parts would fall into enemy hands.
    The women of Pan Killay came to congratulate Shakira; she was, as one woman put it, “a hero.” But
    she had difficulty mustering any pride, only relief. “I was thinking that they would not come here
    anymore,” she said. “And we would have peace.”
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    n 2008, the U.S. Marines deployed to Sangin, reinforcing American Special Forces and U.K.
    soldiers. Britain’s forces were beleaguered—a third of its casualties in Afghanistan would occur in
    Sangin, leading some soldiers to dub the mission “Sangingrad.” Nilofar, now eight, could intuit the
    rhythms of wartime. She would ask Shakira, “When are we going to Auntie Farzana’s house?”
    Farzana lived in the desert.
    But the chaos wasn’t always predictable: one afternoon, the foreigners again appeared before anyone
    could ee, and the family rushed into the back-yard trench. A few doors down, the wife and children
    of the late Abdul Salam did the same, but a mortar killed his fteen-year-old daughter, Bor Jana.
    Both sides of the war did make efforts to avoid civilian deaths. In addition to issuing warnings to
    evacuate, the Taliban kept villagers informed about which areas were seeded with improvised
    explosive devices, and closed roads to civilian traffic when targeting convoys. The coalition deployed
    laser-guided bombs, used loudspeakers to warn villagers of ghting, and dispatched helicopters ahead
    of battle. “They would drop lea ets saying, ‘Stay in your homes! Save yourselves!’ ” Shakira recalled.
    In a war waged in mud-walled warrens teeming with life, however, nowhere was truly safe, and an
    extraordinary number of civilians died. Sometimes, such casualties sparked widespread
    condemnation, as when a
    rocket struck a crowd of villagers in Sangin in 2010, killing fty-two.
    But the vast majority of incidents involved one or two deaths—anonymous lives that were never
    reported on, never recorded by official organizations, and therefore never counted as part of the war’s
    civilian toll.
    In this way, Shakira’s tragedies mounted. There was Muhammad, a fteen-year-old cousin: he was
    killed by a buzzbuzzak, a drone, while riding his motorcycle through the village with a friend. “That
    sound was everywhere,” Shakira recalled. “When we heard it, the children would start to cry, and I
    could not console them.”
    Muhammad Wali, an adult cousin: Villagers were instructed by coalition forces to stay indoors for
    three days as they conducted an operation, but after the second day drinking water had been depleted
    and Wali was forced to venture out. He was shot.
    Khan Muhammad, a seven-year-old cousin: His family was eeing a clash by car when it mistakenly
    neared a coalition position; the car was strafed, killing him.
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    Bor Agha, a twelve-year-old cousin: He was taking an evening walk when he was killed by re from
    an Afghan National Police base. The next morning, his father visited the base, in shock and looking
    for answers, and was told that the boy had been warned before not to stray near the installation.
    “Their commander gave the order to target him,” his father recalled.
    Amanullah, a sixteen-year-old cousin: He was working the land when he was targeted by an Afghan
    Army sniper. No one provided an explanation, and the family was too afraid to approach the Army
    base and ask.
    Ahmed, an adult cousin: After a long day in the elds, he was headed home, carrying a hot plate,
    when he was struck down by coalition forces. The family believes that the foreigners mistook the hot
    plate for an I.E.D.
    Niamatullah, Ahmed’s brother: He was harvesting opium when a re ght broke out nearby; as he
    tried to ee, he was gunned down by a buzzbuzzak.
    Gul Ahmed, an uncle of Shakira’s husband: He wanted to get a head start on his day, so he asked his
    sons to bring his breakfast to the elds. When they arrived, they found his body. Witnesses said that
    he’d encountered a coalition patrol. The soldiers “left him here, like an animal,” Shakira said.
    Entire branches of Shakira’s family tree, from the uncles who used to tell her stories to the cousins
    who played with her in the caves, vanished. In all, she lost sixteen family members. I wondered if it
    was the same for other families in Pan Killay. I sampled a dozen households at random in the village,
    and made similar inquiries in other villages, to insure that Pan Killay was no outlier. For each family, I
    documented the names of the dead, cross-checking cases with death certi cates and eyewitness
    testimony. On average, I found, each family lost ten to twelve civilians in what locals call the
    American War.
    This scale of suffering was unknown in a bustling metropolis like Kabul, where citizens enjoyed
    relative security. But in countryside enclaves like Sangin the ceaseless killings of civilians led many
    Afghans to gravitate toward the Taliban. By 2010, many households in Ishaqzai villages had sons in
    the Taliban, most of whom had joined simply to protect themselves or to take revenge; the movement
    was more thoroughly integrated into Sangin life than it had been in the nineties. Now, when Shakira
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    and her friends discussed the Taliban, they were discussing their own friends, neighbors, and loved
    Some British officers on the ground grew concerned that the U.S. was killing too many civilians, and
    unsuccessfully lobbied to have American Special Forces removed from the area. Instead, troops from
    around the world poured into Helmand, including Australians, Canadians, and Danes. But villagers
    couldn’t tell the difference—to them, the occupiers were simply “Americans.” Pazaro, the woman
    from a nearby village, recalled, “There were two types of people—one with black faces and one with
    pink faces. When we see them, we get terri ed.” The coalition portrayed locals as hungering for
    liberation from the Taliban, but a classi ed intelligence report from 2011 described community
    perceptions of coalition forces as “unfavorable,” with villagers warning that, if the coalition “did not
    leave the area, the local nationals would be forced to evacuate.”
    In response, the coalition shifted to the hearts-and-minds strategy of counter-insurgency. But the
    foreigners’ efforts to embed among the population could be crude: they often occupied houses, only
    further exposing villagers to cross re. “They were coming by force, without getting permission from
    us,” Pashtana, a woman from another Sangin village, told me. “They sometimes broke into our house,
    broke all the windows, and stayed the whole night. We would have to ee, in case the Taliban red
    on them.” Marzia, a woman from Pan Killay, recalled, “The Taliban would re a few shots, but the
    Americans would respond with mortars.” One mortar slammed into her mother-in-law’s house. She
    survived, Marzia said, but had since “lost control of herself ”—always “shouting at things we can’t see,
    at ghosts.”
    With the hearts-and-minds approach oundering, some
    officials tried to persuade Taliban
    commanders to ip. In 2010, a group of Sangin Taliban commanders, liaising with the British,
    promised to switch sides in return for assistance to local communities. But, when the Taliban leaders
    met to hammer out their end of the deal, U.S. Special Operations Forces—acting independently—
    bombed the gathering, killing the top Taliban gure behind the peace overture.
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    The Marines nally quit Sangin in 2014; the Afghan Army held its ground for three years, until the
    Taliban had brought most of the valley under its control. The U.S. airlifted Afghan Army troops out
    and razed many government compounds—leaving, as a
    statement described approvingly, only
    “rubble and dirt.” The Sangin market had been obliterated in this way. When Shakira rst saw the
    ruined shops, she told her husband, “They left nothing for us.”
    Still, a sense of optimism took hold in Pan Killay. Shakira’s husband slaughtered a sheep to celebrate
    the end of the war, and the family discussed renovating the garden. Her mother-in-law spoke of the
    days before the Russians and the Americans, when families picnicked along the canal, men stretched
    out in the shade of peach trees, and women dozed on rooftops under the stars.
    But in 2019, as the U.S. was holding talks with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar, the Afghan
    government and American forces moved jointly on Sangin one last time. That January, they launched
    perhaps the most devastating assault that the valley witnessed in the entire war. Shakira and other
    villagers ed for the desert, but not everyone could escape. Ahmed Noor Mohammad, who owned a
    pay-phone business, decided to wait to evacuate, because his twin sons were ill. His family went to
    bed to the sound of distant artillery. That night, an American bomb slammed into the room where
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    the twin boys were sleeping, killing them. A second bomb hit an adjacent room, killing Mohammad’s
    father and many others, eight of them children.
    The next day, at the funeral, another air strike killed six mourners. In a nearby village, a gunship
    struck down three children. The following day, four more children were shot dead. Elsewhere in
    Sangin, an air strike hit an Islamic school, killing a child. A week later, twelve guests at a wedding
    were killed in an air raid.
    After the bombing, Mohammad’s brother travelled to Kandahar to report the massacres to the United
    Nations and to the Afghan government. When no justice was forthcoming, he joined the Taliban.
    On the strength of a seemingly endless supply of recruits, the Taliban had no difficulty outlasting the
    coalition. But, though the insurgency has nally brought peace to the Afghan countryside, it is a
    peace of desolation: many villages are in ruins. Reconstruction will be a challenge, but a bigger trial
    will be to exorcise memories of the past two decades. “My daughter wakes up screaming that the
    Americans are coming,” Pazaro said. “We have to keep talking to her softly, and tell her, ‘No, no, they
    won’t come back.’ ”
    he Taliban call their domain the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and claim that, once the
    foreigners are gone, they will preside over an era of tranquil stability. As the Afghan
    government crumbled this summer, I travelled through Helmand Province—the Emirate’s de-facto
    capital—to see what a post-American Afghanistan might look like.
    I departed from Lashkar Gah, which remained under government control. At the outskirts stood a
    squat cement building with an Afghan-government ag—beyond this checkpoint, Kabul’s authority
    vanished. A pickup idled nearby; piled into the cargo bed were half a dozen members of the
    sangorian, a feared militia in the pay of the Afghan intelligence agency, which was backed by the
    C.I.A. Two of the ghters appeared no older than twelve.
    I was with two locals in a beat-up Corolla, and we slipped past the checkpoint without notice. Soon,
    we were in a treeless horizon of baked earth, with virtually no road beneath us. We passed abandoned
    outposts of the Afghan Army and Police that had been built by the Americans and the Brits. Beyond
    them loomed a series of circular mud forti cations, with a lone Taliban sniper splayed on his
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    stomach. White ags uttered behind him, announcing the gateway to the Islamic Emirate.
    The most striking difference between Taliban country and the world we’d left behind was the dearth
    of gunmen. In Afghanistan, I’d grown accustomed to kohl-eyed policemen in baggy trousers,
    militiamen in balaclavas, intelligence agents inspecting cars. Yet we rarely crossed a Taliban
    checkpoint, and when we did the ghters desultorily examined the car. “Everyone is afraid of the
    Taliban,” my driver said, laughing. “The checkpoints are in our hearts.”
    If people feared their new rulers, they also fraternized with them. Here and there, groups of villagers
    sat under roadside trellises, sipping tea with Talibs. The country opened up as we jounced along a dirt
    road in rural Sangin. In the canal, boys were having swimming races; village men and Taliban were
    dipping their feet into the turquoise water. We passed green cropland and canopies of fruit trees.
    Groups of women walked along a market road, and two girls skipped in rumpled frocks.
    We approached Gereshk, then under government authority. Because the town was the most lucrative
    toll-collection point in the region, it was said that whoever held it controlled all of Helmand. The
    Taliban had launched an assault, and the thuds of artillery resounded across the plain. A stream of
    families, their donkeys laboring under the weight of giant bundles, were escaping what they said were
    air strikes. By the roadside, a woman in a powder-blue burqa stood with a wheelbarrow; inside was a
    wrapped body. Some Taliban were gathered on a hilltop, lowering a fallen comrade into a grave.
    I met Wakil, a bespectacled Taliban commander. Like many ghters I’d encountered, he came from a
    line of farmers, had studied a few years in seminary, and had lost dozens of relatives to Amir Dado,
    the Ninety-third Division, and the Americans. He discussed the calamities visited on his family
    without rancor, as if the American War were the natural order of things. Thirty years old, he’d
    attained his rank after an older brother, a Taliban commander, died in battle. He’d hardly ever left
    Helmand, and his face lit up with wonder at the thought of capturing Gereshk, a town that he’d lived
    within miles of, but had not been able to visit for twenty years. “Forget your writing,” he laughed as I
    scribbled notes. “Come watch me take the city!” Tracking a helicopter gliding across the horizon, I
    declined. He raced off. An hour later, an image popped up on my phone of Wakil pulling down a
    poster of a government gure linked to the Ninety-third Division. Gereshk had fallen.
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    At the house of the Taliban district governor, a group of Talibs sat eating okra and naan, donated by
    the village. I asked them about their plans for when the war was over. Most said that they’d return to
    farming, or pursue religious education. I’d own to Afghanistan from Iraq, a fact that impressed
    Hamid, a young commander. He said that he dreamed of seeing the Babylonian ruins, and asked,
    “Do you think, when this is over, they’ll give me a visa?”
    It was clear that the Taliban are divided about what happens next. During my visit, dozens of
    members from different parts of Afghanistan offered strikingly contrasting visions for their Emirate.
    Politically minded Talibs who have lived abroad and maintain homes in Doha or Pakistan told me—
    perhaps with calculation—that they had a more cosmopolitan outlook than before. A scholar who’d
    spent much of the past two decades shuttling between Helmand and Pakistan said, “There were many
    mistakes we made in the nineties. Back then, we didn’t know about human rights, education, politics
    —we just took everything by power. But now we understand.” In the scholar’s rosy scenario, the
    Taliban will share ministries with former enemies, girls will attend school, and women will work
    “shoulder to shoulder” with men.
    Yet in Helmand it was hard to nd this kind of Talib. More typical was Hamdullah, a narrow-faced
    commander who lost a dozen family members in the American War, and has measured his life by
    weddings, funerals, and battles. He said that his community had suffered too grievously to ever share
    power, and that the maelstrom of the previous twenty years offered only one solution: the status quo
    ante. He told me, with pride, that he planned to join the Taliban’s march to Kabul, a city he’d never
    seen. He guessed that he’d arrive there in mid-August.
    On the most sensitive question in village life—women’s rights—men like him have not budged. In
    many parts of rural Helmand, women are barred from visiting the market. When a Sangin woman
    recently bought cookies for her children at the bazaar, the Taliban beat her, her husband, and the
    shopkeeper. Taliban members told me that they planned to allow girls to attend madrassas, but only
    until puberty. As before, women would be prohibited from employment, except for midwifery. Pazaro
    said, ruefully, “They haven’t changed at all.”
    Travelling through Helmand, I could hardly see any signs of the Taliban as a state. Unlike other rebel
    movements, the Taliban had provided practically no reconstruction, no social services beyond its
    harsh tribunals. It brooks no opposition: in Pan Killay, the Taliban executed a villager named Shaista
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    Gul after learning that he’d offered bread to members of the Afghan Army. Nevertheless, many
    Helmandis seemed to prefer Taliban rule—including the women I interviewed. It was as if the
    movement had won only by default, through the abject failures of its opponents. To locals, life under
    the coalition forces and their Afghan allies was pure hazard; even drinking tea in a sunlit eld, or
    driving to your sister’s wedding, was a potentially deadly gamble. What the Taliban offered over their
    rivals was a simple bargain: Obey us, and we will not kill you.
    This grim calculus hovered over every conversation I had with villagers. In the hamlet of Yakh Chal, I
    came upon the ruins of an Afghan Army outpost that had recently been overrun by the Taliban. All
    that remained were mounds of scrap metal, cords, hot plates, gravel. The next morning, villagers
    descended on the outpost, scavenging for something to sell. Abdul Rahman, a farmer, was rooting
    through the refuse with his young son when an Afghan Army gunship appeared on the horizon. It
    was ying so low, he recalled, that “even Kalashnikovs could re on it.” But there were no Taliban
    around, only civilians. The gunship red, and villagers began falling right and left. It then looped
    back, continuing to attack. “There were many bodies on the ground, bleeding and moaning,” another
    witness said. “Many small children.” According to villagers, at least fty civilians were killed.
    Later, I spoke on the phone with an Afghan Army helicopter pilot who had just relieved the one who
    attacked the outpost. He told me, “I asked the crew why they did this, and they said, ‘We knew they
    were civilians, but Camp Bastion’ ”—a former British base that had been handed over to the Afghans
    —“ ‘gave orders to kill them all.’ ” As we spoke, Afghan Army helicopters were ring upon the
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    g p
    crowded central market in Gereshk, killing scores of civilians. An official with an international
    organization based in Helmand said, “When the government forces lose an area, they are taking
    revenge on the civilians.” The helicopter pilot acknowledged this, adding, “We are doing it on the
    order of Sami Sadat.”
    General Sami Sadat headed one of the seven corps of the Afghan Army. Unlike the Amir Dado
    generation of strongmen, who were provincial and illiterate, Sadat obtained a master’s degree in
    strategic management and leadership from a school in the U.K. and studied at the
    Academy, in Munich. He held his military position while also being the C.E.O. of Blue Sea
    Logistics, a Kabul-based corporation that supplied anti-Taliban forces with everything from
    helicopter parts to armored tactical vehicles. During my visit to Helmand, Blackhawks under his
    command were committing massacres almost daily: twelve Afghans were killed while scavenging
    scrap metal at a former base outside Sangin; forty were killed in an almost identical incident at the
    Army’s abandoned Camp Walid; twenty people, most of them women and children, were killed by air
    strikes on the Gereshk bazaar; Afghan soldiers who were being held prisoner by the Taliban at a
    power station were targeted and killed by their own comrades in an air strike. (Sadat declined
    repeated requests for comment.)
    The day before the massacre at the Yakh Chal outpost, CNN aired an interview with General Sadat.
    “Helmand is beautiful—if it’s peaceful, tourism can come,” he said. His soldiers had high morale, he
    explained, and were con dent of defeating the Taliban. The anchor appeared relieved. “You seem very
    optimistic,” she said. “That’s reassuring to hear.”
    I showed the interview to Mohammed Wali, a pushcart vender in a village near Lashkar Gah. A few
    days after the Yakh Chal massacre, government militias in his area surrendered to the Taliban.
    General Sadat’s Blackhawks began attacking houses, seemingly at random. They red on Wali’s
    house, and his daughter was struck in the head by shrapnel and died. His brother rushed into the
    yard, holding the girl’s limp body up at the helicopters, shouting, “We’re civilians!” The choppers
    killed him and Wali’s son. His wife lost her leg, and another daughter is in a coma. As Wali watched
    the CNN clip, he sobbed. “Why are they doing this?” he asked. “Are they mocking us?”
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    n the course of a few hours in 2006, the Taliban killed thirty-two friends and relatives of Amir
    Dado, including his son. Three years later, they killed the warlord himself—who by then had
    joined parliament—in a roadside blast. The orchestrator of the assassination hailed from Pan Killay.
    In one light, the attack is the mark of a fundamentalist insurgency battling an internationally
    recognized government; in another, a campaign of revenge by impoverished villagers against their
    former tormentor; or a salvo in a long-simmering tribal war; or a hit by a drug cartel against a rival
    enterprise. All these readings are probably true, simultaneously. What’s clear is that the U.S. did not
    attempt to settle such divides and build durable, inclusive institutions; instead, it intervened in a civil
    war, supporting one side against the other. As a result, like the Soviets, the Americans effectively
    created two Afghanistans: one mired in endless con ict, the other prosperous and hopeful.
    It is the hopeful Afghanistan that’s now under threat, after Taliban ghters marched into Kabul in
    mid-August—just as Hamdullah predicted. Thousands of Afghans have spent the past few weeks
    desperately trying to reach the Kabul airport, sensing that the Americans’ frenzied evacuation may be
    their last chance at a better life. “Bro, you’ve got to help me,” the helicopter pilot I’d spoken with
    earlier pleaded over the phone. At the time, he was ghting crowds to get within sight of the airport
    gate; when the wheels of the last U.S. aircraft pulled off the runway, he was left behind. His boss,
    Sami Sadat, reportedly escaped to the U.K.
    Until recently, the Kabul that Sadat ed often felt like a different country, even a different century,
    from Sangin. The capital had become a city of hillside lights, shimmering wedding halls, and neon
    billboards that was joyously crowded with women: mothers browsed markets, girls walked in pairs
    from school, police officers patrolled in hijabs, office workers carried designer handbags. The gains
    these women experienced during the American War—and have now lost—are staggering, and hard to
    fathom when considered against the austere hamlets of Helmand: the Afghan parliament had a
    proportion of women similar to that of the U.S. Congress, and about a quarter of university students
    were female. Thousands of women in Kabul are understandably terri ed that the Taliban have not
    evolved. In late August, I spoke by phone to a dermatologist who was bunkered in her home. She has
    studied in multiple countries, and runs a large clinic employing a dozen women. “I’ve worked too
    hard to get here,” she told me. “I studied too long, I made my own business, I created my own clinic.
    This was my life’s dream.” She had not stepped outdoors in two weeks.
    The Taliban takeover has restored order to the conservative countryside while plunging the
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    The Taliban takeover has restored order to the conservative countryside while plunging the
    comparatively liberal streets of Kabul into fear and hopelessness. This reversal of fates brings to light
    the unspoken premise of the past two decades: if U.S. troops kept battling the Taliban in the
    countryside, then life in the cities could blossom. This may have been a sustainable project—the
    Taliban were unable to capture cities in the face of U.S. airpower. But was it just? Can the rights of
    one community depend, in perpetuity, on the deprivation of rights in another? In Sangin, whenever I
    brought up the question of gender, village women reacted with derision. “They are giving rights to
    Kabul women, and they are killing women here,” Pazaro said. “Is this justice?” Marzia, from Pan
    Killay, told me, “This is not ‘women’s rights’ when you are killing us, killing our brothers, killing our
    fathers.” Khalida, from a nearby village, said, “The Americans did not bring us any rights. They just
    came, fought, killed, and left.”
    The women in Helmand disagree among themselves about what rights they should have. Some yearn
    for the old village rules to crumble—they wish to visit the market or to picnic by the canal without
    sparking innuendo or worse. Others cling to more traditional interpretations. “Women and men
    aren’t equal,” Shakira told me. “They are each made by God, and they each have their own role, their
    own strengths that the other doesn’t have.” More than once, as her husband lay in an opium stupor,
    she fantasized about leaving him. Yet Nilofar is coming of age, and a divorce could cast shame on the
    family, harming her prospects. Through friends, Shakira hears stories of dissolute cities lled with
    broken marriages and prostitution. “Too much freedom is dangerous, because people won’t know the
    limits,” she said.
    All the women I met in Sangin, though, seemed to agree that their rights, whatever they might
    entail, cannot ow from the barrel of a gun—and that Afghan communities themselves must improve
    the conditions of women. Some villagers believe that they possess a powerful cultural resource to
    wage that struggle: Islam itself. “The Taliban are saying women cannot go outside, but there is
    actually no Islamic rule like this,” Pazaro told me. “As long as we are covered, we should be allowed.”
    I asked a leading Helmandi Taliban scholar where in Islam was it stipulated that women cannot go to
    the market or attend school. He admitted, somewhat chagrined, that this was not an actual Islamic
    injunction. “It’s the culture in the village, not Islam,” he said. “The people there have these beliefs
    about women, and we follow them.” Just as Islam offers fairer templates for marriage, divorce, and
    inheritance than many tribal and village norms, these women hope to marshal their faith—the shared
    language across their country’s many divides—to carve out greater freedoms.
    The Other Afghan Women | The New Yorker
    Though Shakira hardly talks about it, she harbors such dreams herself. Through the decades of war,
    she continued to teach herself to read, and she is now working her way through a Pashto translation
    of the Quran, one sura at a time. “It gives me great comfort,” she said. She is teaching her youngest
    daughter the alphabet, and has a bold ambition: to gather her friends and demand that the men erect
    a girls’ school.
    Even as Shakira contemplates moving Pan Killay forward, she is determined to remember its past.
    The village, she told me, has a cemetery that spreads across a few hilltops. There are no plaques, no
    ags, just piles of stones that glow red and pink in the evening sun. A pair of blank agstones project
    from each grave, one marking the head, one the feet.
    Shakira’s family visits every week, and she points to the mounds where her grandfather lies, where her
    cousins lie, because she doesn’t want her children to forget. They tie scarves on tree branches to
    attract blessings, and pray to those departed. They spend hours amid a sacred geography of stones,
    shrubs, and streams, and Shakira feels renewed.
    Shortly before the Americans left, they dynamited her house, apparently in response to the Taliban’s
    ring a grenade nearby. With two rooms still standing, the house is half inhabitable, half destroyed,
    much like Afghanistan itself. She told me that she won’t mind the missing kitchen, or the gaping hole
    where the pantry once stood. Instead, she chooses to see a village in rebirth. Shakira is sure that a
    freshly paved road will soon run past the house, the macadam sizzling hot on summer days. The only
    birds in the sky will be the kind with feathers. Nilofar will be married, and her children will walk
    along the canal to school. The girls will have plastic dolls, with hair that they can brush. Shakira will
    own a machine that can wash clothes. Her husband will get clean, he will acknowledge his failings,
    he will tell his family that he loves them more than anything. They will visit Kabul, and stand in the
    shadow of giant glass buildings. “I have to believe,” she said. “Otherwise, what was it all for?” ♦
    My childhood in a cult.
    What does it mean to die?
    The cheating scandal that shook the world of master sommeliers
    Ethics Forum: September 11 and Ethnographic Responsibility
    Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?
    Anthropological Reflections on Cultural
    Relativism and Its Others
    ABSTRACT This article explores the ethics of the current “War on Terrorism, asking whether anthropology, the discipline devoted
    to understanding and dealing with cultural difference, can provide us with critical purchase on the justifications made for American
    intervention in Afghanistan in terms of liberating, or saving, Afghan women. I look first at the dangers of reifying culture, apparent in
    the tendencies to plaster neat cultural icons like the Muslim woman over messy historical and political dynamics. Then, calling attention
    to the resonances of contemporary discourses on equality, freedom, and rights with earlier colonial and missionary rhetoric on Muslim
    women, I argue that we need to develop, instead, a serious appreciation of differences among women in the world—as products of
    different histories, expressions of different circumstances, and manifestations of differently structured desires. Further, I argue that
    rather than seeking to “save” others (with the superiority it implies and the violences it would entail) we might better think in terms of
    (1) working with them in situations that we recognize as always subject to historical transformation and (2) considering our own larger
    responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find themselves. I develop
    many of these arguments about the limits of “cultural relativism” through a consideration of the burqa and the many meanings of veiling in the Muslim world. [Keywords: cultural relativism, Muslim women, Afghanistan war, freedom, global injustice, colonialism]
    HAT ARE THE ETHICS of the current “Wai on
    Terrorism, a war that justifies itself by purporting to liberate, or save, Afghan women? Does anthropology have anything to offer in our search for a viable position to take regarding this rationale for war?
    I was led to pose the question of my title in part because
    of the way I personally experienced the response to the U,S,
    war in Afghanistan. Like many colleagues whose work has
    focused on women and gender in the Middle East, I was deluged with invitations to speak—not just on news programs
    but also to various departments at colleges and universities,
    especially women’s studies programs. Why did this not please
    me, a scholar who has devoted more than 20 years of her life
    to this subject and who has some complicated personal connection to this identity? Here was an opportunity to spread
    the word, disseminate my knowledge, and correct misunderstandings. The urgent search for knowledge about our sister
    “women of cover” (as President George Bush so marvelously
    called them) is laudable and when it comes from women’s
    studies programs where “transnational feminism” is now
    being taken seriously, it has a certain integrity (see Safire 2001),
    My discomfort led me to reflect on why, as feminists in
    or from the West, or simply as people who have concerns
    about women’s lives, we need to be wary of this response to
    the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001, 1 want to
    point out the minefields—a metaphor that is sadly too apt
    for a country like Afghanistan, with the world’s highest
    number of mines per capita—of this obsession with the
    plight of Muslim women, 1 hope to show some way through
    them using insights from anthropology, the discipline whose
    charge has been to understand and manage cultural difference, At the same time, I want to remain critical of anthropology’s complicity in the reification of cultural difference,
    It is easier to see why one should be skeptical about the focus on the “Muslim woman” if one begins with the U.S.
    American Anthropologist
    Vol. 104, No. 3 • September 2002
    public response. I will analyze two manifestations of this
    response: some conversations I had with a reporter from
    the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and First Lady Laura Bush’s
    radio address to the nation on November 17, 2001, The
    presenter from the NewsHour show first contacted me in
    October to see if I was willing to give some background for
    a segment on Women and Islam, I mischievously asked
    whether she had done segments on the women of Guatemala, Ireland, Palestine, or Bosnia when the show covered
    wars in those regions; but I finally agreed to look at the
    questions she was going to pose to panelists, The questions were hopelessly general. Do Muslim women believe
    “x”? Are Muslim women “y”? Does Islam allow “z” for
    women? 1 asked her: If you were to substitute Christian or
    Jewish wherever you have Muslim, would these questions
    make sense? I did not imagine she would call me back, But
    she did, twice, once with an idea for a segment on the
    meaning of Ramadan and another time on Muslim
    women in politics. One was in response to the bombing
    and the other to the speeches by Laura Bush and Cherie
    Blair, wife of the British Prime Minister.
    What is striking about these three ideas for news programs is that there was a consistent resort to the cultural,
    as if knowing something about women and Islam or the
    meaning of a religious ritual would help one understand
    the tragic attack on New York’s World Trade Center and
    the U.S. Pentagon, or how Afghanistan had come to be
    ruled by the Taliban, or what interests might have fueled
    US, and other interventions in the region over the past 25
    years, or what the history of American support for conservative groups funded to undermine the Soviets might
    have been, or why the caves and bunkers out of which Bin
    Laden was to be smoked “dead or alive, as President Bush
    announced on television, were paid for and built by the
    In other words, the question is why knowing about
    the “culture” of the region, and particularly its religious
    beliefs and treatment of women, was more urgent than exploring the history of the development of repressive regimes in the region and the U.S. role in this history, Such
    cultural framing, it seemed to me, prevented the serious
    exploration of the roots and nature of human suffering in
    this part of the world, Instead of political and historical
    explanations, experts were being asked to give religiocultural ones, Instead of questions that might lead to the
    exploration of global interconnections, we were offered
    ones that worked to artificially divide the world into separate spheres—recreating an imaginative geography of West
    versus East, us versus Muslims, cultures in which First Ladies
    give speeches versus others where women shuffle around
    silently in burqas,
    Most pressing for me was why the Muslim woman in
    general, and the Afghan woman in particular, were so crucial to this cultural mode of explanation, which ignored
    the complex entanglements in which we are all implicated,
    in sometimes surprising alignments, Why were these female symbols being mobilized in this “War against Terror-
    ism” in a way they were not in other conflicts? Laura Bush’s
    radio address on November 17 reveals the political work
    such mobilization accomplishes, On the one hand, her address collapsed important distinctions that should have
    been maintained, There was a constant slippage between
    the Taliban and the terrorists, so that they became almost
    one word—a kind of hyphenated monster identity: the
    Taliban-and-the-terrorists. Then there was the blurring of
    the very separate causes in Afghanistan of women’s continuing malnutrition, poverty, and ill health, and their
    more recent exclusion under the Taliban from employment, schooling, and the joys of wearing nail polish, On
    the other hand, her speech reinforced chasmic divides,
    primarily between the “civilized people throughout the
    world” whose hearts break for the women and children of
    Afghanistan and the Taliban-and-the-terrorists, the cultural monsters who want to, as she put it, “impose their
    world on the rest of us,”
    Most revealingly, the speech enlisted women to justify American bombing and intervention in Afghanistan
    and to make a case for the “War on Terrorism” of which it
    was allegedly a part, As Laura Bush said, “Because of our
    recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are
    no longer imprisoned in their homes, They can listen to
    music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment,
    The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the
    rights and dignity of women” (U.S. Government 2002),
    These words have haunting resonances for anyone
    who has studied colonial history, Many who have worked
    on British colonialism in South Asia have noted the use of
    the woman question in colonial policies where intervention into sati (the practice of widows immolating themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres), child marriage,
    and other practices was used to justify rule, As Gayatri
    Chakravorty Spivak (1988) has cynically put it: white men
    saving brown women from brown men, The historical record is full of similar cases, including in the Middle East,
    In Turn of the Century Egypt, what Leila Ahmed (1992)
    has called “colonial feminism” was hard at work, This was
    a selective concern about the plight of Egyptian women
    that focused on the veil as a sign of oppression but gave
    no support to women’s education and was professed loudly
    by the same Englishman, Lord Cromer, who opposed women’s suffrage back home.
    Sociologist Marnia Lazreg (1994) has offered some
    vivid examples of how French colonialism enlisted women to its cause in Algeria, She writes:
    Perhaps the most spectacular example of the colonial appropriation of women’s voices, and the silencing of those
    among them who had begun to take women revolutionaries . . . as role models by not donning the veil, was the
    event of May 16, 1958 [just four years before Algeria finally gained its independence from France after a long
    bloody struggle and 130 years of French control—L,A.],
    On that day a demonstration was organized by rebellious
    French generals in Algiers to show their determination to
    keep Algeria French, To give the government of France
    evidence that Algerians were in agreement with them, the
    Abu-Lughod • Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?
    generals had a few thousand native men bused in from
    nearby villages, along with a few women who were solemnly unveiled by French women. .. Rounding up Algerians and bringing them to demonstrations of loyalty to
    France was not in itself an unusual act during the colonial
    era, But to unveil women at a well-choreographed ceremony added to the event a symbolic dimension that
    dramatized the one constant feature of the Algerian occupation by France: its obsession with women. [Lazreg
    Lazreg (1994) also gives memorable examples of the
    way in which the French had earlier sought to transform
    Arab women and girls, She describes skits at awards ceremonies at the Muslim Girls’ School in Algiers in 1851 and
    1852, In the fust skit, wiitten by “a Fiench lady from Algieis,’ two Algerian Arab girls Teminisced about theiT trip
    to France with woids including the following:
    Oh! Protective France: Oh! Hospitable France!. ..
    Noble land, where I felt free
    Under Christian skies to pray to our God:.. ,
    God bless you for the happiness you bring us!
    And you, adoptive mother, who taught us
    That we have a share of this world,
    We will cherish you forever! [Lazreg 1994:68-69]
    These girls are made to invoke the gift of a share of
    this world, a world where freedom reigns under Christian
    skies. This is not the woild the Taliban-and-the-tenorists
    would “like to impose on the Test of us,’
    Just as I aigued above that we need to be suspicious
    when neat cultural icons aie plastered over messier historical and political nanatives, so we need to be wary when
    Loid Ciomei in Biitish-iuled Egypt, Fiench ladies in Algeria, and LauTa Bush, all with military tioops behind them,
    claim to be saving or liberating Muslim women,
    I want now to look rnoie closely at those Afghan women
    Lama Bush claimed were ‘rejoicing” at theiT liberation by
    the Americans, This necessitates a discussion of the veil, OT
    the bUTqa, because it is so central to contemporary concerns about Muslim women, This will set the stage for a
    discussion of how anthropologists, feminist anthropologists in particular, contend with the problem of difference
    in a global world. In the conclusion, I will return to the
    rhetoric of saving Muslim women and offer an alternative,
    It is common popular knowledge that the ultimate
    sign of the oppression of Afghan women under the Taliban-and-the-terrorists is that they were forced to wear the
    burqa. Liberals sometimes confess their surprise that even
    though Afghanistan has been liberated from the Taliban,
    women do not seem to be throwing off their burqas.
    Someone who has worked in Muslim regions must ask
    why this is so surprising, Did we expect that once “free”
    from the Taliban they would go “back” to belly shirts and
    blue jeans, or dust off their Chanel suits? We need to be
    more sensible about the clothing of “women of cover,
    and so there is perhaps a need to make some basic points
    about veiling,
    First, it should be recalled that the Taliban did not invent the burqa, It was the local form of covering that
    Pashtun women in one region wore when they went out,
    The Pashtun are one of several ethnic groups in Afghanistan and the burqa was one of many forms of covering in
    the subcontinent and Southwest Asia that has developed
    as a convention for symbolizing women’s modesty or respectability. The burqa, like some other forms of “cover”
    has, in many settings, marked the symbolic separation of
    men’s and women’s spheres, as part of the general association of women with family and home, not with public
    space where strangers mingled.
    Twenty years ago the anthropologist Hanna Papanek
    (1982), who worked in Pakistan, described the burqa as
    “portable seclusion.’ She noted that many saw it as a liberating invention because it enabled women to move out
    of segregated living spaces while still observing the basic
    moral requirements of separating and protecting women
    from unrelated men. Ever since I came across her phrase
    portable seclusion, I have thought of these enveloping
    robes as “mobile homes,” Everywhere, such veiling signifies belonging to a particular community and participating in a moral way of life in which families are paramount
    in the organization of communities and the home is associated with the sanctity of women.
    The obvious question that follows is this: If this were
    the case, why would women suddenly become immodest?
    Why would they suddenly throw off the markers of their
    respectability, markers, whether burqas or other forms of
    cover, which were supposed to assure their protection in
    the public sphere from the harassment of strange men by
    symbolically signaling to all that they were still in the inviolable space of their homes, even though moving in the
    public realm? Especially when these are forms of dress that
    had become so conventional that most women gave little
    thought to their meaning,
    To draw some analogies, none of them perfect, why
    are we surprised that Afghan women do not throw off
    their burqas when we know perfectly well that it would
    not be appropriate to wear shorts to the opera? At the time
    these discussions of Afghan women’s burqas were raging,
    a friend of mine was chided by her husband for suggesting
    she wanted to wear a pantsuit to a fancy wedding; “You
    know you don’t wear pants to a WASP wedding,’ he reminded her. New Yorkers know that the beautifully coiffed Hasidic women, who look so fashionable next to their
    dour husbands in black coats and hats, are wearing wigs,
    This is because religious belief and community standards
    of propriety require the covering of the hair, They also alter boutique fashions to include high necks and long
    sleeves, As anthropologists know perfectly well, people
    wear the appropriate form of dress for their social communities and are guided by socially shared standards, religious beliefs, and moral ideals, unless they deliberately
    transgress to make a point or are unable to afford proper
    cover. If we think that U.S. women live in a world of
    American Anthropologist • Vol. 104, No, 3 • September 2002
    choice regarding clothing, all we need to do is remind ourselves of the expression, “the tyranny of fashion,’
    What had happened in Afghanistan under the Taliban
    is that one regional style of covering OT veiling, associated
    with a certain Tespectable but not elite class, was imposed
    on everyone as “religiously” appropriate, even though previously there had been many different styles, popular or
    traditional with different groups and classes—different
    ways to mark women’s propriety, or, in more recent times,
    religious piety. Although I am not an expert on Afghanistan, I imagine that the majority of women left in Afghanistan by the time the Taliban took control were the
    rural or less educated, from nonelite families, since they
    were the only ones who could not emigrate to escape the
    hardship and violence that has marked Afghanistan’s recent history, If liberated from the enforced wearing of burqas, most of these women would choose some other form
    of modest headcovering, like all those living nearby who
    were not under the Taliban—their rural Hindu counterparts in the North of India (who cover their heads and veil
    their faces from affines) or their Muslim sisters in Pakistan,
    Even The New York Times carried an article about Afghan women refugees in Pakistan that attempted to educate readers about this local variety (Fremson 2001), The
    article describes and pictures everything from the nowiconic burqa with the embroidered eyeholes, which a
    Pashtun woman explains is the proper dress for her community, to large scarves they call chadors, to the new Islamic modest dress that wearers refer to as hijab, Those in
    the new Islamic dress are characteristically students heading for professional careers, especially in medicine, just
    like their counterparts from Egypt to Malaysia, One wearing the large scarf was a school principal; the other was a
    poor street vendor, The telling quote from the young
    street vendor is, “If I did [wear the burqa] the refugees
    would tease me because the burqa is for ‘good women’
    who stay inside the home” (Fremson 2001:14), Here you
    can see the local status associated with the burqa—it is for
    good respectable women from strong families who are not
    forced to make a living selling on the street.
    The British newspaper The Guardian published an interview in January 2002 with Dr, Suheila Siddiqi, a respected surgeon in Afghanistan who holds the rank of
    lieutenant general in the Afghan medical corps (Goldenberg 2002), A woman in her sixties, she comes from an
    elite family and, like her sisters, was educated. Unlike
    most women of her class, she chose not to go into exile,
    She is presented in the article as “the woman who stood
    up to the Taliban” because she refused to wear the burqa.
    She had made it a condition of returning to her post as
    head of a major hospital when the Taliban came begging
    in 1996, just eight months after firing her along with
    other women, Siddiqi is described as thin, glamorous, and
    confident, But further into the article it is noted that her
    graying bouffant hair is covered in a gauzy veil, This is a
    reminder that though she refused the burqa, she had no
    question about wearing the chador or scarf.
    Finally, I need to make a crucial point about veiling,
    Not only are there many forms of covering, which themselves have different meanings in the communities in
    which they are used, but also veiling itself must not be
    confused with, or made to stand for, lack of agency. As I
    have argued in my ethnography of a Bedouin community
    in Egypt in the late 1970s and 1980s (1986), pulling the
    black head cloth over the face in front of older respected
    men is considered a voluntary act by women who are
    deeply committed to being moral and have a sense of
    honor tied to family. One of the ways they show their
    standing is by covering their faces in certain contexts,
    They decide for whom they feel it is appropriate to veil,
    To take a very different case, the modern Islamic modest dress that many educated women across the Muslim
    world have taken on since the mid-1970s now both publicly marks piety and can be read as a sign of educated urban sophistication, a sort of modernity (e.g., Abu-Lughod
    1995, 1998; Brenner 1996; El Guindi 1999; MacLeod 1991;
    Ong 1990), As Saba Mahmood (2001) has so brilliantly
    shown in her ethnography of women in the mosque
    movement in Egypt, this new form of dress is also perceived by many of the women who adopt it as part of a
    bodily means to cultivate virtue, the outcome of their professed desire to be close to God,
    Two points emerge from this fairly basic discussion of
    the meanings of veiling in the contemporary Muslim
    world, First, we need to work against the reductive interpretation of veiling as the quintessential sign of women’s
    unfreedom, even if we object to state imposition of this
    form, as in Iran or with the Taliban, (It must be recalled
    that the modernizing states of Turkey and Iran had earlier
    in the century banned veiling and required men, except
    religious clerics, to adopt Western dress.) What does freedom mean if we accept the fundamental premise that humans are social beings, always raised in certain social and
    historical contexts and belonging to particular communities that shape their desires and understandings of the
    world? Is it not a gross violation of women’s own understandings of what they are doing to simply denounce the
    burqa as a medieval imposition? Second, we must take
    care not to reduce the diverse situations and attitudes of
    millions of Muslim women to a single item of clothing,
    Perhaps it is time to give up the Western obsession with
    the veil and focus on some serious issues with which feminists and others should indeed be concerned,
    Ultimately, the significant political-ethical problem
    the burqa raises is how to deal with cultural “others,” How
    are we to deal with difference without accepting the passivity implied by the cultural relativism for which anthropologists are justly famous—a relativism that says it’s their
    culture and it’s not my business to judge or interfere, only
    to try to understand, Cultural relativism is certainly an improvement on ethnocentrism and the racism, cultural imperialism, and imperiousness that underlie it; the problem
    is that it is too late not to interfere, The forms of lives we
    Abu-Lughod • Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?
    find around the world are already products of long histories of interactions,
    I want to explore the issues of women, cultural relativism, and the problems of “difference” from three angles,
    First, I want to consider what feminist anthropologists
    (those stuck in that awkward relationship, as Strathern
    [1987] has claimed) are to do with strange political bedfellows, I used to feel torn when I received the e-mail petitions circulating for the last few years in defense of Afghan
    women under the Taliban, I was not sympathetic to the
    dogmatism of the Taliban; I do not support the oppression
    of women, But the provenance of the campaign worried
    me, I do not usually find myself in political company with
    the likes of Hollywood celebrities (see Hirschkind and
    Mahmood 2002), I had never received a petition from
    such women defending the right of Palestinian women to
    safety from Israeli bombing or daily harassment at checkpoints, asking the United States to reconsider its support
    for a government that had dispossessed them, closed them
    out from work and citizenship rights, refused them the
    most basic freedoms. Maybe some of these same people
    might be signing petitions to save African women from
    genital cutting, or Indian women from dowry deaths,
    However, I do not think that it would be as easy to mobilize so many of these American and Ewopean women if it
    were not a case of Muslim men oppressing Muslim women—
    women of cover for whom they can feel sorry and in relation to whom they can feel smugly superior, Would television diva Oprah Winfrey host the Women in Black, the
    women’s peace group from Israel, as she did RAWA, the
    Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, who
    were also granted the Glamour Magazine Women of the
    Year Award? What are we to make of post-Taliban “Reality
    Tours” such as the one advertised on the internet by
    Global Exchange for March 2002 under the title “Courage
    and Tenacity: A Women’s Delegation to Afghanistan”?
    The rationale for the $1,400 tour is that “with the removal
    of the Taliban government, Afghan women, for the first
    time in the past decade, have the opportunity to reclaim
    their basic human rights and establish their role as equal
    citizens by participating in the rebuilding of their nation,”
    The tour’s objective, to celebrate International Women’s
    Week, is “to develop awareness of the concerns and issues
    the Afghan women are facing as well as to witness the
    changing political, economic, and social conditions which
    have created new opportunities for the women of Afghanistan” (Global Exchange 2002),
    To be critical of this celebration of women’s rights in
    Afghanistan is not to pass judgment on any local women’s
    organizations, such as RAWA, whose members have courageously worked since 1977 for a democratic secular Afghanistan in which women’s human rights are respected,
    against Soviet-backed regimes or U,S,-, Saudi-, and Pakistanisupported conservatives, Their documentation of abuse
    and their work through clinics and schools have been
    enormously important,
    It is also not to fault the campaigns that exposed the
    dreadful conditions under which the Taliban placed
    women, The Feminist Majority campaign helped put a
    stop to a secret oil pipeline deal between the Taliban and
    the U,S, multinational Unocal that was going forward
    with U,S, administration support, Western feminist campaigns must not be confused with the hypocrisies of the
    new colonial feminism of a Republican president who was
    not elected for his progressive stance on feminist issues or
    of administrations that played down the terrible record of
    violations of women by the United State’s allies in the
    Northern Alliance, as documented by Human Rights
    Watch and Amnesty International, among others, Rapes
    and assaults were widespread in the period of infighting
    that devastated Afghanistan before the Taliban came in to
    restore order,
    It is, however, to suggest that we need to look closely
    at what we are supporting (and what we are not) and to
    think carefully about why, How should we manage the
    complicated politics and ethics of finding ourselves in
    agreement with those with whom we normally disagree? I
    do not know how many feminists who felt good about
    saving Afghan women fTom the Taliban are also asking for
    a global redistribution of wealth or contemplating sacrificing their own consumption radically so that African or Afghan women could have some chance of having what I do
    believe should be a universal human right—the right to
    freedom from the structural violence of global inequality
    and from the ravages of war, the everyday rights of having
    enough to eat, having homes for their families in which to
    live and thrive, having ways to make decent livings so
    their children can grow, and having the strength and security to work out, within their communities and with whatever alliances they want, how to live a good life, which
    might very well include changing the ways those communities are organized,
    Suspicion about bedfellows is only a first step; it will
    not give us a way to think more positively about what to
    do or where to stand, For that, we need to confront two
    more big issues. First is the acceptance of the possibility of
    difference, Can we only free Afghan women to be like us
    or might we have to recognize that even after “liberation”
    from the Taliban, they might want different things than
    we would want for them? What do we do about that? Second, we need to be vigilant about the rhetoric of saving
    people because of what it implies about our attitudes.
    Again, when I talk about accepting difference, I am
    not implying that we should resign ourselves to being cultural relativists who respect whatever goes on elsewhere as
    “just their culture,” I have already discussed the dangers of
    “cultural” explanations; “their” cultures are just as much
    part of history and an interconnected world as ours are.
    What I am advocating is the hard work involved in recognizing and respecting differences—precisely as products of
    different histories, as expressions of different circumstances, and as manifestations of differently structured desires, We may want justice for women, but can we accept
    American Anthropologist • Vol. 104, No, 3 • September 2002
    that there might be different ideas about justice and that
    different women might want, or choose, different futures
    from what we envision as best (see Ong 1988)? We must
    consider that they might be called to personhood, so to
    speak, in a different language.
    Reports from the Bonn peace conference held in late
    November to discuss the rebuilding of Afghanistan revealed
    significant differences among the few Afghan women
    feminists and activists present. RAWA’s position was to reject any conciliatory approach to Islamic governance, According to one report I read, most women activists, especially those based in Afghanistan who are aware of the
    realities on the ground, agreed that Islam had to be the
    starting point for reform. Fatima Gailani, a U.S.-based advisor to one of the delegations, is quoted as saying, “If I go
    to Afghanistan today and ask women for votes on the
    promise to bring them secularism, they are going to tell
    me to go to hell.’ Instead, according to one report, most
    of these women looked for inspiration on how to fight for
    equality to a place that might seem surprising. They looked
    to Iran as a country in which they saw women making
    significant gains within an Islamic framework—in part
    through an Islamically oriented feminist movement that
    is challenging injustices and reinterpreting the religious
    The situation in Iran is itself the subject of heated debate within feminist circles, especially among Iranian
    feminists in the West (e.g., Mir-Hosseini 1999; Moghissi
    1999; Najmabadi 1998, 2000), It is not clear whether and
    in what ways women have made gains and whether the
    great increases in literacy, decreases in birthrates, presence
    of women in the professions and government, and a feminist flourishing in cultural fields like writing and filmmaking are because of or despite the establishment of a socalled Islamic Republic, The concept of an Islamic
    feminism itself is also controversial, Is it an oxymoron or
    does it refer to a viable movement forged by brave women
    who want a third way?
    One of the things we have to be most careful about in
    thinking about Third World feminisms, and feminism in
    different parts of the Muslim world, is how not to fall into
    polarizations that place feminism on the side of the West,
    I have written about the dilemmas faced by Arab feminists
    when Western feminists initiate campaigns that make
    them vulnerable to local denunciations by conservatives
    of various sorts, whether Islamist or nationalist, of being
    traitors (Abu-Lughod 2001), As some like Afsaneh Najmabadi are now arguing, not only is it wrong to see history simplistically in terms of a putative opposition between Islam and the West (as is happening in the United
    States now and has happened in parallel in the Muslim
    world), but it is also strategically dangerous to accept this
    cultural opposition between Islam and the West, between
    fundamentalism and feminism, because those many people within Muslim countries who are trying to find alternatives to present injustices, those who might want to refuse the divide and take from different histories and
    cultures, who do not accept that being feminist means being Western, will be under pressure to choose, just as we
    are: Are you with us or against us?
    My point is to remind …

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