The Women Of Afghanistan Under The Taliban, by Rosemarie Skaine
This is the sort of book that exemplefies the term false dilemma or doublespeak. Like Alabama vs. Notre Dame or Aliens vs. Predators (the second comparison more apt than it should be), there are no good options as painted by the author. Ms. Skaine has written a book that should appeal to radical feminists, and it might strike them as fair and balanced, but no one else is likely to be satisfied. The book is short (but even at 160 pages, including three appendices, it was a chore to read), and is divided into six chapters–modern political and social roles of Afghan Women, women’s roles in Isam, Afghan women, contemporary wars, and geopolitical forces, Afghan women under the rule of the Taliban, and hope for the future. The book was published in 2000 and updated with minor comments and slight changes in 2002 to reflect the post-911 world, but the book manages the difficult task of making the author and many of the voices used to defend the author’s point of view as nearly equally abhorrent to the Taliban, an impressive task that was probably not intenetional.
There are fundamental ironies/hypocrisies in this particular work that are deeply troubling but also fairly typical. In fairness, not all of these are the fault of the author. The problems start with the choice of sources used for this work and the general tone and approach of it. The author uses the authoritative language of scholarly monographs and seeks to bolster her opinions and judgments through the use of primary sources–namely oral interviews of Afghan women. Unfortunately, she uses a particularly biased radical feminist group called RAWA as the ideological base of her judgments on Afghan politics, culture, and history, and includes many of the poems by the (now deceased) founder of that organization, who fancied herself an epic poetess. At the very core of the book, there are a few deeply troubling hypocrisies that trouble this reader even if they do not appear to trouble the author (with one notable exception). The author is deeply bothered by the irony that the United States was the loudest critic of the Taliban during their rule over most of Afghanistan while giving financial support to the Jehadis and to nations like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who have trained and aided the Taliban and related groups to support their own corrupt geopolitical goals. The author appears untroubled by other hypocrisies, though, including the hypocrisy of speaking out against the abhorrent treatment of women by the Taliban amounting to a war on women and children while supporting ‘reporoductive rights’ that amount to an equally abhorrent war on women and children through abortion. Even at a conceptual level, the book is seriously marred by a tension between the author (and the radical feminist group she uses to support her ideology) who seek to paint the Jehadi and Taliban problems as strictly external, coming from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (mainly) and the reality expressed by other sources (including warlords within Afghanistan) that Afghanistan’s problems have an internal basis as well as an external one.
The history of Afghanistan post-2001 bears out the understanding that internal division has not been the result of foreign intervention only, but also the causus belli of external intervention as well. Of particular interest to other nations (including the United States), is the way in which Afghanistan’s division between a liberal and “cosmopolitan” urban civilization that had some development in the 20th century and the lack of development and conservatism of the countryside was one of the main contributing elements to the problems of unity within Afghanistan today. Had Afghanistan paid more attention to the importance of showing honor and respect for the ordinary people of the country, and to their hopes and aspirations, it is possible that the fight between the Communist defenders of the liberal urban order and the radical Muslim defenders of the traditional order, both of whom had their own biases and their own axes to grind and their own desire to exploit the Afghan nation and situation for their own benefit, could have been less tragic. What’s done is done, and the author’s hopes for the future have so far not been realized for the nation of Afghanistan. What is potentially even more tragic is that Afghanistan’s division could be a model for many societies with stark divides between leftist and ractionary divides with precious little middle ground to operate between the two extremes. It deserves to be noted, though, that there are more options than those who extremes that are roads not often traveled in contemporary society, and that neither of those options is a good one. The author appears sadly ignorant of that fact, which becomes increasingly tiresome throughout this volume.