Did women doom Afghanistan?

Malali Bashir

In the West, many people believe that Afghanistan has been the motherland of insurgency, and that fundamentalism runs in Afghans’ veins. They say that by being too traditional, extremist, and narrow-minded, Afghans have ruined their country.

In sharp contrast, many people in Pakistan believe God has doomed Afghanistan because of egalitarian attitudes that once allowed women to dress “half-naked.” From the well-to-do and educated elite to the middle class to illiterates living below the poverty line, few think to question the explanation – or even the assumption that Afghanistan was damned.
In Pakistan, the word “un-Islamic” is used to describe Afghan society and the word “obscene” to describe Afghan women in Kabul before the start of the Soviet war. A friend who now lives in Europe says, “When I was a young girl and I once went with my aunt to the city market in Quetta, where I was living as a refugee with my family. I wasn’t wearing a burqa or hiding my face, and a woman exploded at me. She accused me of being one of the women who had so angered God that He’d sent down His punishment in the form of war upon Afghanistan.”

The party-throwing, cinema-going, music-enjoying ways of the Afghan women of the ’80s are condemned to this day. Many people in Pakistan say the dress code of old Kabul was simply “nakedness.”  A decade ago, when I myself was a child refugee in Quetta, one of my high school teachers devoted a class to how girls should cover themselves fully, and cited Afghanistan as a place that had paid the price of their women failing to do so. Even recently, when I encountered a Pakistani woman living in Europe (and who will become an American citizen within the next few years) she told me it was because of the “obscenity” of its women – bare-headed, stockinged, mini-skirted – that Afghanistan has gone and is still going through so much.

Media  plays a great role in shaping the opinions of the masses, and this has been the case in Pakistan. The biased output of the politically-controlled local media, the distorted history taught in its school textbooks and the religious extremism bred through madrassa system victimizes the Pakistani people and breeds a system of mind control that can contribute to extremism, lack of critical thinking, and indifference to the truth. These politically instilled beliefs have led Pakistanis to consider themselves morally and religiously superior to other Muslims, especially Afghans.

If one were to believe these vain Pakistanis who think God would punish an entire nation for the way a few of its women dress, one could say that the “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan already would have been wiped out of the face of earth. In cities such as Lahore, brothels operate openly and the red light district, Heera Mandi, has existed since the time of the Mughals. But for ordinary Pakistanis, nightlife has nothing to do with Heera Mandi. In Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, bands perform at Western-style underground concerts where foreigners and rich Pakistani partygoers with Muslim names drink, dance, and enjoy themselves – and sometimes end up with each other for a night. If, according to popular Pakistani logic, a small percentage of women wearing Western-style clothes caused Afghanistan’s fall, the Pashtuns and Balochs in Pakistan who today are being butchered like sheep , may be doomed by the actions of those in the Punjab.

Islam teaches equality. Some humans, it says, are superior to others because they are upright. The holy Quran says, “O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.”  (The holy Quran, 49:11) This verse explains everything to Muslim Pakistanis that they should notconsider themselves better than their neighbors based on their vanity.

There is a great need for such Pakistanis to come out of the hypnotizing propaganda fog of the so-called Mullahs and the media and rethink their double standards, especially as they relate to the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistanis cannot consider themselves morally and ethically superior to their fellow Muslims based on mere stereotypes. They need to understand that it takes a “cunning” enemy –not the dress-code of a country’s female citizens – to doom a neighbor in the name of brotherhood and religion.

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