On Thursday, a senior Pakistani Taliban figure addressed their most famous opposition, a young Muslim girl by the name of Malala Yousafzai, in some sort of bizarre, non-apologetic explanatory letter trying to justify their assassination attempt. As expected, the letter is a contradictory, nonsensical effort to counteract the negative press the Pakistani Taliban have rightfully received regarding the attack, but instead has resulted in a collective worldwide eyebrow raise because – obviously – there is no justification for shooting a child advocating for education, Islamic or otherwise.
Some highlights from the letter include: “Taliban attacked you, was it islamically [sic] correct or wrong, or you were deserved to be killed or not, I will not go in this argument now …” No, please, I insist! Let’s go into this argument, because I had assumed all the Qur’anic verses specifically forbidding murder, particularly those forbidding the murder of female children, were fairly good evidence that it was Islamically wrong; Islamically, morally and unjustifiably wrong. The author also says that the Taliban are not against the education of girls, which is a blatant lie.
The letter comes as a response to Malala addressing the UN on her 16th birthday with a powerful speech:
“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
Malala, who was symbolically wearing a pashmir that once belonged to assassinated Pakistani leader Benazir Bhuttovery, appropriately stated, “They are afraid of women.”
The enslavement of women under Taliban reign and influence in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan has garnered international attention, particularly in Afghanistan, when the Taliban took power after the Soviet invasion. However, while Taliban abuse of women’s rights is no secret, many people don’t realize the utter devastation experienced daily by women who live in Taliban-influenced regions.
Trigger warning for graphic descriptions/photos of violence against women
An image of a woman known as Zarmina at her execution is just a glance into this devastation. Zarmina’s story is a reality that many women face: Zarmina and her daughters were victims of an abusive husband and father. When women living in areas under heavy Taliban influence are abused and go to the police, they are told that what happens inside the home is of “no one’s business,” basically giving men a license to brutally abuse and sometimes even murder the females living in their homes with no repercussions. If women try to run away from an abusive home, they are jailed, or worse. Even now, after the Taliban is no longer in power, the number of abused women who flee their homes being thrown in jail is soaring, showing that while the Taliban are no longer in power that they are still very much alive and able to politically influence key areas. Zarmina was forced to defend herself and her children, which lead to the death of her husband. Her and her daughters made up a story about a robbery, but the Taliban brutally tortured her until she confessed and was eventually executed years later.
WHY is this photo taken in a sports arena? Well, after the Taliban took power, they held public executions pretty much like we have soccer games; in soccer fields, with large gatherings of people, only they’re watching what happens when you disobey the Taliban’s grotesque and extremist interpretation of religion that they use to enforce their totalitarian regime.
While much of the Taliban atrocities happened in the late 90s in Afghanistan, their influence is still affecting the lives of women in Afghanistan and Malala’s home country of Pakistan. One example is pictured above – the mutilated face of Aesha Mohammadzai that graced Time magazine in 2010 and shocked the world. Aesha, like Zarmina tried to flee an abusive husband. The Taliban tracked her down and left her to her abusive husband, who sliced off her nose and ears and abandoned her in the mountains to die as a message to any other woman who tried to do the same.
Another example happened just two weeks ago, where three men in Afghanistan convicted of torturing a child bride were released. The 12-year-old girl they tortured was reportedly starved, chained in a basement bathroom, beaten, burned with red-hot metal pipes, and had her fingernails pulled out. Shortly after, conservative lawmakers in the country made “an aggressive bid to prevent relatives testifying against each other, which if successful, would stop the vast majority of cases of violence against women from ever reaching court.”
Besides violently destroying the individual lives of all these women and many more like them, life for women under the Taliban also includes:
- Having your fingers chopped off for wearing nail polish.
- Ban on women being treated by male doctors, accompanied by a dramatic reduction of female doctors and nurses, leaving many women unable to receive medical attention to die.
- Whipping women for not wearing a burqa, leaving their homes without a male relative, or exposing their ankles.
- No laughing or talking around men you’re not related to, which is essentially anywhere besides their own home.
- No gathering with women alone.
- Ban on female education and work.
You can read the very long list of restrictions and punishments here.
If you’re still with me and haven’t sunk away into a deep depression, losing all faith in humanity, you might be wondering how these people still exist, or how they came to exist in the first place. The Taliban have a lot of financial backing, which all began with the U.S., who pretty much started them off with billions of dollars in hopes they would end the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They did, celebration ensued, and then after several faction splits and internal battles, what we recognize now as the modern-day Taliban emerged, basically obliterating women’s rights and enslaving an entire gender. So next time you hear someone say, “Dem Moslems need to stand up for themselves instead of having other people fight their battles,” kindly remind them how the Taliban got funding to exist in the first place.
The Pakistani Taliban, the branch directly responsible for shooting Malala, is slightly different than the Taliban in Afghanistan, but their views on women are identical. Girls like Malala will wake up and find piles of rubble where their schools once stood. The Taliban will frequently distribute propaganda condemning these girls’ schools as a product of “Western evil,” discouraging “real” Muslims” from going or letting their daughters attend, despite the fact that education and knowledge is considered a virtue for both Muslim men and women.
They’ve gone to such extremes as to throw acid on the faces of two female Masters students last September attending university in Pakistan. The local Pakistani Taliban leader responded with a public statement:
“We will never allow the girls of this area to go and get a Western education. If and when we find any girl from Parachinar going to university for an education we will target her (in) the same way, so that she might not be able to unveil her face before others.”
Millions of Pakistani women in the May election of this year were prevented from voting simply because they were women. There is no law in Pakistan forbidding women from voting, but Taliban tribal leaders have issued warnings that all women have to stay inside during the election and instructed no one to let a woman vote. “We are afraid of the Taliban. They oppose women voting, so why should we take the risk?” commented a man living in Waziristan, the most notorious Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan.
The good news in all this is that there is hope, but we must recognize that the battle is far from over. NATO is set to pull the vast majority of its forces out of Afghanistan by the end of next year, and already we’re seeing a surge of incidences showing evidence that the Taliban are attempting a comeback in controlling the political sphere. Taking all of this into perspective, the importance of people like Malala, a young teenage girl who stood up against all this chaos, becomes eminent. By spreading awareness about the plight of women living in Taliban-influenced areas, issuing unwavering support for Malala, and through organizations like Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid or any other NGO listed here (Afghanistan) or here (Pakistan), we can do everything we possibly can to help. Malala has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and is a prominent candidate for such an award, but she has given women in these regions something infinitely more valuable: hope.
Header image property of Jean Chung Photography.