Most of us remember the television clips of Afghan women being beaten by Taliban (shown ad nauseum on CNN prior to the invasion of Afghanistan). What goes around comes around. Once again, the US government is using the plight of Afghan women to shore up support for the war. One of the leaked documents on Wikileaks contains a CIA Red Cell memo that says, “Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.” (1)
That media opportunity was provided at the US Institute of Peace, covered by CSPAN today (August 2, 2010) and was described as, “a discussion on efforts to reconcile with elements of the Taliban and the impact those efforts could have on women in Afghanistan.”
In what seems like a coordinated effort in the media, the Time Magazine recently put on its cover the picture of an Afghan girl, whose nose and ears had been cut off by her abusive husband. Even though Time admitted that the incident happened ‘during’ the American occupation of Afghanistan, it went on to imply that similar fate awaits other Afghan women if Taliban are allowed to make a comeback. Short on evidence, Time made its point with a joke: “For Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous. An Afghan refugee who grew up in Canada, Mozhdah Jamalzadah recently returned home to launch an Oprah-style talk show in which she has been able to subtly introduce questions of women’s rights without provoking the ire of religious conservatives. On a recent episode, a male guest told a joke about a foreign human rights team in Afghanistan. In the cities, the team noticed that women walked six paces behind their husbands. But in rural Helmand, where the Taliban is strongest, they saw a woman six steps ahead. The foreigners rushed to congratulate the husband on his enlightenment only to be told that he stuck his wife in front because they were walking through a minefield. As the audience roared with laughter, Jamalzadah reflected that it may take about 10 to 15 years before Afghan women can truly walk alongside men.”
This strategy to use Afghan women as a tool has become so shamefully blatant that even Feminist Peace Network condemned it on its web page with an article, “Time Magazine Once Again Trots Out The Tired and Inexcusable ‘We’re in Afghanistan (And Have to Stay) to Protect Women’ Mantra.” (2)
Although one must sympathize with the plight of Afghan women, and all abused women around the world for that matter, the government’s tactic to use them as a propaganda tool in order to generate continued support for the war and to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely is unconscionable. It belittles the efforts of those who are genuinely working to raise women’s social status in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Abuse of women is a serious global problem, not limited to Afghanistan. It should not be allowed to become a political tool, as that would be most counterproductive and an insult to the intelligence of ordinary Americans.