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The Taliban Are Re-engineering Afghan Society in Their Own Image

Sadly, no one is going to do anything about the bomb dropped by the Taliban government’s minister of higher education, Nida Mohammad Nadim, who announced a ban on all women’s education in the country. What will likely happen is that Afghan women will face the worst era in the history of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Refusing to wear the hijab and sitting in mixed classrooms with men are two of the excuses used by Nadeem to justify the government’s decision. Despite condemnations from Islamic organizations, including that of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Taliban government refused to waiver. The sheikh explained that this decision “doesn’t represent Islamic law and contradicts the call of the Holy Qur’an,” but the Afghan minister stressed that his organization would not back down from its position “even if they drop an atomic bomb on us.” The Taliban followed up on this decision by expanding the ban to include employment in any foreign nongovernmental organizations, under the pretext of “protest against these organizations’ noncompliance with the rules of Islamic dress.” This decision prompted three foreign organizations to suspend their work in Afghanistan, even though the disastrous economic situation in Afghanistan has only reinforced the importance of the role played by NGOs in distributing food rations and health care to marginalized groups. The Taliban’s recent moves can be understood in the context of three core motivations. The first is that the movement, like every other ideological organization, whether religious or secular, seeks to pursue what it believes an ideal new society should look like. In doing so, it follows the example of countless parties in the East and West that decided to build their societies based on their own worldviews and philosophies. In the social perception of the Taliban, from which they have not deviated since they entered Kabul for the first time in 1996, there is no place for women outside the home. It is not important whether the movement attributes this perception to its own interpretation of Islam, or whether it derives it from the prevailing traditional and clan customs and values. Rather, the important thing is that it will be applied, even by force, if there is resistance from the Afghans themselves. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that preventing women’s education comes in the context of a conscious social engineering process. The second point is that the circumstance in which the Taliban came to power after their victory in a war that lasted 20 years made the organization believe in its right to exercise power based on a kind of revolutionary legitimacy that destroyed the foreign invaders and their local allies. Accordingly, the Taliban don’t see that anyone has the right to hold them accountable, especially among the foreigners who did not care when Afghan villages were being bombed by American planes, according to the words of one of the movement’s officials. The third point relates to Islamic State, which launches operations, some of which reach Kabul, in addition to separate attacks throughout Afghanistan, forcing the Taliban into a state of competition and bidding to show the greatest possible extremism in the arena of interpretation of orders and prohibitions. This helps explain the news about disagreements within the Taliban leadership between the hard-liners and the moderates regarding measures against girls’ education. It goes without saying that the women of Afghanistan will be the victims of this competition. They are an easy and weak target for all extremists from whatever camp they come from. The heroic resistance shown by Afghan women, who are claiming their self-evident rights for work and education, stems mainly from the refusal of Afghan society to reform itself. Today, women bear the greatest burden in saving society and bringing it back from its long coma to a long-awaited awareness. This is a very difficult task given the country’s history and the series of disasters that have befallen it for centuries and at every turn. –Hossam Itani (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)