Who will challenge the Taliban?

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 16, 2001

Once upon a time, editorial writers who lost their muse could pick an obscure topic like Afghanistan to write about, assured that few readers would call them on the carpet if they got their facts wrong.

But now more than a few people know about what’s happening in Afghanistan. The country, which is ruled by a strict political group called the Taliban, has again been in the news for the past two weeks.

In a move criticized even by its closest ally, Pakistan, the Taliban has been destroying two ancient statues of Buddha. The statues, hewn from a cliff in the third and fifth centuries, were decreed idolatrous by the Taliban.

Nation after nation has stepped up to condemn the Taliban’s action. And each one has been right to do so.

But the irony shouldn’t be lost on us. I don’t doubt that destroying ancient statues, statues which have withstood centuries of weather and warfare, is wrong.

Here’s the irony: The Taliban is, without a doubt, the most misogynistic ruling party in the world. How many nations have stood up to that?

Women cannot be in public without being completely covered, including their faces. According to the Muslim Women’s League, this is in direct violation of Islamic law. Moreover, the veils they must wear are so expensive – the equivalent of five months’ salary, according to journalist Jan Goodwin – that whole neighborhoods often share them.

Women cannot wear makeup or cut their hair; they cannot wear high-heeled shoes or sheer stockings.

The cannot laugh in public.

One wonders what they would have to laugh about anyway.

But dress codes pale in comparison to what else women endure under the rule of the Taliban.

They cannot work.

They cannot go to school.

They cannot leave their houses without a male relative to accompany them. If an unmarried woman is caught outdoors with a man who is not her relative, she is flogged, publicly; she is considered an adulterer. A married woman who deigns to commit the same act is stoned to death.

Three years ago, the Taliban made up a new rule: Women do not have access to healthcare at the best hospitals. They are segregated from men, kept from the best doctors.

This is a nation in which, before the Taliban took power, 40 percent of the doctors were women. Half of the students and civil servants were women. Now, the only statistic rising for women may be suicide rates. They swallow battery acid, household cleaners, anything they can easily get their hands on, Goodwin reports.

But not all of them have given up. Journalists visiting Afghanistan report that women are holding underground schools, teaching young girls in forbidden classrooms. Some even wear lipstick beneath their veils.

But how long can they stand up in the face of such tyranny?

The world acted too late to save those statues of Buddha, Pakistan’s foreign minister said this week.

Imagine what it must have looked like, the smashing of those ancient, huge statues.

Now imagine the Taliban turning such harsh iconoclasm on women’s spirits.

And take a stand against that.

Kerry Whipple, news editor, can be reached at 445-3562 or by e-mail at kerry.whipple@natchezdemocrat.com.