Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On real progress

Okay, so one of the problems with the whole "bombing someone back to the Stone Age" concept is that they might just stay there.
Hamid Karzai has been accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan's presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands' permission.

The Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution's equal rights provisions.

The final document has not been published, but the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands' permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands' permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex.

Leaders of the Hazara minority, which is regarded as the most important bloc of swing voters in the election, also demanded the new law.

Ustad Mohammad Akbari, an MP and the leader of a Hazara political party, said the president had supported the law in order to curry favour among the Hazaras. But he said the law actually protected women's rights.

"Men and women have equal rights under Islam but there are differences in the way men and women are created. Men are stronger and women are a little bit weaker; even in the west you do not see women working as firefighters."

Akbari said the law gave a woman the right to refuse sexual intercourse with her husband if she was unwell or had another reasonable "excuse". And he said a woman would not be obliged to remain in her house if an emergency forced her to leave without permission.

Well, then. We should be thanking you, Mr. Akbari! It's good that I don't have to sit inside my burning house and roast because my husband isn't around to let me out. That's very generous of you. Please let me know to whom I must petition to approve my "reasonable excuse" for not performing my wifely duties.

One member of the upper house of parliament described the law as "worse than during the Taliban." Worse than during the Taliban.

The Taliban, in case you've forgotten, and you might have, as it's been a while since anyone has given a crap about U.S. military efforts that are crumbling to dust from neglect outside of Iraq, are the fundamentalist Islamic terrorist group that governed Afghanistan until the U.S.-slash-NATO removed them from power. We/they did that because, for one, the Taliban were sheltering Osama bin Laden, who perpetrated the attacks on 9/11, which you also might have forgotten, as we haven't heard his name from the Executive Branch in quite some time.

We did our job so solidly that as soon as we turned our backs, they began a resurgence that pitted them against the new government in Afghanistan (and firmly hand-in-hand with the government in Pakistan). But it didn't matter to Hamid Karzai whether the Taliban were for him or against him, because he had it in his power to do them one better. He's not terribly popular, he's sucking up to the Shia clerics, and that means Sharia law. And Sharia law is universally bad for, among other people, women.

It can be tricky to question laws like this. It's largely a cultural thing, and it's politically dangerous for the West to come in and impose their values and traditions on these brown folks out in the desert. And it's not fair, either; just like missionaries offering medicine as long as you'll convert to Christianity, it's not fair to offer Afghanistan aid and military support as long as they conform to our Western system of values.

You know what else isn't fair? Honor killings. Female genital mutilation. Forced child marriages. Laws that restrict a woman's freedom of speech, of education, even of physical movement. When a woman is stoned to death for adultery for being raped, it's not something we can sit back and chalk up to "cultural differences." Grilled goat meat is a cultural difference. Polytheism is a cultural difference. Bollywood movies are a cultural difference. Holding a young girl down, cutting off her clitoris with a knife, and sewing her labia together so she'll be "clean" and "pure" and not turn into a slut is torture, and I don't care who's imposing whose culture on whom, it's not wrong to speak up--it's wrong not to.

So yeah, I'm questioning the hell out of this law. I'm questioning any law that makes women so beholden to their husbands that they can turn into hermits and sex slaves should their husbands so decree. And I'm questioning a parliament and a president who have received near-unequivocal support from past administrations and are now explicitly intent on imposing Islamic law on their country and reducing women to second-class (if that) citizens.

It's time for the world to start paying some damn attention. The Taliban we were so desperate to oust eight years ago have been coming back for four, and the government of Afghanistan is moving to meet them. And we're staring so intently at Iraq, trying to figure out how to fix the mess we've made, that we haven't even noticed. Well, it's time to start noticing. Because half our justification for going into Afghanistan in the first place was to make lives better. The other half was to find Osama bin Laden. If laws like this, and worse like this, continued to get passed, we will have accomplished nothing. And that's one hell of a waste.

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