As the New York Times recently reported, no less than three major investigations – one US military, one joint US-Afghan, and one Afghan – are looking into the purported burning of Qur’ans at Bagram Airbase. The aftermath of the burnings also saw some 30 Afghan deaths during violent protests, while on 1 March Strategic Forecasting, (Stratfor) a global intelligence company, noted the killing of two NATO troops by a turncoat Afghan soldier. This, simply put, is an outrage. That said, it is not the kind some would have you believe.
Contrary to the trendy narrative of pig-headed, uncultured, imperialist Americans once again sticking the proverbial foot in it (and ignoring the under-reported likelihood these books were burnt to stop Islamist detainees passing secret messages), perhaps we should look at the broader context for once. I mean we should look at the second outrage to come out of Afghanistan at this time – one that went essentially ignored. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) reported on 1 March that a 12-year-old girl from Zabul province had been raped three times by a neighbour – and was subsequently detained in a juvenile centre. Unbelievably, initial investigations had found that this young girl had already had an abortion at some point, a crime under Afghanistan’s legal system.
…marred horrifically by what appears to be massive acid burns.
As distasteful as it may be to consider this state-sponsored injustice, however, it merits a moment’s thought. Personally, it reminded me of an image circulating facebook recently. On one side, we see an Afghan man, face contorted in ugly anger as he holds up a half-burnt book at a protest. On the other, there is the portrait photo of a seemingly young Afghan woman. I write seemingly because half her face is obscured by a hijab; the other, marred horrifically by what appears to be massive acid burns. Sadly, the woman had lost one eye in what could only have been a deliberate attack, likely motivated by one passage or another from the very book that her countryman took to the streets for. Finally, the image came complete with a caption, simply asking whether certain priorities had been misplaced.
Indeed, they have been. The true outrage here is not that religious books were burnt, but rather that more concern was shown for said books than for the victims of 4th century barbarism.
…this change makes for good news…
RAWA, in its own words, has been “struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women’s rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977”. It has, moreover, been chronicling the crimes committed against Afghan women – which typically go unnoticed – such as that which befell the young girl from Zabul. I, myself, am no feminist: I believe in Individualism; that the most defining characteristic of a person is no more their gender than it is their race or sexuality. That said, one scarcely need be a feminist to be galled by the disparity of interest.
Most worryingly of all are the questions this disparity raises for Afghanistan’s future post-2014. When the last NATO soldier leaves, that is will this cultural context not be the standard by which Afghan politics are decided? Stratfor released a Situation Report on 2 March, confirming an agreement by Pakistani Army officials and local elders of South Waziristan that the area – bordering Afghanistan – would not be used as a militant base. Given Pakistan’s recent obduracy over supporting NATO’s efforts, this change makes for good news, complementing the extensive operational progress made by western forces in defeating the Taliban. All this, however, might yet count for nothing if the Afghans themselves acquiesce to this culture of mysticism and collectivism, almost indistinguishable from the exhortations of the Taliban.