The Taliban are beginning to realize their vision for the place of women in Afghanistan. Led by several turbaned men, around 300 “devoted sisters” expressed their support for the Islamic Emirate and their rejection of democracy on Saturday. Covered completely in black from head to toe, they praised the hijab (the imposition of hiding one’s body) and insulted mixed upbringing and other Western influences. But the exhibition prepared for the foreign press also revealed that the fundamentalists do not have a women’s section: they have turned to students and teachers from various madrassas to fill the hall.
As soon as they arrived at the University of Kabul’s Faculty of Education, the journalists began to call themselves “sisters,” the coy term Islamic fundamentalists address to women when they have no choice but to address them. At the entrance, the armed guards who searched their male colleagues didn’t quite know what to do with the women. They didn’t even look at the bags. Then, inside, they faced their own contradictions.
The show’s director, a Taliban with fluent English who identified himself as Mohammad Wakkas, insisted that only women could enter the amphitheater where the declaration of support for the Islamic system would take place. That would leave out most reporters, cameramen and interpreters. After realizing that this way their message would not get very far, they accepted the men to stay in a corner, although they soon spread out.
After the preceptive intonation of a few verses of the Qur’an, the first black shadow took to the stage and, in an irritated voice, charged towards the West. “Through force or the media, they want us to dress like them and are against the hijab,” he said, before defending the veil as something intrinsic to Islam and Afghan culture. For now, the Taliban has not promulgated norms about how women should dress, although it has made it clear that they should respect the hijab.
Only three of the participants covered themselves with the burka, a common garment among Pashtun women, which fits like a cap on the head and covers the entire body, with a small net at eye level. It is the garment associated with the annulment of women by the Taliban since their previous dictatorship (1996-2001). But those who participated in this act of support for the Islamic Emirate wore it like the Salafi fundamentalists, in black and without showing their faces, a style that in Afghanistan is identified with the fundamentalism of the Arab monarchies in the Gulf, or with Al Qaeda.
Dewa Ahmadzai, a 20-year-old English-speaking girl, explains in an aside that they came from “various academic centers in Kabul to support the Islamic system.” In fact, the participants are teachers from various madrassas, or daaras. Significantly, just a speech in Pashtun, the language of the Taliban, which suggests that they do not have women prepared for these propaganda tasks.
All speakers harshly criticize mixed education. “It’s not good for our society. It creates problems for our young people, who, instead of concentrating on their studies, spend their energy on other subjects,” they repeated in Persian and Arabic. “Western culture has no place in Afghanistan and mixed education is the first step for it,” warned the third woman to take the microphone, who identified herself as the head of a madrasah.
She also said to speak for all Afghan women. “Women who protest against the Islamic Emirate do not represent Afghanistan, they are a minority. We are the majority. Afghan women don’t like the democracy of Western culture,” said one.
At this point, the young Afghan journalist LH blurted out: “There is no future for women in this country.” She is one of the few television reporters who continue to take to the streets after the Taliban arrive. He wears jeans, a yellow flowered shirt and a headscarf.
Before leaving on an organized for the television cameras, another speaker summarized the message in English. “We are here to support the Islamic Government and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. (…) It is not logical that the West does not recognize the Islamic Emirate when everyone supports it”, he said, after a confused accusation of “colonial ideological war”. “We are glad that the Emirate has not allowed any women to hold high positions in the Government and that it has implemented Islamic law. Long live Afghanistan!” he concluded.
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