Women in Afghanistan

Artur Karp hart at POLBOX.COM
Thu Mar 18 09:08:05 UTC 1999

At 12:14 17.03.99 +0100, you wrote:
>I forward this message at the request of the undersigned although it does
>not belong to properly Indological matters (but to a field not alien to
>Indologists because of the formerly known Buddhist sites!).
>Return-Path: <josiane.olff-nathan at gersulp.u-strasbg.fr>
>X-Sender: olffnath at mailserver.u-strasbg.fr
>Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 10:41:15 +0100
>From: josiane.olff-nathan at gersulp.u-strasbg.fr (Josiane Olff-Nathan)
>Subject: Women in Afghanistan
>Please spare a minute to read this mail. Thank you.
>The government of Afghanistan is waging a war upon women. The situation is
>getting so bad that one person in an editorial of the Times compared the
>treatment of women there to the treatment of Jews in pre-Holocaust Poland.
>Since the Taliban took power in 1996, women have had to wear burqua and
>have been beaten and stoned in public for not having the proper attire,
>even if this means simply not having the mesh covering in front of their
>eyes. One woman was beaten to DEATH by an angry mob of fundamentalists for
>accidentally exposing her arm while she was driving. Another was stoned to
>death for trying to leave the country with a man that was not a relative.
>Women are not allowed to work or even go out in public without a male
>relative; professional women such as professors, translators, doctors,
>lawyers, artists and writers have been forced from their jobs and stuffed
>into their homes, so that depression is becoming so widespread that it has
>reached emergency levels. There is no way in such an extreme Islamic
>society to know the suicide rate with certainty, but relief workers are
>estimating that the suicide rate among women, who cannot find proper
>medication and treatment for severe depression and would rather take their
>lives than live in such conditions, has increased significantly. Homes
>where a woman is present must have their windows painted so that she can
>never be seen by outsiders. They must wear silent shoes so that they are
>never heard. Women live in fear of their lives for the slightest
>misbehavior. Because they cannot work, those without male relatives or
>husbands are either starving to death or begging on the street, even if
>they hold Ph.D.'s. There are almost no medical facilities available for
>women, and relief workers, in protest, have mostly left the country, taking
>medicine and psychologists and other things necessary to treat the
>sky-rocketing level of depression among women. At one of the rare hospitals
>for women, a reporter found still, nearly lifeless bodies lying motionless
>on top of beds, wrapped in their burqua, unwilling to speak, eat, or do
>anything, but slowly wasting away. Others have gone mad and were seen
>crouched in corners, perpetually rocking or crying, most of them in fear.
>One doctor is considering, when what little medication that is left finally
>runs out, leaving these women in front of the president's residence as a
>form of peaceful protest. It is at the point where the term 'human rights
>violations' has become an understatement. Husbands have the power of life
>and death over their women relatives, especially their wives, but an angry

>mob has just as much right to stone or beat a woman, often to death, for
>exposing an inch of flesh or offending them in the slightest way. David
>Cornwell has said that those in the West should not judge the Afghan people
>for such treatment because it is a 'cultural thing', but this is not even
>true. Women enjoyed relative freedom, to work, dress generally as they
>wanted, and drive and appear in public alone until only 1996 -- the
>rapidity of this transition is the main reason for the depression and
>suicide; women who were once educators or doctors or simply used to basic
>human freedoms are now severely restricted and treated as sub-human in the
>name of right-wing fundamentalist Islam. It is not their tradition or
>'culture', but is alien to them, and it is extreme even for those cultures
>where fundamentalism is the rule. Besides, if we could excuse everything on

>cultural grounds, then we should not be appalled that the Carthaginians
>sacrificed their infant children, that little girls are circumcised in
>parts of Africa, that blacks in the US deep south in the 1930's were
>lynched, prohibited from voting, and forced to submit to unjust Jim Crow
>laws. Everyone has a right to a tolerable human existence, even if they are
>women in a Muslim country in a part of the world that Westerners may not
>understand. If we can threaten military force in Kosovo in the name of
>human rights for the sake of ethnic Albanians, then NATO and the West can
>certainly express peaceful outrage at the oppression, murder and injustice
>committed against women by the Taliban.
>> *************
>> STATEMENT: In signing this, we agree that the current treatment of women
>in Afghanistan is completely UNACCEPTABLE and deserves support and action
>by the people of the United Nations and that the current situation in
>Afghanistan will not be tolerated. Women's Rights is not a small issue
>anywhere and it is UNACCEPTABLE for women in 1998 to be treated as
>sub-human and so much as property. Equality and human decency is a RIGHT
>not a freedom, whether one lives in Afghanistan or anywhere else.
>> *****
>> 1) Bruce J. Malina, Omaha, NE
>> 2) Raymond Hobbs, Hamilton, ON, Canada
>> 3) Elizabeth Demaray, Kanata, ON, Canada
>> 4) Fred Demaray, Kanata, ON, Canada
>> 5) Leslie Penrose, Tulsa, OK
>> 6) Susan Ross, Perkins, OK
>> 7) Jeannie Himes, Tulsa, OK
>> 8) Lois Adams, Tulsa, OK
>> 9) Mona M. Miller, Fort Collins, CO
>> 10) Kara A. Sheldon, Colorado Springs, CO
>> 11) Gay Victoria, Colorado Springs, CO
>> 12) Catherine Euler, Leeds, UK
>> 13) Faith Muimo, Leeds, UK
>> 14) Sanna Vehviläinen, Helsinki, Finland
>> 15) Jussi Onnismaa, Helsinki. Finland
>> 16) Marjatta Hahkio, Helsinki, Finland
>> 17) Jouko Hahkio, Helsinki, Finland
>> 18) Colin Sydes, Helsinki, Finland
>19) Gavin Cowie, Helsinki, Finland
>20) Andrew Walker, London, UK
>21 Roberto Battista, London, UK
>22) Richard Wolfstrome, Brighton, UK
>23) Louise Jorden, London, UK
>24) Jonny Shipp, Brighton, UK
>25) Gabriel de Kadt, Brighton, UK
>26) Emanuel de Kadt, Brighton, UK
>27) Dominique Egger, Geneva, CH
>28) Jean louis BARA, Colmar, FR

>29) Rodolphe Echard, Colmar, FR
>30) Josiane Olff-Nathan, Strasbourg, France
>31) Boris Oguibenine, Strasbourg, France
>> **** Please sign to support, and include your town and country. Then
>> copy and e-mail to as many people as possible. If you receive this
>> list with more than 50 names on it, please e-mail a copy of it to:
>> Mary Robinson,
>> High Commissioner,
>> webadmin.hchr at unorg.ch
>> and to:
>> Angela King,
>> Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women,
>> UN,
>> daw at undp.org
>> Even if you decide not to sign, please be considerate and do not kill
>> the petition. Thank you.
>> It is best to copy rather than forward the petition.
>Josiane Olff-Nathan
>Groupe d'Etude et de Recherche sur la Science de l'Universite Louis Pasteur
>7, rue de l'Universite
>67000 - Strasbourg (France)
>Tel : +33 (0)3 88 52 80 60
>Fax : +33 (0)3 88 52 80 57
>Email : josiane.olff-nathan at gersulp.u-strasbg.fr


I would like to turn the attention of the Author(s) and all the signatories 
of this dramatic petition to something that does not lend credence to it. 
The second sentence reads:

>The situation is getting so bad that one person in an editorial of the 
Times compared the treatment of women there to the treatment of Jews in 
pre-Holocaust Poland.>

The Times might be a reliable source of knowledge. But certainly not in this 
case. From what I remember from my history books (not all of them written by 
Polish authors), the Nuremberg Laws depriving Jews of many civil rights and 
making them sub-human were promulgated at the 1935 Nazi Party Convention and 
then systematically implemented not in Poland but in the German Third Reich.

The meanings implied in the journalistic comparison of pre-War Poland with 
the Talibans' Afganistan offend me - as a Pole and as a person. While 
sharing the concern of all the signatories for the dramatic situation of 
women in Afgahanistan, I want to make it clear that I am not going to attach 
my signature to theirs under the petition. Not in its present form. 
Although I can only speak for myself, I believe I am not alone in the 
conviction that no one can effectively fight evil, if their good cause is 
propped up with creations of resentment and prejudice - whatever the reason 
for allowing it. 

I would like to ask Ms.Ms. Josiane Olff-Nathan of the Groupe d'Etude et de 
Recherche sur la Science de l'Universite Louis Pasteur, Angela King, Special 
Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, UN, and Mary 
Robinson, High Commissioner, UNHCHR, to forward this letter to the members 
of their networks. 

As the topic is really far from indological concerns, any comments the 
members of the Indology list would wish to make be kindly directed to my 
personal address.

With regards,

Artur K. Karp, M.A.
Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit and Pali
South Asian Studies Deptt
University of Warsaw

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