By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Even Etemadi, for all she admires RAWA’s human-rights advances, distances herself from what she calls its political agenda. ”I know they have put their lives in a 16 jeopardy by bringing the information out, and I would not have the courage they have,“ she admits. ”But this word, revolutionary, it kind of scares me,“ she says with a laugh. ”I am not a leftist at all.“
Over the phone on the first night of Ramadan, Maliha Sarwari tells me the story of King Amanullah, who ruled over Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929, the first decade of Afghanistan‘s independence from Britain. Sarwari, who lives in Ventura County, was raised in Kabul and became Afghanistan’s first female radio broadcaster for English-speaking media; her diction is measured and perfect, and her knowledge of her native country runs deep, particularly when it comes to women‘s rights. She speaks like a diplomat; she is also an observant Muslim. ”Islam,“ she insists, as nearly all Muslim women do, ”is an excellent faith for women.“
”Amanullah sought to improve the lot of women, and, as a symbolic gesture, he had his wife, Queen Soraya, remove her burka in public,“ Sarwari tells me. ”Educated women in Kabul followed suit, and the practice spread throughout the countryside. The rest of the Islamic world was still under veil, so Amanullah was one of the first Muslim leaders to acknowledge the rights of women.“
It was not to last. Amanullah was soon branded an infidel and deposed by ”another group from the North -- just like the Northern Alliance,“ not just for emancipating women, although that legacy didn’t help. ”My own grandfather was killed at that time,“ says Sarwari. ”My mother never saw her father because she was only a month old.“ But before Sarwari and her husband fled the Soviet invasion in 1980, Sarwari saw women‘s rights return to Afghanistan once more. The last king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, involved women in the drafting of a 1964 constitution that made men and women equal under the law; he also included women in the loya jirga, the legal body that has historically chosen Afghanistan’s kings.
King Zahir Shah is 87 now, living in exile in Rome, but Sarwari is not alone in calling for his return. ”He has aged a lot, but he is a very well-respected man in the country, by all ethnic groups, and I hope he is there for the future of Afghanistan. As far as you can see back in the last 20 years, so many people have come and gone through Afghanistan. In this stage, he will be a mediator between all ethnicities in that country.“
Yet when Laura Bush delivers her terse radio address on Saturday, November 17, she says nothing of deposed kings or the place of women among Afghanistan‘s new government. She does not mention the resolution submitted to Congress by New York Democrat Louise Slaughter and Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen urging that women be leaders in any new government. She does not mention RAWA, and she does not promise the women of Afghanistan that the Northern Alliance will not be permitted to oppress them. She speaks as though women’s liberation is a fait accompli. ”Only the terrorists and the Taliban threaten to pull out women‘s fingernails for wearing nail polish,“ complained Mrs. Bush. But ”because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment.“
In an exhibit of Fazal Sheikh’s photography at Track 16, a letter from an anonymous Afghan woman has been printed on the wall: ”Many Afghan women look to the West in the name of freedom and expect people in the West to promote our rights,“ it reads. ”But in the West they neither consult us about the issues that affect our daily lives, nor do they uphold or promote on our behalf the standards by which they themselves live.
“History,” continued the woman, “has taught us that the bright future is nothing but a mirage for Afghan women. The reality is tears, chained hands and silenced mouths.”