One voice in Afghanistan

Sometimes, a reporter has to know when to get out of the way.

The Washington Times Sunday magazine featured an interview today with one of the world's most controversial women -- Malalai Joya of Afghanistan. It's an interview that will be of great interest to all classic liberals who work to defend human rights and, in particular, the rights of women. At the same time, the interview is sure to infuriate many people who believe that the United States has won or is on the way to winning a great victory in Afghanistan.

The reality, as Joya makes very clear, is much more complex than that. Needless to say, this fighter for the rights of women is not beloved by the Taliban. Yet at the same time, her criticisms of the U.S.-backed government are fierce.

Thus, this interview can be seen in the context of a question I have been asking here at GetReligion for some time, now. It is interesting to ask: Why is the "Bravest woman in Afghanistan" story in the Washington Times, as opposed to being in the Washington Post? Is this kind of advocacy piece for women's rights now "conservative" news?

With that said, let me simply urge you to read this and judge its religion contents for yourself. What you get, essentially, is the voice of one woman standing in the danger zone between the mosque and the state. Here is a crucial chunk of the interview, held in a safe house in Kabul (and researched, in part, with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting):

The Kabul government's stated willingness to negotiate with militant fundamentalist leaders such as Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, while tolerating the alleged drug-related activities of President Hamid Karzai's own brother is, in her view, proof that "one group of criminals has replaced another."

As for Afghan women, who were supposed to be liberated by the U.S. toppling of the Taliban in 2001, she said, "The situation for most women today in Afghanistan, if I say it is still like hell, this is not enough." ...

Things were not always so repressive, she said. To make her point, she held up a picture taken in 1967 of schoolgirls in black skirts and tights strolling the streets of central Kabul. Then she held up another picture, of a 7-year-old ethnic Hazara girl named Shiquiba who was raped last year by unknown assailants.

A catalogue of other disturbing examples followed: 12-year-old Anisa from Sari Pul province, kidnapped and gang-raped by five men; 14-year-old Shuqufa, whose ravaged body was found in a garbage heap on the outskirts of Kabul; and Bashira, also 14, raped by three men, one of whom is the son of a member of parliament. The man was never punished, according to rights groups, because Afghan officials were bribed to change his age from 22 to 18 in their investigation.

Building her case, she cited a host of grim statistics: "Last year, 47 women burned themselves to escape abusive husbands. Today 80 percent of marriages are forced. Almost as many women are beaten at home." In March, the low status of Afghan women made headlines after a new marriage law was passed by the parliament that denied Shi'ite Muslim women the right to refuse sex with their husbands and the freedom to leave the home without male permission.

That law was scrapped, but the threat remains -- especially the possibility of legislation for the majority Sunni population. All of this, of course, is framed in terms of the intersection between the powers of the mosque and the state. Once again, debates between clashing camps inside Islam are at the heart of this story.

And her view of U.S. policies in her nation? Read it all.

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