Thursday, April 02, 2009

Afghan women and religious law hysteria

Our media and politicians are simply besides themselves with outrage (more here), about a law that is not even in effect. Thank goodness for some perspective from (where else?) the Globe and Mail's editorial board:
War aims and misogyny

There is a real danger that an odious piece of legislation in Afghanistan that would legalize rape within marriage, and otherwise treat women as chattel, will convince Western governments and their publics that the war against the Taliban is not one worth fighting. Is it for this, some people may reasonably ask, that the lives of young Canadian soldiers, and those from allied countries, are being sacrificed? In a word: No.

While the emancipation of women in Afghanistan was one happy byproduct of the war, it was not the reason for it. The Taliban's murderous, fundamentalist regime played host to al-Qaeda, which used Afghanistan as a safe haven to plot terrorist attacks against Western countries. It was not for the advancement of Afghan women that the war was launched. The effort to rid the world of the Taliban was a matter of self-interest.

There is no doubt that this piece of family law, directed at the minority Shia population of Afghanistan [emphasis added--some 20% of the population, almost all the ethnically-distinct Hazaras, the third largest ethnic group in Afstan after Pathans and Tajiks], will diminish the perceived differences between the Taliban, with their grotesque misogyny and human-rights record, and the government of President Hamid Karzai. Canada and its allies must use their influence to discourage Mr. Karzai, who signed the legislation into law in February. But even with this law, the gap between what the democratic, if imperfect, government in Kabul and the Taliban stand for is still dramatic.

Indeed, it is democracy, or at least democratic politics, that appears to be behind President Karzai's support for this law, which is backed by Shia clerics and political parties. The President is risking the wrath of his Western sponsors, opponents argue, in order to cultivate Shia support in forthcoming elections. Women's rights are to be sacrificed, then, in the name of democratic expediency. It is not what Western countries had in mind when they encouraged the establishment of democratic institutions in Afghanistan. Every effort must be taken to undo the damage this law has caused and to ensure that family laws currently being drafted for the Sunni majority respect women's equality. At the end of the day, however, Afghan laws are decided by Afghanistan's elected lawmakers.
Update thought: Passing strange, is it not, that many of those going spare about the human rights of Afghan women are the same people who insist Canada suck up to the Communist Chinese government? A government that conducts more executions (for a wide range of crimes) than all other governments combined. A government that is also the most important foreign supporter of President al-Bashir's Sudanese regime.


Blogger Terry Glavin said...

We should all be in Karzai's face like a bag of snakes about this "rape law," but I'm not going to operate from the assumption that all the third-hand denunciations of the law by people who haven't seen it should be taken as an accurate reflection of what the law contains.

The story as it has been reported does not make sense. Not to say that there is no story here, but still. It certainly doesn't make sense that this law, as it has been described, is a sop to Shia (Hazara) voters.

The horrible practices we've been told the law would impose are practices that Afghans in the majority wholly reject, and have consistently rejected, and have made it clear they do not want, time and time again, just in the past five years. Of all Afghans, the Hazaras are well known to be perhaps the most forward thinking and the least inclined to misogyny of any of Afghanistan's religious minorities and ethnicities. The UN can't keep up with Hazara demands for girls' schools.

It may well be an absolutely horrible law, but we're all just guessing at this point. If it is indeed just a family disputes code tailored to fit Shia religious law, as the most recent reports suggest, then it is probably exactly the same as the family disputes law that prevails in Iran, which is actually better than the family law that prevails in several other (Sunni) Muslim countries, which I rarely hear people in the "west" screaming about.

Even if that were all that's going on here, it still stinks. It would violate several articles of the Afghan constitution. I very much doubt that Afghans will put up with it anyway, least of all Afghan Hazaras.

7:29 p.m., April 02, 2009  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Terry: Thanks. I'm still terribly cynical about the Canadian reaction.

And I didn't even mention Tibet in my China "Update". I'm just so sick of Canadian self-centred attitudinizing instead of really trying to do something; which one can only achieve by actually being there, one way or another. Rather than just saying "Quit Afghanistan".


7:52 p.m., April 02, 2009  

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