Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Taliban and the Fairer Sex | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An eighteen-year old girl named Aisha escaped from her marital home, only for her husband to force her back, and for the Taliban to punish her by cutting off her nose and ears. This, in short, was what Time magazine reported in last week’s issue, together with a picture of the beautiful girl, with her nose removed, spread across the entire cover. This is considered to be the most interesting cover photo this year, and has received over 500 comments posted by readers on the ‘Time’ website, whilst the ‘Arabiya’ satellite channel website has had a similar number of comments in Arabic.

Yet there is another woman who also had a genuine experience with the Taliban, no less interesting than that of the Afghan girl, whose nose was chopped off, though differing in events, details and coverage. The hero of the story is British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who was captured by Taliban. Contrary to what she expected, according to her account of events after being released, she was treated well by the Taliban, despite insulting them during interrogations, and even spitting in the face of one her captors. This British woman was imprisoned by the Taliban, yet after her release, her appreciation for the group and its honourable treatment remained, and she subsequently converted to Islam. But, she was less fortunate than the Afghan girl, as her image did not adorn the cover of any western magazine, despite the fact that her story could form the basis of an exciting Hollywood movie, and not just a magazine cover.

The selective media chooses [to print] only what suits its ideas, and conveys its message. This fault could apply to everyone on our planet without exception, but in the Western world it is even more dangerous, because the Western media, namely newspapers and established satellite channels, enjoy a great deal of credibility. In fact, there is nothing worse than packaging a bad idea to make it appear credible. In my own view, the photo of the miserable Afghani girl does not break from this tradition. This photo was not selected on innocent humanitarian grounds, as the cover page of ‘Time’ was accompanied with the following question: “What Will Happen if We Withdraw From Afghanistan?” The question reveals the lack of innocence. The cover image served as a means to shock American society, at a time when it was venting frustration and impatience due to a series of failures of the part of the US army and its ally troops on Afghan soil. These grievances come in addition to the rising injuries and death toll as a result of the guerrilla wars, where regular armies are struggling to achieve a clear victory.

What Time magazine accuses the Taliban of doing to the Afghan girl is very likely true, but their admirable treatment of the British female journalist is also true. This is in no way a contradiction, because the Taliban, unlike al-Qaeda, have grown into a wide ranging umbrella organisation, under which significant cross sections of Afghan society lie. This includes remnants of the Afghan Jihadists from the old days of the Soviet occupation, and followers of Hekmatyar, Younis Khales, Rabani, Haqqani and Sayyaf. The Taliban movement has been accepted by traditionalists, activists and technocrats, attracting both the radical and the tolerant, the extremists and moderates, because in Afghanistan there is no rival to the Taliban, it is the people’s only option. Such a multi-faceted organisation can include honourable and moderate members, such as those who captured the heart of the British lady, yet also include the savage barbarians who cut off the nose of poor Aisha. For those Islamic countries that have influence in the Afghan arena, like Saudi Arabia and other moderate Islamic movements, a vital role remains in strengthening the moderate trend within Taliban movement. This is because Taliban has become a difficult factor, but the only factor in the Afghani equation, as evidenced by the recent U.S. efforts to court the organisation.