The legacy of the Afghan Taliban movement regarding the education of girls is well known and has been reinforced, through the Fatwas issued by the movement when it ruled during the period of 1996 to 2001, prohibiting the education of girls after age 9. It seems that the Taliban did not learn anything from its experiences, after its exclusion from governance. It has not changed any of its outdated concepts, which are an insult to Islam and Muslims, and many of its practices are contrary to the tolerance of the religion. If they return to power, they will restore the same characteristics which made their reign a model of violence, oppression and backwardness.
The statistics issued by the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan report that more than one hundred schools have been shelled or subjected to arson attempts between April and August last year, in the context of a war waged against schools, by Taliban militants and opponents of female education. Likewise Afghan families also complained of receiving threats of beatings, or even death, if they did not stop sending their daughters to schools.
The latest reports regarding this war against girls’ education, in areas where there is a Taliban presence; indicate a new ugly tactic that has raised panic amongst students and teachers alike. After leaflets were distributed near schools, calling them to refrain from ‘cooperation with foreigners’ and to ‘save our Afghan sisters’, incidents were reported of severe fatigue and vomiting amongst students and teachers in some schools, described as the result of poison gas attacks. In one incident that occurred a few days ago, panic spread throughout a school located in a neighborhood in eastern Kabul. A number of students felt sick, and some of them fainted, prompting the school management to quickly evacuate the premises before it was too late. 45 students and 9 teachers suffered from symptoms such as fatigue and vomiting, with 22 of them requiring further hospital treatment.
Some have suggested that the recurrence of such cases in separate schools could be the result of a kind of ‘mass hysteria’. In other words, these incidents [were not due to actual attacks] but because of the fear of threats, and after news was published about the spread of toxic gasses in schools which failed to comply with these threats. However, despite this, the hospital doctor who treated the students said in a press statement reported in the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’, that the female students’ symptoms were due to poisonous gas. The Ministry of Education in Afghanistan reported that similar cases occurred in 16 schools since the beginning of this year, including five schools in the capital Kabul, and the rest in other regions.
Strangely enough, Mullah Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who is described as a media spokesman for the Taliban, said in an interview via e-mail published by ‘Asharq al-Awsat’, that talk about Afghan women being afraid of news of [Afghanistan’s] reconciliation with the Taliban, or their return to power, is “part of the psychological war waged by the U.S. Occupation and their media”. He pointed to what he described as the ‘security’ achieved by his movement when they ruled, adding that the direct reason for establishing the Taliban in 1994 was “insecurity on the roads of Afghanistan, particularly the incidents of abductions and assaults to which many women were subjected at the hands of armed men on the roads”. Mullah Qari Yousef says that the Taliban came to the protection of women, although its practices during its reign would testify that ‘suppression’ was a more apt title than the ‘security’ that he talks about. [Under Taliban rule] women suffered oppression and marginalization, were banned from working, even in the field of education, and ordered to stay at home.
Indeed, Mullah Qari Yousef, when asked what they [the Taliban] would do with the thousands of schools for girls, established by the Karzai government, if they returned to power, did not hesitate to say something quite astonishing. He said “we will build thousands more of these schools for girls and boys. All aspects of education will be based on the teachings of Islam in addition to modern sciences that enable our people to build their country without needing foreign expertise”. In saying that, he has forgotten that his movement, during their reign, destroyed dozens of schools, banned education for girls, and dismissed female teachers. When Afghans fled to secret schools and smuggled books to teach their daughters, thus challenging the Taliban’s authority, the movement recruited its elements to prosecute offenders and enforce the most severe penalties upon them, especially against the female teachers who transformed their houses or caves in the mountains into classrooms, to challenge ignorance and neglect.
The Taliban still considers the criticism of its practices as “an attack Islam itself”. This rationale is the result of a scourge that currently afflicts Muslims, inflicted by the actions of some extremist movements, which see themselves as the true model of Islam. They don’t even want to learn from their mistakes, and consider all that is contrary to their opinions as immorality, requiring punishment and atonement. We have seen this in Algeria through the activities of some armed groups during the war in the nineties, as we see it now in areas under Taliban control in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the ‘al-Shabab’ movement in Somalia. These practices are attributed to Islam although they have nothing to do with the religion, its grace and its message. Yet unfortunately, they have succeeded in distorting Islam’s image.