June 5: Evaluate yourself

What have you done well this year in English? Where should you have done better? Reading? Writing? Speaking? Were you conscientious about Independent Reading? Blogging? What are your strengths and weaknesses in English? Did you improve your habits? What bad habits remain? What was the best thing about English, and why? What did you like the least about the class? What grade do you think you deserve, and why? Write a blog entry in which you discuss and answer these questions.
 

Problems with 21classes.com

I received the following message from 21classes.com yesterday:

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Unfortunately there was a problem with our databank, which we have fixed. So
no entries or comments have been lost. You should now be able to access your
portal without any problems and see all the content.

Let me know if you have any further problems with lost entries or pages that won't post or anything else.

—etm, 21 March 2008

 

January Blogging

Welcome back, everyone! I hope your holiday was happy and restful.

For the month of January (until the Chinese New Year holiday begins) you will be able to blog about anything you like.

Please, however, remember two things:

  1. Don't write anything that might be hurtful to others, and
  2. Practice proper English spelling, grammar, and expression.

I look forward to reading your blog entries!

—etm

 

Understanding the Taliban

In Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis, the Taliban are portrayed as the 'bad guys', with no attempt to understand their actions from their point of view. Here is a collection of documents that may help you begin thinking about whether it is possible or desirable to understand a group like the Taliban.
—etm

Document 1
U.S. ignores religion’s fringes

by Mary Zeiss Stange

Mary Stange is an associate professor in women’s studies and religion at Skidmore. A version of this essay originally appeared in USA Today on October 4, 2001. [Skidmore College is a private liberal arts college in Saratoga Springs, New York.]

     The chilling “last night” letter found in the belongings of three of the September 11 hijackers, which urged them to “stand fast, God will stand with those who stood fast,” underscores that the terrorists believed they were doing God’s will, not just Osama bin Laden’s.

     But with knee-jerk anti-Muslim sentiment cropping up across the nation, it’s tempting to say—as several commentators have—that the killers’ beliefs were “not Islamic.” Sadly, they were—in precisely the same way that Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s blaming the attacks on feminists and homosexuals was Christian.

     Like it or not, this tragedy is rooted, at least in part, in an American tendency to demonize or trivialize what we would rather not understand about the way religious groups outside “the mainstream” think.

     Freedom of religion does not mean freedom to be ignorant about religion. You would think the United States would have learned this by now. Yet when it comes to matters of religious difference, people who study religion for a living are, ironically, the last ones the government generally turns to for information or advice. Too often, the outcome is tragic.

     Religious-studies scholars tried, in vain, to persuade the FBI that David Koresh was neither a lunatic nor a charlatan, but a religious leader. As such, he needed to be understood in the context of a version of Christianity that might have looked bizarre or misguided to most Americans, but was nonetheless deeply meaningful for Koresh and his followers—so meaningful, indeed, that they were willing to die for it near Waco, Texas, in 1993. But it was easier to write off the Branch Davidians as brainwashed or crazy than to acknowledge that they were so committed to a cause that they gave their lives for it. Most Americans are embarrassed by such a depth of religious or political passion.

     I am not likening the engineers of the September 11 tragedies to Koresh. If anything, they have more in common with Timothy McVeigh, whose twisted, paramilitary take on Christian retribution led him to avenge the Davidians’ deaths by bombing the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City two years later.

     But it is far easier to dismiss or demonize religiously rooted political perspectives we don’t really want to understand than to try to comprehend them, which might lend them even a fragment of credibility. It is easier to castigate their adherents as barbarians or fanatics than to acknowledge that, yet again, we have failed to learn from our mistakes.

     I have taught religion to undergraduate students for more than twenty years—since shortly before the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the ensuing hostage crisis. I told my students then—and have ever since—that the point of learning about religious perspectives that are divergent (indeed, sometimes dangerously so) from one’s own is that until we recognize how and why religiously “other” people think and act, we will never function effectively in a global community of conflicting religious and political interests. Relatively bright nineteen-year-olds get the point with little prodding—unlike the U.S. government.

     I am not blaming the victims, let alone justifying what happened September 11. But we need to understand why it happened: simply and sadly, religion can drive some people to do terrible things. The great tragedy is that McVeigh and September’s killers were not deluded; they acted with cold rationality.

     Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, recently argued in the Washington Post that religious groups such as bin Laden’s al-Qa’eda and America’s Christian Identity, which apparently influenced McVeigh’s thinking, represent democracy’s greatest threat. He was almost right: the greatest threat will be our continued blindness to the darker religious forces that drive some men’s souls—and deeds.

—http://www.skidmore.edu/scope/winter2002/observations/fringes.html

Responses

1.
     One reason I won’t give Skidmore any money is because it would help pay the salary of Mary Stange [author of “U.S. ignores religion’s fringes” in the winter Scope]. I would not mind paying her salary if there were also people at Skidmore who offered a different opinion, but the school is a bastion of one-sided left-leaning political thinking.

     Mary Stange wrote, “Until we recognize how and why religiously ‘other’ people think and act, we will never function effectively in a global community.” First of all, I think we are functioning pretty well. Overall, the world is probably in better shape than it was 150 years ago—or even sixty years ago, when we were in World War II. Secondly, how is understanding other people’s religious beliefs going to help us function more effectively? If we understand the Taliban, should we require that all women wear veils?

     I have met Prof. Stange, and I have the highest respect for her opinions, but if Skidmore really wants to be a liberal-arts college, then it should start acting like one and offer various opinions.

Jonathan Burkan ’93
New York, N.Y.

 
2.
     While driving to work on Sepember 11, I was an eyewitness to the attack on the second World Trade Center tower. I am still in disbelief. Professor Stange is right [in her essay, “U.S. ignores religion’s fringes,” in the winter Scope] that this was the act of barbarians or fanatics. And yes, we have failed to learn from our mistakes. But the mistakes she and I refer to are miles apart.

     If I hear you correctly, Prof. Stange, our mistakes center on our unwillingness to understand Islam; by better understanding Islam, I should understand why 3,000 people were killed on September 11. To me, our mistakes centered on our country’s failure to anticipate and thwart these incomprehensible acts of violence committed by members of “darker religious forces.”

     I do understand that we now live in a global community, and that the United States and its democratic values are not the values embraced by all. But the pure hatred shown us by desecrating our flag, killing our innocent citizens, and waging a cold-blooded war of terrorism in our country does not make me want to understand any more Islamic religious values than I already know. Instead, I want to see justice served and those responsible for this “network of terror” sought out and completely destroyed.

     Believe me when I tell you I am not for one minute embarrassed by these depths of religious or political passions that you refer to. Nor am I curious about the religious ideals of mobs taking over the streets of Middle Eastern cities to wage their “war of words” against the United States. A deeper understanding of their religious values will do nothing to stop their mission. I honestly don’t think that a better understanding of these forces will help me come to grips with what happened on September 11; nor will it make me relent in wanting to destroy those who feel it their right to destroy our values and our way of life.

     How would a better understanding of Islam have prevented September 11 from happening? The plot to hijack American jetliners, fly them into symbolic buildings, and take innocent lives in order to “send a message” to Western civilization was planned for many years. Prof. Stange, what piece of knowledge could we gain from a further understanding that would stop these atrocities?

     I urge you to visit Ground Zero and look at the devastation. Come see where innocent lives were lost because a darker religious force decided it could not accept our way of life. I also urge you to find some of the rescue workers there who are working around the clock to find the remains of those innocent people so their families can have closure. When you do, ask them if they feel the need to understand these religious forces any better.

Mark A. Gropler, parent ’02
Franklin Lakes, N.J.


Author’s reply: Understanding is power

     What you don’t know can hurt you. And what you refuse to understand can kill you.

     I agree with Mark Gropler regarding “our country’s failure to anticipate and thwart” the tragic events of September 11. However, those events were far from “incomprehensible.” As I argued in my essay, had the U.S. government paid closer attention to certain extremist trends in the Islamic world, it would have recognized that hostility toward the United States was building to the breaking point. And indeed, one need not be a Muslim extremist to take offense at the United States’ persistent siding with Israel against the Palestinians, or the deaths of a half-million Iraqi children as a result of U.S. sanctions. Our inability to see ourselves as we are seen by others has been a foreign policy problem since the ouster of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Note: the problem here is not Islam, nor some purported Muslim hatred of American freedoms; the problem is what our enemies perceive as the willful ignorance and complacency with which we prioritize “the West” over “the rest.”

     As for Jon Burkan’s comment about understanding the Taliban: The point of attempting to understand an offensive viewpoint is neither to endorse nor to legitimate it. The point is to gain the power to formulate an intelligent, well-informed critique of it.

     Writing in The Nation last December, Harvard theologian Harvey Cox commented: “…the truth is…all religions have their demonic underside. We quote Isaiah, not Joel. We talk about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, not Rabbi Meir Kahane. We favor St. Francis and his birds, not Torquemada and his racks. Alas, however, they are all part of the story.”

     Telling only a simplified story, one that lacks full understanding, leads to just the kind of black hats/white hats thinking—“if you are not with us, you are in league with the evil-doers”—that precipitates tragedies like the 9/11 hijackings.

Mary Zeiss Stange, Associate Professor,
Women’s Studies and Religion

—http://www.skidmore.edu/scope/spring2002/letters/index.html

Document 2
The Taliban

VIEW: Taliban resurgence —Shaukat Qadir
Daily Times, October 14, 2006

When the Taliban initially went on a conquering drive in Afghanistan, they virtually faced no resistance until Jalalabad. The reason was simple: the Afghans were fed up with the internecine civil war waged by warlords. The Taliban promised a more just rule and the people deserted the warlords to join the Taliban. One of the forgotten facts is that as they progressed, the Taliban burnt all poppy fields they came across. Of course, a year later they were paying farmers to grow poppy again because they could not generate any income otherwise.

In their first couple of years the Taliban delivered what they promised; Afghanistan witnessed perhaps the most representative rule of its history through village and tribal councils; women were not oppressed, they worked and moved freely in market places buying and selling their wares; schools reopened; hospitals began to function and, life began to return towards normalcy — even though Afghanistan was not receiving the international assistance it should have been given.

From 1996, after Osama bin Laden was forced to move out of Sudan and sought refuge in Afghanistan, things began to change. Osama assured Mulla Omer of higher earnings from his poppy produce and, in return, demanded a more stringent application of the Wahhabi version of Islam. The religious police was further empowered and women were ordered not to work, not even as teachers or doctors.

Slowly the situation worsened: any male Afghan’s beard could be measured and, if not of the right size, he could be forced to bend over in the street and be caned on his buttocks for this violation. Women, accompanied by their men, whether husband, father, brother, or son, could be publicly subjected to the same humiliation for as small a crime as having a veil smaller than deemed appropriate by the religious police. The proud Afghan was proud no more. He was humiliated and became as fed up with the Taliban as he had been with the chaos that had preceded them.

In this period I have heard the Taliban being cursed roundly by the Pashtun on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line and I have heard them thank God when the Americans decided to invade Afghanistan. I have heard them pray for the Americans, vowing to assist them in toppling the Taliban, and this includes Pashtun from Waziristan. Thus when US forces invaded and again conquered virtually without battle, except at Jalalabad and Kandahar, their phenomenal success was not solely theirs or that of the National Alliance, the only group that the Taliban had failed to conquer, but was assisted by a series of mini-revolts throughout Afghanistan.

However, the good will towards the Americans was not to last too long. The Afghans had mistakenly thought that the Americans, having freed them from the Taliban, would immediately put in place a government of their own and leave. Not only did the formulation of a government take considerable time, it also became apparent to the Afghans and their Pashtun brethren in Pakistan that the Americans were interested in putting together a pro-US government. Even that the Afghans might have lived with, but it also became apparent that the Americans and their allies had no intention of leaving.

While individually most Americans are friendly and easy to get along with, collectively, they acquire an arrogance that is unbelievable. And they make no effort to mask their contempt for non-Americans. Since there were still pockets of resistance in Afghanistan, US troops clamped down hard and indiscriminately and their contempt for the local population became increasingly visible. Once again I witnessed an about-face by the Pashtun in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. Some of them the very same people who had prayed for American success and even helped and assisted them. When I reminded them of it, they admitted to having been fools and, surprisingly, began to extol the Taliban. Once again I reminded them of what they had said about the Taliban and the invariable. They replied: “At least they were from among us.”

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).

—http://watandost.blogspot.com/2006/10/understanding-taliban-resurgence.html

Document 3
Understanding the Taliban
by Kaiser Bengali

IMAGES of the rubble of the World Trade Centre in New York reminds one of the rubble of thousands of buildings and houses in Kabul. The Afghan Mujahideen — recruited, organized, trained, financed and armed by the US — created this rubble with US-supplied weaponry after the departure of the Soviet army. Now massive bombing by the US is reshaping that rubble.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, women and children had died when the rubble was first created. Thousands were maimed on account of US-supplied land mines planted liberally across Afghanistan by the Mujahideen. Most of these maimed men, women and children had taken shelter in the rubble of Kabul. As US missiles and bombs turn this rubble upside down, hundreds of them have died. For them there is perverse mercy. They will no longer crawl on the streets of Kabul on empty stomachs.

The treatment being meted out to Afghanistan shows how little the world understands the unfortunate war-ravaged country or the Taliban. The Taliban may be the bad boys in the eyes of the West and the drawing room liberals in Pakistan, but they have to be credited with imposing absolute peace in the 90 per cent of the country under their control. They have also to be credited with abolishing the cultivation of poppy and eliminating the sources within Afghanistan of heroin production and smuggling to the West. One may not agree with Taliban laws, but they have to be acknowledged for instituting the rule of law. Despite widespread hunger, robberies and holdups are rare.

Truckers can drive from one end of the country to another without anyone accosting them for money or any favours. The Taliban regime is also egalitarian in many respects. Ministers’ offices are modest and they sit on the floor and share their meals with their chauffeurs, the head of Kabul airport commutes to work on a bicycle, and so on. Most of all, women are safe. They can walk alone on the streets, albeit in a burqa, without any fear of being harassed. None of these claims can be made for the territory controlled by non-Taliban forces.

There are significant minuses, however, in the Taliban account. Internally, no serious attempt has been made in the last half a decade of their rule to rebuild the infrastructure. The only buildings that have been repaired are mosques and government offices. The continuing civil war is a reason for diversion of resources.

But no effort, whatsoever, has been made towards national reconciliation. Their abject rigidity in the face of mass starvation and deprivation of their people is unforgivable. Their apparent egalitarianism is contradicted by policies in key areas. They have reversed the land reforms of the ‘communist’ era and the lands distributed to poor peasants have been reverted to the feudal lords and tribal chiefs.

Their treatment of women has been harsh and inhuman. For a war-ravaged country, where one in seven households does not have any adult male or an able-bodied male, the ban on women’s work amounts to condemning these families to starvation. Externally, the Taliban violated every law of civilization by providing safe haven to mafroors (absconders from law) from sundry Muslim countries, including Pakistan. All one had to do to qualify for Taliban hospitality was to sport a beard, don a turban and profess to fight for Islam.

Even by nineteenth century standards, the Taliban are an anachronism. It is, however, necessary to see where they have come from and how the Taliban phenomenon has come about. The US decision to engage the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by mobilizing the Islamic clergy in Afghanistan and Pakistan ordained death and destruction for millions of Afghans. Millions more streamed as refugees into neighbouring countries. Amongst them were hundreds of thousands of orphans.

These orphans were collected in scores of madrassahs in Afghan refugee camps and in Pakistani cities run by the same clergy. These orphans grew up through childhood, adolescence and youth in an environment completely devoid of women. They have never known the love and care of mothers and elder sisters. They have never seen the benign smiles of grandmothers or aunts. They have never played with younger sisters or female cousins.

These products of the madrassahs — the Taliban — are thus a unique breed of men. Their harshness towards women, towards their opponents and, indeed, towards themselves should be seen in this context. They are the byproducts of the human destruction wreaked by the US-USSR clash in Afghanistan. They are certainly not men who will be cowed down by the American display of its awesome firepower.

The Taliban phenomenon was also facilitated by socio-cultural conditions in Afghanistan. Prior to the outbreak of conflict in 1979, Afghanistan was a dual society. Whatever semblance of modernization there existed was limited to the city centres of Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat. The modernized elite, who wore western dresses and sent their daughters to universities, was narrowly centred around the royal family and the military officer class. Outside this island of relative modernity, Afghanistan existed in the medieval age. Mountain tribes had no experience of electricity or telephones or of education or health facilities.

In the world that they knew of, girls never went to schools and women never went to hospitals because there never ever had been to any school or clinic in their village or in any of the villages that they knew of. A lot has been made of the women being forced to observe purdah. However, 99.9 per cent of the women were already purdah-observing and Taliban edicts did not affect their lives in this respect at least.

When these mountain tribesmen gained the reins of power in Kabul, they could not but impose a social and political order that they were aware of and familiar with. What really occurred was that the Afghan hinterland arrived in and took over Kabul. Since these tribesmen were madrassah “educated”, it was natural that they would operate under the banner of Islam. In reality, what has actually happened in Afghanistan is not Islamization but tribalization. Many or most of the policy actions of the Taliban have little to do with Islam. The fact that several of Taliban edicts are not rooted in Islamic tenets is borne out by the fact that some of them have been changed to conform to the exigencies of the modern world.

An account circulating among the UN community in Kabul a year ago was about hospital reforms. At the time the Taliban took over Kabul, they drove out all the women from hospitals, including those who had undergone surgery only days earlier. Several must have failed to survive. That consideration did not then register with the Taliban authorities. Several months later, a hospital epidemic killed scores of children in a matter of days. Shocked, the Taliban sought WHO assistance. In the process, they not only allowed women back into the hospitals, but also unofficially allowed male doctors to treat women patients.

The same year, the UN conducted a house-to-house sample survey in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif to assess food needs. The survey was conducted by ten Afghan women in each city under the supervision of male expatriates. When explained about the necessity of training, the Taliban actually allowed the supervisory team to enter the women’s quarter in the UN office to train the women surveyors in administrating the questionnaire. During the survey, six armed Taliban guards accompanied the survey team. One of their tasks was to ensure that the male supervisors and the women surveyors only communicated in the presence of an English-speaking Afghan and that there was no social conversation.

Needless to say, there were several occasions where tensions arose, particularly because some of the English-speaking Afghan women were curious about the world outside. At the end of the survey, the guards warmly embraced the supervisors. One of the Urdu-speaking guards sheepishly apologized to the team leader for their strictness, adding that they were merely following orders. It dawned on the team that the Taliban are human too!

The Taliban leadership may consist largely of 11th century-minded tribals, but there are significant elements within who are painfully conscious of the poverty and suffering of their people. They are cognizant of the need to reform and reconstruct their ravaged country. They do not approve of the extremism and militancy of their colleagues, do not relish the pariah status in world, and are aware of the need to be accepted by the world community.

The destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan province had much more to do with the internal battles between hardliners and moderates than with a display of Islamic zeal. However, sanctions and missile attacks have only served to compromise the moderates and strengthen the hardliners. The latest US attack has sunk the moderates altogether.

Pakistan was the Taliban’s only real ally. Pakistani authorities were correctly opposed to UN sanctions and were trying to explain to the world the need to engage the Taliban instead. Such a course would have strengthened the moderates and brought about the kind of positive change that has occurred in Iran. These arguments are known to have been bandied about in the US State Department and the Pentagon as well. For unexplained geopolitical reasons, however, a conscious decision appears to have been taken several months ago to strengthen the hardliners. Such a course allowed the US to demonize the Taliban and demolish them whenever an opportunity arose. September 11 provided that opportunity.

US expediency in world affairs is a known reality. So is the subservience of the Pakistani ruling establishment to US interests. Yet, however, the complete somersault by Islamabad in a matter of less than 100 hours from being the most loyal supporter of the Taliban to the most loyal agent of the US against the Taliban is shockingly dishonourable. This is the second time in less than a quarter of a century that Pakistan has lent its hands to the US to shed Afghan blood. Pakistanis will not be able to look an Afghan in the eye for a long time to come.

—http://www.dawn.com/2001/10/15/op.htm#1

Document 4
Understanding the Taliban Is a Crucial Task
by Aisha Geissinger

News from Afghanistan in the international media revolves around reported bans on marbles, kite-flying and toilet paper, and the forcible imposition of the beard and burqa. It seems that the vocabulary of the average Talib has shrunk to two words: haram (forbidden) and fardh (obligatory). Reports of draconian restrictions on women take centre stage, because of western audiences fascination with what lies behind the veil. Men responsible for enforcing public decency are said to beat women in the street who show their faces or ankles. Most women are not allowed to work. They are forbidden to see male doctors, yet there are few female doctors available. Most girls schools have been closed, and the only education available is religious instruction for girls who have not reached puberty.

What are we to make of all this? Some Muslims agree with these policies and publicly support the Taliban. Others violently disagree, advocate shaving the beard in order to demonstrate their disagreement, and are willing to appear on television along with secular human rights and feminist groups in order to denounce these policies. But most Muslims maintain an embarrassed silence, taking refuge behind the excuse that "we don’t really know what’s going on there." It might be more honest to say that we don’t want to know what is happening, much less deal with it.

To most Muslims, the Afghans are the heroic people who defeated the former Soviet Union despite overwhelming odds. The subsequent civil war in Afghanistan deeply disappointed most people and has led them to turn their faces from the on-going conflict as much as possible. The majority of Muslims worldwide cherish visions of a just Islamic state emerging somewhere, if not in their own country. This hope sustains many people in the face of what appear to be hopeless odds. To see the dream become a nightmare, and the phrase "Islamic justice" used as a synonym for tyranny, is painful.

Finally, criticism of the Taliban, whether it comes from non-Muslims or Muslims, is often heavily overlaid with prejudices or political interests. Muslims often show their partisan, class, ethnic and mahhabi interests in their criticism, deriding the Taliban as "peasants","ignorant Pakhtun", or "Wahhabis". Muslim criticisms tell at best a partial tale: who does the ban on toilet paper primarily affect? Pity the poor foreign correspondents who are forced to use a lota (water jug)! If any non-Muslim country banned toilet paper, environmental groups would be applauding it for its ecologically progressive decision.

Western complicity in and responsibility for the Taliban’s excesses is usually ignored; if the economy is based on opium, what can anyone expect after 22 years of war and upheaval, to say nothing of the recent imposition of economic sanctions? These criticisms of the Taliban are clearly a way of attacking Islamic movements in general and proving
that any attempt to actualise Islam’s socio-political dimensions in this age is doomed to failure in fact, that nothing could be worse than a society based on Islam. Other Afghan factions have been making political mileage out of such western media attacks, but in the long term all Muslims, in and outside of Afghanistan, will pay a high price for such coverage in years to come. It is being used as a weapon against any Muslim self-assertion anywhere, even of the most peaceable and innocuous sort.

While the media deride the Taliban as mediaeval, in fact such groups are thoroughly modern and emerge as a result of the unsettled conditions of the modern world. Similar movements can be found in other countries and among many of the worlds religions. American Christians who bomb abortion clinics, Hindus who demolished the Babri Masjid and have their eyes on a number of other masajid throughout India, ultra-orthodox Jews who throw stones at women who walk through their neighbourhoods wearing trousers or short sleeves, all have more in common with the Taliban than they (or the Taliban) realise. All such movements, despite their outward differences, are a reaction to the dramatic social, political and economic changes which have taken place in the last hundred and fifty years. The world is being swamped by lahw (vain pursuits), and much of it is beyond the control of ordinary people. Many Muslims realise that their cultures are in retreat before the advance of the technologically advanced and aggressive global secular civilisation.

The modern world focuses primarily on material things. Development is measured by material indicators, not by intangible things such as God-consciousness, brotherhood and sisterhood, or neighbourliness. Taliban-style movements also focus on the material, the tangible aspects of faith rules and outward behaviour. Unlike beliefs, intentions and feelings, these can be controlled and imposed upon people.

Taliban violence against those who break the rules is an application of the modern view that state interference in the lives of individuals is the answer to most social problems. An over-literal focus on individual Quranic ayaat and ahadith obscures the larger picture, and makes laws the centre of attention while ethical conduct remains at best optional.

This focus on rules also ignores the prerequisites for establishing an Islamic system in the modern world. Since the 1975 drafting of CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), the UN and various NGOs have been trying to discourage single-sex education and medical care when possible. Muslims by and large have ignored this, with some communities quibbling over whether and to what degree women should be educated. As a result, there is still a marked shortage of women doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, and educators in most Muslim communities, including Afghanistan.

Some women pursue degrees in medicine or education with the intention of enhancing their marriageability rather than practising after graduation. Others prefer (or are compelled by circumstances) to work in the west. The twisted ideas that a married woman has no responsibility to the ummah as a whole, and that it is shameful if she has concerns beyond her immediate family circle, are also alive and well. In addition, some Muslim women, even those who observe purdah, prefer to be seen by male doctors because they do not have confidence in the competence of women. This is based partly on cultural beliefs in female inferiority, but also on the sad fact that female doctors are often restricted from receiving comparable training to men, and are often are not able to pursue specialisations outside of obstetrics and gynaecology.

In these circumstances, the separation of medical and educational facilities for women and men becomes blatantly unjust. It harms individual women, infants and children, men, the family and the ummah as a whole. It is also profoundly destabilising: people who have the means to leave such a society will do so in search of medical treatment,education and opportunity. Those who stay will tend to be suffocated, and their ability to deal with the challenges posed by the modern world will be decreased.

The Taliban are having to deal with international condemnation and financial arm-twisting by donor countries. As a result, they have to go through the motions of improving their position on women. On March 8,they held a celebration of International Women’s Day in Kabul for 700 hand-picked women, formerly employed as medical workers. The Taliban have forbidden the celebration of Nawruz (the pre-Islamic Persian new year’s day) as a bidah (innovation), but apparently International Women’s Day, which commemorates a strike by American female garment workers, is acceptable. This is an indication of their helplessness in the face of western condemnation because the women’s problem won’t go away by casting a veil over it, western solutions are being used as window-dressing. Those Afghans who might have proposed constructive and creative Islamic solutions have been killed or driven into exile.

The situation in Afghanistan cannot continue as it is, and when things fall apart one wonders who will be there to pick up the pieces. Christian and secular aid organisations are eager to build on the disillusionment of Afghans with Islam, and missionaries are actively converting Afghan refugees to Christianity. Twenty years from now, what will be the result of the Taliban experiment? A generation of embittered, violently anti-Islamic intellectuals, authors and artists? Will anyone dare to walk in the streets of Kabul wearing a beard or a burqa?

The Islamic movement needs to look honestly at the situation in Afghanistan (and places such as northern Iraq and Pakistan, where Taliban-style ideas have following), consider the origins and consequences of such groups, and develop responses which will solve the problems that they create within an Islamic framework. Averting our faces from painful realities is an option we cannot afford, both because it betrays the suffering of many in Afghanistan men and women and because of the long-term consequences for the Ummah as a whole.
—http://www.islamawareness.net/Asia/Afghanistan/taliban.html

Document 5
Taliban kill top Afghan woman
Declan Walsh in Kandahar
Tuesday September 26, 2006
The Guardian

[In this news report, note the words 'suspected' and 'appeared'. Note also that the comments that follow ignore these words. —etm]

Suspected Taliban gunmen shot dead a leading women's rights campaigner in Kandahar yesterday in the latest assassination of a government official in the restive southern provinces.

Women's Affairs director, Safia Ama Jan, was killed on the city outskirts as she left for work yesterday morning. The assailants shot her four times in the head, through a burka, before fleeing.

Ms Ama Jan, 56, has been an advocate for women's rights in Kandahar, the former Taliban headquarters, since the fundamentalists were ousted five years ago. Her murder appeared to mark a return to a strategy of intimidation and assassination after the defeat of Taliban fighters at the hands of a Nato force in western Kandahar this month.

Relatives described Ms Ama Jan as religious and a champion of women's education for more than three decades. She stayed in Afghanistan under the Taliban to give secret classes to local girls at home.
—http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,,1881039,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=12

Understanding the Taliban’s Perspective

Posted by Greg on September 26, 2006

You’ve probably heard of the murder of Safia Ama Jan, a women’s advocate in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban.
    Suspected Taliban gunmen shot dead a leading women’s rights campaigner in Kandahar yesterday in the latest assassination of a government official in the restive southern provinces.Women’s Affairs director, Safia Ama Jan, was killed on the city outskirts as she left for work yesterday morning. The assailants shot her four times in the head, through a burka, before fleeing.

    Ms Ama Jan, 56, has been an advocate for women’s rights in Kandahar, the former Taliban headquarters, since the fundamentalists were ousted five years ago. Her murder appeared to mark a return to a strategy of intimidation and assassination after the defeat of Taliban fighters at the hands of a Nato force in western Kandahar this month.

    Relatives described Ms Ama Jan as religious and a champion of women’s education for more than three decades. She stayed in Afghanistan under the Taliban to give secret classes to local girls at home.
CQ gives a concise observation:
    Jan reveals the Taliban and their Islamist ilk for the cowards and oppressors they are. She did not enter beauty contests or convert to Christianity, two of the myriad reasons why the Taliban might choose to kill a woman. Jan even wore the burqa even after the Taliban fled from power. She modeled Muslim modesty and lived her life in a devout manner — but she refused to allow her fellow Afghani women to live in the darkness of ignorance. She dared to educate girls instead of leaving them as chattel to be bartered by Islamist men for their own purposes.
—http://gregprinceblog.wordpress.com/2006/09/26/understanding-the-talibans-perspective/

 
 

Ideas about language and culture

Some of you are having trouble finding a blogging topic that relates to 'language and culture', so let me raise a few questions that may give you some ideas:

        * LANGUAGE: What's the best age for learning a second language? Is it possible to be too young to learn a second language, or too old? What's the best method for learning a second language? What are the advantages of knowing two languages (being 'bilingual')? Are there any disadvantages to being bilingual? Are some languages easier to learn than others? Are some languages better for certain purposes than others? Is an alphabetic language like English, for example, better in certain ways than a character-based language like Chinese? Is a character-based language better than an alphabetic language in some ways? Why is it so difficult to translate from one language into another?
        * CULTURE: What defines a culture? Is it food? language? clothing? family relationships? work relationships? art? music? education? technology? the natural environment? What happens to people when they leave their own culture to live in a different culture? ('Culture shock' may be a term worth exploring.) How are people who are 'bi-cultural' different from those who know only one culture? ('Bi-cultural kids' is another term that might be interesting to explore.) Is it possible to compare one culture with another, and say that one is 'better' in some way than another? Or are all cultures equally good? Why do some cultures produce great painting, others great writing, others great engineers, etc., while others don't seem to produce great achievements in any of these areas? Who decides what is 'great' about such achievements? Are some cultures more violent than others? More greedy than others? More aggressive than others? More poetic than others?
        * LANGUAGE & CULTURE: What are the connections between language and culture? Would it be possible, for example, for a group of Chinese people to move to an English-speaking country and retain their Chinese culture while speaking English exclusively? Or for an English family to move to China, speak Chinese 100% of the time, and still retain their English culture? If someone can move fluently between two different languages and cultures, is she in some sense two different people? Does our personality change when we speak a different language or live in a different culture?

These are just a few of the possible questions—I hope they give you some good ideas!