By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Last Thursday, in Kabul, according to many accounts, a woman falsely suspected of burning the Quran was beaten to death by a crowd; run over by a pickup truck and lynched; driven away, burned and thrown over a bridge.
Farkhunda, the 28-year-old victim, was allegedly arguing with a religious leader about the selling of charms to women at a shrine, according to the BBC. She was addressing a religious concern and was accused of burning the Quran. She denied the charge. In fact, Farkhunda was a devout Muslim woman who studied at an Islamic school, receiving an education that many sympathetic to the Taliban religious line disapprove.
In the roughly two hours it took to torture and murder Farkhunda, the police were unable to hold back the mob. Reportedly, armed police watched and did nothing against extrajudicial Islamic fanaticism. The attack was caught on cameras of people in the crowd.
If this account of verbal interreligious dispute is true, it would mean that certain Mullahs are making money while Muslim women of low means waste their money on useless amulets. It would also mean that there is now one female dissenter out-of-the-way of this scheme.
The father of Farkhunda said she was “innocent” and that he “did not know how this happened.” He blamed one of the Mullahs at the Shah-e-Do Shamshera Mosque was the instigator behind the mob attack. Thus, the incident also addresses the massive criminal and corrupt religious establishment as well as violence and the butchery of Muslim women living in the country.
On Monday, there was civil protest and outrage, with hundreds of brave Afghani women banding together to address their everyday suspicion and mistreatment for being women by the hyper-religious and oppressive male authorities. The crowd of women went against local Islamic law by carrying the coffin of Farkhunda and attending her funeral (both of which are illegal). The group chanted slogans that identified themselves with the victim.
“They have killed us all,” one woman told BBC. This matched the solidarity they feel as a group where an attack on one is an attack on all. “Punish the murderers,” some yelled.
Their demands for justice were quickly seen both in statement and in response by the Afghan political leadership. President Ashraf Ghani called the attacks “heinous” and Interior Minister Noorul Haq Ulumi told the public that 26 people had been arrested. Some 20 police officers were involved were fired, along with the neighborhood chief, according to The Washington Post.
“All [police] are being questioned to determine the reasons behind the failure to protect Farkhunda and to control the situation,” said Interior Minister Ulumi.
Still, how much of their response was sincere and how much of it was based on the fact that President Ghani is visiting the White House hoping to prove Afghanistan is not a lost cause for democracy and secure more funding. Even with personal convictions of the like, the fact that women, let alone people, could be treated like this in the streets sheds light to the grim truth of what is more to come without the needed funds and security.
Nevertheless, the government and security forces are unable and likely unwilling to quell the degradation of the treatment of Afghani women; as seen with local police in the capital. With a limited international presence and Western military forces, women’s rights continue to fall prey to more violence and intimidation; and with less and less reporting.
While this attack appears to be a first in Afghanistan to the outside world, it signifies the feeling of vulnerability within extreme religiously violent elements and the friction of all women who are imprisoned by such conditions and restraints.
In 2013, violence increased in frequency and brutality, according to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan (AIHRC). Reports indicated the most horrendous violent incidents against women, including: the cutting of [women’s] noses, lips and ears,” and even “public rape.” This does not include coercive customs like forced marriages, honor killings, household beatings and rampant physical and psychological abuse and intimidation.
The Elimination of Violence against Women Act (EVAW) was passed into law under President Ahmed Kharzai in 2009, but has become little more effective than a blank sheet of paper in most of Afghanistan. At the same time women are receiving tacit equality and education they are also under perpetual attack. The burqa is constant reminder. While no longer illegal for women not to wear the full black covering, most do this in certain places, like the South, out of fear of social enforcement. But even for Farkhunda and other devout Muslim women who abide by strict tradition, this is no guaranty of safety. They must do what they are told, keep silent in political affairs, stay at home, never learn, never dance, never listen to music, never speak for the household, etc.—and even this is not enough for the Taliban who innately hate feminism.
Even in Kabul, Farkhunda’s family was initially told by the police to say that their daughter was mentally ill, in order to protect them from reprisals against the family. All of this is a furtherance of a violent trail of hatred that has no end. The parents have since retracted this false statement.
Afghanistan is a volatile juncture in terms of gender, as it is with political stability. It is possible that there are enough women that will find ways to fight back and win, but without organization and sponsorship, they are likely to remain in abusive subservient stations. The West should expect more brutal deaths of a similar kind that suppress female political activities. Even with support, the war for women and women’s rights is far from over.
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