2007 - 2022

The Hypocrisy of the West’s Solidarity for Afghan Women

Over the last week I have spoken to committed campaigners with ties to Afghanistan, desperately pleading for their colleagues and friends’ lives; asking me for any contacts I have that can help them reach someone with power to give them safe passage out. I did what I could, I connected who I could, and I put the phone down not knowing whether they were safe. I returned to my work where I get to do commentary and campaigning safely, from afar. Those I spoke to, and those they were helping all have something in common; they were all women, and the majority Muslim women.

The last two weeks we have witnessed a sudden surge in support for Afghan women, from some of the very people who have ignored the repeated pleas for equality and respect for Muslim and migrant women across the world. There is no doubt that the current situation in Afghanistan is terrifying for all there and this is a disproportionate threat for women and girls. The Taliban may now know how to create more palatable rhetoric to disguise their violent misogyny, but it fools no-one. Women and girls’ education, freedoms and lives are at risk and it is a global responsibility to create safe routes out of Afghanistan, particularly given the role of other nations in creating the current hostile conditions. But the hypocritical outrage at the current situation faced by Afghan women and girls by some of those in power, does little more than act as a shield for their own Governments’ reputations. We are in yet another crisis where Muslim women are used as tools to deflect from foreign policy disasters and domestic political fall-outs, all without nuance and all too often, without hearing from the women being pointed at, written about or photographed, crying in fear.

Afghan women and girls are the focus of condemnation of the current terrifying situation in Afghanistan but nothing of real substance is done to support them. Global leaders are calling out the violence they are under threat of, without reflecting with even a little nuance, the violence under which their own political power suppresses Muslim, migrant or asylum-seeking women. A prime example of this lack of self-awareness comes from France’s Macron, who stated that Afghan women should “have the right to live in freedom”, yet in France the freedom of what to wear is restricted only for Muslim women and girls; who cannot wear hijab in school and are banned from wearing the full veil in public – with the threat of arrest and fines.

Here in the UK, the Home Office’s Priti Patel has said that she will prioritise refugee women and girls and that she “has seen the oppression women and girls in Afghanistan have been subjected to”. Yet, the UK has pledged to provide sanctuary to only 5000 Afghans over the next year, those who have arrived so far are reported to have been left in Home Office hotels with no money, no clothes, no translation services or legal advice. The Home Office’s long-term policy of no recourse to public funds disproportionately harms women and children and there are currently over 3000 Afghan asylum seekers still waiting to know if they will be safe in the UK or deported. All the rhetoric rings hollow whilst the UK Government pursues the Nationality and Borders Bill, which according to the Refugee Council, would turn away more than 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under the current immigration rules, and this includes those who have fled war or persecution. Just like those who are lining up outside the airport, where already many have been killed, pleading to get onto fights out of Afghanistan.

This the reality of Government policy both foreign and domestic, no warm words will cover the consequences of these policies for women and girls in the UK, in France, in the US or indeed in Afghanistan.

We speak about Afghan women as if they have no agency of their own – despite the evidence of the last twenty years where Afghan women have been leading the rebuilding of their nation and the images this week of them protesting for their rights. They are too often an addition to a political strategy, used to garner empathy and support for your “side” of the debate – we must remember that this was also a tactic to increase support for invasion into Afghanistan in 2001. They deserve better than this given that their lives are at risk as a consequence of political failures that they had nothing to do with.

During the negotiations of US withdrawal of troops this year, women’s rights and wider human rights were not included in any deal. From the scripts released since, it would seem these issues were actively ignored – this is despite feminist activists in Afghanistan pushing to be included in the peace process and negotiations on the transfer of power. Women and girls were not thought about then, and now, for the US in particular, to feign outrage at their treatment is a disgrace – especially as President Biden has still refused to extend the deadline for evacuations; how can you empathise with the women and girls of Afghanistan, whilst refusing a decision which may save many of their lives?

The proof of your human rights advocacy is not in a carefully written political statement, it is in the safe routes you create for asylum seekers, it is in the conditions you house them in, it is in the effort and investment you put in to tackle violence against all women, it is in whether you value Muslim women and migrant women as highly as you value others and whether you do it at times when it is not politically convenient. Everything else is window-dressing and we see through it.


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Comments (25)

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  1. Colin Robinson says:

    We see through such victimisation indeed. The powerless are never on the political agenda unless there’s some profit to be gained by some political player from having them there.

    The shameless exploitation of the plight of the powerless by all sides in our political discourse merely confirms and reinforces their powerlessness.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Good article Talat. Had Jeremy Corbyn / Keir Starmer / Nicola Sturgeon called Muslim women “letterboxes” it would currently be the most used word in news items and Murdoch would’ve had the torched villagers banging on their door. Trump, who coined the deal, probably never included them in talks because he doesn’t fancy them. Where were all the dissenting Tory voices or the calls for a NATO safe zone when he was making that deal? The EU, who are already deluged by refugees fleeing wars stoked up by the US & “UK”, should give all Afghan refugees safe passage to Calais and lay on boats to take them to Dover. I’m sure Priti would be there to “welcome” them with one of her waving machines.

  3. Daniel Raphael says:

    “The West” is of course code for U$A + its various capos, poodles, & pilotfish, and its care for women of any nation is as genuine and deep as its concern for freedom and democracy and human rights. It is as genuine as the US statement of the latest drone kill in Kabul, that “no civilians were killed.” There are already multiple articles online about the family–most of them children–who were killed in that strike. The US routinely lies, and when any of its employees are so unwise as to make the truth public–as Daniel Hale did, for which he was sentenced to years in prison for telling us 90% of those killed by US drone strikes were civilians. “All governments lie,” said I. F. Stone. He could have added that in the modern era, the unchallenged leader for consistency and quality of lying is the US.

  4. Douglas Harrison says:

    Thank you for this Talat Yaqoob. Much ‘western support’ is indeed hypocritical in its apparent ‘sympathy’ for Afghan women. Not least that from the US White House.

    In the 1980s, when the USA financed and armed the misogynist mujihadeen , and thus created the foundations from which the subsequent ‘Taliban’ emerged, they did so in hope of toppling the then Afghan government.

    That government was, in my understanding, one of the most democratic the country had then ever known, and actually provided EDUCATION for Afghan girls. But it was supported by the ‘evil’ USSR, predecessor to today’s Russia – but of course a socialist state. Which is why the USA sought to topple the Afghan government. In which the monsters created by its policy succeeded.

    Hence the present crisis. Not of the first time – remember the first ‘9.11’, in which CIA funding toppled Allende’s elected marxist government in Chile on 11 Sept 1973?

    The fact is that decent folk the warld oer will struggle constantly for decent human values, until US (but not only in its US manifestation) capitalism finally falls. In the meantime all we can do is help staunch the awful wounds it imposes on folks’ lives, all over the world; most visibly just now in Afghanistan.

    Your wee piece here, Talat Yaqoob, will help ensure that we who are so far away can at least try to do so for Afghan women and girls. Thank you for it.

    Dougie Harrison.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      I set a cat amongst a lot of turkeys in November 2001 by publishing a short story entitled ‘9/11’, which had for its setting the 1973 Chilean coup d’état.

      The hypocrisy of our moral outrage at the events currently unfolding in Afghanistan mirrors that which characterised our response to the events that unfolded in New York and Washington 20 years ago.

      1. Dougie Harrison says:

        The murder of Allende and overthrow of his elected government is something forever burned in my memory. The recent Scots-Chilean film ‘Nae Paseran’ brought tears to my eyes when I went to GFT to watch it.

        Dougie Harrison

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Aye, it scared the sh*t out of me the events unfolded on the news bulletins. It was certainly my 9/11 moment. It was the fate of the ‘disappeared’ that horrified me most, especially the gruesome acts of physical and sexual abuse that were visited on them, as well as the psychological damage to those who survived it. Both the Rettig Commission and the Valech Commission subsequently estimated the number of direct victims of Chile’s 9/11 as around 30,000 people: 27,255 tortured and 2,279 executed. In addition, some 200,000 people suffered exile (including former refugees from the Spanish Civil War almost 40 years earlier), and an unknown number went through clandestine and illegal detention.

          I’ve never been able to take our own wee grudges and grievances seriously after my 9/11 moment.

          1. Dougie Harrison says:

            I was close friends with a family of Chilean political refugees in the 1970s. There were a lot of them in Glasgow, given housing by decent Glaswegian families. Nae public sector housing for political refugees then! At least not at first; it was decent Glaswegians who provided roofs and beds.

            Dougie Harrison

          2. John Learmonth says:

            Pales into insignificance against the victims of Castro……still a hero to many on the left along with his murdering pyscho sidekick Che.

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            Well, the atrocities of Castro’s regime hardly render those of Pinochet’s ‘insignificant’.

  5. Stephen Cowley says:

    Always the victim.

    The main hypocrisy here is the attempt to blame the West for the core doctrines of sharia.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Does sharīʿah have ‘core doctrines’? I thought that was fiqh.

      Ignorance is no excuse for islamophobia, Stephen.

      1. Stephen Cowley says:

        I spoke loosely, but sharia is derived from three primary sources: the Quran (in its many Arabic versions, the best known of which is the Hafs), the Sirat Rasoul Allah (the biography of Mohammed) and the Hadith (traditions and sayings attributed to Mohammed, collected two centuries after he lived, but some of which are regarded as authoritative). So to take an example, the Quran says:

        “Men are in charge of women by right of what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. But those wives from whom you fear arrogance – first advise them; then if they persist, forsake them in bed; and finally, strike them. But if they obey you once more, seek no means against them.” (4.34)

        And a Hadith says:
        “The Prophet said: “Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?” The women said: “Yes.” He said: “This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.” (Al-Bukhari 2658)

        And much else of a similar drift. So to attribute the Taliban’s doctrines simply to an unexplained “violent misogyny” and not their doctrine and education is potentially misleading.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Yes, I agree. ‘Misogyny’ doesn’t explain anything. It’s a manifestation rather than a pathology, a symptom rather than a cause.

          I’d say that the Taliban’s misogyny is a manifestation of fiqh rather than sharīʿah; that is, of interpretation rather than the law itself. There are within Islam several non-misogynistic (indeed, ‘feminist’) interpretations of sharīʿah, as well as many misogynistic intepretations.

          Which interpretation is the ‘true’ or ‘correct’ one, whether one of the many misogynistic interpretations or one of the fewer non-misogynistic interpretations, is, of course, undecidable and the debate between them interminable.

          It’s thus impossible to say whether sharīʿah is in itself misogynistic or not. It all depends on which interpretation (fiqh) you subscribe to.

  6. John Learmonth says:

    Do Muslim women ‘choose’ to wear the hijab and full veil?
    Has anybody asked them?
    Does anybody dare ask them?

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Islamic feminists (e.g. the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, the Sisters in Islam, and Musawah) take the view that the veil, when voluntarily chosen, is a progressive and feminist act. Many Muslim women in France, for example, advocate for the veil as a symbol of progressivism and feminism within Islam.

      (There’s an awfie lot of islamophobic stereotyping going on on this thread.)

      1. John Learmonth says:

        No problem when it is voluntarily chosen, big problem when its imposed by the menfolk.
        I’m an atheist, does that make me an Islamaphobe?

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          I suppose that will depend on your interpretation of Christianity and whether it entails prejudice against the religion of Islam or Muslims in general.

          Christianity is no more inherently islamophobic than Islam is inherently misogynistic.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            Sorry! For ‘Christianity’ read ‘atheism’!

            My only excuse is that, for some Muslims, atheism is a peculiarly Christann phenomenon!

      2. Niemand says:

        But of you look where it is imposed, like Iran, there is now a massive movement of disobedience against it. I very much doubt many of those people would regard its use as a progressive feminist act, and condemn western female politicians who go to Iran wearing it. The problem is, where in the Islamic world is the veil truly voluntary? Do the two ever really go together? In Iran many of the moral police force are women.

        This article is timely indeed and makes excellent points but I found a dissonance with the constant reference to ‘Muslim’ women, when their oppression is by Islam itself in the form of the Taliban (and even before that – Afghanistan is very conservatively religious anyway). The banning of the veil in France can also be regarded as oppressive but surely it is several categories less so than what the Taliban are about? The Taliban are also Muslims so the issue of the West’s hypocrisy is mirrored by not recognising a major part of the problem: a religious doctrine that is shared by the women and the Taliban.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Indeed, and those who suffer the imposition are right to resist it.

          It just goes to show that veiling is, in itself, neither right or wrong, any more that sharīʿah or Islam as such is either misogynistic or philogynistic. Its rightness or wrongness depends on the interpretation or ‘fiqh’. That’s why Islamic feminism challenges the traditional male monopoly on Qur’anic exegesis, which (it argues) has corrupted Islam with the image of patriarchy and oppression to women. Basically, they argue that women should be able to veil or not veil according to their own interpretation of the law.

          Fāṭima Marnīsī’s The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Islam (1987) is still the seminal text of Islamic feminism.



        2. Colin Robinson says:

          Indeed, and those who suffer the imposition are right to resist it.

          It just goes to show that veiling is, in itself, neither right or wrong, any more that sharīʿah or Islam as such is either misogynistic or philogynistic. Its rightness or wrongness depends on the interpretation or ‘fiqh’. That’s why Islamic feminism challenges the traditional male monopoly on Qur’anic exegesis, which (it argues) has corrupted Islam with the image of patriarchy and oppression to women. Basically, they argue that women should be able to veil or not veil according to their own interpretation of the law.

          Fāṭima Marnīsī’s The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Islam (1987) is still the seminal text of Islamic feminism.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Well, yes, the movement towards female equality has been driven largely by socialist and communist examples, which is inconvenient for Western imperial propagandists, who perhaps betray their ingrained misogyny by automatically excluding women when launching attacks on ‘human rights’ in their official enemies while ignoring human rights violations in their official allies.

    I do not know if there is an Afghan equivalent of the example of women defending themselves from predatory men as in the movie My Pure Land: https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2017/10/2/sarmad-masud-on-feminism-my-pure-land-and-pakistan
    although that seems to have sprung from a local real-and-legendary example, rather than being a national icon (at the time, anyway).

    But the root problem of single-sex socialisation is not restricted to the Taliban, and in fact is shared with the ruling class of the British Empire. There have already been enough reports of sex-related scandals in Islamic schools to match those in UK Christian and non-denominational institutions, and the USA may be retreating from hard power in preparation to launching a soft power offensive if it does not get what it wants from the Taliban; I assume its modern surveillance systems will have already provided terabytes of useful data on the proclivities of Taliban high command, schools, training camps and rank and file behaviour which could destroy the reputation of the Taliban at the flick of a switch. Perhaps blackmail would be more likely at first. A recent BBC Our World programme suggested that the Taliban leadership in Doha were monstrous hypocrites, at least.

  8. Ash Kaul says:

    Nice piece, Talat. I posted in my so-called network with inevitable results – some who felt it opened their eyes, others who fully agreed with it and loved it and still others who rambled inevitable whataboutery.

    I too gave a gave a couple of angles of this whole hypocrisy of the America and its racial siblings weeping for the women for Afghanistan who, after escaping their drones and bombs, will now be so badly tortured! Do glance at my piece here in Bella when you can: It’s the “Fuming Open Letter to America”.

    Ash Kaul

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