Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Update from Afghanistan: The Taliban's War on Schoolgirls

Here's a disturbing piece from Newsweek's International Edition on the Taliban's campaign in Afghanistan to turn back the clock on the country' s educational revolution. Check it out:

Summer vacation has only begun, but as far as 12-year-old Nooria is concerned, the best thing is knowing she has a school to go back to in the fall. She couldn't be sure the place would stay open four months ago, after the Taliban tried to burn it down. Late one February night, more than a dozen masked gunmen burst into the 10-room girls' school in Nooria's village, Mandrawar, about 100 miles east of Kabul. They tied up and beat the night watchman, soaked the principal's office and the library with gasoline, set it on fire and escaped into the darkness. The townspeople, who doused the blaze before it could spread, later found written messages from the gunmen promising to cut off the nose and ears of any teacher or student who dared to return.
The Taliban's campaign of intimidation didn't work, and within days school authorities had the schools up and running again. Nooria, the Afghani student mentioned above, is committed to her education, and is working hard to become a teacher herself:

Schoolgirls need that kind of courage in Afghanistan. Unable to win on the battlefield, the Taliban are trying to discredit the Kabul government by blocking its efforts to raise Afghanistan out of its long dark age. They particularly want to undo one of the biggest changes of the past four years: the resumption of education for girls, which the Taliban outlawed soon after taking power in 1996. "The extremists want to show the people that the government and the international community cannot keep their promises," says Ahmad Nader Nadery of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Today the Ministry of Education says the country has 1,350 girls' schools, along with 2,900 other institutions that hold split sessions, with girls-only classes in the afternoon. (Coeducation is still forbidden.) More than a third of Afghanistan's 5 million schoolchildren are now girls, compared with practically none in early 1992. In the last six months, however, Taliban attacks and threats of attacks have disrupted or shut down more than 300 of those schools.
Stories like this remind us why we fight. Defeating terrorism also entails rooting out the violent radical fundamentalist ideologies that perpetuate such gender apartheid. Afghanistan's treatment of women is one of the key topics in my Introduction to Comparative Politics course. I schedule every semester a writing assignment around the presentation of the film, "Osama," a film by Afghan-born director Siddiq Barmak. The story's an incredibly compelling portrayal of life in Afghanistan before the U.S. toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. The film received widespread critical acclamation. See, for example, two glowing (and sympathetic) reviews here and here.

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