Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Confronting Western misconceptions of Afghan society

The following opinion piece appeared in the PostGlobal section of WashingtonPost.com on December 19th, 2006. The writer, Sima Wali, is the President of Refugee Women in Development (RefWID). She is also LCHR’s Afghanistan consultant.

The West Quiets Afghan Women
Sima Wali - Although women have made major strides towards equality in the 21st century, we also see a lingering tendency in the West to restrain these advances around the world. Let's turn to history for a moment.

Often dismissed as an anomaly, Afghan civil society blossomed under King Amanullah from 1919 to 1929. Declaring his independence from Britain in his inaugural address, Amanullah's sought to abolish slavery, discourage the veil, empower women, and introduce secular education for girls. Afghanis generally accepted these reforms as in keeping with Islamic law.

But Britain's colonial gatekeepers opposed a secular, democratic Afghanistan. They, in the words of former U.S. Ambassador Leon Poullada, "saw a modernizing of Afghanistan as a threat to British rule in India since it offered an example of the kind of progress free Asians could achieve..."

Afghanistan is still viewed through a colonial lens. Despite real changes that have occurred during the last two centuries, the Victorian mentality -- immortalized by story-tellers like Rudyard Kipling -- obscures the many ways Afghanistan citizens strive for modernity.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, America's journalists reconstituted the old British myths of "fierce tribal Afghan warriors," and today this faux mythologizing is reaching new heights, burying the real yearnings of Afghanistan's people. The movie Charlie Wilson's War now being filmed in Morocco may well further engrain these powerful misconceptions in the psyche of Americans and the world.

Governments and civil society must work to overcome such false image making. We must demand a genuine, honest 21st century mythology from our storytellers. We must stretch our imaginations and construct images of a future that we can all live within. We must appreciate that most of Afghanistan's men and women yearn for modernity, not tribal war.

To access the full article on WashingtonPost.com, click here.


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