Everyday terror for Afghani women

August 28, 1998|By Tom Teepen

THERE'S MORE THAN one kind of terrorism in Afghanistan.

What will the world do when half of Afghanistan's population is put into virtual slavery? The prospect is imminent. The radical Taliban is within a relative few square miles and maybe only days of securing its rule all over the country.

When it does, a tyranny that is now broad will become universal, with a zealotry and absolutism that makes the ayatollahs of Iran's Islamic republic look like a fun bunch. The Taliban's fierce version of Islamic law falls on all of the population but by far the heaviest on the women.

Afghani women may go out in public only in an enveloping cloak with just a small grid open for sight. Their shoes must make no sound (so no man will be inflamed by thoughts of hidden high heels). Women in public must be accompanied by a male relative; one found with an unrelated man was stoned to death by religious rulers. Tailors who measure women for clothing are imprisoned.

Women in public violation of any edict are summarily beaten in the street by religious police using clubs or electric cables.

Little-educated in the past, Afghani women are now banned from all government schools. They may be educated only up to the age of 8, and then only in the Koran. They have been barred from most work. Now, even home vocational classes -- in sewing and weaving, for instance -- have been forbidden.

Afghani women have been shunted from hospitals to inferior clinics. One died because it was illegal for physicians to remove her clothing to treat her burns, lest the doctors become sexually excited even by charred nudity.

The rules of what passes for international law discourage intervention in the internal affairs of nations. Custom warns us against carrying our religious or cultural revulsions into over-strong state action; that way lie endless wars. And where does a difference in degree go over into a difference in kind? If the Taliban were penalized, shouldn't Saudi Arabia be punished, too, for its similar, if lesser, offenses to women?

Still, some abuses are so broad and so grave that the norms of restraint have to be questioned. Remember the million or more who died in Cambodia while the world stood off from the internal affairs of the murderous Khmer Rouge.

In Afghanistan, some 8 million women are having their very lives stolen, under religious cover.

U.N. agencies are pressing the Taliban clerics to soften their policies. Some nations will refuse to recognize the tyranny, including the United States. Secretary of state Madeleine Albright bluntly calls the Taliban "despicable."

But mere shunning can mean little to a regime that wishes to ward off modern life and anyway is receiving mixed signals from outside. International companies are competing there for natural gas rights with the easy amorality of main-chance commerce.

Afghanistan is making life for its girls and women almost literally a living hell. Can't appalled nations at least make life for the Taliban pretty much the same?

Tom Teepen is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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