This was written in 2005
Reading about the struggle for peace and freedom by the women of Afghanistan will probably bring you to tears. To see it in reality, is, on the other hand, extremely inspiring. Afghanistan has been a victim of over 25 years of continuous civil war and 8 years of immense oppression under the Taliban, where women were subjected to laws, under a religious disguise, which completely disregarded their worth and dignity as a human being. Some women I spoke to recounted stories of being beaten in public for showing merely their ankles’. There was another story of a woman who allegedly murdered her husband and was arranged to be executed in a football stadium. The boy who cleaned up later recounted that as she fell onto the ground in religious supplication for mercy, a bullet shot through her head, with her brains splattering all around her.
Travelling into Afghanistan was not without its problems. I was advised by 3 officers in 3 different embassies against non-essential travel. The Foreign and Commonwealth office rated Afghanistan an ‘extreme risk’ zone and my airline ticket was cancelled 3 weeks before departure for my ‘protection’. In addition, my mother said ‘no’ and when after the July bombings and calls for increased security of immigration, being the superstitious Asian that I am, I believed they were all signs from God not to go. *Laughs* But I was tenacious and persistent and even my poor Uncle gave up persuading me. My passion in women’s struggle, since 13years, particularly in Afghanistan perhaps intentionally made me oblivious to all the dangers of kidnapping, suicide bombings, and insurgent-fighting and I created the need to witness the country’s mishaps and beauty with my very own eyes. After 8 months of savings, a luggage full of men’s clothing, sweets, cereal, presents for the children, an Afghan visa stamped onto my passport, and a 50% chance that I might lose my luggage, I travelled from Singapore to England to Austria to Dubai and then to Kabul for the journey of my lifetime.
We arrived Kabul in the wee hours of the morning. By then I had been awake for close to 19 hours and though my eyelids were becoming heavier by the seconds, the inquisitive in me was too excited to miss the glimpse of the treacherous and prestigious mountains, over 7000 metres in height, that dominated the Afghan landscape. As we approached, an American funnily commented, ‘Osama could be gazing up into the skies right this moment’. I wondered then and there, did the world define Afghanistan with the name, ‘Osama’? And is Afghanistan merely a breeding ground for ‘Islamic terrorism’ and tyrannical Muslim clerics? Was there more to Afghanistan behind the veil that shrouded the mysteries of a once-beautiful land?
I spent many years seeking the truth of Islam. The one thing I failed to realise is in today’s pluralistic society truth is no longer defined by clarity and logic. What we perceive as the ‘truth’ lies in the frequency it appears to us. What is fed to us by the media defines our belief’s. It defined my belief. Up until Afghanistan showed me truth- that the Afghans did not support terrorism; that Muslims were not terrorists and if they were given the opportunity to voice out their struggle, they would correct the slander made about their people. I spent a lot of my time there ‘interviewing’ local people about their thoughts on Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, the Western occupation, the treatment of women under Islam and their hopes for the future. Their replies highlighted my pre-misconceptions, my confusion between religion and politics, and the huge failure on my part to examine both sides of the political situation.
I believe this is important, especially in a multi-racial and cultural society such as Britain where the ‘clash of civilisations’ as writers describe can have a stark impact on our lives. The social integration of Britain and the rest of Europe is dependent on our perspectives, for it precisely this which shapes the society. I was very critical, to the point of becoming rude, in my questions regarding terrorism amongst the local men. But my 18years of quality education seemed almost an insult in comparison to their experiences. Their perspectives truly enlightened me. I discovered that though the majority of Afghan men did not in any way support the Taliban or celebrate in victory of any mass killings of innocent people through suicide bombings, many of them were very angered by the hypocrisy of Western intervention and occupation. During the Soviet-Afghan war in the late 1970s, the U.S government under President Carter began to covertly fund and train anti-government Mujahideen forces, comprising of discontented Muslims and CIA-backed, Osama Bin Laden! The resounding success against the Soviet forces was an ideological victory for the U.S government. Their intention to remove Soviet influences in the vicinity of oil-rich Persia was accomplished. But the war that lasted for over 10years resulted in a mass exodus of 6 million Afghans (one of the largest recorded in modern history) who were forced to seek refuge in other countries. After the removal of Soviet forces, the U.S and its allies pulled out of the country and left the country war-devastated and alone to rebuild itself. This of course cannot justify terrorism but it can explain that terrorism has been bred for purely political reasons. Then why the spirit of ‘Islamic Jihad’? Using Islam is the best way for stirring up ‘nationalistic’ sentiments to create a world-wide movement against the West. In most Muslim countries, where poverty is endemic, their only hope is God. So when words and slogans that call to ‘fight for Islam’ is used, people will mobilise to act, they believe, ‘in the way of God’. Islam does not preach terrorism. But it is has been used as a stimulus for terrorism. So how do we counter this? The difficulty lies, as the men pointed out, in each other’s perspectives. Western forces see themselves as liberators and them as terrorists. But these Islamic terrorists see themselves as liberators and Western forces as terrorists. Now, it is up to us living in the midst of this clash to reconcile these differences.