Voices from the Arab press: Taliban are remaking Afghan society in their image

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 PROTESTERS TAKE part in a march and rally in support of Afghan women’s rights in London, last November. (photo credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)
PROTESTERS TAKE part in a march and rally in support of Afghan women’s rights in London, last November.

The Taliban are re-engineering Afghan society in their own image

Asharq al-awsat, London, December 30

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Sadly, no one is going to do anything about the bomb dropped by the Taliban government’s minister of higher education, Neda Mohammad Nadeem, who announced a ban on all women’s education in the country. What will likely happen, is that Afghan women will face the worst period in the history of women’s rights in Afghanistan. 

Refusing to wear the hijab and sitting in mixed classrooms with men are two of the excuses used by Nadeem to justify the government’s decision. Despite condemnations from Islamic organizations, including that of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Taliban government refused to waiver. The sheikh explained that this decision “doesn’t represent Islamic law and contradicts the call of the Holy Koran.” The Afghan minister, however, stressed that his organization would not back down from its position, “even if they drop an atomic bomb on us.” 

The Taliban followed-up on this decision by expanding the ban to include employment in any foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), under the pretext of, “protest against these organizations’ noncompliance with the rules of Islamic dress.” This decision prompted three foreign organizations to suspend their work in Afghanistan, even though the disastrous economic situation in Afghanistan has only served to reinforce the importance of the role played by NGOs in distributing food rations and health care to marginalized groups. 

The Taliban’s recent moves can be understood in the context of three core motivations. The first is that the movement, like every other ideological organization, whether religious or secular, seeks to pursue what it believes an ideal new society should look like. It follows the example of countless parties in the East and West that decided to build their societies based on their own worldviews and philosophies. 

In Taliban society, there is no place for women outside the home. This is a ruling from which they have not deviated since they entered Kabul for the first time in 1996. It is not important whether the movement attributes this ruling to its own interpretation of Islam, or whether it derives it from the prevailing traditional and clan customs and values. Rather, the important thing is that it will be applied, even by force, if there is resistance from the Afghans themselves. 

 POPE FRANCIS met with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb at Sakhir Palace, south of Manama, Bahrain, in November. (credit: Yara Nardi/Reuters) POPE FRANCIS met with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb at Sakhir Palace, south of Manama, Bahrain, in November. (credit: Yara Nardi/Reuters)

Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that preventing women’s education comes in the context of a conscious social engineering process. 

THE SECOND point is that the circumstances in which the Taliban came to power, after their victory in a war that lasted 20 years, made the organization believe in its right to exercise power, based on a kind of revolutionary legitimacy that destroyed the foreign invaders and their local allies. Accordingly, the Taliban does not believe that anyone has the right to hold them accountable, especially among the foreigners who did not care when Afghan villages were being bombed by American planes, according to the words of one of the movement’s officials. 

The third point relates to Islamic State, which launches operations, some of which reach Kabul, in addition to separate attacks throughout Afghanistan. This forces the Taliban to compete in a bid to show the greatest possible extremism in the arena of interpretation of orders and prohibitions. This helps explain the news about disagreements within the Taliban leadership between the hard-liners and the moderates regarding measures against girls’ education. 

It goes without saying that the women of Afghanistan will be the victims of this competition. They are weak and easy targets for all extremists, from whichever camp they come. The heroic resistance shown by Afghan women, who are claiming their self-evident rights for work and education, stems mainly from the refusal of Afghan society to reform itself. Today, women bear the greatest burden in saving society and bringing it back from its coma to a long-awaited awakening. This is a very difficult task given the country’s history and the series of disasters that have befallen it for centuries and at every turn. –Hossam Itani 

Money, gifts, and subsidies

Al Qabas, Kuwait, December 29

Two international standardized exams – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) – are the best tools for assessing and monitoring trends in student achievement. All countries of the world participate in these assessments, especially for students in the fourth and eighth grades, or the fifth and ninth. In the most recent ranking published by these organizations, Kuwait ranked 77 out of 157 countries, placing it at the bottom of the list of Gulf countries, and lagging behind countries that are far less developed and rich. Kuwait also ranked 103rd out of 140 countries in the quality of primary education, as well as 88th in overall quality of higher education and training, 99th in mathematics and science education, and 86th in school management, according to the World Economic Forum. 

In the Global Competitiveness Report from 2015, Kuwait ranked 84th in terms of employee training, 81st in terms of internet connectivity in schools, and 112th in terms of specialized training services. Education expenditure in Kuwait, as a percentage of gross domestic product, reached 6.6% in 2020, the highest among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which spent an average of 4.8% on education. This is a really sad reality, especially as we know that nearly 70% of the education budget in Kuwait goes to cover administrative expenses, and only 30% goes to actual instruction.

What the “overwhelming and sane” majority do not know is that without distinguished education, a country cannot flourish, or have good medicine, good roads, acceptable morals, a secured future, sufficient jobs, decent housing, a serious government, respectable schools, and many other things. These poor scores are a result of governmental negligence over several decades. 

And yet, we haven’t heard a single reaction from those in academia who are well aware of the problems with education in the country, but instead, choose to join hands with our nation’s dark forces to legislate absurd laws. The reason for our decline in all areas, and the continuation of political crises, lies in the mismanagement of government funds, despite the availability of all the ingredients for success. But these representatives and other officials also know very well that proper administration will hinder their interests, and stop their constituents from supporting them. 

In short, law and order aren’t in their best interests. It is unfortunate that the “overwhelming majority” of the nation does not care much about the lack of good roads, does not care about the level of education, is not preoccupied with the ruin of government administration, and is not disturbed by the lack of jobs, housing, and security. Rather, they only want more cash benefits and an increase in salaries, gifts, and subsidies. – Ahmed Al-Sarraf 

The shah’s last ride

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, December 25

On the eve of January 16, 1979, the Shah’s plane was forced to fly for an extensive period over the countries neighboring Iran, in search of an airport that would allow it to land there. Everyone was shocked by the American (and Western) decision to abandon one of their most important allies and refuse to offer him asylum. 

The Shah and his wife left Tehran Airport, wracked with fears of an unknown future. The interesting thing is that the Shah himself piloted the plane, which was flying towards an unknown destination. Tired and sore from Washington’s betrayal, he remained in the air for a long time, looking for a country to receive him. In his book The Shah’s Last Ride, William Shawcross exposes the ugly face of Western policies, which betrayed the Shah despite his utmost loyalty to his Western allies, especially the Americans. 

When [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini overthrew the Shah, the West treated him with disdain, denial, and ingratitude; not as a loyal ally. Therefore, the Shah was on the move, from the time of his departure from Tehran, until his death in 1980; searching for a refuge where he could spend the rest of his life. 

There is no doubt that the Iranians who roam the streets of Tehran today, in search of liberation from the slavery of the mullah regime, are asking themselves – whether their condition today is better than it was during the rule of the Shah? Let me point to one criterion that covers the answer. Back in the days of the Shah, Iranians would spend their vacations in America and Europe, as visas were available to all those who sought them. Today, the Iranian people are trying to escape a death verdict, just as Western countries refuse to grant them visas or asylum. 

As for Iranian pilgrims, they were, until the beginning of the ill-fated revolution at the end of the seventies, the richest of all the Muslim pilgrims. Accordingly, all service providers in the Holy Cities vied for their attention. But today they are among the poorest and most disdained. America’s allies and friends have understood that Washington is closer to betraying and selling their friends, than it is to the preservation of partnerships and alliances. 

The unstable and unpredictable nature of American politics cannot be trusted, and countries must therefore support their own interests and build their political, economic, and security alliances without relying on America. Saudi Arabia, in its recent foreign, economic, and security policies, has shown a clear vision, based on its own experiences spanning three centuries of dealing with friends and enemies alike. They have also drawn on the experiences of others, including the Shah in Tehran and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who both believed the Americans. The latter said after witnessing Washington’s betrayal: “Those who cover themselves with the Americans will find themselves naked.” Therefore, Riyadh will not be a new Tehran simply waiting for the Americans to betray it.  –Muhammad Al-Saed 

Fatwa congratulating Christians on their holidays

An-Nahar, Lebanon, December 30

Al-Azhar is one of the major Islamic centers in the world. It is highly specialized, and within its walls, the fundamentals of the science of religion are studied. Many preachers and imams graduate from there each year. The center also issues fatwas – religious verdicts – affecting millions of Muslims around the world. 

A fatwa of the Iftaa Center in Al-Azhar, which was published on December 30, 2018, stated the following: “Islam called for the values of coexistence, tolerance, and respect, and raised its followers on these principles. Following Islam means having respect for others. Therefore, congratulating Christians on their holidays is an act of benevolence and honor.” 

Al-Azhar continued as follows: “The permissibility of congratulating Christians on their holidays is consistent with the purposes of religion and highlights tolerance and moderation. It’s common for leaders of Western and Christian countries to honor Muslim holidays out of respect. Every year, they host Islamic scholars and notable community leaders, for honorary celebrations of Muslim events. These celebrations don’t mean that the congratulator believes in the religious principles of the religious holiday he is honoring. When a Christian congratulates a Muslim, he doesn’t accept upon himself the prohibition to eat pork or drink alcohol. He doesn’t pray five times a day, fast in Ramadan, or commit himself to a pilgrimage in Mecca. Therefore, it would be equally absurd to say that when a Muslim congratulates a Christian for the new year, he accepts upon himself laws or principles contradictory to Islam. It must be known that offering peace or congratulations, as well as sharing condolences, with Christians, Jews, and others, has nothing to do with issues of faith or piety. There are tens of millions of Muslims who live and work in Christian countries. Is it wise to prevent them from congratulating their Christian colleagues and friends on one of their most important holidays?”–Sami Al-Nisf

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.