I received an anonymous email the other day asking whether or not I could answer a critique posted online of my recent article on the strides women were making in Afghanistan after years upon years of oppression. I've always been willing to engage anyone who approaches me reasonably, and even most people who approach me unreasonably, so I clicked on through.
I must admit, however, I was quite taken aback by what I found. I was prepared for an attack on my character, abilities, intelligence, etc. What I was not prepared for was a vicious attack on long-suffering Afghani women.
To wit, here is how the writer begins his response to my recitation of Red Cross reports on treatment of women under the Taliban:
"I think this writer overreacted to the situation. Afghani women may have been subject to some heavy-handed treatment on a few occasions but overall, the women were not complaining. So, what was the problem?"
What's the problem? There's a big problem, son. The treatment of women under the Taliban's reign -- "rape, torture, murder, forced prostitution, or the public scarring, beatings and humiliation, all done with impunity," as I wrote last month -- are all universally accepted assessments by every civilized government in the world.
But the critic is not endowed with enough empathy or class to stick to base charges in the general. Instead, he feels compelled to attack the individual, including the following story I culled from an Amnesty International -- hardly shills for the American war machine -- report:
"They shot my father right in front of me," a 15-year-old Kabul girl told Amnesty investigators in 1994. "He was a shop-keeper. It was nine o'clock at night. They came to our house and told him they had orders to kill him because he allowed me to go to school. The Mujahideen had already stopped me from going to school, but that was not enough.
They then came and killed my father. I cannot describe what they did to me after killing my father..."
In the face of this horror story, the best analysis my critic can come up with is essentially a version of, "She was asking for it."
"Perhaps, there is another side to this story," he writes. "Important details are often left out by advocates of one political view or another. How did the 15 year old *know* it was 9 PM? Did she have a wristwatch on? Unlikely, for an Afghani woman. The story lacks some, um, authority."
Yes, maybe there is another side, although it's a stretch to call Amnesty International an "advocate" for the American side. I guess we'll never know since no one asked her father's killers or her rapists about their motivations. I made the mistake of thinking the murder and rape of civilians was generally wrong.
Sadly, this travesty doesn't end there. He addresses a second example I used in an even more crassly:
One night about five months ago [June 1994], armed guards came to our house [in Farah]. There were six to seven of them. They forced us to go to a corner of the room while they got hold of my husband. They kept beating him violently, saying he had been teaching girls at the village school. We all shouted for mercy but they did not stop. They then stood him in front of me and my four small children. One of them aimed a Kalashnikov at his heart and shot him dead. The guard then said he was going to stay in the house and marry me.
"Hmm, I thought the preferred method of policing was shooting (as in the previous example)," he writes. "Now, supposedly, it's beating, THEN shooting. Inconsistent. And the women doesn't actually say she *DID NOT MARRY* the guard. If she did, she may not testify against him, under Islamic law."
The die is cast. If it makes the Taliban look bad and, just possibly, the U.S. look good, then blame the victims. They are clearly expendable when someone's carefully nurtured anti-American viewpoint is at risk.
"Afghanistan *was* a sovereign state," he writes. "They didn't ask for any 'help.' They didn't ask to be invaded."
Well, that's debatable considering the Taliban were harboring the terrorist masterminds responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Nevertheless, statements like this are immaterial to the argument I made, which was, there's a chance that after two decades of war and fundamentalist rule, life is getting better in Afghanistan for women. I believe that to be true, but others can accept or reject that, but it is not reasonable to do so by being dismissive of the torture, rape, murder, and suffering of Afghani women or taking the side of theocratic fascists.
Like all pure partisans, my critic refuses to believe even the strongest evidence that may weaken his position, but will embrace the flimsiest piece that bolsters it. In this case, even eye witness testimony of Taliban atrocities leave him demanding, "Where is the PROOF?" But his own proof -- i.e., "Some women have said that it is *WORSE THAN BEFORE" -- does not quote an actual source or person.
"Mr. Macomber might try, instead of spewing distortions and caterwauling, try to report on the GOOD things in Afghanistan culture and society," he writes. "He seems quite the pessimist. Yet, he doesn't do the obvious: criticize the USA for its substantial part in the degradation of the culture in Afghanistan with respect to women. Macomber completely misses that part. That is hardly an accident."
The entire point of my article, actually, was that good things are happening in Afghanistan and lamenting that nobody was interested in reporting on them. If it's pessimism to mourn the past suffering of those who suffered at the hands of a brutal, patriarchal terrorist government, then I suppose I am a pessimist.
"Macomber may mean well but he is just a bit too inexperienced to provide any insights," he concludes.
Or maybe I'm just not interested in defending the theocratic fascists who ran one of the most oppressive regimes in the history of the world? If that's a lack of insight I'm curious what an enlightened position would be...I mean aside from brushing off the rape and murder of young girls by radical fundamentalists. I wonder what the author thought of Hitler's Brownshirts? Were they just misunderstood as well?
I will say this: Whether you were for or against the war with Afghanistan, there is literally no civilized reason to defend the Taliban government.
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