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[Nettime-bold] Re: Salon on RAWA
Ivo Skoric on Wed, 3 Oct 2001 17:03:08 +0200 (CEST)


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[Nettime-bold] Re: Salon on RAWA


It is interesting that RAWA deplores co-operation with Northern 
Alliance. I guess, scaled to the circumstances, of course, this 
would be comparable with the opinion that Women In Black in 
Belgrade have about Djindjic. But, Northern Alliance is the only 
available local military ally to the 'war on terrorism' within 
Afghanistan, so it will be hard to avoid co-operating with them. 
Although, naturally they may be just another nightmare from the 
human rights law point of view. The king, on the other hand, seems 
to be easily accepted by practicaly everybody - precisely because 
he is so remote and uninvolved, i.e. with no real power. This just 
outlines how difficult is going to be to bring sustainable peace to 
the region.

RAWA women are heroes, and should be given more official 
support globally. After all, it is the women in Afghanistan that are 
selected and targetted as a group for unique, collective and 
systematic persecution, and it is their cattle-like legal status which 
gives them certain paradoxical advantages - like being able to 
cross borders with no documents. It is hard to believe that the 
world had to wait for the WTC disaster to happen, to begin realizing 
what kind of psychotic puppet regime Al Qaeda installed in 
Afghanistan to protect its venture. Last time we've seen anything 
that "off" was with Khmer-Rouge.

That Taliban official in Salon article - he was their 'foreign minister' 
the BBC special said - and when asked why the stadiums are used 
for public executions he acused the West for not leaving them any 
other appropriate facilities. I think I noted that in one of my previous 
messages.

ivo  


Date sent:      	Tue, 2 Oct 2001 07:05:08 -0400
Send reply to:  	International Justice Watch Discussion List
             	<JUSTWATCH-L {AT} LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
From:           	Laura Rozen <LauraRozen {AT} COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject:        	Salon on RAWA
To:             	JUSTWATCH-L {AT} LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU

Salon published an interview today with a member of the underground Afghan
opposition women's ngo, RAWA, by phone from Pakistan. The group has filmed
atrocities and more general oppression by the Taleban using smuggled in
video cameras, runs an underground network of schools for girls, etc. One
interesting thing the Rawa member tells Salon is that they oppose the
Northern Alliance the US has just pledged covert assistance to, calling it
"another Taleban." They do however support the former king, exiled in Rome,
who the US is trying to get into a coalition with other opposition-to-the
Taleban forces.

The Taliban's bravest opponents
An underground resistance of Afghan women risks torture and execution to
alert the world to the regime's atrocities. One freedom fighter tells Salon
her story.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Janelle Brown

Oct. 2, 2001 | The film footage is wobbly and blurry but stunning: A soccer
stadium in Afghanistan is packed with people, but there is no match today.
Instead, a pickup truck drives into the stadium with three women, shrouded
in burqas, cowering in the back. 

Armed men in turbans force a woman from the truck, and make her kneel at
the penalty line on the field. Confused and unable to see, the woman tries
to look behind just as a rifle is pointed against the back of her head.
With no fanfare whatsoever, she is shot dead. The shaky video camera
captures the cheering crowd as people rise to their feet, hoping to get a
better view of the corpse on the ground. The blue folds of the burqa begin
to stain red with blood. 

This public execution is some of the most shocking film ever seen on
television; it is perhaps the best document that the West has of atrocities
committed by the Taliban. It is just one part of an astonishing hour-long
documentary called "Behind the Veil," currently in heavy rotation on CNN.
Filmed by the half-Afghan BBC reporter Saira Shah, who traveled undercover
to Afghanistan last year, "Behind the Veil" neatly captures the horror of
life under the Taliban -- the public executions for infractions as minor as
prostitution or adultery, the brutality of fundamentalist police, the
slaughter of civilians unlucky enough to live on the front line of the
civil war with the Northern Alliance. 

In documenting life under the Taliban, Shah went into the homes of the
Afghan people and onto the battlefields, cleverly evading the Department of
Vice and Virtue, which would have thrown her in jail for filming illegally
(all unsanctioned filming is forbidden). She visited territory occupied by
the Northern Alliance, and visited a village where the Taliban had brutally
murdered dozens of civilians just weeks earlier -- a local wedding
photographer had filmed the scene as villagers buried rotting bodies that
had been scalped and mutilated. There, Shah also interviewed three teenage
girls whose mother had been shot dead by the Taliban. They were so
traumatized by the atrocities that the Taliban subsequently inflicted upon
them that two of them would no longer speak. 

But some of the most heartstopping footage in "Behind the Veil," including
film of the execution of the women in the soccer stadium, was captured not
by Shah but by an Afghani underground organization which assisted her in
her work. Indeed, Shah's documentary would not have been possible were it
not for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA),
an underground organization whose members risk their lives every day in
attempts to undermine the Taliban and publicize its brutality. 

RAWA was originally founded in 1977 as an Afghan feminist group focused on
women's rights, but its mandate broadened when fundamentalists rose to
power. Determined to expose the frightening abuses of the Taliban, women in
the group began to hide video cameras under their burqa and document the
executions and public floggings which take place every day under the
Taliban. They also smuggle female journalists like Shaila Shah and Eve
Ensler, writer/director of "The Vagina Monologues," into the country, in
hopes of bringing attention to their cause. In defiance of the Taliban's
law forbidding education for women, RAWA also runs clandestine home-based
schools for girls; for women, who are forbidden to work, RAWA teaches
handicrafts and sells them online. In the refugee camps in Pakistan, RAWA
also provides medical assistance, housing and education for impoverished
and terrified fugitives of Taliban rule. 

RAWA, the most prominent Afghan-run organization to oppose the Taliban, has
become one of the fundamentalists' greatest enemies. Perhaps the aspect of
the group most infuriating to its opponents -- and a surprising key to its
effectiveness -- is that it consists entirely of women, nearly 2,000 in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, who use the cover of their burqas and the seeming
powerlessness of their status to strategic advantage. 

By traveling with RAWA, Shah got a first-hand view of what it's like to be
a woman living under the Taliban, and she was invited into RAWA's secret
schools and illegal meetings. She also got access to its library of video
footage -- which includes not just the film of the execution of the women,
but footage of the public hanging of three men in the same soccer stadium.
(The soccer stadium was funded by international aid groups who wanted to
raise the spirits of the Afghan people; instead, the Taliban is using it
only for executions. One Taliban official told Shah that if the aid groups
felt that the stadium should be used for soccer, they should build the
Taliban an extra stadium for executions.) 

"Behind the Veil" was filmed long before the attacks of Sept. 11, and,
according to RAWA members, the situation in Afghanistan has since become
more dire. Because the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan have
closed, the Afghani people are now trapped in their own country -- enduring
the oppressive rule of the Taliban while waiting for U.S. bombs to drop
from sky. RAWA, meanwhile, says it is running out of money and can't afford
to educate, feed and treat the millions of refugees massed along the
border. The Pakistani police, which are sympathetic to the Taliban,
regularly target RAWA members; and since communication with Afghanistan has
been cut off, the RAWA members in Pakistan know little about what is
happening to their members across the border. 

In a telephone interview from Islamabad, a 26-year-old member of RAWA,
identified only as "Fatima," spoke about RAWA's work in Pakistan and
Afghanistan, its position on war and the Northern Alliance, and its
"uncompromising attitude" toward fundamentalism. A seven-year veteran of
the group's dangerous brand of activism, Fatima is a member of the RAWA
political committee that has been trying to rally both Afghan women and the
international media to its agenda. 

What is your life story, and what do you do for RAWA? 

I'm from Kabul. I started to work with RAWA when I was 19 years old. There
has been war in our country for more than 23 years; my generation was born
with war, we've experienced just crimes, just blackness, just sorrow in our
country. We never saw happiness or democracy. I lived in shock, because
every day there were tragic stories in my neighborhood around me. 

When I was young I decided to do something about this. A lot of young girls
commit suicide because they are helpless and hopeless. But some, like me,
choose the way of struggle. We accept that we want to serve our people --
that this is the best way to bring justice to our country. 

When I was 20 years old, I left Afghanistan; my job for RAWA was to come
here to Pakistan and work in the refugee camps. I had to cross the border
often and go back into Afghanistan to organize women for demonstrations;
and to bring RAWA's publications into Afghanistan. We would go secretly and
without documents -- no one asks you for them because you are a woman. I
wear the burqa then, because this is the only visa required for women to
enter Afghanistan for women. When I cross the border, no one can know that
I am in RAWA. 

Why do you use the pseudonym "Fatima"? 

We all use different names all the time, because we have a lot of security
problems. Our leader Meena and her bodyguards were assassinated in Pakistan
in 1987 by the Islamic fundamentalists and the KGB. Our members are always
attacked and injured -- we receive death threats by e-mail and letters and
telephone, telling us to stop what we are doing or they will kill us. So we
are working clandestinely in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan we are
half-secret. 

Have you ever been personally attacked by the Taliban? 

I was flogged three times in the streets, for stupid reasons. They will
flog women that don't have the veil on, or aren't with their male relative,
or are talking to a male shopkeeper, or are out on the streets during the
evening. There are always people sobbing in the streets because they are
being beaten. This is normal. 

In Pakistan in 1999, I was injured at a RAWA demonstration. Pakistan is one
of the countries that officially recognizes the Taliban government; so when
we take our anti-Taliban slogans into the streets, they try to stop us.
During the demonstration, we were fighting -- we wanted to go in front of
the United Nations building; but the Pakistani police wanted to stop us.
During the fighting, they beat me and broke my hand. 

What has been RAWA's most crucial activity in Afghanistan? 

We teach hundreds of women and children in the underground schools in
Afghanistan. For children, we teach mathematics, physics, chemistry,
Persian, science, social studies and the history of Afghanistan; also, the
geography of the world. For women, we just teach them two main subjects --
mathematics and Persian. When our women go to the shops, they don't know
how to pay the shopkeeper and get change, because they haven't had an
education. 

We also bring in video cameras to expose the crimes of the Taliban. It's
risky work. We filmed the execution of the women that you saw in "Behind
the Veil." Also, we've filmed hangings in Kabul and several other cities,
taken pictures of Afghans who have had their hands cut off for stealing, or
their necks cut. There are photos on our Web site. 

We make a hole in the burqa and film through it. That's why the quality of
our films is very bad; it's very difficult. No one has ever been caught
doing it; but execution is the only punishment if you get caught,
especially if the Taliban knew we were RAWA. 

What are you doing in the refugee camps in Pakistan? 

We have schools for girls in the fugitive camps; but in some we have
problems because of the influence of the fundamentalists. We have
handicraft projects for women; we run chicken farms, a jam-making business
and carpet weaving projects. We also have mobile medical teams that go in
to the camps one or two days a week to give free medicine. We had a
hospital called Malalai, but it closed because of our financial problems;
one of our very urgent projects is to reopen it. 

What are your feelings about the attack on America? 

We are so sorry for the victims of this terrorist attack. We want to shower
them with deep solidarity. We can understand their sorrow because we also
suffered this terrorism for more than 23 years. We were already victims of
this tragedy. 

On the other hand, unfortunately, we warned the United States government
about this many, many times; as well as the other countries that are
supporting and creating the fundamentalist parties. They helped create
these terrorists during the Cold War; they supported Osama bin Laden
[during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan]. Fundamentalism is equal to
terrorism; it's equal to crime. We said, this germ won't just be in
Afghanistan, it will spread out all over the world. 

Today we can see this with our own eyes. We warned them but they never
listened to our cry, to our voice. 

How is the crisis in America affecting your work at RAWA? 

Thousands of families are escaping from Afghanistan, leaving everything
behind because they are afraid of war. Thousands of others that are living
in Afghanistan don't have the possibility to immigrate here; and now, even
the borders are closed. That means that our people have to burn in the
flame of war and all the doors are closed. 

In fugitive camps it's really hard to work, especially hard because
millions of fugitives have just arrived. They are in shock, and have
nothing but themselves and the clothes on their back. I met a family
yesterday that wanted help from RAWA, they cried and said they walked
through the mountains because the border was closed. Their child fell down
the mountain and died, but they couldn't stop because they had to escape. 

Our people escape from Afghanistan because of the fear of killing and rape
and torture, but they will die in the refugee camps because of lack of
food, jobs and healthcare. Even here the situation is not good. We are in a
crisis in the camps; thousands have contacted us for help and we don't know
how to help them. At every moment they want their children to be in our
orphanages or our schools; they want a house, medicine -- they need
everything, and we have no money. 

Also we are so worried about our members inside Afghanistan, about their
lives. 

Are you concerned about a war with the United States? 

We are condemning an attack of the U.S. on Afghanistan, because it won't be
the Taliban but our people who will be the victims. The United States
should decry these terrorist groups in Afghanistan; but not through an
attack. Maybe through commando attacks, though. We do want the United
Nations to be more active -- their rule is very important in this moment. 

We also want to convey a message to the American people that there's a
difference between the people of Afghanistan and the criminal government of
Afghanistan. There is a river of blood between them. 

Do you support the Northern Alliance? 

We condemn the cooperation of the United States with the Northern Alliance.
This is another nightmare for our people -- the Northern Alliance are the
second Taliban. 

The Northern Alliance are hypocrites: They say they are for democracy and
human rights, but we can't forget the black experience we had with them.
Seventy-year-old grandmothers were raped during their rule, thousands of
girls were raped, thousands were killed and tortured. They are the first
government that started this tragedy in Afghanistan. 

What government do you support, then? 

We are ready to support the former king. It doesn't mean that the king is a
very ideal person for us. But in comparison to the fundamentalist parties,
we prefer him. The only condition we have for the king is that he must not
cooperate with the Northern Alliance. 

What does RAWA need right now? 

We are in a very bad financial condition. We need anything we can get --
for our mobile team, for medicine, for our schools. Maybe $1 is nothing for
them, but for us it means a lot. To run our struggle with empty hands is
impossible for us. 

Do you want to go back to Afghanistan? 

I miss Afghanistan very much, it's my country. I love my city and my
country a lot. I am a fugitive here. Whenever there is peace in Afghanistan
we will never go to another country -- we will go back to rebuild
Afghanistan and experience good days, I hope. 


- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Janelle Brown is a senior writer for Salon. 

Sound  


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