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Shameful Silence

Where is NOW when you need it?

4:59 PM, Aug 6, 2010 • By KENNETH G. DAVENPORT
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The cover of Time magazine shows the shocking image of a young Afghan girl named Aisha who was disfigured when her husband sliced off her nose and ears. But rather than serve as an example of intolerable spousal abuse, this is instead a sample of the Taliban's justice: Aisha’s husband was acting with the sanction of the local Taliban commander who served as judge and jury for her crime of fleeing her abusive husband and in-laws, who beat her regularly and treated her “like a slave”. 

Aisha’s case is not part of a dark past under the Taliban rule of a decade ago.  Rather it is an example of a disturbing present where sharia justice is being meted out against women in the most brutal of ways. And it isn’t just happening in Afghanistan. Take the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43 year-old widow and mother of two boys who was initially sentenced to “death by stoning” in Iran for having an “illicit relationship” with a man. After a public outcry, word came in mid-July that the stoning would not take place.  But before anyone rejoices in Iran making a concession to a modern value system that doesn’t punish behavior that in any other culture would not only be perfectly legal but socially unremarkable, Ashitani’s death sentence remains in force.  Now she will likely be hanged for her crime instead.

American feminists have been eerily silent on both of these cases – which may seem strange given their mission to ensure equality for all women.  For example, a quick perusal of the website for the National Organization for Women  (tagline: “taking action for women’s equality since 1966”) shows little on the plight of Afghan women and nothing at all on the Ashtiani case. There are headlines for NOW’s support of paycheck fairness, plaudits to a new law addressing the safety of native American women, a plea to speak out against “anti-abortion terrorism” and a call for Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. But the case of an Iranian woman being sentenced to death by stoning for adultery?  Nothing. NOW’s one concession to the issue of Afghan women is in the “Take Action” section -- which includes a single entry entitled “Afghan women and girls need our help.”   This entry advocates passage of the Afghan Women Empowerment Act (AWEA) recently introduced in the U.S. Senate by Barbara Boxer (D, Calif.).  According to NOW, the AWEA will “fully commit the U.S. government in helping advance the rights and well-being of Afghan women” by increasing access to schools, hospitals and other types of aid. 

All of which makes perfect sense – if you live on the moon.  NOW conveniently ignores the fact that none of the benefits provided by the AWEA will be possible to administer if the Taliban return to power, and that the U.S. and Coalition war effort is the most vital mission protecting the rights of Afghan women and girls. Barbara Boxer was one of 18 senators to vote for an amendment to establish a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Missing in this logic is how all these aid organizations might function under Taliban rule -- where humanitarian “infidels” are routinely beheaded or shot en masse at the local soccer stadium.  But why get bogged down in such pesky details?

Kenneth Davenport runs a management consulting firm and has taught political science at Colorado State and Chapman University.

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