In general, I have steered away from political topics in this blog, believing that there are plenty of better-informed commentators, a plethora of varied opinions out there, and adding my voice would bring little gain. But I woke up this morning needing to make a gesture of solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan. I am painfully aware that this is nothing more than a gesture.
Today, my first contact with the media informed me that Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, had fallen to the Taliban over the weekend and that the elected president had fled the country. I heard this at about 8:50 a.m. while working out in my retirement community’s fitness room, wearing yoga tights and a short-sleeved tee-shirt, earbuds connected by Bluetooth to my iPhone. The BBC interviewed an Afghan women’s education activist about the Taliban’s takeover, asking her if she feared for her life. From hiding, her response was not alarmist. On the contrary, she was trying to keep an open mind but spoke about her worry for women university students and those working outside the home. The dramatic contrast in our circumstances could not have been more apparent.
The situation in Afghanistan is complicated and hard to understand. The history of the country and the Taliban’s role there is murky and confusing. I’ve gained superficial knowledge from news reports on NPR and Khaled Hosseini’s novels Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both sources demonstrate the Taliban’s inhumane actions toward women and children—at least from my perspective. Likewise, the United States’ relationship to Afghanistan, its military and political activities in the country, its withdrawal of forces, and the effects of its influence are widely debated. I know two American veterans who have served there. One lives with PTSD, and the other has severe physical injuries. I wonder what they were thinking this morning about the Afghans they have known and the suffering they have seen.
I can do nothing practical to affect the situation in Afghanistan. Yet, my heart is filled with sadness and fear today for the approximately 14 million females living there, half the country’s population. Like women and children worldwide, they are disproportionately harmed by war, persecution, and violence. Taliban rule will profoundly and adversely affect their lives.
I am immensely grateful for the privileges I currently experience and conscious of how fragile these advantages, protections, and freedoms are everywhere. My respect and compassion for Afghan women—what they have suffered, fought for, and again lost—makes me want to scream, “Wake up!”
No nation, no ethnic group, no gender is exempt from the possibility of war, enslavement, physical and mental abuse, environmental disaster, or disease. The last seventeen months of global pandemic and accelerating natural disasters worldwide have made this dramatically clear. When my sister in Afghanistan suffers, I suffer. My fate is linked to hers, inextricably.
Wake up! Violence, discrimination, prejudice, and hatred are universal. See them for what they are and where they are in your life, in your presently sheltered and relatively safe little corner of the world. Relinquish complacency and self-delusion. Wake up, pay attention, be alert!