Desperate, Credit-Grabbing, Egocentric Spin

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times has an article about the breathtaking spectacle of Afghan women taking to the streets to protest a new law, passed by Afghanistan’s Parliament and signed by Hamid Karzai, that legalizes marital rape and in several other ways reduces Afghan women, essentially, to the status of chattel (go to BugMeNot for user id and password to bypass the NYT’s compulsory registration):

The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.

“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”

The women scattered as the men moved in.

“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”

The women ran to the bus and dove inside as it rumbled away, with the men smashing the taillights and banging on the sides.

“Whores!”

But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law’s repeal.
[…]
President Karzai, who relies on vast support from the United States and other Western governments to stay in power, has come under intense international criticism for signing the bill into law. Many people here suspect that he did so in order to gain the favor of the Shiite clergy; Mr. Karzai is up for re-election this year.

Responding to the outcry, Mr. Karzai has begun looking for a way to remove the most controversial parts of the law. In an interview on Wednesday, his spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said that the legislation was not yet law because it had not been published in the government’s official register. That, Mr. Hamidzada said, meant that it could still be changed. Mr. Karzai has asked his justice minister to look it over.

My two initial reactions to this report are (1) overwhelming awe at these womens’ courage; and (2) outrage that this law exists seven years after the U.S. supposedly “liberated” Afghanistan.

Spencer Ackerman, clearly struck by these points as well, asks (rhetorically), “What have you done recently that’s half as brave?” and asserts that U.S. aid to Afghanistan should be contingent on undoing the law — because, basically, we own this Pottery Barn:

… This is a U.S. client state, where U.S. influence is tremendous. To those who’d rejoinder that the U.S. shouldn’t interfere in Afghan governance, it’s worth remembering that this law didn’t exist until President Hamid Karzai fretted about losing an election scheduled for this summer.

Other responses to this news are similar. Damozel calls it “a courageous & dangerous act of protest.” Taylor Marsh also keeps the focus on the enormity of the risk these women are taking, and the fact that their courage is moving Afghanistan forward:

Their lives are at stake, so the bravery of the of who protested Karzai’s rape law really is stunning. By confronting the most powerful Shiite cleric in their country, not only have they made sure their voices are heard, but they’ve moved another step away from the Dark Ages.

And then there is Abe Greenwald at Commentary. Abe does not write one word about the amazing fortitude and valor shown by these hundreds of Afghan women. He does not write one word about how distressingly paradoxical it is that the U.S.-installed Afghan government is still treating women like property and persecuting and oppressing them seven years after the Taliban were driven from power.

No, sir. What Abe writes is that it’s all hail to America that the Afghans even are using the term “marital rape” now, and that, before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, that country would never have had a way to fix the problems with this law:

You can argue that the U.S. dropped the ball in Afghanistan if you like, but the following scene would have been unthinkable without the American commitment in that country over the last seven-plus years:

About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

To be sure, the law itself constitutes a human rights abomination, but prior to the U.S.’s toppling of the Taliban in late 2001 the very term marital rape was a misnomer. There was simply marriage. Rape (statutory, incestuous, plain rape, or some combination of all three) was a fundamental element of the “union” between man and wife.

Also unthinkable back then, was the means to redress the injustice:

Responding to the outcry, Mr. Karzai has begun looking for a way to remove the most controversial parts of the law. In an interview on Wednesday, his spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said that the legislation was not yet law because it had not been published in the government’s official register. That, Mr. Hamidzada said, meant that it could still be changed. Mr. Karzai has asked his justice minister to look it over.

Such a brazen perversion of truth is surely worth a round of applause.

Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.

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