Khaleda Khorsand is an Afghan author, human rights, and women’s rights activist. She was born in Kabul and now is living in Canada. According to her, since the age of 14, she has been secretly collaborating with human rights organizations in Afghanistan while she was a student.
We will read the Nimrokh interview with Khaleda Khorsand.
The issue of “rights” for women has faced historical and political complexities and resistance in Afghanistan. As it seems to us, demanding “right” for a being who has an unknown place in the historical, political, and customary context of society is not certain and natural.
Nimrokh: Would you tell us about yourself first: Your activities and concerns?
Khaleda Khorsand: I am a human being born and raised in war. A woman whose dream has yet been peace. I spent my childhood and adolescence under the constant shelling and firing of Mujahideen rockets in Kabul and the Taliban’s ignorance in Herat. During the Republic, I left my country.
I do not consider myself a full-fledged person. Everything our generation did was small and inadequate. That’s why I do not consider myself honored. I do not like to talk about “self”. I do not value the university document, my long journalistic and literary activities, and my feminist struggles.
I loathe the showcases of empty heroes and the stages that create swollen, lazy “egos.” Because the signs and symptoms of the disorder, vulgarity, and destruction have been provoked and they have taken all this instead of becoming stronger, wiser, and more responsible. Some call such an approach pessimistic; But is it possible to see all this destruction, misery, and recurring reaction, but remain blind and do not realize that all forms of corruption are members of each other and in creation from one essence…
“Strength” is my favorite concept, no wonder; Because being a woman is tantamount to experiencing life, from fruitless struggle to be in a position of helplessness and weakness. But the way to become strong is not every way for me. I like the philosophy of ethics because it describes the path to responsibility and an ideology based on goodness and justice. Following Aristotle, I consider politics to be the highest transcendent human action. Of course, I borrow the definition of politics from Hannah Arendt: any human action performed to construct and create a role in the public sphere. All kinds of human activity emerge beyond the basic needs of human beings. (Quoted content)
Nimrokh: How should the issue of women’s rights and the violation of women’s rights in Afghanistan be pursued?
Khaleda Khorsand: Honestly, I can not answer this big question alone, or at least I do not claim to pay full attention to such questions. I humbly admit that what I am going to write is the result of my mind, knowledge, and experience.
Aside from providing public information on women and related issues, the very issue of “rights” for women has faced historical and political complexities and resistance in Afghanistan. As it seems to us, demanding “right” for a being who has an unknown place in the historical, political, and customary context of society is not certain and natural. In the natural state, human beings have a series of rights such as the right to life, the right to walk, the right to breathe, the right to eat, the right to satisfy their sexual instincts. But when it comes to civil and political rights, “right” and “duty and responsibility” are discussed together, and discuss the human condition in a state beyond the “natural state.” The civil and political rights of human beings are the product of a historical process of change, reform, and development. Practitioners and agents of modern civil and political rights are not Afghan egos.
Despite the country’s constitution and civil laws enforced in the courts, the pulse of popular relations in the vast human populations of Afghanistan’s geography is “custom” and “taboo”: a simple, primitive legal and moral order of primitive and tribal societies. I believe that custom and taboo have a one-way relationship with religion: the swallowing up of all religious values and laws that are compatible with the local and customary relations of primitive man. Humans create or adopt religious principles to protect their natural state. This is precisely why religious communities do not welcome change and development.
But women have been removed from the history of customary societies with very natural and principled tactics. As for females, there is no responsibility in society. The “Afghan woman” has no legal or civil definition, but has a customary definition: a creature to continue a generation, a male sexual instinct, and a low-wage worker who provides sexual and physical services in exchange for free food and shelter. It is possible to redefine and reform the traditional view of women by institutionalizing and creating democratic structures, to provide the basis for the role-playing and responsibility of all human beings in the public arena. We need to come to a deep understanding of social relations that the importance of rule of law, democratic goals, and values as the provider of gender justice if is not more than the school of feminism itself, is no less.
We mistakenly think that civil and political rights can be observed by a traditional and taboo-based society, and we take this demand very obviously.
Nimrokh: The Taliban is a radical group in the field of political religion. In your opinion, what will be the consequences of this kind of view on the people, especially the women of Afghanistan?
Khaleda Khorsand: Disaster, a total disaster!
The general and total political domination of the Taliban will lead to the closure of relations in the society and the intensification of domination and coercion over the weaker gender, ethnic and linguistic groups. Women will first be completely removed from public activities due to their gender and returned to their historical and traditional place. In other words, women’s social life ends. Women’s economy is shrinking and their dependence on men is increasing. Lack of social and economic activities increases the “free time” in girls’ lives, and as a result, the child_marriage increases, and traditional hobbies such as housekeeping, cooking, and household chores become inevitable for women. Men, as always, will benefit from the opportunity most.
Domestic violence, coercion, threats, and intimidation to subjugate and use the body and power of women will increase and tensions between men and women will be intensified. In the absence of an equal law capable of regulating the relations between men and women in the family and society, “privacy” in the traditional definition of patriarchy will penetrate from the margins into urban relations, closing the doors of the home and society to women. Women may once again be doubly oppressed because of belonging to a particular ethnic, linguistic, and regional group, such as Tajiks from Herat, Panjshiri, Badakhshi, Uzbek, and so on. In such a way that all legal and governmental support is withheld from them and they are strongly pushed into the traditional ethnic groups and populations. The long years of war have created a special and very sad situation in Afghanistan that the Taliban, with their presence, completed this scenario of terror and backwardness. Women became the victim of war due to their weakness once again.
Religion in general and “political religion” in particular have been major challenges in the discourse of Afghan modernity (if it has been accepted with some generosity that such a discourse exists). An issue that I think the dimensions of its destruction and influence have not yet been properly identified and addressed. Politicians and intellectuals have usually been either religious or completely anti-religious. But these neutral interactions do not work to fully address the effects of religiosity on people’s relations. Such a thing is difficult to believe, but you should know that showing an anti-religious position, due to its dialectical nature, causes more resistance and religiosity. Contemporary historical events in the country and the world are examples of this claim: The Islamic State of the Mujahideen was the result of the behavior and ideology of the communist government in Afghanistan. The same thing happens in another form when we are in constant interaction and adaptation with religion. In such a way as to magnify the reality of the role and influence of the phenomenon of religion and to prevent the confrontation of “reason” with “faith”. Both types of behavior are sterile in terms of creating a discourse of constructive change and interaction, condensing or provoking existing contradictions. The historical method in the West of the world, the lands, and the people who were able to free themselves from the shackles of religion as a political institution shows that the critique of religion, along with the field struggle, requires the production of modern logic.
Western philosophy helped the “wise man” to emerge against the “religious man.” New movements such as the feminist movement, the black movement, the anti-war movement emerged based on these same philosophical and political teachings and succeeded in reviving the public sphere and creating new relations through persistent struggle.
Unfortunately, the barren discourse of intellectuals and modernity in Afghanistan has provided a continuous and painful opportunity for the return of religious hegemony and Islamic rule in the country. In the presence of such a discourse gap, religion returns to the public sphere and invades it each time with a new achievement. The fact is that the Taliban, riding on ignorance and misunderstanding of intellectual movements, undemocratic governments, and powerless social movements, got the opportunity to grow on the battlefield and in society. The violent and dominant presence of this group, no matter how short or long last will have long-term and profound consequences on the history, politics, and relations of the people.
Nimrokh: What are your view on the ideology of Taliban radicalism, women’s protests, and recent events in Afghanistan?
Khaleda Khorsand:I consider it my moral duty to begin this part of the conversation by paying tribute to the fighting girls of Herat, Kabul, Mazar, and others. Aware and courageous women who were able to mark a turning point in the history of women’s struggles in Afghanistan. The resistance and fight of these brave women were so real and true that they were able to remove the bitterness and despair from the fake and catastrophic presence of the false claimants of women’s rights in the past years, however for a short time. These women were able to rightly and proudly establish themselves and fulfill their citizenship responsibilities at the beginning of the popular protests that have erupted since the Taliban entered the cities. I think the glorious and historic turn of this small but powerful movement towards the people and the demands of the people was the turning point of this movement. Let us remember that these women inherited a demanding, speechless, hateful speech, full of misunderstanding and detachment from the people, and unrealistic, utilitarian, and unfortunately thieving and corrupt actions that were molded instead of a practical and desirable discourse of women’s rights. It is no exaggeration to say that for the first time in the history of women’s struggles in Afghanistan, this movement was able to redefine and represent independent identity, civic responsibility, and the strength of women’s legal and value discourse in society.
That’s what struggle means! That you can appear stronger and greater than your fears, threats, tortures, interests, and even yourself. As the horror of the scariest and terrorist military group of the century falls in front of your eyes and the world. I am not sure that the true path of the fighters will continue under the unbridled tyranny of the Emirate, But I’m sure history can not forget this period of four to six months of women resisting in the streets and dreaded Taliban prisons. The way to freedom is pleasant!
I consider the character of women fighters in the recent events real, with a strong argument: the Taliban and Talibanism are the most serious and real danger and the problem of Afghan society today. The Taliban are defined as groups and organizations that seek to gain institutional authority over religion and to dominate religious teachings in all areas of the human biological world. The long-held dream of these groups is to politicize Islam. Simply put, “political Islam”, which is a consequence of extremism and dogma, seeks to revive traditional Islamic statehood by seizing power. These governments lack the maximum democratic values and stop the realization of citizens’ rights and, in general, free and democratic interactions in the public sphere. Meanwhile, long and erosive wars, corruption, and the inability of the ruling class disrupted the modern state-building process. The politically corrupt class with strong ethnic tendencies hindered political institutionalization and spread discrimination and injustice among other ethnic groups and social classes. It was in this context that the Taliban gained the opportunity to revive themselves and, after terrorizing and killing defenseless people, achieved government and military victories.
The Taliban returned with the war. They developed in the war and carry deep layers of violence, terror, bigotry, and brainwashing into society and the state. This group, under their Islamic Emirate, is pursuing a strategy of intimidation, violence, and elimination with all its might. Women are once again confronted with a ruthless ideological group whose least concern is the discourse of gender equality and the greatest degree of hostility and their treatment of the values and principles of equality.
Nimrokh: How do you compare the last 20 years and the role of women in the Republican period?
Khaleda Khorsand: Unfortunately, the last twenty years, including the period of what you call a Republic, are nothing but a burning opportunity on a large and unbelievable scale. We stand at a place in the history of the country where our houses, streets, alleys, and towns and villages have once again been captured by the enemy; The enemy whose return was unimagined. If we stop projecting blame on this and that country far and near, a large part of the responsibility for this “tragedy of the century” falls on ourselves and our failures. For example, I would like to point out some gaps and weaknesses in the discourse and strategy of women’s movements in the country.
New movements such as the women’s movement are major agents of social change that are formed in response to crises or to strengthen the democratic infrastructure to identify and revitalize the public sphere. Women’s movements in Afghanistan were driven by the pursuit of democratic values such as social rights and freedoms; But in the field of recognizing crises, discourse identification, and helping the people, new realms of meaning in social life remained neglected. For example, we know that spreading “dissatisfaction” is an important principle for the success of any women’s movement. In other words, movements must be able to raise the issue of women to the level of national discourse as public discontent.
In the existence of institutions and structures of patriarchal power that always deny the suffering and inequality of women in society, the mobilization of public opinion to create empathy and understand the inferior status of women is extremely important. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding of the sensitivity and importance of this structural principle in women’s movements led to the emergence of an exclusive and centralized (Kabule-centered) narrative that did not include the views, strategies, and roles of other women in the country. It may not be an exaggeration to say that during all the years that women’s populations had to be mobilized across the country and rallies were to be formed, some women in the center were monopolizing and taking the women’s discourse hostage. On the one hand, the discourse was reduced by ill-considered approaches to a situation of intense confrontation and conflict with people in cyberspace, and on the other hand, the operative forces of this official narrative (project officials) were given a great opportunity to manipulate, pity and want to get the millions of dollars that have flowed to Afghan women to improve their living conditions. In the foreword of the book “The Second Sex”, Simone de Beauvoir, author of a classic but important feminist book, makes a subtle but serious warning: … If the subject of women seems so futile, it is because male arrogance and pride have turned it into a controversy; “When a person starts arguing, he no longer argues well.”
Unfortunately, the legal and justice-seeking discourse of Afghan women has in many cases been embroiled in this futile “controversy” in seminars, meetings, and virtual pages of women’s rights activists, which has intensified the confrontation and alienation between public opinion and the real suffering of women but bolded some individuals. Last week, I listened to the conversation of Ms. Diva Patang, the Taliban’s defender abroad. An extremely weak, ruthless, and crooked woman! But the character of “Diva Patang” has already been shaped. When such projective, superficial, and irrelevant figures could wrap up their long-form copies of politics, government, society, women, and the family on behalf of or in support of a corrupt Republic. The first function of such agents is to design a society that does not have the power to repel and purify and reproduce the waste of previous periods.
This is a wide-ranging debate. Apart from the inadequacies and strategic mistakes I have pointed out, there are serious criticisms of the type of leadership and ideologies of the official narrative and the center of women’s discourse, which I leave for another time so that my speech does not last long.
Nimrokh: You are an author and as a women’s rights activist, why have women been so diminished in our indigenous and national culture and their motifs moving towards a patriarchal outlook?
Khaleda Khorsand:Perhaps we should ask ourselves why women should have a better cultural and social status than they do? What serious work and what mature intellect, except in a few cases, in this geography has so far been able to write two practical paragraphs about the relationship between the subject and the object of Afghanistan: this long-standing relationship of male domination and female subjugation? Tradition, religion, power, government, and political relations educate women and force them to praise the superior role of male subjects; Because this hierarchy of power is essential for the stability and permanence of the traditional order, which is the only order established in our society. Culture encompasses all the spiritual relations of society. Inspired by feminist historians, I use the term culture to refer to the broad comprehensiveness of values, institutions, and relationships that address the social, familial, and moral lives of people, especially women.
This view of culture enables us to discover a great deal of information about women’s lives and to understand how the general life of women in our culture and country is confined to the Minister’s house, the name of “subculture” has been devalued. The dominant view considers a woman to be a creature devoid of valuable emotions and experiences, constructive love, and the ability to discover unknown realms of the mind. It is as if she has no value or honor beyond the natural role of childbearing.
While the population of women is as large as that of men, their cultural presence is deliberately diminished: visible or masculine culture and invisible or feminine culture. In closed and traditional societies like Afghanistan, the gap between men’s and women’s roles is filled by the alienation, denial, humiliation, and elimination of women. Men have no access to the empirical, emotional world of women; On the contrary, in the feminine world, men have been introduced as superior and true role models for praise and obedience.
Although I do not like to have an idealistic view of the objective realities of the poor and captive society of the war in Afghanistan, I want to say that all the causes and realities of the society such as poverty, war, illiteracy, and religious ignorance; Strengthens and perpetuates oppression and domination of women. It is the moral duty of each one of us to speak out and expose the historical suffering and denial of women in all circumstances.
Translated by: Jahan Raha