ARM THE AFGHAN WOMEN
by Wendy McElroy <email@example.com>
Special to TLE (The Libertarian Enterprise #149)
It is commonplace to assume that toppling the Taliban will free
Afghan women. But in an unstable country where soldiers celebrate
conquest by raping - and where there is currently no guarantee that
whatever form of government eventually assumes control will not be
equally oppressive toward females - women have to protect themselves
to remain free.
Afghan women need to exercise the right of self-defense, including
gun ownership. They also need to be recognized as a force of armed
resistance against oppressive regimes.
In the 1970's, Afghan women were among the most Westernized and
liberated in the Islamic world. Their pre-Taliban role as doctors,
bankers, lawyers, and teachers has been well documented. But almost
no attention has been given to the part they played as freedom
fighters against the Soviets, or to their potential for armed
resistance against future oppressors who may again try to hijack the
country as the new government takes form. Yet the evidence indicates
that many Afghan women would fight to protect themselves and their
In October 1996, the New Internationalist magazine interviewed Nooria
Jehan, a mother who joined the anti-Soviet mujahideen in guerilla
"I learned explosive techniques and began supervising and teaching
the younger men," Nooria recalled. "We would stick explosives and
detonators under the Russians' tables and chairs."
When asked what she would do if the women-hating Taliban captured her
city of residence, Kabul, Nooria said, "We will fight them as we
fought the Russians."
That is what some women have done. In the Nov. 12 Newsday,
journalists Matthew McAllester and Ilana Ozernoy quoted a woman named
Malika, a mother whose family lived on the Taliban front line of
Bagram just north of Kabul.
"At night I go up on the roof with my Kalashnikov [a Russian assault
rifle] and my hand grenades to protect my house," Malika declared.
As the journalists commented, the very existence of Afghan women who
take up arms suggests "a female population with more vitality and
self-confidence than is immediately apparent."
Armed resistance is emerging as a sub-theme of women in Islam. The Iranian
artist Shirin Neshat captured this in her acclaimed photographic series
"Women of Allah (1993-97)." Neshat was born into Westernized Iran. Exiled
during the Islamic Revolution, she returned to a nation in which women were
silenced. From Neshat's black-and-white photographs, women stare defiantly
past their veils, some of them holding guns. The photographs challenge
people to rethink their assumptions about the impotence of Muslim women.
Women behind the veil have been underestimated.
Yet, their feminist champions in America depict these women as unmitigated
victims who will not defend themselves. How can they ever be safe otherwise?
The women of Afghanistan already know that the collapse of the
Taliban will not remove their need for self-defense. In an appeal to
the United Nations, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of
Afghanistan (RAWA) openly referred to the Northern Alliance as
"looters and rapists." RAWA called factions of the alliance "criminal
This is why feminists who champion Afghan women by dwelling
exclusively upon their victimization and helplessness are doing them
a disservice. It is the same feminist logic that cries out against
rape while promoting gun control laws that would leave women
defenseless. The opposite of victimization is empowerment.
Afghan women must be able to defend themselves if their rights are to
be more than transitory. The solution may be as simple as the right
to buy a gun. Weapons are easily available in that region. Women may
need nothing more than the right to purchase a weapon - or the right
to accept arms and earmarked donations from pro-gun organizations.
Compassion for Afghan women and rage toward the Taliban is running so
high that donations marked for "self-defense" might well flow in the
same manner as donations for food and other relief - if such
donations are permitted to do so.
Theresa Loar, president of Vital Voices Global Partnership, which
promotes women's global rights, declares, "If we are going to go in
and rebuild Afghanistan and reverse the damage, we better not rely on
the guys with the guns to make the decisions."
The best defense against "guys with guns" is women with guns. This is
especially true if the woman is alone in her home, protecting her
daughter from rape or her young son from being kidnapped into the
But feminists are not offering Afghan women this option. Eleanor
Smeal, president of the left-wing Feminist Majority Foundation, urges
instead that women play a key role in reconstituting Afghanistan's
future government. But history has shown us that this will not be
enough. In 1964, Afghanistan adopted a constitution that included
universal suffrage and equality for women. Women assumed roles in
both the government and the judiciary, and constituted some 30
percent of Afghanistan's civil service. But active participation in
government didn't prevent the Taliban from shrouding them in burqas.
The ability to defend themselves might have.
Western forces cannot and should not patrol the streets of
Afghanistan to prevent violence against women. If these women are to
resume the Western advantages of having careers, freedom of speech
and representation in government, they must also assume the
responsibility of self-defense.
There is a saying: Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a
man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Give an Afghan woman the
right to own a gun and you protect her long after the current tragedy
has become old news. A gun in the hand of a mother who is protecting
her child may be the most humanitarian relief of all.
- - -
McElroy is the editor of Ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom,
Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual
Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women(McFarland, 1996).
She lives with her husband in Canada.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE is available at
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat May 11 2002 - 17:44:22 MDT