The women of Afghanistan
January 5, 2010 8:11 AM   Subscribe

87 percent are illiterate. 44 years is their average life expectancy. 70 to 80 percent face forced marriages.
posted by Joe Beese (72 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
87 percent are illiterate. 44 years is their average life expectancy. 70 to 80 percent face forced marriages.

But we're bombing Aghanistan as hard as we can. Don't they know we're already trying to help them?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:23 AM on January 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Previously.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:25 AM on January 5, 2010


Life expectancy is 44 for all Afghans.

Not that that makes it better.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:27 AM on January 5, 2010


Photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair has produced several stories on women in Afghanistan. Her body of work includes child brides to self-immolation.

FYI - the work is very hard to look at - especially the last one.
posted by photoslob at 8:29 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty damning; and appalling that women, or anyone, should be compelled to live this way against their will. For what? To pad the pockets and egos of individuals who have no interest in anything that is long-lasting and sustainable, but for their own warped ideas of what a culture is supposed to be? There is a limit to cultural relativism as far as I'm concerned. The minute that culture - any culture - limits the healthy growth of human capital through official or religious policy, is when that culture needs to be put to heavy task by the world community. Who's to say what's healthful? There are no perfect models, but lets draw the line and start with most modern developed nations, who admittedly have their faults, and are not perfect, but where individuals at least have more of a chance to realize themselves instead of being put under a rock their entire lives. I'm hopeful that world geopolitics will eventually evolve into a force for correcting these evils, but it will be a long time coming.
posted by Vibrissae at 8:30 AM on January 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


this is the only thing I think of when I read the words women of afghanistan
posted by infini at 8:30 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


That last link: th;dr (too heartbreaking).

Possibly Ignorant Question about the first link: With that kind of literacy rate, wouldn't the whole 'winning the hearts and minds' approach be almost doomed to failure? Given that rate I'm thinking that word-of-mouth would be the dominant way peoples' opinions are formed. So any goodwill programs to go into villages and spread the word about reconstruction efforts, police training etc. would soon have their effects negated by the next round of rumours spread by insurgents and their supporters. It would be very hard to keep any positive message in the minds of the people if you only show up once a month or so, and the rest of the time they are being given contrary messages in the market square.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:38 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't read the articles, but let me guess: Norfolk?

They don't get forced marriages. But after the next election they may get "encouraged" marriages via David Cameron's planned marriage subsidy.
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on January 5, 2010


44 years is their average life expectancy.

Life expectancy is 44 for all Afghans.


I find this exchange fascinating, however tangential it may be to the main point. Would we feel worse about the women's longevity statistic if it turned out that men had a longevity of, say, 52 rather than 44? Wouldn't that imply that equality is more important than net utility? Would we see it as progress if the average lifespan remained 44, but women's lifespan rose to 46 and men's dropped to 42? If we saw this as progress, would that be because Afghanistan would more closely resemble the longevity gap in the US and Europe? Is the ideal state of affairs for men and women to have equal lifespans, or is it just as good for women to have more longevity than men?
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:46 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is the ideal state of affairs for men and women to have equal lifespans, or is it just as good for women to have more longevity than men?

The ideal state is for everyone to live as long and as good a life as possible, or at any rate as long and as good a life as they wish. If it turns out (as it often does in developed countries) that women live longer than men in this situation, fine. If the other way round, also fine. It isn't a competition.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2010


87 percent are illiterate. 44 years is their average life expectancy. 70 to 80 percent face forced marriages.

I'm going to pretend, just for a minute, that we invaded Afghanistan to forward women's rights. That women were something worth fighting for. Every school a new front opened, every house a battle, every women a hill to capture.

It's not true. Though.
posted by Sova at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The ideal state is for everyone to live as long and as good a life as possible, or at any rate as long and as good a life as they wish. If it turns out (as it often does in developed countries) that women live longer than men in this situation, fine.

You're assuming that in developed countries, people generally get to live "as good a life as they wish"? Wow, sounds great.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:54 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jaltcoh: "Would we feel worse about the women's longevity statistic if it turned out that men had a longevity of, say, 52 rather than 44?"

For whatever reason, women in non-hellhole countries tend to live longer than their male counterparts. So if Afghan men lived considerably longer than Afghan women, I would consider the disparity symptomatic of the general oppression of women there. (Just as the shorter lifespans of African-Americans is symptomatic of the general oppression of them here.)
posted by Joe Beese at 8:56 AM on January 5, 2010


I agree that having a shorter lifespan is symptomatic of being oppressed.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:00 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is the ideal state of affairs for men and women to have equal lifespans, or is it just as good for women to have more longevity than men?

I suspect that the reason women used to have shorter expected lifespans than men is that so many used to die in childbirth. With modern antisepsis and other strategies, the maternal mortality rate has declined sharply. This major public health accomplishment led to current situation where women outlive men on average.

To answer your question, you would need to define "good". Increasing healthy lifespan for any subgroup, since it increases the general lifespan, is a form of "good", as long as it isn't accomplished at the expense of another subgroup. (When I say "expense" I mean all forms of cost: economic, social, or physical.) However, it may increase animosity between subgroups, especially if it elevates the rates of one group above anothers, and this is not a form of "good". On balance, though, I would vote for good.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:10 AM on January 5, 2010


I remember a documentary some years back that was very dry in tone, discussing Afghan culture at a remove; then they had footage of an actual Afghan teenager, being abducted for a forced marriage, screaming and clawing for her freedom, and how angry and broken and in pain she was in the days after while being interviewed, and it was too much to watch.

This wasn't lions eating gazelles, this was a woman's spirit being choked off by slavery and brutality right in front of my eyes. While the documentarians held cameras in her face, and we watched passively, no one offering to help despite her angry desperate pleas.

She may be dead by now, or the mother of children forced on her by legal slavery and rape (because "forced marriage" is just a euphemism for that). She was fierce, and she was doomed.
posted by emjaybee at 9:11 AM on January 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


I'll just leave this here.
posted by lysdexic at 9:20 AM on January 5, 2010


“I'm hopeful that world geopolitics will eventually evolve into a force for correcting these evils, but it will be a long time coming.”
That’s always been the historical catch. On the one hand, you want liberty and human rights and people are suffering. On the other hand, there is resistance and the swifter one acts to overcome this, the greater the likelihood there is that there will be violence.

“It's not true. Though.”
So as long as we have military forces there, let’s just ignore it and stick to the plan? Obviously that's not what you're suggesting, but as long as world attention is focused there, why shouldn't we rethink the geopolitical situation that led to this kind of suffering and draw greater focus to this issue. Especially since the U.S. is indirectly responsible. I don’t think we would have invaded to relieve their suffering. And I doubt anyone would have supported it under those terms anyway. Exactly for the reasons above (slow political pressure vs. getting things done quickly, but killing some folks). (I might have, but human rights are one of the few things I think are worth fighting for.)
posted by Smedleyman at 9:30 AM on January 5, 2010


The minute that culture - any culture - limits the healthy growth of human capital through official or religious policy, is when that culture needs to be put to heavy task by the world community.

This is very easy to say, and few in the free world would argue against it; the question - the absolute core question of the NATO mission or any other kind of humanitarian mission in Afghanistan today - is how that "heavy task" is implemented and to what end.

There are few countries on earth that have received more of the West's putting-to-heavy-task in the last eight years - certainly from a Canadian perspective, there is maybe no other place since the World War II in which we have invested as much time, money, effort and political capital. The official line is (more or less) that the acute trauma of Al Qaeda has been mostly eradicated, and now we are treating the deeper cancer of the Taliban, after which the fledgling democratic institutions we are building will fluorish and make the nation well.

However muddled the initial commitment (which was made basically as a way to dodge sending Canadian troops to Iraq), the best evidence suggests that Canada's military and the broader NATO coalition have done an exemplary job on the ground in recent years of encouraging literacy, public security for men and women, the establishment of fledgling democratic institutions, all that. (To try to avoid the derail, yes I'm aware that there are very serious and well-founded concerns about the accuracy of US bombings, the transfer of POWs from Canadian to Afghani forces, the continued activities of warlords and drug traffickers in the countryside, etc. What I mean is that the Canadian army - one of the best-trained, most experienced and disciplined peacekeeping forces ever assembled - has done a about as good a job as a military force possibly can of creating safe spaces for a modern Afghani culture to fluorish in the places it operates.) But after eight years, 100-plus Canadian soldiers' lives and who knows how many Afghanis', there is scant evidence that anything we have built there could possibly survive without the continued presence of a substantial NATO military force to secure it.

Indeed there's ample evidence we haven't even diagnosed the Afghan problem correctly. Kathy Gannon, who has been reporting from Afghanistan for twenty years for the AP and others, was on CBC Radio's The Current just this morning explaining that the Afghan women she knows do not feel like their lot in life would be inherently better with the eradication of the Taliban, because they are but one of many gangs of thugs with the intent and wherewithal to keep Afghan women stuck in the middle ages. Back in November, another Current guest, Malalai Joya - the first woman elected to Afghani parliament, who now lives in constant fear for her life - argued that the sum total of those eight years of heavy-task-putting have done absolutely nothing for women's rights in Afghanistan.

Here she is making the same argument in The Independent:

Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.

Point being that the balance of evidence strongly suggests that there is sometimes (often?) next to nothing to be done about the mores of a culture that is not ours, no matter how much it outrages us with its brutality. If Afghani culture is going to change, it will have to be changed by Afghanis. I don't find that in any way heartening and I'd love to be shown a better way to turn our best intentions into on-the-ground reality, but I have yet to see any solid evidence there is any other way it could happen.
posted by gompa at 9:44 AM on January 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


I agree that having a shorter lifespan is symptomatic of being oppressed.

Are you suggesting that, in the industrialized world, men are more oppressed than women? You often seem to verge on that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:59 AM on January 5, 2010


But we're bombing Aghanistan as hard as we can. Don't they know we're already trying to help them?

We need to bomb them harder until their quality of life improves.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:06 AM on January 5, 2010


But we're bombing Aghanistan as hard as we can. Don't they know we're already trying to help them?

We need to bomb them harder until their quality of life improves.


Sorry to call bullshit, but we are trying to help them. We're trying to get rid of the retrograde lunatics who put them (the women, and all Afghan's really) in this sorry situation.
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:29 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Plenty to be disgusted with in this funny old world.
posted by borges at 10:31 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Asia Society poll done in June, 2009, of attitudes of Afghans (pdf) via Juan Cole with commentary on the results (more cellphones, more support for women working outside the home, support for democratic institutions (although not the corrupt Karzai government...).
posted by acro at 10:33 AM on January 5, 2010


The problem with this sort of situation, MarshallPoe, is that eventually some other lunatics come in to take their place. The culture of the place can not be changed from without; this change can only come from within. Without fundamental changes in the way men think and feel about women in Afghanistan, this will never really change.

That said, I do feel that it is appropriate to allow relatively progressive voices to thrive by increasing their physical security.
posted by Mister_A at 10:34 AM on January 5, 2010


Sorry to call bullshit, but we are trying to help them.

You believe this? For example, Canada is in Afghanistan for just one reason, which is to spill blood and thereby validate ourselves as being part of the war on terror. Every one of the 138 Canadian soldiers that have died so far have been intended to increase our tally and show the world that, yes, Canada will send its soldiers off to be killed, too. That's it.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 AM on January 5, 2010


We're trying to get rid of the retrograde lunatics who put them (the women, and all Afghan's really) in this sorry situation.

Which lunatics? It's not like the Taliban introduced previously unknown forms of oppression against women. There's no single outsider group of bad guys that we get to kill and then Yay! Afghan women are free from oppression! Many of the "retrograde lunatics" are the fathers, uncles, brothers and sons of these women. Some of them are their mothers and sisters, too.
posted by rtha at 10:38 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


87 percent are illiterate. 44 years is their average life expectancy. 70 to 80 percent face forced marriages.

I totally know this one!

What is a teenage female American pop star?
posted by flarbuse at 10:47 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The ideal state is for everyone to live as long and as good a life as possible

Says you. But the world says different.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:49 AM on January 5, 2010


When I read things like this the word 'benighted' comes to mind. I have no idea how to change their culture, but I am sure that our present strategy isn't going to work.
posted by RussHy at 10:50 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Which lunatics? It's not like the Taliban introduced previously unknown forms of oppression against women. There's no single outsider group of bad guys that we get to kill and then Yay! Afghan women are free from oppression!

So, by all means, let's do nothing. If occasionally a few planes ram into a few towers, I'm sure we will have had it coming. You know, with the imperialism and all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2010


“I'm hopeful that world geopolitics will eventually evolve into a force for correcting these evils, but it will be a long time coming.”
That’s always been the historical catch. On the one hand, you want liberty and human rights and people are suffering. On the other hand, there is resistance and the swifter one acts to overcome this, the greater the likelihood there is that there will be violence.


More likely, while you may theoretically want liberty and human rights, what you really want is living a safe, stable life, and, in a way, so does your country. That rarely includes being fair to anyone else, or working to promote liberty and human rights when the opposite might just serve your own country better.
posted by wet-raspberry at 10:58 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, by all means, let's do nothing. If occasionally a few planes ram into a few towers, I'm sure we will have had it coming. You know, with the imperialism and all.

The idea that any action in the face of potential terrorist attack is better than no action at all is the reason why you can't hold a magazine in your lap right now on a commuter flight from Toronto to New York. No one's safer, but at least there's movement. Enough, it would appear, to knock down a strawman or two.
posted by gompa at 11:00 AM on January 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


No, Christ, CPB, that's not my point.

My point is we don't get to have some fantasy of "bad guys we can kill and everything will then be better" if we really want to make change, or, more accurately, help the Afghans make change. Rousting as much of the Taliban as possible will help, certainly (and from what I've read, they were mostly not Afghan anyway), but there's a whole lot of room between DO NOTHING and KILL THEM ALL and most of the work to be done in that space is long-term and difficult and not at all video-game-sexy. For fuck's sake. Why would you deliberately misread me that way?
posted by rtha at 11:01 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, by all means, let's do nothing. If occasionally a few planes ram into a few towers, I'm sure we will have had it coming. You know, with the imperialism and all.

I just don't think invading Afghanistan has made "us" any safer. Anyway, if you use this same logic (what you wrote), wouldn't it have made sense to also bomb and invade Egypt and Saudi, where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from, as well as their financing?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:04 AM on January 5, 2010


Yes, I believe it, and yes, and the lunatics in question are any group--ANY GROUP--of people who oppress women (or anyone else) in the way women are oppressed in Afghanistan (or any place else). You see, I think the oppression of women (and people generally) is unacceptable. I don't care, really, if it's "over there" or if the oppression is part of the "rich tapestry of X-ian culture." If that culture oppresses women in the way described in this post, it is sick and needs to be, at the least, reformed in such a way as to bring it into conformity with the basic tenets of human rights.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:06 AM on January 5, 2010



Which lunatics? It's not like the Taliban introduced previously unknown forms of oppression against women. There's no single outsider group of bad guys that we get to kill and then Yay! Afghan women are free from oppression!


responded to by:

So, by all means, let's do nothing. If occasionally a few planes ram into a few towers, I'm sure we will have had it coming. You know, with the imperialism and all.

It sounds like the argument here is that if you question whether the "lunatics" can be easily culled from Afghan society in order to improve the lives of Afghan women, you must be anti-American and a supporter of terrorism or something. I'm sorry, I'm just a simple college-educated computer programmer and this is too complicated for me to follow.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:06 AM on January 5, 2010


So, by all means, let's do nothing. If occasionally a few planes ram into a few towers, I'm sure we will have had it coming.

"corrupting" "their" women by our notion of civil rights is hardly going to dissuade them from attempting to kill us, is it? - and i don't know if you've noticed this, but it seems as though another country, yemen, seems to be producing the troublemakers now

launching a crusade for western civilized values is going to be counterproductive

doing nothing , at least as a military power, is our best bet now
posted by pyramid termite at 11:07 AM on January 5, 2010


The minute that culture - any culture - limits the healthy growth of human capital through official or religious policy, is when that culture needs to be put to heavy task by the world community.

Put to heavy task? Is that like a stern letter? A vote? Bombing by drones? Boots on the ground troop movements?

Under your criteria you have the Israel treatment of Gaza. Plenty of 'world community' reaction and 'heavy task' of UN resolutions, How's that all working out for Gaza?

Then on a different spectrum
You have US food policy that seems to take oil and converting that into food calories in such a way that diabetes is on the rise. Sure looks like a non healthy growth of actual humans.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:08 AM on January 5, 2010


Gods, that story in the 3rd link. I wish I had the money to just get her out. She could live here, I'm in range of 5 good colleges, any of which would be lucky to have her.

That's just heartbreaking. So much potential wasted. Not just her, but all the women there and around the world who are kept shackled and silenced and slaved.
posted by dejah420 at 11:12 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


We're trying to get rid of the retrograde lunatics who put them (the women, and all Afghan's really) in this sorry situation.

And replace them with whom?
posted by coolguymichael at 11:32 AM on January 5, 2010


False Dichotomy: Bombing = Helping Women's Rights; Not Bombing = Helping Terrorists

Perhaps the issues are more complicated that just killing people. Perhaps violence is the cowardly easy way out?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:33 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the issues are more complicated that just killing people. Perhaps violence is the cowardly easy way out?

No, the cowardly way out is to do nothing, as Cool Papa Bell said above. I, for one, salute the soldiers in Afghanistan who *are* doing something while we sit here and wring our hands.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:59 AM on January 5, 2010


emjaybee: I think I saw that documentary, too. For what it's worth, I don't believe it was about Afghanistan; it actually follows a bride kidnapping in Kazakhstan, if memory serves. Possibly Kyrgyzstan. I know it sounds pedantic, but it's actually kind of important.

There's also a surprisingly comprehensive wiki page on bride kidnapping, and the places it's still common, particularly "in countries spanning Central Asia, the Caucasus region, and parts of Africa, and among peoples as diverse as the Hmong in southeast Asia, the Tzeltal in Mexico, and the Romani in Europe."
posted by Amanojaku at 12:00 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The plight of Afghanistan's women is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear anyone try to emphasize that no culture is superior to others. I'm sorry, but this is a case study in exceptions to a rule. I try generally don't get judgmental over other cultures, but... damn, dude.

Invading Iraq was a terrible mistake (understatement, I know). Our mistake in Afghanistan started with not invading it enough from the very beginning... and, like in Iraq, having basically no plan for what to do after the "kill people and break stuff" phase was ready to give way to the "let's try to fix it now" phase.

But, then, you know. Bush.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:10 PM on January 5, 2010


I agree that having a shorter lifespan is symptomatic of being oppressed.

Are you suggesting that, in the industrialized world, men are more oppressed than women? You often seem to verge on that.


Just to head off this potential derail: there is strong evidence that in human beings, female live longer on average than males - it is biological. In many species the life spans of males and females differ, and so they do for homo sapiens sapiens.

Given that, if you see that women in a given country live shorter lives than males (or even equal!), that's a good sign that probably we're dealing with a lot of oppression of women. There are other things biology can tell us, and where examining the data can clue us in to what the situation is for men or women - for example, on average, slightly more males are born, but slightly fewer survive to any given point in time, so that as the age progresses, you have more and more women and fewer and fewer men. The lopsided numbers in favor of males vs females in India tells the tale of oppression of women, infanticide etc. So examining stats like this in China or Africa or Europe, or N. America, tells us a lot about the state of human gender disparity the world over.
posted by VikingSword at 12:14 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


An relevant and interesting article that discussed the status of women in the Hazara-dominated provinces of Afghanistan appeared recently in the NY Times. (Sorry for the long quote, but it's all on point)

In a country that has one of the world’s lowest female literacy rates — just one in seven women over age 15 can read and write — the progress of Hazara women is even more stark, especially compared with Pashtun provinces.

Pashtuns, who are mostly Sunni, are the country’s largest ethnic group. While the Taliban insurgency rages in Pashtun regions, and many schools are attacked or forced to close, the enrollment of girls in Bamian schools rose by nearly one-third the past two years, to 46,500, as total school enrollment there grew 22 percent.

Total enrollment in Daykondi rose almost 40 percent to 156,000 over the past two years, and girls now make up 43 percent of students, said Mohammad Ali Wasiq, the Daykondi Province education director. More girls passed the entrance exam for the country’s top-rung universities from Bamian and Daykondi in 2008 than from 10 mainly Pashtun provinces combined.

The Hazaras’ emphasis on educating girls as assiduously as boys, along with a stronger belief in gender equity than is common here, belies the perception of Afghan Shiites left by the passage last spring of a law for Shiites that condones marital rape. Its passage was seen as an effort by President Hamid Karzai to win support from Shiite clerics before elections.

But many Hazara men opposed the law, including officials at the school. A powerful Shiite ayatollah in Kabul condemned the school for its opposition, leading to violent, rock-throwing demonstrations, but only 22 of Marefat’s students dropped out as a result of the pressure, administrators say.

College-educated Hazaras, including women clad in white head scarves, are a growing presence in Western offices in Kabul. And Hazaras have flooded the security forces, and now are a disproportionate fraction of soldiers, while Pashtun representation continues to lag.

Pashtun leaders worry about how their own students are faring even as Hazaras excel, and some even fret whether rising Hazara influence could lead to the largely Shiite Iran having greater sway within Afghanistan.


Dexter Filkins has also done some great work re the education of girls in Afghanistan that's also worth reading.

Sometimes I think the Mirwais School for Girls is the only real reason left that truly justifies US/NATO forces remaining in Afghanistan.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:25 PM on January 5, 2010


The plight of Afghanistan's women is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear anyone try to emphasize that no culture is superior to others. I'm sorry, but this is a case study in exceptions to a rule. I try generally don't get judgmental over other cultures, but... damn, dude.

Odd. Why don't you judge other cultures? There's nothing wrong with that. No culture is "better" than any other from some kind of general or abstract metaphysical perspective. But that's like saying "wood is better". Better at what? So while there is no generally abstractly "better" cultures, there is clearly a way to evaluate cultures in specific contexts, and that can be done reasonably objectively - where the data is unambiguous. So f.ex., Western cultures (of today) are objectively better than Muslim cultures (of today) at employing women in the economy. Saudi Arabia is not as good at that compared to Holland. And so forth for any number of criteria.

So while no culture is better in some general way, certainly some cultures are better than others in particular measurable objectively ways.

And if you can measure such things, you can then say: I think culture X is inferior in such and such a way, and I personally don't like it.

I don't like the Afghani culture for very specific reasons - I certainly don't hate the people, or think less of them, but I do think less of their culture, and I feel no shame or compunction about it, indeed, I think it quite silly that people will hesitate to express a preference for one culture over another, or fear to criticize f.ex. widow burning, female genital mutilation, marital rape etc., a crime in their own culture and a monstrosity, merely because "it's part of their culture" . Of course, I also keep firmly in mind that cultures evolve, and European or Western culture was pretty despicable not so long ago (and still is in many ways). For once, I think the "hate the sin, not the sinner" is a decent guide.
posted by VikingSword at 12:26 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


No, the cowardly way out is to do nothing, as Cool Papa Bell said above. I, for one, salute the soldiers in Afghanistan who *are* doing something while we sit here and wring our hands.

There are a lot of non-soldiers in Afghanistan who are working with Afghans towards change. There are a lot of people here (in the U.S.) doing likewise.

I'm not categorically against using guns or making war. I'm categorically against the idea that that is the only path to change, and the idiotic idea that saying "we can't shoot our way out of this problem" is the same as "doing nothing, you must be in favor of oppression."
posted by rtha at 12:35 PM on January 5, 2010


i am profoundly grateful that an accident of birth put me in a country (and a time) where i can exercise independent agency, go outside my home with little concern for vigilante attacks against me simply for being a woman, am unlikely to be forced into slavery, and have the justice system and the power of the state at my behest if i am.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2010


Many of the "retrograde lunatics" are the fathers, uncles, brothers and sons of these women.

In fairness, most everyone from Kabul and north / west of there saw the Taliban as a foreign occupation. It was made up of a small minority of hardcore Islamicized Pashtuns and a substantial cadre of Pakistani Pashtuns, Saudis, and other foreigners.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


True, Meatbomb, very true. But it's also true that the oppression of women in Afghanistan will not/has not come about just because the Taliban get chased out of the country. High illiteracy rates and marriage at a young age and the lack of legal and social equality with men all existed for women before the Taliban came in with their particular brand of oppression.
posted by rtha at 2:11 PM on January 5, 2010


“Anyway, if you use this same logic (what you wrote), wouldn't it have made sense to also bomb and invade Egypt and Saudi, where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from, as well as their financing?”
Maybe freeze their assets and use law enforcement forces to pursue them? Since it’s against terrorism, we could call it, say, counter- terrorism.

While I agree with your earlier sentiment (generally that the war on terror is being prosecuted to funnel cash in to certain pockets) I don’t agree that we’re there only to spill blood.
And the ‘we’ is a bit flexible there. There are forces on the ground working to make life better for the Afghans.
That there are forces in the U.S. making money hand over fist from a wide array of security and defense endeavors does not mean there is collusion any more than any individual American is personally and directly responsible for foreign policy. Quite the contrary in fact. Greedy folks rarely spread cash around and are not known for their forthrightness. There aren’t going to be any ‘War to shovel cash out of your bank into our pockets” billed any time soon. Which was pretty much Iraq.
Which pretty much screwed our ability to act more productively to address real concerns in Afghanistan (and Pakistan).
Similarly, while I disagree with CPB on some points, I agree with the sentiment that instability and oppression inevitably lead to an aggressive foreign response.
I don’t think we can just leave this alone. I think we need to involve ourselves when societies engage in genocide (and/or democide of any kind) and human rights violations because, inevitably, the fanatics at the top seem to want to export this and typically get really interested in scaring the hell out of other people in order to get them in line with their world view as well (the GOP is currently the soft-core porn scrambled channel of this).
By the same token there are very clear limits to what military forces can accomplish before they become counterproductive and it’s stunning how many people are unaware of that.
But it is the presence of security forces that would allow more direct political action in the region. Want to fix some of this? Once western forces pull out, maybe not so good a time. (Hell, it’s tough on NGOs now)
Just shows the need to put good governance in place who can run infrastructure and take care of needs and take that practical high ground from the radical groups.

“I'm not categorically against using guns or making war.”
Someone shoots at you, you are in a gun fight whether you like it or not. I don’t think much headway would be made without some physical security.
But I agree that solid lasting change can come through peaceful means (arguably, only through peaceful means), and indeed, typically there’s more ability to put pressure on people and a society by affecting the day to day. The guns should just be there so folks don’t shoot at you while that’s getting done. Doesn’t always work that way unfortunately.
Typically it’s a struggle/negotiation/bitefight to guide foreign policy. Lots of players internally as well as externally. Gotta do the good you can with what you have and the ‘bad guys’ are not always obvious. Been beached myself. It sucks.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:15 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Someone shoots at you, you are in a gun fight whether you like it or not. I don’t think much headway would be made without some physical security.

Agreed.
posted by rtha at 2:18 PM on January 5, 2010


and?
posted by HTuttle at 3:49 PM on January 5, 2010


And what?
posted by rtha at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2010


So, by all means, let's do nothing. If occasionally a few planes ram into a few towers, I'm sure we will have had it coming. You know, with the imperialism and all.
Someone shoots at you, you are in a gun fight whether you like it or not.

In this case Bin Laden used Afghanistan as a tar baby, and was happy to have triggered the american response. Invading Iraq must have made him very happy as well.

Perhaps we should not always do what our opponents expect.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:23 PM on January 5, 2010


So, by all means, let's do nothing. If occasionally a few planes ram into a few towers, I'm sure we will have had it coming. You know, with the imperialism and all.

The people who attacked my city didn't do so because they were trying to preserve a culture that oppressed women or because we were the Imperialist Pigs or what have you.

The people who attacked my city did so because THEY WERE COMPLETELY FUCKING INSANE.

Do NOT exploit the worst day of my life to justify your political viewpoints. I've had enough of politicians doing that to last me a lifetime, thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:03 PM on January 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Are you suggesting that, in the industrialized world, men are more oppressed than women? You often seem to verge on that.

No, I think it's complex. I also don't think the most important question is which group is more oppressed than the other. The fact that societies around the world oppress men and women in different ways is a sufficient reason to think about gender open-mindedly rather than through a rigid women-are-always-the-victims prism. I've found that on this and other feminist websites, a bright spotlight is shined on evidence of women being oppressed, but evidence of men being oppressed is unmentioned or dismissed (to put it mildly). To me, the burdens facing men are more intriguing since they're more taboo -- which is itself a form of oppression. Of course women are oppressed, but they at least have the benefit of being galvanized to talk about it and do something about it. Meanwhile, any hint that there might be burdens on men is likely to get a response like ... well, like your comment.

I'm actually flattered that you've even followed my comments closely enough to draw your generalization. Then again, you'll notice that my first comment in the thread, for instance, was a straightforward link to previous FPPs on Afghan women, because I think it's an important issue. Would it be better if I posted more comments about how much hardship there is for women in industrialized countries? Actually, the other Mefites seem to be quite capable of thoroughly covering this issue without my extra assistance.

BTW, I realize that a post on Afghan women isn't an ideal forum for starting up a conversation on how men may or may not be burdened. Then again, I don't imagine that men in Afghanistan have such a great time either. I'm reminded of a friend of mine who happens to be black that, in pre-1865 America, he would rather have been a slave than a slave-owner. Society isn't a zero-sum game.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:51 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The people who attacked my city did so because THEY WERE COMPLETELY FUCKING INSANE.

This can't be repeated enough. Those guys had a worldview that completely incoherent.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:48 PM on January 5, 2010


I agree that having a shorter lifespan is symptomatic of being oppressed.

Are you suggesting that, in the industrialized world, men are more oppressed than women? You often seem to verge on that.


And here was I getting annoyed by him seeming to suggest that it's a natural biological fact that women live longer than men, in the way it used to be a natural biological fact that men are smarter than women.
posted by rodgerd at 12:19 AM on January 6, 2010


I, for one, salute the soldiers in Afghanistan who *are* doing something while we sit here and wring our hands.

The problem in Afghanistan isn't a military problem though. Maybe their aggression toward western countries is, but busting into a home and shooting up the parents that are forcing marriages isn't going to solve any thing(an oversimplification, I know, but bear with me).
Repression of women is something that's built into the local culture, and until that culture gets replaced or transformed, it's not going to change.

In that regard, I would actually say that the military action in the Middle East is hurting their cause. If you think about it, these are the actions that make enemies of the U.S. to the public eye. If anything, what we want is the opposite: we want ideals of equality and liberty to be appealing because of their "western-ness", not the opposite.
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 6:03 AM on January 6, 2010


“Perhaps we should not always do what our opponents expect.
posted by sebastienbailard”

Seriously, do some folks have one track minds or is reading comprehension so poor generally that reading more than one sentence is taxing?

I agree that terrorists are, to some degree and within the bounds EmpressCallipygos appears to intend, insane. And they should be pursued as criminals. In part because a military response is unwieldy. In part because mobilization costs so damn much in comparison to the efficiency of a terrorist operation. But mostly because they should not be validated as armed forces since they’re illegitimate and deliberately targeting civilians who maybe be far distanced from the matter at hand or whatever the terrorists particular beef is, in order to spread fear and cause chaos and so achieve their objectives.

While there is some potential for debate as to the appropriate response, I think certain responses are more valid than others. But whatever the nature of the response, is there anyone serious suggesting that, as a matter of making warfare by deception, we sit on our ass after some maniacs fly planes into buildings?
I don’t really see how that would work. Someone does something like 9/11, you pursue them. Pretty simple really. One can have a distaste for war and firearms, and I think this is healthy generally speaking and helps eventually to drop the weapons and end the war, but it’s a simple brutal actuality that if a tank rolls up your street opening fire, you’re in a war zone and possibly a target no matter how much of a pacifist you are.

Now, means by which to prevent that? Sure, open to debate. I lean towards shooting back. But that’s more a tactical mindset. Overall I agree with rtha, the work done to end wars are not done on the battlefield (unless one is, say, a Mongol or interested in genocide). Success on the battlefield can give one a more advantageous position in setting terms, but plenty of guerrilla wars were prosecuted by people who refused to accept terms.

I’ve said time and again here that the world should be more involved in that region politically and economically and should be looking at building stability and cutting a deal between India and Pakistan. Part of that solution would be military, in terms of providing security, since there are people in Afghanistan who shoot at aid workers. As it is, no, that’s not what’s happening. And that is a shame. Because it means the perpetuation of instability and human rights violations which, as I said above, nearly always lead to foreign aggression which means less security for us and the world in general.
Pretty much everyone who doesn't share their world view is a target.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2010


One can have a distaste for war and firearms, and I think this is healthy generally speaking and helps eventually to drop the weapons and end the war, but it’s a simple brutal actuality that if a tank rolls up your street opening fire, you’re in a war zone and possibly a target no matter how much of a pacifist you are.

Distaste? Ahem.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. - Dwight D. Eisenhower
I'm not sure what you're saying here. Are you equating 9/11 with this situation? It seems to me that an army rolling up your street in tanks is very different than an army-less group of terrorists pulling off a once-in-a-lifetime stunt that kills ~3000 civilians. An army can easily fight an army and the better one will win. It's been pretty well proven that an army cannot successfully win against an entrenched guerilla or terrorist movement (hasn't it? I'm amenable to being proven wrong). Talking of battlefields and the like when dealing with a movement like Al Qaeda is like using a hammer to saw a board: wrong tool.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:08 PM on January 6, 2010


The people who attacked my city did so because THEY WERE COMPLETELY FUCKING INSANE.

You might not have the emotional distance to judge the sanity or lack thereof on asymetric warfare.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2010


"I'm not sure what you're saying here."
Obviously. Not many people seem to try. Maybe you don't have time to read the thread. Ok. No sweat. I'll unpack the meaning: I'm not equating 9/11 with this situation - the tank driving up the street is just an offhand metaphor for warfare of whatever kind on your doorstep.

In that, I was augmenting rtha's statement in opposition to the idea that warfare is the only path to change and "and the idiotic idea that saying "we can't shoot our way out of this problem" is the same as "doing nothing, you must be in favor of oppression."
But with the caveat that once attacked, as we were on 9/11, one is engaged. Some one punches you, you're in a fist fight. Implicit in this concept is the idea that violence has its place. Within the aforementioned limits rtha noted.

I further explained that methodology is open to question (didn't much feel like going even further afield on the derail).
And delineated the reasons (3 of them, but I have more) I oppose military mobilization in response to terrorism. Essentially equal to your statement that engaging Al Qaeda with battlefield tactics is using the wrong tool.

This does not, however, mean armed forces are useless. Nor does it mean they shouldn't be used. Engaging Al Qaeda and invading Afghanistan are two, albeit somewhat related, separate things. Insofar as chasing Al Qaeda, or any terrorist outfit, you need a law enforcement strategy.
Where this breaks down is where there is no law of any kind at all or where the law is subject to whatever local forces are in the area at the time. There you need a military presence to establish order. Then you turn the government over to civilians, provide aid until they have their own forces up and running, then you can split (it's the very very short version of what we did in post-war Germany).
But in any case, this is not what happened in Afghanistan. So it's a moot point.
However, since we are there, establishing order, safeguarding human rights so women aren't brutally oppressed, might be nice.
As mentioned above, this cannot be bombed into reality. One cannot expend ordinance at a problem like that. It must be done through peaceful means. Perhaps military administration, but better would be a collaborative effort by western nations or by NGOs to stabilize the country and allow enough order such that the warlord du jour is the only guy who can control the infrastructure enough to get water to your fields.

But the problem there is Joe Warlord will not take kindly to being put out. So he will likely open fire on your people. Break up your mains. And cause general chaos to show he's the better option.
Thus - you are fighting him whether you're looking to fight him or not. Therefore you need some people who have some firearms to protect the people laying the water pipes and building the schools.
Fairly simple point. But there's a lot of "ifs" there. And I'm not necessarily doing any advocacy.

Metafilter doesn't do the whole 'description does not equal prescription' thing well. So again, no sweat. Tough medium for the abstract.

"It's been pretty well proven that an army cannot successfully win against an entrenched guerilla or terrorist movement (hasn't it? I'm amenable to being proven wrong)"

Clutterbuck and Thompson offhand and the Malaya campaign. The U.S. in the Philippines. India is doing well right now, there's the insurgency in Kashmir trying to kick over their hot dog stand and their GDP and literacy rates have gone up with their infant mortality rates dropping. The overall situation is debatable, but India is doing just fine so the insurgency sure isn't 'winning.' On that score the Israelis are living pretty well and coping with the occasional explosion.
The British in Kenya was a successful COIN campaign, although they didn't achieve their political goals, so debatable overall.

Countless examples aside (and again, there are countless number of very successful guerrilla campaigns as well) the MODERN problem is the emphasis on military prowess and lack of recognition of the essential contribution made by non-military agencies using unorthodox means to overcome insurgents.
The problem is no one in modern warfare looks to separate the insurgent from the population. It's cheaper and less of a P.R. fiasco to drop bombs and send less troops.
And, in terms of the U.S., have we really needed, politically, an objective? And yet, that's the one absolute necessity for success in counterinsurgency warfare. The path to that objective should be tailored to the unique circumstances of the insurgency.

Borrowing from Lt. Col. Ian Rigden - War is a political act that requires an active decision to initiate it and a clear declaration of intent.
Politics is the focal point. Politics and war are social phenomena. One key to countering insurgency is therefore to understand the context and nature of the social environment. It is essential to understand what the people’s issues are and what can make them better.
Every campaign is unique and the nature of the conflict must be understood. It takes time to fully understand the nature of the problem faced and to develop the lines of operation to deal with it.
World geography and the geography of a particular region is one of the most important factors when trying to understand the nature of the conflict and how to conduct a counter-insurgency.
counter-insurgents must only use the appropriate force necessary for the situation faced.

The appropriate use of force is the minimum amount of force required to achieve a particular legitimate objective. This can range from full scale warfighting against an insurgent base deep in the jungle to the single arrest of an insurgent in an urban area. Use clear (but flexible) rules of engagement to ensure to ensure that only the minimum force necessary is used for each situation. Force must be proportionate and justified and the intent to use force clearly understood.
Campaigns must be appropriately resourced to be truly effective. Like all conflicts where fighting is likely, counter-insurgency campaigns are expensive in term of “blood and treasure.” It is, however, the “treasure” element of this equation that is often the most lacking in counter-insurgency campaigns.

Lastly:
Do not fight a war or campaign that you cannot win.

As to 'distaste,' I see your Ike and raise you Lao Tzu:
Weapons are instruments of ill omen;
When you have no choice to use them,
It is best to remain tranquil and calm.
You should never look upon them
As things of beauty.
If you see them as beautiful things -
This is to delight the killing of men.
And when you delight in the killing of men;
You will not realize your goal in the land.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:36 PM on January 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


You might not have the emotional distance to judge the sanity or lack thereof on asymetric warfare.

...Why are you doing this?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 PM on January 6, 2010


Smedleyman, I was pointing out that Iraq is a quagmire that continues to radicalize the Middle East (I think), mostly. I do think it was necessary to run out / wipe out / buy out the Taliban because they were playing host to our enemies.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:24 PM on January 7, 2010


sebastienbailard - My mistake, sorry.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:12 AM on January 8, 2010


You're assuming that in developed countries, people generally get to live "as good a life as they wish"? Wow, sounds great.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:54 AM on January 5 [1 favorite +] [!]


Actually, I said that is the "idea state" - presumably something to work towards, not necessarily something accomplished fully anywhere.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:18 AM on January 9, 2010


Oh, OK. But that would include not having gender norms saying that men (but not women) are supposed to risk their lives either for the benefit of society or just to show off their machismo.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:49 AM on January 9, 2010


because they were playing host to our enemies.

Methinks there is a different game afoot than that tho.

Many of the hijackers were IDed as Saudi Arabians. And Bin Laden's screeds talked about America pulling its military bases out of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and how attacks would force America out.

America did pull the bases out of Saudi Arabia as I remember - giving into Bin Laden some might say.


So 'they were playing host to our enemies' looks to be an oversimplification or even a misdirection that has cost America quite a lot of blood and treasure for what gain? Where's Waldo Bin Laden - is he really that good a hider?

Is there an alternative place where agreved parties could have the offenses adjuicated in some manner? A 'court of the world' or perhaps some kind of 'nation league'? Or are the people who believe they are oppressed gonna just keep taking pot shots and hope for positive change?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:04 AM on January 14, 2010


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