Dangerous Minds: Women in Afghanistan were not always under house arrest and forbidden by law to leave their homes unchaperoned by a male relative. Once upon a time in pre-Taliban days Afghan women had access to professional careers, university-level education, shops selling non-traditional clothing, public transportation, and public spaces, all of which they happily navigated freely and without supervision.
According to a State Department report from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from 2001:
Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected under law and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society. Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving toward democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work. These professional women provide a pool of talent and expertise that will be needed in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Even under Hamid Karzai’s government, with the recently approved Code of Conduct for women, all of the women shown in these photographs, taken in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s, could still can be faulted with improper behavior, according to clerics and government officials.
A few weeks back, I wrote:
At this point, Americans sigh wearily and shrug, "Afghanistan, the graveyard of empire," or sneer, "If they want to live in a seventh-century s***hole, f*** 'em." But neither assertion is true. Do five minutes' googling, and you'll find images from the Sixties and early Seventies of women in skirts above the knee listening to the latest Beatles releases in Kabul record stores.
Dangerous Minds has now assembled a collection of these photographs - not just Kabul coeds and teenyboppers but scientific researchers, too - from the Seventies, Sixties and Fifties, and they're well worth taking a look at, if only to understand the totality of our failure there. There's also a portrait of King Amanullah's consort, Queen Soraya, in the Twenties wearing a sleeveless gown that would get her stoned in 21st century Afghanistan. Amanullah was the emir who regained control of his country's foreign policy from the British, but he and his wife were more westernized than any of the would-be heirs to his throne today. Queen Soraya, a practising Muslim, nevertheless went around riding on horseback - which no unaccompanied woman can do in her country after 12 years as an American protectorate. As I said:
If it's too much to undo the barbarism of centuries, why could the supposed superpower not even return the country to the fitful civilization of the disco era? The American imperium has lasted over twice as long as the Taliban's rule — and yet, unlike them, we left no trace.
America and its allies have the best tanks, planes, and guns ...but no will and no strategy. And so the tanks, planes and guns count for naught. Our enemies have nothing but will. The consequences of this distinction extend well beyond Afghanistan.