The world is appalled once again by the Afghan government. This time it relates to the recent passage of “The Afghan Shiite Personal Status Law,” which dictates all manner of restrictions on women including sexual activity within marriage, when they may leave their homes, and when they can be educated or employed. For people around the world, it recalls the darkest days of the Taliban when Mullah Omar and his gang of despots forbade women medical care, employment, education, and walking in public without a male escort.
The question on so many Western minds is: Why are billions of dollars and tens of thousands of military troops supporting a government that has so little regard for the world’s human rights conventions. Would the West be so generous to North Korea? Cuba? Iran? Somalia?
The truth behind the “Afghan Shiite Personal Status Law” is a story of manipulation by the autocrats that run the Afghan government. It goes well beyond the reasons for global outrage now aimed at Afghanistan. Consider the following:
The law consists of approximately 250 detailed restrictions that apply to Shia only, and invade their personal privacy. It is so-called “Sharia Law” written by Mullahs with alleged dark pasts of violence, human rights violations and perverted sexual activities.
The law as a tool of oppression against Hazara Shia
95% of the Afghan Shia minority are ethnic Hazaras, and Hazaras have no desire for Islamic Sharia Law. These Sharia Laws were written by the Afghan Pashtun Sunni majority to restrict and discriminate against the Hazara Shia. These laws were written by the same people who created and promoted the Taliban thirty-five years ago, and have re-gained control of the Afghan government from the Presidency to the Parliament to the Supreme Court. The German News outlet, Deutche Welle, recently quoted a Taliban spokesperson congratulating the Afghan government for passing the law.
The Afghan Shia have historically supported basic human rights and equality of the sexes. Such personally invasive statutes contradict the beliefs and actions of the progressive, democracy-minded Afghan Hazara Shia culture.
Afghanistan’s only woman governor is a Shia Hazara. Afghanistan’s only woman mayor is a Shia Hazara. The head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission is a Shia Hazara. The only woman to reach the finals in Afghanistan’s version of “American Idol,” Tolo-TV’s “Afghan Star” was a Shia Hazara woman. Hazaras women do not wear full-body covering burkas. Hazaras support women’s education, employment, property ownership, and equality in marriage. Its culture promotes literacy for all, free speech, artists, poets and musicians. It supports religious diversity and welcomed Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. The destruction in 2001 by the Taliban of the Bamiyan Buddah sculptures, which were on Hazara land, was a pointed strike against the cultural tolerance of the Hazara.
The Hazara Shia have been a targeted by the Pashtun Sunni for hundreds of years. Under the Sunni majority—as in Iran—the Hazara Shia have been subject to genocide, forced immigration, theft of their property, the kidnapping of their women to be sold as sex slaves, and been denied education, employment and travel.
The Hazara Shia are such strong supporters of democracy, because they have been so victimized by Islamic theocracies. They want nothing to do with Sharia. Leading Hazara Shia Mullahs convened in Kabul during discussions regarding the Personal Status Laws, and rejected them completely. They were ignored by Karzai and the Parliament, even though the Hazara Mullahs represented 95% of the people affected by the law.
The most extreme Sunni Mullah theocrats view the Shia not as Muslims, but as infidels who should be killed, have their property confiscated, and women enslaved.
The dark history of Ayatollah M. Asef Mohseni, promoter of the law
Mullah M. Asef Mohseni, an elderly white-bearded ayatollah, who blames the spread of AIDS on soap operas and music videos on Afghan TV, has been the primary proponent of the Personal Status Law. He is ironically a Shia, but is from Pashtun Kandahar, the cradle of the Taliban, and represents the 5% of the Iranian- related Shia who are much closer to their theocratic Sunni Pashtun brethren than the democracy-oriented Hazara. To say this is a Shia-motivated law is a fraud.
Mohseni’s past has aligned closely with the Taliban and been supported by Iran’s theocracy. He is an example of how far the Afghan government leans toward Taliban rule. Mohseni was the leader of the military mujahidin group Harkat-e-Islami during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He allied with Gulbaden Hekmatyar and the warlords who wrote the 1993 Afghan constitution which led to the near destruction of Afghanistan and rise of the Taliban.
Mohseni and his puritanical militia were accused of war crimes during and after the Afghan Civil War. He has repeatedly stated his opposition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He has fought against women’s rights and free speech initiatives in Afghanistan. He supported the Taliban movement and urged Shia not to resist it. Mohseni heartily approves of a man’s having four wives, and he promotes the right of elderly men to marry young girls— with no age restriction.
Mohseni’s own sexual abuse controversy
During the Afghan Civil War, Mohseni became the focus of a public controversy when one of his field commanders sent his ten year old sister to Mohseni to be instructed in the Koran. The commander was later killed, and many claim Mohseni was involved— after Mohseni married the girl when she turned fourteen. Numerous documents discussed this controversy, including a television news program.
The West re-examining it’s support of Karzai in light of re-Talibanization of Afghanistan
It is obvious that this Personal Status Law was written by the Afghan Parliament to codify Taliban-like restrictions on the unwilling Hazara Shia. It was promoted, written, and signed by autocrats in the Afghan government who have historically oppressed the democratically-minded Hazara Shia. It is another step in the second Talibanization of Afghanistan that has included many other internationally recognized violations of human rights, and violates many human rights tenets of the Afghan Constitution.
Perhaps this is the one step too far and mirrors the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddahs that finally woke the West to the moral bankruptcy of the Taliban. Given this and other recent government actions, which have included imprisoning journalists, gagging the media, ignoring widespread political corruption, embezzlement, and drug running, it is not surprising that the EU and NATO are now resisting sending more troops to Afghanistan.
Just as Karzai has said he will review the constitutionality of the Personal Status Law, so should Barack Obama and the United States Congress review the wisdom of sending more troops and funds to support this Afghan government.
If the new military initiatives are being undertaken to prevent a Taliban takeover, perhaps it should be considered that the Taliban have already taken over. The sad evidence is mounting. It is time to stop feeding the fire with gasoline, and start putting it out.