Regressive ideology: Back to the 1990s in Afghanistan
Thousands of curious onlookers in a dusty soccer stadium, gathered around one woman. Dressed in a blue burqa, she sits hunched over on the ground. A man points a Kalashnikov assault rifle at her — and pulls the trigger. This was a public execution that took place in the 1990s when the Taliban were first in power in Afghanistan. All Afghans are familiar with such pictures, having either witnessed an execution with their own eyes or on the television screen. Public executions are some of the worst memories I have of that time when I was still a child. My family and I followed what was going on from abroad, watching the few videos that emerged from the country. I would never have imagined that such images could return — after the US-led invasion in October 2001 and 20 years of Western military presence. But the situation has turned out differently from what I imagined.
Ever since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, I have been even more worried about my home country. This week, the Taliban executed a man accused of murder. It was the father of the murdered victim who shot him dead in front of the audience, which was made up not only of high-ranking Taliban but hundreds of residents, including children. This has exceeded my worst fears: If public executions — which already triggered a collective trauma in Afghanistan’s population — are back then, despite their assurances to the contrary, the Taliban have not changed. In recent weeks, there have also once again been public floggings of men and women, accused mostly of theft or adultery. The 90s are back in Afghanistan.
If at first, there was a mistaken belief that the country would not descend into complete darkness, it is now clear that there is no country in the world that is darker than Afghanistan. According to a recently published Gallup poll, 97% of men and 98% of women equate their lives to suffering. The suicide rate among women has shot up.
It is hard to accept that in 2022 — 74 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — these rights are being trodden upon so cruelly in Afghanistan. While the world looks on passively.
It is as if the past 20 years, during which these very rights were held up as the reason for the US-led military operation, had simply evaporated. As if Afghanistan were on another planet and the West had no co-responsibility for the misery.
But are human rights not universal and applicable everywhere? The Taliban base their policies on an archaic interpretation of Islam. But Islamic countries also contributed to the draft of the Declaration of Human Rights after World War Two.
And even if this had not been the case — the Muslim alternative, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, also does not justify the injustice happening every day in Afghanistan. Adopted by the Organization of Islamic States on August 5, 1990, it was signed by 45 foreign ministers at the time.
As defenders of human rights, it is our duty to draw attention to the suffering of women and men in Afghanistan and to exercise pressure on the Taliban regime. I should not again have to see screen images of floggings and executions that make me freeze up — just as they did 25 years ago. This leads me to the bitter conclusion that if we don’t or can’t do everything to ensure that human rights are respected all over the world, we will have to consider that the declaration proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris 74 years ago has failed.