Afghan Women in the Clash Between Traditionalism and Modernity

By: Mehdi Hazaristani

The rise of concepts such as humanism and modern subjects has given birth to a new era, in which subjectivism and humanism have become intense topics with the rise of postmodernism, and modernism has enabled women to gain a better understanding of social, cultural, and political life. Postmodernism has further enabled women to take on a more significant role in various aspects. These are global issues, not limited to Afghanistan, and women have a strong socio-political presence in the world. Therefore, any political and social movement that does not involve women is likely to fail in the future. Throughout human history, women have consistently sought to demand their rights and freedoms, which are essential principles of governance in the modern world. In order to address the various dimensions of the Afghan women’s issues and the political crisis in Afghanistan, we must provide multidimensional solutions.

I believe that the Taliban have recently made an incredibly disgraceful decision to shut down universities, schools, educational centers, and parks for women and girls in the country. Furthermore, the Taliban have not evolved, and are unable to meet the needs of Afghan citizens. Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the Higher Education Minister of the Taliban, has stated that religious beliefs are more important than the national interest, progress, civilization, and development of the society. This statement from Nadeem demonstrates that the Taliban do not prioritize the development of Afghanistan, nor do they value human dignity, women’s rights, and their involvement in social and political activities.

Women’s slogans against the restrictions
The Taliban’s traditionalist regime demonstrates a lack of understanding of modernism. All they are capable of is rejecting it. This clash between the two ideologies has exacerbated the cultural crisis in Afghanistan. For instance, educated women who chant slogans such as “Women, Life, Freedom”, “The Right to Work and Education”, and “All or None” are demonstrating their defiance of the Taliban’s orders. These slogans are a critical response to traditionalism and oppressive movements that are attempting to dismantle all political and cultural structures. However, these slogans do not reflect the collective sentiment of all Afghan women. Afghan women are known for their love, sacrifice, and selflessness. Now, the image of women around the world is being reduced to a Hollywood-like woman: love, sacrifice, suffering, and inspirational values. This does not accurately portray a human being.

Neither the Taliban nor western societies, who are defenders of women’s rights, are able to accurately understand Afghan women, despite the solutions offered by human rights organizations. As a social activist, I blame the U.S. and its allies for the current situation in Afghanistan, as they do not take any practical steps to support Afghan women and citizens, but merely condemn the Taliban’s aggression. Despite millions of dollars being injected into Afghanistan every week under the name of humanitarian aid, a large portion of it actually goes into the Taliban’s pockets.
This slogan, “Freedom for All, Education for All”, has a long history and carries a strong philosophical message of resistance to extremism. It can also be seen as a call for women’s rights and freedoms, and should be understood in the context of the history of human thought and phenomenology. However, many Afghans may not be familiar with this idea, as it is not part of their traditional beliefs.

We must use philosophical criticism to challenge traditional norms, so that we can address the issues we face. Afghans are caught between extremism and intellectualism, and the traditionalist Taliban have contributed to the persistence of extremism by limiting women’s work and education.

Traditionalist Political leaders

We have seen a repeating pattern in our recent history. I am referring to the fact that our social power is a major factor, but not a well-thought-out movement with positive results. Therefore, this pattern will continue to repeat itself as long as extremism and traditionalism remain. Additionally, these beliefs will lead Afghan youth to ignorance as long as Afghans have unrealistic expectations of the Taliban and their oppressive leaders.

We have no choice but to think carefully; otherwise, Afghan women will become pawns in a political game. Now is the time for Afghan intellectuals, cultural figures, and artists to take the lead. Both the Taliban and the protestors consider their ideas to be the only viable option. Therefore, the protestors must demonstrate that the Taliban’s traditionalist view is incorrect. Meanwhile, Afghan citizens should call for a legitimate government, democracy, and demand their rights.

The citizens must also have a good grasp of their society and the world at large, and be able to differentiate between traditional women and modern women who wish to break away from traditional norms. This is the only way to free ourselves from entrenched social and historical conventions. Another major issue in our society is that our supposed elites do not act promptly. In reality, someone who is angry and resentful is often seen as an elite, whereas the role of elites should not to display anger in society. In actuality, an elite is someone with the capability to assist the people, put an end to cruelty, and demonstrate new paths.

In my opinion, the only way to save the system (and our country) is not through violence, but through wisdom, which is something our society is currently lacking. In the midst of the conflict between two ideologies, extremists are very vocal, but the voices of peaceful, wise, and intelligent people are not heard. Unfortunately, there is no sign of wisdom in our society today. People who make money from conflicts are trying to increase social and political divisions. We must try to fill these gaps with a legal system. I also believe that violent perspectives should be replaced with rationality.

The Taliban have caused severe and irreversible damage to the social infrastructure. We know that the only way to address the current socio-political and economic issues in Afghanistan is to have trained and specialized personnel. Unfortunately, the Taliban’s return to power has caused us to lose the progress made in the past twenty years, and has caused social divisions to widen. Excluding women from political, social, and cultural areas is a huge setback to the system that was built with great effort. Furthermore, preventing women from working will have disastrous economic consequences for families run by women. The Taliban’s restrictions on Afghan women will tear Afghanistan apart.

Therefore, the solutions to the crisis in Afghanistan involve multilateral political discussions and a system based on the people‘s vote. I suggest federalism as the best political solution for Afghanistan due to its diversity, focus on the people, and emphasis on security. Federalism can resolve the conflicts between tradition and modernity, as well as the ethical and racial issues in Afghanistan, preventing the people of the south from interfering in the affairs of the north and vice versa.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for Afghans to create a new political system based on the people‘s votes, as a radical minority holds the power and does not want to share it with all citizens. Therefore, it is up to the international community to build a new system based on the will of the Afghan people. The United States and its coalition‘s miscalculations have caused the tragedy and extremism in Afghanistan, but they still have the chance to build a new, peoplevotebased system through diplomacy. If they do not, Afghanistan will likely experience a devastating civil war soon.