Prime Minister Stephen Harper is “deeply troubled” by news of Afghan legislation that decriminalizes rape within marriage, forbids women to leave the home or see a doctor without the protection of a husband or father, and places custody of children solely in the hands of male family members. Or so he says.
Finland’s foreign minister brought the proposed new law to world attention at this week’s NATO summit in the Hague. The revelation threw a spanner into what should have been a Barrack Obama love-in, with the US president using his star status to push plans for a major escalation in the Afghan war.
As soon as the matter was out in the open, politicians were tripping over each other in the rush to denounce the scandalous law. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters, “This is an area of absolute concern for the United States. My message is very clear. Women’s rights are a central part of the foreign policy of the Obama administration.”
Harper put his finger on the problem when he said in a CBC interview, “The concept that women are full human beings with human rights is very, very central to the reason the international community is engaged in this country.”
Yes, well, so we’ve heard.
The question arises, if the new law is such an outrage, why did Canada, the US and almost everybody else wait to protest until after the Finns brought the matter up? Was the Finnish government privy to secret information coming out of Afghanistan, information that had escaped the notice of American intelligence?
As a matter of fact, the Finnish government uncovered the story in the time-honoured manner. They read it in the Guardian the day before. So did nobody from the American, Canadian or British delegations read the papers that day, or were they just hoping to ignore the inconvenient story?
The question answers itself. There can be little doubt that officials from all of these countries were aware of the UN reports on which the Guardian story was based, some time before the news went public. If not, what are they doing in their jobs? For that matter, the world knew years ago that the human rights for which, we are told, our soldiers are fighting have never been available to most Afghans, and most especially not to women.
In September 2007, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that more than half the women in Afghan jails were there for “moral crimes” such as adultery, leaving their husbands, sheltering runaway women, or being found in the company of a man who is not a relative.
Earlier that same year, German NGO Mendica Mondial reported that “the judiciary overwhelmingly tends to hold women responsible for crimes even when they themselves are the victims, and cases are judged employing tribal laws or traditions instead of codified law. In particular accusations of ‘zina,’ or sexual intercourse outside of marriage, irrespective of the truth, are often prosecuted and the woman sentenced to prison even when she was the victim of rape.”
The notion that we are at war in Afghanistan to protect human rights has been insupportable from the beginning, since we threw our lot in with the Northern Alliance, a cabal of narco-warlords, torturers and thugs that now controls the parliament where the new law was enacted. According to Afghan women’s rights activist and member of parliament Malalia Joya, the Karzai government is “little more than a photocopy of the Taliban.”
Joya travelled to Canada, Britain, and the US last year, to try to bring this message to the governments who are making war to support the parliament she describes as “a mafia.” Oddly enough, none of those governments expressed the outrage then that suddenly overwhelmed them this week.
Here is just one of Joya’s heartbreaking stories. “Recently a 22-year-old woman was raped in front of her children by 15 local commanders of a fundamentalist party, closely connected to the government. The commanders then urinated in the face of the children. These things happen frequently.”
If Harper really cared about Afghan women’s rights, he had the opportunity to prove it when Joya was suspended from parliament for raising these issues. He happened to be in Afghanistan when she was thrown out of parliament to cries of “whore” and “rape her.” When the NDP’s Alexa McDonough wrote to ask Harper to raise a formal objection, she got a letter back from Foreign Affairs informing her of the “independence of Afghan lawmakers.”
Two Canadian governments and as many in the US and the UK, have turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in Afghanistan, and all the phony outrage in the world won’t change that fact. Maybe Karzai will find a way to withdraw this heinous legislation, and maybe he won’t. If he does, it will make a good propaganda victory for the allies, but most Afghan women will still have no protection at all.
Canada is committed to a combat role in Afghanistan for nearly three more years. It could hardly be clearer that concern for the human rights of Afghan citizens is an excuse for this war, whose real purpose is to cement the Western hegemony over South and Central Asia, and over the region’s vast energy riches.
When you strip away the phony posturing and the belated outrage, you are left with the brutal reality. Canadian troops are killing and dying for a lie.
How many more lives is it worth?
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.