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TCL > February 1999 Issue > From The Wool-Sack

February 1999       Vol. 28, No. 2       Page  29
From The Wool-Sack

From The Wool-Sack
by Christopher R Brauchli

Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life.
William Lamb, from G.W.E. Russell,
Collections and Recollections (1898)

The problem with the Taliban is that they have so many bad ideas that on those rare occasions when they have good ideas, people tend not to notice.

The Taliban is the group that controls most of Afghanistan and got to where it is thanks, in part, to the help of the CIA that thought the Afghan people would be happier if the Soviet Union could be persuaded to leave Afghanistan. In 1992, the Soviet-sponsored Afghan government collapsed, and by 1996, the Taliban was firmly in control. Being unaccustomed to governing, however, it devoted much of its energy to promulgating and enforcing bad ideas. Many of its bad ideas pertain to women.

Women are not allowed to work outside the home, except in all-female work environments. When outside the home, they must wear the burqa, a head-to-toe garment that allows only a mesh over the eyes. Militiamen have beaten women who neglected to wear the mesh over their eyes. The Taliban’s interest in things feminine is not limited to apparel. Education is another of its interests.

Soon after taking power, the Taliban closed most schools for women. Home-based schools were unaffected by the early decrees. That oversight was remedied in June 1998, when the Taliban ordered the closing of more than 100 schools in Kabul that had not been affected by the earlier orders. Among the targets were home-based vocational training programs that were teaching girls and young women the art of carpet weaving and sewing.

Religious Affairs Minister Haji Khulimuddin said that the schools may reopen as long as they are subject to control by the Taliban and only girls under age eight attend. Sewing and carpet weaving will no longer be part of the curriculum. Those courses will be replaced by a single topic curriculum—study of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. Although not as useful for those who had aspired to becoming seamstresses or carpet makers, a study of that book may help the girls understand what the Taliban have in store for them as they get older.

The Taliban also have an interest in art. In late 1997, the word went out that people should destroy all pictures of living beings. The Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Department that is in charge of such things instructed painters not to draw images of living beings. An injunction against painting was accompanied by the announcement that: "All pictures of animals and other living creatures hung in shops, houses and other places must be destroyed from tomorrow. All barbers, grocers and other shops throughout Afghanistan are informed to avoid and destroy all pictures of living beings made on paper and plastic toys depicting living beings made for children."Although the Koran addresses women and art it does not, we have recently been informed, address flowers.

Afghanistan grows over half the commercial poppies in the world. Those are the ones that are used to produce opium. In 1997, Undersecretary General Pino Arlacchi announced that the Taliban had agreed to enforce a ban on opium poppy production and smuggling, thereby affecting half the opium in the world. The Taliban movement had already banned the production and consumption of marijuana and its derivative hashish, as well as heroin. But poppies were unaffected by that ban because Islamic law does not prohibit poppy cultivation. In return for aid, the Taliban agreed that as the United Nations or the Taliban identified areas of poppy production, the Taliban would destroy the fields.

It is, we have now learned, easier to tell women what to wear and painters what to paint than to tell farmers what to grow. According to reports, poppy production is increasing in areas of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. In addition, there are rumors of refineries being opened in Kandahar to produce morphine, if not heroin. Noorullah Zadran, the Taliban’s representative-designate to the United Nations, explained that the Taliban would like to destroy the poppies but the agreement demanded too much too soon. It is simply not economically feasible at the present time to ban opium production.

In view of the foregoing, it would be easy to assume that the Taliban never have any good ideas. They’ve had two.

On July 4, 1998, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, ruled out political parties. He said that Afghanistan had suffered internal enmities in the past because of different parties and, "We do not want divisions in the country and, moreover, Islam also forbids divisions and condemns them." After listening to the caterwauling of the political parties in the United States for the past year, elimination of political parties sounds like a winner. That was not the Taliban’s only good idea.

On July 9, 1998, Hajii Mullah Qalamuddin, Minister for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue, announced a campaign for the destruction of television sets. Although the Taliban closed the national television center in 1996, it had done nothing to get rid of the sets themselves. People were told they had fifteen days to destroy all their sets. Videotapes and satellite dishes were also ordered to disappear. Those failing to follow instructions were told the religious police would do it for them. According to the minister, elimination of the television sets will give people more time to pray.

Since we have separation of church and state, we don’t need more time to pray. If political parties and television sets disappeared, however, we could sure enjoy the silence.

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