The Taliban’s continuing war on schoolgirls

Back in 2003 I posted about the Taliban’s evil (I can’t think of a better word) efforts to destroy the girls’ schools established throughout Afghanistan after– and as a result of– the US invasion. Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime, education for girls was virtually nonexistent.

Sadly, as Newsweek reports, almost three years later those efforts continue.

Summer vacation has only begun, but as far as 12-year-old Nooria is concerned, the best thing is knowing she has a school to go back to in the fall. She couldn’t be sure the place would stay open four months ago, after the Taliban tried to burn it down. Late one February night, more than a dozen masked gunmen burst into the 10-room girls’ school in Nooria’s village, Mandrawar, about 100 miles east of Kabul. They tied up and beat the night watchman, soaked the principal’s office and the library with gasoline, set it on fire and escaped into the darkness. The townspeople, who doused the blaze before it could spread, later found written messages from the gunmen promising to cut off the nose and ears of any teacher or student who dared to return.

The threats didn’t work. Within days, most of the school’s 650 pupils were back to their studies. Classes were held under a grove of trees in the courtyard for several weeks, despite the winter chill, until repairs inside the one-story structure were complete. Nearby schools replaced at least some of the library’s books. But the hate mail kept coming, with threats to shave the teachers’ heads as well as mutilate their faces. Earlier this month, NEWSWEEK visited and talked to students and faculty on the last day of classes. Nooria, who dreams of becoming a teacher herself, expressed her determination to finish school. “I’m not afraid of getting my nose and ears cut off,” she said, all dressed up in a long purple dress and headscarf. “I want to keep studying.”

…Today the Ministry of Education says the country has 1,350 girls’ schools, along with 2,900 other institutions that hold split sessions, with girls-only classes in the afternoon. (Coeducation is still forbidden.) More than a third of Afghanistan’s 5 million schoolchildren are now girls, compared with practically none in early 1992. In the last six months, however, Taliban attacks and threats of attacks have disrupted or shut down more than 300 of those schools.

Yvonne Ridley, who was arrested by the Taliban in 2001, says they have suffered an unfair press. Perhaps Ridley (a member of the Respect Coalition national council who will speak at the Socialist Workers Party’s Marxism 2006) or anyone else who believes Afghans were better off before the overtrhow of the Taliban should be required to explain their reasons to Nooria.

Some readers didn’t like what I wrote in 2003, but I’ll repeat it anyway:

It occurs to me that leftists scouring the world for humanitarian causes to support could do worse than volunteer to stand guard at Afghan girls’ schools. Maybe the International Solidarity Movement could spare a few of their people for the task. Maybe some of the former “human shields” in Iraq are looking for a new cause.

Or would such a mission lack the necessary frisson of hostility to Israel and America?

Update: And I’m unsurprised to see some readers still don’t like it.