Come from the Shadows

Come from the Shadows: part 5

From Terry Glavin’s book Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan, pages 107-112:

Another leading North American women’s rights activist who had stuck with Afghan women for the duration was Lauryn Oates. It was with Oates that I first visited the Omid-e-mirmun orphanage in Kabul. When I visited the orphanage again two years later, it was also with her. We were working together on a research assignment with the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.

It’s not every North Vancouver firefighter’s kid whose story goes from being a guest of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov to surviving a near-fatal motorcycle accident in northern Uganda to getting tossed into a Syrian prison. Or who has both funny pedestrian episodes—like losing luggage for the umpteenth time in Dubai—and much darker moments, like taking calls in the middle of the night from BBC reporters after the bloodbath of September 11 and patiently explaining, for the umpteenth time, the nature of barbarism in Afghanistan. But that’s what Oates’s life had been like. When those airliners plunged into the World Trade Center towers and the world suddenly needed people to explain what the Taliban was, Oates was barely nineteen. By September 11, she had already been an anti·Taliban activist for five years.
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The way Oates tells it, it all started in 1996. She was in Grade 9, quick with the attitude and utterly shiftless. One day, her mother left a clipping from the Vancouver Sun on her bed: an article about the rise of the Taliban and their enslavement of Afghan women. “I just couldn’t believe this was happening,” Oates remembers. “And the story wasn’t even on the front page. How could the world let this happen?” She spent a few days in a funk, but soon enough she’d drafted a petition and collected about four hundred signatures, mostly from friends, family, her fellow students and shoppers she’d browbeaten at the local mall. She sent the petition to Ottawa, Washington and the UN. She found a fax number on a Taliban website and fired the petition off to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. She hasn’t slowed down since.
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Forgiving as she is, Oates was early to lose patience with “anti-war” equivocations. Not once since 2001 had she flinched from her early conviction that a profound moral duty demands that Canada send soldiers to Afghanistan. First things come first. Sometimes you need soldiers. Oates’s deepest convictions rest on an uncluttered bedrock. Human rights are universal, women are human beings and it is only with the emancipation of Afghan women that Afghans will free themselves from obscurantism and slavery. Universal access to a liberal education is the one certain and rocky road to lasting peace. If that meant sending soldiers to Afghanistan to fight Talibs, then that’s what it meant. Her views put Oates on the militant side of aid-agency debates and foursquare within the minority, muscular position in debates on the “Left,” though in Canada those debates never really got off the ground. The Canadian liberal-left shifted incoherently back and forth along the spectrum between outright capitulation, at the troops-out end, and the mewling neutrality of the peace-talks lobby. Oates had staked her ground early. Against anything that even vaguely resembled neutrality, she dug her heels in deeper as the years passed.

…In the Afghan “expert” community, Oates had earned a well-deserved reputation as a cool-headed, formidable academic. Among NGO staff in Afghanistan, she was widely respected for her solid, authoritative and analytical research. But when she turned to the more sinister aspects of the neutrality charade, Oates could be counted on to be blunt, especially when politicians were playing the game. “When it comes to Islamo-fascist terrorism, I want to be clear with myself where I stand. There is only one side that history will forgive, and it’s not the side of the Taliban, nor the side of passivity.” That kind of language suited the Afghan women’s leadership just fine.

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