Why is the Taliban so afraid of women that it seeks to keep them prisoners in their own homes?
One month ago, a hidden camera captured images of three Taliban in Pakistan's Swat valley holding down Chand Bibi, a 17-year-old girl, and flogging her 37 times. At first, they acknowledged the incident, but later forced the girl to deny that this public abuse of human rights took place.
While this particular incident was filmed, thousands of similar incidents each week go unrecorded.
It is just this type of abuse that has led to the steady withdrawal of support for the Taliban-style elements who have been active in Kashmir since 1988. In one common practice, they would force their way into local homes, especially those where young women lived, and insist on spontaneously "marrying" the disgusted women they encountered. After staying in the house for a few days, the "guests" would divorce their temporary "wives" and disappear. In many cases, women were forced into several consecutive such "marriages."
Because of the fear of retribution, households would not report such crimes, although they naturally turned against those whose stated rationale for entering Kashmir was to liberate them from Indian control. By 1995, even the majority of those Kashmir Valley residents who had earlier supported the jihadists were either neutral or hostile to them. Increasingly, Kashmiris took up arms in order to free their land of such invaders. Yet despite decades of attempted Wahhabi indoctrination, the Kashmiris remain essentially a loving, moderate, family-oriented people.
Another Caste System
In ancient India, once the hereditary caste system took root, the "lesser" castes were denied education, thus forcing them to work only in menial and often degrading capacities. Today, Wahhabism has adopted the caste system, relegating all non-Wahhabis and women alike to the status of slaves. In towns and villages across the world, Wahhabi heads of households deny education to their daughters, often marrying them off at the age of 14-16, so that many become grandmothers by the time they are in their 30s. Women are forced to do backbreaking work, and are frequently beaten and abused.
A similar situation prevails in those households in Iran that are headed by Khomeinists. Mothers are neglected, wives are beaten, and daughters are sent away as slaves to men who may be many times their age. Apparently, the Wahhabis and the Khomeinists are terrified that some women might prove themselves just as competent as men if given the chance to compete in school or the workplace. This fear is why they condemn women to illiteracy and deny them the chance of leading productive lives.
Such practices mean that music, literature, art, culture, science and any form of learning are absent from households dominated by Wahhabis and Khomeinists. In their place are the screams of the tortured women and the harsh commands of their male oppressors.
It was only by forcibly denying education to the underprivileged that the upper castes in India were able to retain their dominance over others for so long. An example of that ruthless attitude is the story of Ekalavya, a lower-caste boy who watched from a hilltop as the master archer Drona taught some princes how to handle a bow and arrow. By watching Drona, Ekalavya mastered archery, and when he finally came down from the hilltop, he challenged the princes to a competition and won.
An astonished Drona asked who the young boy's teacher was. "It is you, Master," was the reply. And Ekalavya revealed how he had learnt archery by watching Drona give his lessons. On hearing this, Drona demanded his guru dakshina -- a payment from the student -- a demand to which Ekalavya instantly agreed. Drona asked for the right thumb of Ekalavya as his dakshina, thus ensuring that the lower-caste lad would no longer be able to best his upper-caste pupils.
In those days, even to mutter a few lines of the magnificent philosophical texts of the ancient Hindus was a death sentence for members of the lower caste – just as a modern education is for a woman in territory controlled by the Taliban, who seek to institute a "perfect" Wahhabi state wherever they rule. Such a state would have the Taliban as the masters, and the rest of the population as slaves, just as it was in India during the centuries when the caste system prevailed.
Resistance From Within
It was because of that abuse and inequality that the Hindu kings were defeated by much smaller armies of Muslim invaders from the west. Had there been social justice in India, and had the entire population risen up to repel the invader, India would never have been conquered. But because they were slaves, the majority of the population saw no reason to challenge the invaders.
In the same way, the Persian forces under Darius were defeated by the much smaller Greek armies led by Alexander the Great. The Greeks were free citizens and highly motivated troops who were protecting their liberty. The Persian soldiers were slaves, who showed little willingness to sacrifice their lives for their king and his empire.
Ultimately the Taliban too will be defeated, only not by rival armies, but because of their oppression of their own people. Only those who are not aware of the brutalities of this gang support them. Anyone who has lived under Taliban occupation would dread their return, especially women and those with even minimal education. Under Wahhabi rule, schools and colleges become factories for processing young men psychologically in such a way that they are unfit for any occupation in the modern world.
Small wonder that there are no great books, works of art or music, or scientific discoveries anywhere in the world governed by the Wahhabists and the Khomeinists. There is much talk in Iran of the rockets that the Khomeinist government has launched, even though scientists know that these are just copies of models developed by North Korea with help from Russia and China. Until Iran breaks free of the stifling influence of a policy of suppressing women and independence of thought, the vibrant population of that ancient country -- which at one time almost took control of much of the known world -- will not be able to realize its huge scientific and artistic potential.
Although Wahhabi textbooks routinely abuse the Shi'a, and the ruling elite in Iran claim to be Shi'a, it is interesting to note the silent partnership that is developing between the Khomeinists and the Wahhabis. Both groups seek to legitimize a personal dictatorship, even though such inequality is anathema to genuine Muslims, whose faith is founded on the equality of all believers. The restrictions on women and several other characteristics of Wahhabi and Khomeinist societies have nothing in common with the teachings of the great faith which both claim to champion.
In Wahhabi and in Khomeinist societies, women are forced to cover themselves from head to toe, as though males were predators who would otherwise pounce on them. The reality is that such men can be a danger even to women wearing the Taliban-approved dress, as is clear from the rapes and floggings of women in Taliban-dominated societies.
By denying young men the kind of education that would help to equip them for careers in the modern world, and by denying young women any education at all, the Taliban are ensuring their own inevitable downfall. The desire for justice, for equality, for education, and for betterment is too strong within the human mind to remain suppressed forever.
The Taliban needs to be fought not by adopting its own evil practices -- as the government in Afghanistan has recently done, by legalizing marital rape -- but by clinging to the values of equality and devotion to knowledge that ensured the growth of empires, including that of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad in the centuries following his revelations.
Devotion needs to be like sugar dissolved in water, an invisible but omnipresent infusion. Had school textbooks in the West been as narrowly focused as they are in Wahhabi-Khomeinist states, science and culture would have failed to blossom there as well.
The Taliban are scared of knowledge, as they are of women, and seek to drive away the first and enslave the second. They will be defeated, not by armies from the outside, but by the men and women of the lands they temporarily control, who seek a better life, a life where they are free to think for themselves and build a better life for all, whatever faith they may profess.
M. D. Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University, India. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.