“Could you please save my life?” People know that I am a single girl with a medical degree who has worked with Europeans and Americans to research women’s health. I broke the conservative rules of my company.
The 26-year-old Afghan’s plea came to Phyllis Chesler through a mutual activist friend from the UK. “I found a great place in India where she would work in an orphanage for disabled girls that a dear friend founded in Calcutta,” says Chesler, 80.
Did not work. After Kabul surrendered to the Taliban, he had no further news from the doctor who refused marriage requests from his relatives in order to continue to practice his profession. “I was unable to contact her by phone or email.”
Professor Emeritus of Psychology at New York University, Chesler is an influential American feminist. Her pioneering studies on how women were historically associated with insanity for not fulfilling the domestic and marital roles expected of them.
More recent writings prompted the Afghan doctor to seek her out. He was counting on Chesler’s empathy. In 2013, she wrote “An American Bride in Kabul”, an autobiography that begins: “I once lived in a harem in Afghanistan”.
Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in New York City, Chesler was 18 when, in the late 1950s, she fell in love with a young man who shared her passion for existentialism and the New Wave. Abdul-Kareem was a Westernized Muslim who said he wanted to be a political force for modernization in his native Afghanistan.
In the book, she recounts the experience of traveling with her husband in the Asian nation and having her passport confiscated shortly after landing. Without the help of the American Embassy, which said nothing could be done for an undocumented woman, she went to live in her polygamous stepfather’s house, confined to watching her stepmother sew and beat servants. , even in a Kabul that breathed a more progressive air at the time.
Her husband said he didn’t want her wandering the streets alone for fear the young American in jeans and sneakers would be kidnapped and raped. “I quickly found out that her father had three wives and 21 children and that I had to live with her mother,” she tells Folha. “I was not allowed to go out without a male escort and female relative. I couldn’t leave the country because they had withdrawn my passport, which happened to all foreign brides. So I was a prisoner in a purdah [conceito para definir a prática de esconder mulheres por meio de véus islâmicos] Very elegant.”
Chesler was held captive for six months and returned to the United States on a medical excuse. She was pregnant and suffered from severe dysentery. As he needed better care, he was allowed to leave the country. He says he kissed the ground at JFK Airport, New York, when he landed in “bookstore country”.
But it was Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and decades of internal conflict that in 1996 ended with the Taliban seizure of power. This mock medieval Islamic caliphate lasted until 2001, when the hosts of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda were driven out by American and British forces after their planned attacks on September 11 of the same year. .
Her experience in Kabul, Chesler admits, is close to what Afghan women went through during the five years of Taliban rule. Work, study or have contact with men outside the family? Certainly not.
“Among the most systematic and destructive abuses by the Taliban against women was the denial of education,” says the NGO Human Rights Watch. “During their government, they banned almost all education for girls and adults.
Leaving the house without a burqa, the veil that covers from head to toe, was also unthinkable, in particular because “a woman’s face is a source of corruption”, as a spokesperson for the group explained. era. There was also a department “for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice,” known as the morality police, to endanger deviants. One of his decrees was to cover the windows on the first floor with black paint so that anyone on the street could not see the women of the house.
During their first year in office, the Taliban closed hair salons and cut off part of a woman’s thumb with nail polish. Punishments for offenders included public flogging and executions.
When the doctor attempting to escape Kabul searched for Chesler, the Taliban’s march already seemed unstoppable. “I’ve heard that in some provinces where the Taliban have taken power, single girls are forced to marry [com membros do movimento]», Reports the Afghan in a message published by the American. “Some parents have decided to ‘sacrifice’ their daughters, handing them over to marriage just to gain the satisfaction of the Taliban, hoping that they will be protected from further attacks.”
Foreign activists and NGOs have heard reports that Afghan women have paid smugglers to take them to neighboring countries such as Pakistan, India and Tajikistan. “These are hostile and misogynistic places. They would rather have an unknown future than stay and face the Taliban. The advance of fundamentalists across the territory has boosted the news like that of the 21-year-old girl who was shot for wearing a burqa deemed too fair. The murder was blamed on the fundamentalist faction, which denied its authorship.
The seasoned feminist recognizes that the doctor is one of “thousands of women, dissidents and homosexuals” who are now in the crosshairs of the group that is back in charge. And even she couldn’t save herself, at least not yet. He found himself face to face with bureaucratic walls. The British government, according to Chesler, refused to put the Afghan woman on a flight out of the country.
A Norwegian NGO the doctor even worked for said it would help, “but only after she magically appeared in Norway,” Chesler quipped. “A German offered money and maybe a business jet, but he couldn’t get help from his country’s government either.”
The decision to withdraw Western troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of war was, for her, hasty, “not to say horrible”. “We know what’s going to happen next, what’s already happening. There will be countless massacres, executions, amputations at the behest of the Sharia [a lei islâmica] and stoning. “
For the American ex-fiancee in Kabul, in renouncing the conflict, US President Joe Biden shows no appreciation for Afghan women. “Although the United States traveled to Afghanistan to meet Bin Laden, the empowerment of women was made possible by the presence of Western boots,” she says. “The illusion that we could moderate medieval barbarism has been put aside. The Taliban are more likely than ever to train jihadists everywhere. Genghis Khan triumphed over Biden’s America.