Under Fire

Afghan women protest a law restricting their rights. It was passed during US occupation.

When I was 25, I organized the first gay protest march after the Stonewall Riots. Up to the point where we assembled in Washington Square Park I was scared, thinking of MLK’s assassination and of how many people hated gays and would have been willing to shoot us. On that day and on several other occasions I overcame my fear, but I’ve never had to face the same challenges as Afghan women do today. Would I have the courage to march under a hail of Taliban bullets? I don’t know, but some of them did just that, and within the last few months. Below in italics are excerpts of a January 2nd article by Phyllis Chesler, who used to live in Afghanistan and is in touch with feminists there.

One woman, let me call her Zahra (that is not her name), has organized demonstrations against the Taliban in the last few months. The women have marched for “Bread, Work, Freedom, Political Participation” under a hail of bullets, accompanied by armed and menacing Taliban “watchers.”

 Their signs also read “Save Afghanistan from Disaster” and “Why is the world watching us so cruelly?” (I think they mean how can the world stand by and do nothing while they are being treated with such cruelty.)

 The demonstrators have also been beaten. But the Taliban did not kill any demonstrator—at least, not yet. But they seem to know where the demonstrators are hiding. Some turn up and their mere presence terrorizes the women who are cold, hungry, isolated, and in hiding.

 One such demonstrator is only asking to be moved to another safe house, perhaps in another city. She is also asking for food.

 I am particularly incensed about these women’s situations, since the U.S. is in no small part responsible. As I’ve reported in previous blog posts, our government:

1) Lured the Soviets to invade Afghanistan, as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said, in order to give the USSR “its own Vietnam War.”

2) Used your tax dollars to fund the mujaheddin, who were essentially Islamist fanatics, to drive out the Soviets. They were successful—and they became the Taliban.

3) After 9/11, invaded Afghanistan, ostensibly because the Taliban wouldn’t surrender Osama bin Laden.

4) To drum up support for the war, our government promised to establish democracy there and improve women’s situation. Around 80-90% of the $2.3 trillion the U.S. spent on the war was a direct transfer from the taxpayer to the military-industrial complex. Most of the rest went to support a corrupt puppet regime. Only $0.001a tenth of a centout of each dollar was used to benefit women, enabling some few in the urban areas to receive an education and obtain decent jobs.

After 20 years of occupation directly killed over 170,000 Afghans and caused countless indirect deaths due to lack of food or medical care (but we did get Osama, by gum!), we abandoned what was left of a devastated country to the Taliban. Immediately following our hasty exit, a small group of women, Chesler included, were able to evacuate some Afghan feminists and their families. Here’s more from her article:

 At this point, we cannot evacuate any more Afghan feminists and their families and get them into the West—or, for that matter, get them anywhere. Every country on earth is now closed to them. And this was true before countries had to lockdown due to the [Corona virus] and its variants. Too many Afghan immigrants are still languishing in crowded refugee camps in the Middle East and all across America. The American government has processed very few applications of any kind; their resistance and inefficiency is monumental.

 An Afghan woman prosecutor begged us to get her out. Before we could try to do so, she disappeared and was later found murdered. A lawyer is now imploring us to rescue her. She tells me: “If the Taliban find me they will rape me and then kill me.”

 Very recently, Canada, and perhaps America, have agreed to open their doors to Afghans but only if they or their rescuers can find both sponsors and funders. The governments are, in effect, outsourcing these tasks to civilians. It has been civilians: NGOs, former military, church and Jewish groups, and our feminist “digital Dunkirk” group, that have done the jobs best carried out by governments or world bodies.

 For now, Afghan doctors and midwives continue to risk their lives in order to treat such women. Food, medicine, wood, and blankets are still being delivered. Some are getting a handful of high priority women out—but not into the West. Such work is still being organized by the Afghan Rescue Project and by Team Themis.

It infuriates me that the taxes I am forced to pay every year, on penalty of imprisonment, were and are used to commit mass murder. That a mere token amount was dribbled out to promote women’s education and job opportunities, and that the U.S. has now abandoned most of the women it helped to the tender mercies of the Taliban—an organization it had a large hand in creating. And that it left the work of saving lives, even a handful of them, to a sprinkling of underfunded charitable organizations.

My only consolation is that every dollar I send to those charities is a dollar the feds can’t tax. I hope the readers of this blog feel the same way–please give what you can. As it is written in the Talmud, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

6 Responses to Under Fire

  1. Connie O Byrne January 11, 2022 at 3:27 am #

    Oh Martha, please be careful. My prayers are simple…Creator, keep Martha and all others trying to help the women of Afghanistan escape the clutches, the brutally, of the Taliban safe in their mission.

    There’s not much I can personally do to be of assistance. However, I am sharing your posts with every woman I know in the hopes of stirring others to lend a hand. Of course, a big question is how we can support the group’s efforts financially.

    Again, please be careful. Your voice is too important to lose. You have been a keeper of the history of the women involved in moving the Women’s/LBGTQ+ movements forward. And being a driving force in that struggle in your own right.

  2. Martha Shelley January 11, 2022 at 11:20 am #

    Connie, thank you very much for your good words. However, I’m not going to Afghanistan. My wife and I are too old and physically limited to be on the front lines–we live on a quiet street in Portland, OR. All I can do is contribute to those who are on the front lines, and urge others to do the same.

  3. Connie O Byrne January 11, 2022 at 4:00 pm #

    Can you hear me breath a sigh of relief? And since you can’t possibly be older than me….don’t say you’re too old. As my granddaughter said to me in 2015 (when I said I thought I was too old to “punk” my hair… multiple colors): since when has that ever stopped you?!? My hair wound up bring fuchsia on top, turquoise and purple on the lower layers…lol.
    But seriously, how can my friends and I financially support the women doing the work on the ground? Is there a non-profit set up? Since the feds decided they really didn’t want my money last year, I do for the first time in my life have a savings account with more than $50 in it
    Keep on being your own true self

  4. Martha Shelley January 11, 2022 at 4:09 pm #

    I’m 78. Don’t know how old you are. I did put some purple in my hair a few years ago, but now I just let it all go grey. And what with Covid, I have my wife Sylvia cut it these days instead of going to the beauty shop.

    It says in the article, “Such work is still being organized by the Afghan Rescue Project and by Team Themis..” You can find them on line and donate.
    Thank you, very, very much!

  5. Connie O Byrne January 13, 2022 at 1:58 am #

    Martha, thanks so much for the info on the two organizations…since I just found out the $$ I’d been sitting on all year to pay last year’s federal taxes wasn’t needed (they somehow took the money out of my account without me noticing), I’ve put some of it back into circulation…lol. Good things that need help abound, but this one, to me, was imperative. How our government could screw things up so royally is beyond me. No, sadly, it’s really not.
    Keep on writing and I’ll keep on reading and sharing. The world needs you!!

  6. Martha Shelley January 13, 2022 at 8:42 am #

    Thank you!

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