This interview was first published in the Austrian socialist magazine Linkswende as Frauen in Afghanistan. You can read it in German here.
LINKSWENDE: Since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, the situation of Afghan women has come back into focus. How does this situation look like at the moment concretely?
NANCY LINDISFARNE: I think a place to start is that we need to understand what does actually happen with the Taliban and the actual defeat of the US, militarily and politically. So we’ve got a group pf people who have fought a guerrilla war and they have actually taken over a government with the idea of continuing to be not democratic but ruling a state. And they couldn’t have done this without – nobody wins a guerrilla war, certainly not one where the two sides are so disproportionately powerful and weak – without popular support. And that means that people all over the country have decided that the Taliban are a better deal than either the occupation government or the warlords.
In Afghanistan over 80 percent of the population is living in rural areas or very small towns or villages. This popular support is from men, from women, from everybody. This has been a long time coming and has been kind of growing over a period of time. This isn’t because the Taliban are deeply loved by the Afghan people but simply that they have been a lot better than the cruelty and the corruption of the American government. So that’s the framework I think which is very important and is somehow kind of forgotten in so much of the media.
The situation is enormously precarious for many different reasons. We can’t talk about women without talk about the whole population in a sense that the American occupation, the government of Ashraf Ghani, lost because as I said of the cruelty and the corruption, all that affects everybody. You can’t have a war and bomb people and send drones out and kill only the fighters. So people are in a dreadful situation frankly, partly because the Americans have been humiliated, they’ve been defeated and one of the terrible things that they do in defeat is they exert revenge by making sanctions as a financial penalty. They did this in Vietnam, in Iran, in Iraq, in Cuba.
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: A lot of nonsense about Afghanistan is being written in Britain and the United States. Most of this nonsense hides a number of important truths.
First, the Taliban have defeated the United States.
Second, the Taliban have won because they have more popular support.
Third, this is not because most Afghans love the Taliban. It is because the American occupation has been unbearably cruel and corrupt.
Fourth, the War on Terror has also been politically defeated in the United States. The majority of Americans are now in favor of withdrawal from Afghanistan and against any more foreign wars.
Fifth, this is a turning point in world history. The greatest military power in the world has been defeated by the people of a small, desperately poor country. This will weaken the power of the American empire all over the world.
Sixth, the rhetoric of saving Afghan women has been widely used to justify the occupation, and many feminists in Afghanistan have chosen the side of the occupation. The result is a tragedy for feminism.
This article explains these points. Because this a short piece, we assert more than we prove. But we have written a great deal about gender, politics and war in Afghanistan since we did fieldwork there as anthropologists almost fifty years ago. We give links to much of this work at the end of this article, so you can explore our arguments in more detail.
In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers for nearly a year. The Piruzai, some 200 families, lived in two small settlements near the town of Sar-e Pol in northern Afghanistan. They were Pashtu-speakers, pastoralists and peasant farmers, poor people, working very hard to survive in a vicious feudal system.
The people, the setting, and even the division of labour between Richard and myself seemed to conform to every stereotype about the Middle East. There were veiled women, men on horseback, camel caravans, stunning scenery and dramatic lives. These were stereotypes shared by the Afghan officials, politicians and urban professionals we met in Kabul. But the people we met were not two dimensional.
They were warm, funny, clear-thinking and tough. They understood we were doing research – anthropology – insanshenasi – and they wanted to help us ‘write a book’. They wanted their words to be heard and written down. Living with the Piruzai was an immense privilege and our obligation to tell the story of the Piruzai is on-going. Continue reading →
This article is about three intersecting wars in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The bombings in Paris occurred just as we were finishing the piece, and give our arguments here further tragic relevance.
This piece is 25,000 words long, and readers may find it easier to read by downloading the version here: Oil Empires 16Nov2015 FIN5.
It will help the reader to know from the outset where we stand. We want the mass resistance to the Assad regime in Syria to win, and the Russian armed forces and their allies to leave. We want the Americans and their allies to leave Afghanistan, now, completely. We want Assad and the American, British, French and Russian military to stop bombing the Syrian resistance and the Islamic State.Continue reading →
Nancy Lindisfarne writes: In understanding the Taliban we need to face up honestly to two quite different things. First, the Taliban are on the side of the poor . Most of their supporters come from the poor. The leaders of the Taliban are themselves from among the poor. (In this they are unlike most other Islamist groups.) And when they take power in an area the life circumstances of the poor improve significantly. These are the reasons why many ordinary people support the Taliban.
But there is another truth: the Taliban are also conservative in their sexual politics, and their policies oppress women. This is one of the things most ordinary Afghans and Pakistani Pashtuns don’t like about the Taliban.
Both these things are true. We need to face up to this contradictory reality. So we need to explain the situation in some detail. This post is an academic – but readable – paper explaining the class background of the Taliban. In another post, we shall turn to their right wing gender politics. Continue reading →
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Many people now argue that feminists should support the American and Iranian alliance against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Or they argue that we should support the American and Pakistani armed forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Many other feminists, and many on the left, are confused and unsure. But they also talk as if it was a straight choice between IS and the US, or between the Taliban and the US. ‘Both sides are morally repugnant,’ these people say, ‘but if I have to choose…’
This way of thinking ignores the fact that you are not just choosing between two sides, you are choosing between two ways of waging war. How you kill people is important, and has emotional and political consequences. It matters that American bombing from the air is more cruel, more unequal, kills more women, and kills more children than fighting that on the ground with guns. Continue reading →