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 →
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Lurking behind any discussion of men and masculinities is a deep presumption that men are aggressive sexual predators disposed to raging violence, while women are passive victims good only for reproduction. If this binary construction is ‘natural’, if it is our DNA as a species, then what is the point of asking ‘Why are men and women unequal?’ ‘Why are lesbians and gays oppressed?’ ‘Why are many men violent?’ ‘Why is sexual violence so common?’
Yet these are old, very important questions. For thousands of years the most forceful answers have come from the people who dominate society. Continue reading →
This is the first of two posts looking to the history of abortion rights in America. Both focus on lessons learned that we can use in the fight for abortion rights in the future. We make two central points in this post. Abortion rights were won by a mass movement, not the Supreme Court. Second, the abortion wars continue because abortion has come to stand for women’s equality, sexual freedom and desire. Continue reading →
Kemal Atatűrk -Founding Father of the Turkish Republic
There is a lot to be learned when a society is changing rapidly and radically. This blog is an excerpt from Thank God, We’re Secular: Gender, Islam and Turkish Republicanism, published in Turkish in 2001. This is a piece about Turkish Islamophobia, and about the class divide between Turkish elites and the working class. Continue reading →
For Valentine’s Day, here is something light – a story by Nancy Lindisfarne from DANCING IN DAMASCUS, her collection of short stories about Syria in the 1990s (SUNY, 2000).
‘Come on. I’ll help you if you want.’ Rana grinned. She was lively, shiny, like her curly dark hair. And she was a gorgeous shape. So he didn’t really mind that she was also saying he was hopeless, the kind of guy who didn’t have the gumption to buy a Barbie doll for his kid. Continue reading →