Dossier 17: Afghanistan goes to absurd lengths to implement Islamic laws

Publication Author: 
Jean-Pierre Perrin
September 1997
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The innumerable bans imposed by Taliban renders everyday life a veritable punishment.

The latest orders for regulating the life of Afghans came into force yesterday. Their severity reveals the determination of the Taliban, out to capture the parts of the country that have so far evaded them.

In Kabul, life has become a never-ending punishment. Since the enforcement of law on "the commandment of the good and interdiction of the evil", whose latest measures are applicable as of yesterday, everything is forbidden. For the Taliban government, gaiety is suspect. The only thing of any importance is the magic word: "eradication". Eradication of music, songs and dance, eradication of betting games with pigeons and larks, a veritable passion of Afghans. Eradication of all pictures as well: henceforth, the presence of a single photograph is enough to warrant closing down of a shop; television sets are being hung at public places. Even the kite, one of the rare toys that kids in Kabul could have access to and which, in spite of the war and misery, had continued to brighten the skies, has been accursed; the Taliban hold it guilty of keeping children away from Koranic education. There are also instances where bans are imposed without their propounders furnishing any reasons thereof such as the one forbidding the use of drums for which "Ulema noblemen have been asked to find justifications".

Women, yet again, have been the first targets of the new measures to be imposed. The chadri, a long veil covering the entire body with only a tiny netting at eye-level has not been found good enough. Today, what the Taliban want is that they remain indoors. The ban imposed on them forbidding washing their linen "in streams and deserts (sic)" or going to the tailor’s makes it clear enough. Even the Iranian chador, which conceals the body but allows a small part of the face to be seen, has been compared to some kind of a lascivious miniskirt and banned and since women no longer have the right to any will or responsibility of their own, it is the husband who is liable to be punished if the woman disturbs Islamic order in any way.

Over and above the interdictions, there are also obligations which are perhaps even worse. At present, it is mandatory for all the men to resemble the image that one holds of the prophet. Woe betide the beardless: since yesterday, all those who sport beards that have been trimmed or shaved are being arrested, imprisoned "till the time their beards grow bushy"; apparently, the new masters of Kabul wish to ignore the fact that the Hazaras, one of the main Afghan ethnic groups, have been endowed with a rather meagre philosophy. As the professor Kacem Fazelli points out, "we are getting back to the communist system, which displayed the same excessiveness but with a different purpose: the communists wanted to create paradise on earth, the Taliban see it only in the hereafter". Irony of history: it was the women students of higher education establishments of Kabul who had been the first to revolt against the communist regime and its Soviet allies by organizing a protest march on the Kabul streets. Today, they do not have the right to study or even go out.

The severity of the order that they have been imposing has not deterred the Taliban from progressing. Hailing from Kandahar, a big southern Afghan city, in the autumn of 1994, they conquered alternately the western and the eastern part of the country before reaching Kabul on 27th September 1996. After many setbacks, they retook the offensive and experts opine that they are all set to seize the remaining one-third of Afghanistan by this spring.

Compared to the Taliban, the coalition which comprises an ex communist chief of army, Abdul Rachid Dostom, the legendary Islamic commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, and the leader of pro-Iranian Shiites, Khalili, appears disunited and exhausted. Already, on the other bank of the Amou Daria, the river which separates the Muslim states of the ex- USSR from Afghanistan, one is on a war footing. "We are keeping watch. It is impossible to predict Taliban’s frame of mind, the euphoria that will engulf them once on the banks of the Amou Daria. We should immediately take military action", declared the Uzbek President, Islam Karimov, on Friday. According to Uzbek sources, reservists born in the fifties had been mobilized.

If they attack Central Asia, the Taliban will revive an ancient history. They are actually the products of a religious trend derived from the Indian school of Deoband, a university set up by the English colonizers to immobilize Afghans belonging to religious orders in an extremely rigid way of thinking so that they would put up "a wall of faith" against the advancement of the czar’s troops into Afghanistan.

In the meantime, the hold of the Taliban is getting stronger by the day. It is true that they were welcomed by a population that had been exhausted by wars between various Islamic factions which had destroyed the city and had overwhelmed them with their extortions. The Taliban attribute the military successes that they have been amassing to the will of God.

Curiously enough, not a single specialist had predicted their emergence. Only the poet Sayed Bahodine Majrouh, considered the greatest writer of his country today, had prophesied it, much before he was assassinated, in 1988: "The children did not play any more. They no longer had the permission to laugh. Nor the lovers to walk between woods and gardens. It was all the time forbidden to...Forbidden to have fun, to joke around, to smile, to kiss behind bushes".

The commandments for "the interdiction of evil"*

Following are the directives laid down by the Taliban on "the commandment of the good and interdiction of evil", signed on 16th December 1996 by the Maulvi (dignitary) Anayatullah Badagh

To combat the danger posed by unveiled women.

Ban on drivers of all types of vehicles from carrying women not sporting the chadri or wearing the Iranian chador (which reveals the face, Ed).

Penalty: imprisonment of the driver of the vehicle. If a woman is sighted walking about in a chador, her house will be marked and her husband punished.

To eradicate music and songs

Ban on possessing cassettes and listening to music.

Penalty: if a cassette is found in a shop: closing down of the shop and imprisonment of the shopkeeper. In a car: seizure of the car and imprisonment of the owner. In case five people are willing to stand surety, the car, and then its owner will be freed.

To stop men from shaving or trimming their beard.

Penalty: if a man is sighted with a trimmed or shaven beard, he will be imprisoned till the time it grows bushy.

To force men to pray in mosques and in the bazar.

Obligation to reach the mosque for the five daily prayers at specified timings. A quarter of an hour prior to these timings, a long rope has to be stretched across all the roads bordering upon mosques in order to (...) force people to get in there.

Penalty: if inspectors chance upon a man hanging around in a shop during prayer timings, he will be imprisoned for ten days.

To eradicate betting games with pigeons and larks.

If the inspectors were to find pigeons and larks in people’s homes, they will behead the birds.

To eliminate use of drugs and drug addicts.

Penalty: closure of sales outlets and imprisonment and execution of vendors and drug users.

To eliminate kites.

Deemed harmful as they lead to bets, cause fatal accidents to children and keep them away from Koranic education.

Penalty: closure of workshops and destruction of kites.

To eradicate idolatry.

Ban on possessing photographs.

Penalty: If the inspectors find photographs, they will tear them. If they find them in cars, these will be stopped and the drivers will be banned from work.

To eradicate gambling.

Penalty: closure of "gambling dens". The managers and gamblers will be imprisoned for a month.

To eradicate mid-length hair, English and American style.

Penalty: arrest of the guilty and complete shaving of the head (shaving costs to be borne by the guilty).

Ban imposed upon money changers.

Money changers ought to be reminded that it is forbidden to change small denomination notes against big ones, issue bills of exchange, to lend or to borrow.

Penalty: imprisonment of money changers for a long period of time.

To prevent women from washing their linen in rivers and deserts.

Penalty: they will be brought back to their homes and their husbands severely punished.

To eradicate drums, songs and dances in weddings.

Penalty: arrestation and punishment of the head of the family.

To eradicate confection of feminine apparel.

Penalty: imprisonment of the tailor if any woman or fashion catalogues are found in his premises.

To eradicate magic.

Books of magicians will be burnt and they themselves put behind bars till the time they repent.

Since December, having photographs or flying kites is forbidden.

* This document will be published in full in the next issue of the magazine les Nouvelles d’Afghanistan, BP254, 75524 Paris, France.

Source: Liberation, Monday 3 March 1997

[The above item has been translated into English from the above original that appeared in French]
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