I've resisted writing about the alleged 'law' under review in Afghanistan for a couple of reasons.
The first is that I try not to do outrage here. I may deal with subjects that outrage me, but I try to calm down before writing because I don't think much is accomplished by flying off the handle. The second reason is something doesn't feel right about all of this. Too many facts are missing and the story keeps morphing.
That said, watching Stockwell Day in the House today and then the Ambassador to Afghanistan on CTV, well, I just wanted to get a few things down that are bothering me, aside from the obvious of course.
In the House, Bob Rae asked Day when he knew about this law.
“Mr. Speaker, the head of women’s affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said that western silence had been ‘disastrous’ for women’s rights in Afghanistan. She went on to say something which is very pertinent, ‘If they had got more involved in the process when it was discussed in Parliament, we could have stopped it,’” he reported. “I would like to ask the government, when was it aware of the legislation being proposed with respect to women in Afghanistan and what did it do about it when it heard about it?”
Day didn't answer which under normal circumstances with that crew wouldn't be weird, but what he did say was odd. He said:
“Mr. Speaker, I was in Afghanistan only about two or three weeks ago and the officials in Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan were not even aware of this legislation coming at them.”
Doesn't that sound as if he knew? Doesn't that sound as if he mentioned it and those he spoke with were unaware?
That's really disturbing to me if in fact that's the case. I'm not diminishing the fact that I'm sure he's outraged too, but if he knew... I suppose the other option is that he has an odd way of phrasing things and maybe he didn't know. That too is disturbing. This was passed in February. Shouldn't we have more awareness of what is happening in that country?
Obviously we have no right to blatantly interfere in their parliamentary process, but given that we have made a pretty big deal of our contribution in terms of assisting with governance issues, how could we not know this law had been passed?
In addition to the outrage I felt when I heard this, I confess to feeling an overwhelming sadness specifically for the women of Afghanistan, but for the country in general. I don't think anyone expected the country to turn around on a dime, nor do I happen to think that our way of life is the 'be all to end all', but I do believe that everyone has the right to freedom, happiness, expression, safety...you know what I mean. Not Western rights or values, but human rights, human values.
The facts surrounding this particular law are strange. It's purported to be driven by either Shi'a members of parliament or Karzai supporters looking to gain the vote of the Hazara Shi'a, which is a tiny minority in the country. Aside from being a minority, they have been one of the most oppressed groups both under the Soviets and the Taliban, so I really don't get this at all. Furthermore, it's been said that the law would only apply to Shi'a women. That too just seems ridiculous.
The Ambassador said this:
"I fully understand the reaction - the immediate, emotional reaction of countries like Canada who have done so much to build a young democracy," Samad said in an interview.
"People also need to understand that this young democracy is immature. It is not at the same standard as a Canadian or European democracy. And it's in a very different cultural context as well. We are going to fall down, we are going to make mistakes, and we're going to move forward as a result."
While I fully appreciate that he is in an impossible place, it's not the democratic process of the country that is the problem here.
I heard the infamous Christie Blatchford speaking about this the other day. You know Christie don't you? She's the one who jumps up in a room to defend our military and rail against the Liberals or anyone left of Harper, without provocation. She's so quick to jump to conclusions that in this instance she actually said, "If we're going to insist on talking to the Taliban, this is what we are going to get'. Yes-siree, that's what she said. Never mind that the Taliban have nothing to do with this. Never mind that they are Sunni, not Shi'a. Never mind that most of the Western world agrees that moderate elements of the Taliban have to brought into the process before we can see some peace. Nope, none of that mattered. She had a point to make.
Who knows? Maybe she'll be proven right, but at the moment I think it's far more important that we learn the facts, understand when our government knew about this and make sure that this law is never enacted.
Rights. Such a basic concept.