Monday, January 13, 2014

Disingenuous Reporting on Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

by Bretigne Shaffer

The plight of Afghan women is in the news again. In December, Reuters warned that “(a)larm rises for Afghan women prisoners after Western troops leave”, and Macleans published a plea from Afghan parliamentarian and women’s rights advocate Fawzia Koofi, for Western troops to remain in her country.  Earlier this month, Russia Today reported that:
“Violent crimes against women in Afghanistan reached an unprecedented level of brutality in 2013, an Afghan human rights watchdog has announced as the US-led coalition prepares to withdraw.
“Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Sima Samar, told Reuters that the pace and the hideousness of attacks on women intensified in 2013 with a 25 per cent surge in cases from March through September.
"’The brutality of the cases is really bad. Cutting the nose, lips and ears. Committing public rape," Samar said. "Mass rape... It's against dignity, against humanity.’
“The spokeswoman noted that as the withdrawal deadline draws near for international troops, women in tribal areas are less protected, leaving them vulnerable to violent assaults.
"’The presence of the international community and provincial reconstruction teams in most of the provinces was giving people confidence,’ Samar said. ‘There were people there trying to protect women. And that is not there anymore, unfortunately.’"
The implication here, of course, is that the "international" (read: occupying) troops in Afghanistan were somehow protecting women from the brutality being inflicted upon them, and that with their departure Afghan women will be left vulnerable to further assault.
Had the writer bothered to put the current brutality into context though, it would have been clear that the reality is something very very different.  As I wrote in 2010, the US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has only made things worse for the women who live there:
Says Ann Jones, journalist and author of Kabul in Winter, ‘For most Afghan women, life [since the occupation] has stayed the same. And for a great number, life has gotten much worse.’
“Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission, says ‘the attacks against women both external and within the family have gone up. Domestic violence has increased. (The current) judiciary is imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan. And they are imprisoning them for running away from their homes, for refusing to marry the man that their family picked for them, for even being a victim of rape.’
“Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal,says ‘The situation for women in the Pashtun area is actually worse than it was during the Taliban time. …(U)nder the Taliban, women were kept in burqas and in their homes, away from education. Today, the same situation persists. They're kept in burqas, in homes, away from education, but on top of that they are also living in a war zone.’
"’Five years after the fall of the Taliban, and the liberation of women hailed by Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, thanks to the US and British invasion,’ wrote The Independent's Kim Sengupta in November of 2006, ‘such has been the alarming rise in suicide that a conference was held on the problem in the Afghan capital just a few days ago.’"
When I wrote this piece in 2010, there seemed to be a concerted campaign in the media to use the plight of Afghan women as a rallying cry against ending the US occupation at that time.  By sheer coincidence, a leaked CIA memorandum from March of 2010 (“CIA Red Cell Special Memorandum: Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission-Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough,") had outlined “...possible PR strategies to shore up public support in Germany and France for a continued war in Afghanistan.”

According to the memo:

"The proposed PR strategies focus on pressure points that have been identified within these countries. For France it is the sympathy of the public for Afghan refugees and women… Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission… Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences."

Conditions for women in Afghanistan have badly deteriorated under the US-led occupation, and they continue to deteriorate under a foreign occupation that only strengthens local fundamentalist leadership. It defies reason to call for international troops to remain even longer as a solution to the problem they have exacerbated.

Bretigne Shaffer blogs at On the Banks.


  1. This is a variation of the "She made me do it to her" argument.

    Women are being brutalized in many places worldwide. Women living in Egypt were having their clitorises torn off before Morsi took over in Egypt and women faced mutilation after Morsi took over and now that Morsi is gone, women are still facing an appalling future of mutilation in Egypt. 'N you can look it up.

    This is America's fault?

    No. Millions died in the Soviet Union and in China and Southeast Asia and it wasn't our fault there either, though many tried to hang that one on the US as well. "Let's reason with the Monsters and bail their Death Policies out as well..." The Conservatives of Libertarian persuasion would not let that argument made years ago stand up to scrutiny and they should not allow it now. You Brutalize and Murder your population and YOU suffer the slit throat in the middle of the night.

    Stop the War? Absolutely. The US makes a lousy Empire Machine. Incrementalism and Endless Negotiation is Stupid Policy. No argument there. Just don't pull out the "She made me do it" nonsense.

    The Left remembers William Shawcross and _Sideshow_, where somehow, some way, Nixon and Kissinger were responsible for the Death Machine of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Few people remember his follow-up book, _The Quality of Mercy_. He repudiates his own thesis and even apologized to Kissinger. He was wrong!!! The Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese were the Bloodiest Marxists and did all they could to murder each other AND THEMSELVES.

    This is an old, old story. However, please don't blame me for it. I know how the story ends. We've seen it all before and we will see it all again.


  2. @Charles

    The Soviet Union: Who sponsored Lenin and paid his way?
    Were the sponsors Russians or were they Western power-elite?

    Americans, no. Western powers. Yes.

    Brutalization of women in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. was FAR LESS than before the wars.

    Remember Saddam also was a Western stooge. Mossadegh was overturned by CIA.

    So the history of interference in all these countries by Western intelligence is long, at least since post-WW II settlement and often much earlier.

    It's a continuance of British imperial politics. Not American, yes. But still Western power-elites are behind it.

    The brutalization was DRUMMED UP by American media, or more accurately, the media that dominates America, which is owned by Western power-elites.

    Yes, you're right, it's not Americans' fault in the sense that the American population is also manipulated and destroyed by the same forces.

    And yes, the power elite rule by bribing and supporting the WORST elements in the population. You must recognize that all these societies are already the PRODUCTS of radical imperial politics and war, dating back at least a century, even longer, for many.

    We (in the US) are not bombed, because we are at the epicenter of power. Rule emanates from the US but the larger category of Americans do not rule, they are also targets, only more privileged targets, of state power.

    So don't get your hackles up.

    Ms. Shaffer is bravely undoing the fallacies of liberventionism.
    She's not "blaming America first."

  3. CIA manipulation in India

  4. No, Charles, it is not a variation of the “she made me do it to her” argument. Nobody is blaming Afghan women for the violence that is being inflicted on them, and nobody denies that the perpetrators are responsible for their own criminal acts.

    The more subtle (I guess) point that you are missing is that when one country’s military (or group of countries, in this case) invades and occupies another country, it has a destabilizing effect on that country, to put it mildly. One result is that foreign invaders have a tendency to push local populations into the arms of more radical and violent leaders than they would otherwise embrace. This is true in Afghanistan just as it was the case with Cambodia.

    I have not read Shawcross’ “The Quality of Mercy.” However at least one reviewer of that book ( says that, far from repudiating his earlier thesis, Shawcross “...maintains the view he expressed in 'Sideshow' that United States policy as formulated and implemented by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger from 1970 to 1975 plunged Cambodia into its nightmare...”

    In any case, regardless of what Shawcross thought back in 1984, there are plenty of historians and journalists today who understand the connection between the US military’s unprecedented carpet bombing of Cambodia (2,756,941 tons of ordnance on over 100,000 sites in a country less than a third the size of France) and the population’s support for the Khmer Rouge. As I wrote in the article quoted above:

    “In a 2006 article written with historian Ben Kiernan, (historian Taylor) Owen makes a convincing case for what has long been asserted by many observers: Without the indiscriminate carpet bombing of what was first a nominally neutral country and later a US ally, the Khmer Rouge would likely have remained a radical fringe organization with little chance of coming into power. It was the US military assault on villages and countryside that killed as many as 600,000 and drove surviving Cambodians into the arms of the radical communist group, allowing them to seize power in 1975.

    “As journalist John Pilger puts it: ‘Unclassified CIA files leave little doubt that the bombing was the catalyst for Pol Pot’s fanatics, who, before the inferno, had only minority support. Now, a stricken people rallied to them.’"

    It is a very twisted sort of logic that fails to recognize the harm done to the fabric of a society when a country is invaded by a foreign power. Since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, by everyone’s accounting conditions for women - including brutal acts of violence - have grown much worse than they were before the invasion. It seems obvious to me that the presence of an occupying foreign force has played a role in creating the conditions that make this violence possible. But perhaps you have another explanation for the alarming rise in violence against women, and the rising power of those who inflict it. If so, I am eager to hear it.

    1. Bretigne-

      Thank you for your careful and thoughtful response. I believe we are arguing different positions from different assumptions. I am not arguing against you.

      I do, however, disagree with your first paragraph. Islamists do blame women for the violence inflicted on women. The teenager who was violently raped and then, as a result of her being raped, was sentenced to 100 lashes (She died before the 90th lash) proves that and there is far more than anecdotal evidence on this. The Burqa and the restrictions on movement are direct attempts to terrorize women.

      As to Shawcross: Another review is found here - - and the point is that Shawcross raises the blood pressure of many types of reviewers.

      My point is that I agree with what you state: "It is a very twisted sort of logic that fails to recognize the harm done to the fabric of a society when a country is invaded by a foreign power."
      YES! Of course! Hence my nod to Shawcross. "Did the Khmer Rouge (Don't forget: "The RED Khmer") get "Brutalized" because of the carpet bombing of the US?" Then who got "Brutalized" when the Vietnamese invaded?

      When you read these accounts, there is the assumption that the ONLY choice left is between rabid mud hut Marxists who will murder any number of people in order to assert their ascendency over a ravaged populace.

      "I know! Let's blame the USA!"

      No. Sorry. I've heard this before. I know what happens. This time its "Women". Please (and I'm being argumentative with you here, Britigne) don't tell me the choice is between one Brutal Regime or another Brutal Regime, between, say, Ba'athist Socialists and the Muslim Brotherhood.

      Sec-State Kerry recently *sniffed* that Arabia denying women the chance to drive a car was more of an internal matter, not our affair. Meanwhile atrocities go on against women from Arabia to Egypt and beyond and the spilled drink at the State Department Get-Together is because of a dust-up over driving privileges? Remember, MORSI was Hillary Clinton and Kerry's guy. See a disconnect here?

      "But perhaps you have another explanation for the alarming rise in violence against women, and the rising power of those who inflict it. If so, I am eager to hear it."

      Yes,as a matter of fact, I do. Recently, a painting of a bare breasted woman was taken down ( ) and the reason given was that it might offend some muslims or feminists. We've seen this before. It's what happens when a President goes to China and views a supposed ballet titled "The East is Red".

      Whether you worship a dead Roman Caesar or Marx, the result is the same.

      I'm not against you, Bretigne, not at all.

      Ho Chi Min praised the American Founding Fathers declaring that the Vietnamese looked on the American's knowledge in constructing the Vietnamese Founding Documents. The Egyptians are now claiming that their New Constitution protects the Rights of All Women. All Lies.

      Women deserve better, as do we all. How do we get there? You know and I know and the "Founding Documents" to this end can be found, for example, on this site.

      It ain't Marxism.