Afghanistan, Once a Silk Road Jewel, Now an Anti-Women Quagmire of Terrorism

Tribalism, Taliban have turned a multicultural oasis into a women-hating dustbowl.


By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Afghanistan today is not a pretty sight. Americans think of it as dusty, impoverished, tribal, and a hotbed of terrorist insurgents. The situation is only going to get worse as that country's national elections, set for 10 days from now, get closer:

The top US military commander in Afghanistan says the Taliban has gained the upper hand, warning of an increase in US fatalities in the war-torn country. General Stanley McChrystal said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that US casualties will remain high for months to come.

But it was not always thus.

Centuries ago, Afghanistan was a flourishing, multicultural trading post along the Silk Road, producing artifacts of the highest quality and representing nationalities and artistic influences from Greece to China to India. I was privileged last week while on vacation to visit the Afghanistan exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The contrast between what Afghanistan once was, and what it is today, is stunning, particularly with regard to treatment of women, whom the Taliban repress, even kill, but the ancient Afghanis celebrated:

The voluptuous bodies, diaphanous clothing, and lush jewelry parallel traditional Indian representations, which also focus on the beauty and fertility of young women. The figures are shown standing underneath gateways that derive from Indian architectural traditions and are lushly decorated with floral and geometric motifs.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have been suppressing female participation in this month's upcoming elections:

Three female candidates in the southern Kandahar province have been forced from their homes by opponents, while a woman in Takhar province in the north had her home set on fire and closed her campaign office, according to a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

I highly recommend the exhibit, which ends its 18-month nationwide tour at the Met early next month. The evidence of what once was and could be again is a living history lesson.