Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A Letter from Afghanistan

A decade ago, we were told that only military force could topple the Taliban and liberate Afghan women. Now it looks like Western leaders have abandoned all three principles. The military solution has failed; the Taliban has turned into a negotiation partner; the plight of Afghan women seems to have been forgotten.

President Karzai has reportedly told Afghan women to stop campaigning for a law that would ban child marriage, forced marriage and rape as it's "against Islam". Meanwhile, the Taliban has opened an office in Doha, Qatar, and tentative U.S.-Taliban peace talks are under way.

This morning I received a campaign letter from Women for Afghan Women, a brilliant advocacy group in Afghanistan, urging the U.S. not to negotiate with the Taliban. They make a strong case, backed by their relentless efforts to provide legal aid, education and community support on the ground.

It's a difficult situation, since peace talks by definition involve talking to someone you loathe; otherwise you wouldn't be at war with them in the first place. On the other hand, what sort of message do the peace talks send out to all those who tried to resist the rule and values of the Taliban?

Here's the letter:

June 25, 2013

Dear Sophie,

As you know, the Taliban has opened an office in Doha, Qatar, and claims to want to negotiate a peaceful solution to the long war in Afghanistan.

Although we yearn for peace as much as you, Women for Afghan Women believes that far from achieving that goal, negotiating with the Taliban is the way to brutal repression.

The Taliban are murderers who will stop at nothing to regain the totalitarian power they held in Afghanistan in the 1990s. At 6:30 am today, they conducted a brazen attack on the president’s palace. We awoke to TV images of little girls and boys and their teachers at a nearby school crawling out from under rubble. The Taliban have burned down hundreds of girls’ schools, murdered teachers who defy them by teaching girls, threaten those of us who run shelters for abused females.

The Taliban have not agreed to respect and obey the Afghan constitution.  They have not agreed that human rights belong to women as well as to men or that women’s human rights must be protected.  They have not agreed that girls have the right to an education.  And they have not agreed to respect and participate in a democratic political process.  And yet, the United States is willing to negotiate with them.

President Karzai boycotted the talks because he was offended by the Taliban signs and flag.  Now that these have been removed, he may go to Doha and the talks may resume.

WAW’s position has not changed.  We are unwaveringly for the Afghan people, which means that we are against negotiations with the Taliban.

Our plea to President Obama and President Karzai –
The Afghan people do not want the Taliban to have any role in Afghanistan’s future.  Please call off these talks and never again give them the opportunity to posture as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. The Taliban will not be happy with a negotiated deal – they are interested in taking over Afghanistan by any means necessary.  Instead, put your efforts and resources into ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process next year, a process in which all Afghans have the time, the information, and the security they need to vote.

And to all our supporters and the supporters of human rights around the world –
Stand with the Afghan people who do not want the Taliban back.

With as much determination as ever,

Manizha Naderi
Executive Director, WAW

Monday, 24 June 2013

Prof, You're Dividing My Nation

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published my feature on language rights and politics in Iraqi Kurdistan. Love the beautiful illustration.

I researched the story months ago, long before the events in Gezi Park. While it mostly focuses on the situation south of the Turkish-Iraqi border, I would be interested to hear whether/how the protests in Turkey have affected the Kurdish language issue in general.

Happy reading!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Graphic Lesbian Sex Is Not What Makes Blue Is the Warmest Colour Radical

This year's Palme d'Or winner is getting a lot of attention for its explicit sex scenes. But "Le bleu est une couleur chaude" the book it's based on, has a much more thought-provoking message... Read the full piece in the Atlantic's online edition.


I love the way author Julie Maroh captures the intensity and drama of adolescence, that powerful sense of "my life begins today". She's never patronising, never mocks her character's hopes and fears. It reminded me of the days when I felt like a single encounter, a single spontaneous party at an abandoned bus stop (yep, I know, provincial upbringing) could change absolutely everything:

"J'ai le coeur qui bat tres fort quand je pense a tout a l'heure... je sais pas ce qu'il va se passer... Mais j'ai l'intuition... qu'aujourd'hui est un jour important."

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Gosling at the Ladies' Pond

The last baby gosling at Hampstead ladies' pond! Sniff. Its siblings were eaten by dogs. The life guards said 2 more weeks and it should be fine - ie, strong enough to fly away when chased by a pack of labradors. They're also keeping the gates closed to deter goose-crazed dogs.

The ladies' pond is one of those magical London sanctuaries: a swimmable pond fringed by reeds and weeping willows. It's smaller than the men's pond but more hidden and atmospheric. Every time I go, I half expect a badger to cross the water in a rowing boat or a hedgehog to wash its socks on the bank, Beatrix-Potter style. Last year I even saw an electric blue kingfisher.

The only downside: the water is pretty chilly right now.

My thoughts when I went for a swim this morning:

1. (on the ladder, testing the water with my toe) Fuck this is cold.

2. (still on the ladder) Why am I doing this?

3. (jumping in) Aaaaaaah

4. (first ring) Brain-shock

5. (second ring) My skin is on fire. In an ice-fire kind of way.

6. (third ring) There's a goose nesting in the ring. Nice.

7. Wah! A mandarin duck just swam past my nose. And a gosling! That's a gosling! Careful, little gosling, labradors are not your friends.

8. (last buoy) Blue-green, silver-green, sun-dappled green, yellow-green, brown-green. Sunlight on pond water. Duck feet kicking up silver sparks.
I have dived into a Monet painting and am swimming around in it.

9. (swimming through the painting) This is even better than that trip in Thailand when I thought the jungle was a symphony and I was conducting it.

10. (climbing out) Please London keep the Hampstead ladies' pond alive forever and ever.

See you at the pond! Once you're in, the water is lovely.