Sunday, 18 March 2012

Courage in Woman's Form: Part I: An Interview with Fatima Rabbani

'Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the presence of something more important, than that fear'. So goes the saying. In all truth, rising above one's own loss, and being able to evolve as a strong pioneer of the dreams of those that have moved on, is perhaps the best example of courage. Fatima Rabbani, daughter of Afghanistan's braveheart, Burhanuddin Rabbani, is no less the lioness than the lion that her father was. In an exchange via email, Fatima explains her father's dreams, her dreams for Afghanistan and much more. Fatima is on twitter as @FatoomRabbani

1.    Your twitter profile describes you as an "Afghan Political/Women's Activist in a mission to bring peace in Afghanistan & whose sole purpose in life is to continue my late father's legacy." Could you tell us something about your father's legacy? 

My father, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was the President of Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996. After the Taliban government was toppled during Operation Enduring Freedom, my father returned to Kabul from the North of Afghanistan.  My father was the leader of Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Society of Afghanistan), which has close ties to Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami. He was one of the earliest founders and movement leaders of the Mujahideen in the late 1970s, right before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and he was also one of the first people to oppose the Sovietisation of Afghanistan and started the movement against it. He was an Islamic scholar who studied in Al Azhar University in Egypt and he was one of the very few leaders in Afghanistan who was respected by all ethnic groups within Afghanistan.

Fatima Rabbani, on the Right
After September 11 and the US military action in Afghanistan, he willingly handed over his power to Karzai and by 2009, Karzai appointed him as the Chairman of the High Peace Council in order to help his government make peace talks with the Taliban. My father was assassinated on September 20, 2011 at our home in Kabul by a suicide bomber posing to have a peace message from the Taliban. He is now referred to as ‘Martyr of Peace’ – he was a man of peace and always wanted the best for Afghanistan and he sacrificed his life for his country.

I always receive messages from Afghans that he wasn’t only your father but our father as well... this is very comforting to hear...  He wasn’t just our father but a symbolic father to generations of Afghans who witnessed struggle against oppression… His spirit and legacy is very much still alive because his principles and values are very much needed in Afghanistan today in order to progress and become a united prosperous Afghanistan.

He was the type of man who led by example, an intellectual who was very logical in his approach and a person who fought for what he believed in. He staunchly believed that the Afghan people should be empowered through knowledge and education. Many of Afghanistan’s political leaders’ foundations come from my father’s political party and that is clear evidence that his method of empowerment and inclusion works very well for Afghanistan. He was a very good- natured man who never lost his cool, anyone who knows him would tell you that he was an extremely down-to-earth person.

2. There is so much literature about how women in Afghanistan have suffered under the yoke of the Taliban's regime. Could you tell us something about your life in Afghanistan? Your childhood, your growing years- was it heavily encumbered by the antagonistic ways of the Taliban?

Although my father was in Afghanistan fighting against the Taliban, I was not in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. I went to visit my father in Badakhshan (North of Afghanistan) in 1998 and yes I heard first hand horror stories about what the Taliban were doing to Afghan women.

3. What is your dream for your country? 

I want to see a prosperous Afghanistan and where every child- male and female- is schooled and made familiar with Afghan history, culture, and national identity. I want to see an Afghanistan where different religions are tolerated and an Afghanistan where the right teaching and true religion of Islam is practiced – not the politicised Islam which Afghanistan faces today. I want to see an Afghanistan where women have their basic rights and where men respect those rights and I want to be part of making this come true in my country. 

4. Is there a possibility for Afghanistan to rise above this turmoil? What do you believe would be the remedy to the trauma the country has been put through?

Yes, as hard as it may be, I do believe Afghanistan can come out of the situation it is in right now. With the help of the International community, Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001 but we still have a long way to go. The change in Afghanistan will not happen over night, it will take decades but it is not impossible and it is up to the Afghans themselves to make that change possible and make the transition through peaceful means. Around the world, democracy has taken years to succeed. Afghanistan came out of years of civil war and drought, which left the country crippled. We need to build strong civil society and from which the country can work to stand on its own two feet without the help of international community.

5. There is plenty of talk about how the world has misinterpreted Afghanistan, that the world should just leave Afghanistan alone and respect its sovereignty. Is that viable for Afghanistan? Is it politically pragmatic to leave the country at the mercy of warlords and undefined leadership?

(This Answer is offered in more detail in question 9.) I would be careful when using the word ‘warlord’ as it has been misused in the western media and many they refer to as warlords are actually well respected leaders in Afghanistan.

6. Women in Afghanistan have been described as being subservient to their men, taking their mistreatment and instances of Domestic Violence as just a part of life, and something they can do nothing about. Do you believe this is still true? What do you think is necessary for the Afghan woman, for her empowerment?
Follow Fatima on Twitter here

Part of the Afghan culture is to put up and be patient with the men so it is the nature of majority of Afghan women to put up with a lot of things, which may be unacceptable to other women around the world. However, we've come a long way, we are not the women of 1996 and will not accept to be secondary. Taliban's fall promised women some basic freedoms and rights. Indeed, over the past 10 years there have been significant improvements for Afghan women and girls. Official restrictions ended on access to education, work, and health care. Millions of girls went to school for the first time. After the US military operation in Afghanistan, there was an international wave of support from people horrified by the plight of Afghan women. Everyone wanted to ‘liberate’ Afghan women and most of the mistakes of the western feminists or western approach to ‘liberating’ Afghan women have been is that they did not try to understand what was needed to empower Afghan women. Many of their approaches have failed and not worked because to them, liberation meant taking off their scarves/chaddary but for Afghan women, liberation was something else...  it was having the basic freedom to be able to go to school/university or to be able to work without being harassed.
There have been great developments in the lives of women in Afghanisan but we still have a lot more work to do, especially in the rural areas of Afghanistan. Women in public life have suffered harassment, threats, and sometimes murder. Forced marriage, underage marriage, and domestic violence are widespread and too widely accepted. While education is acceptable, more than half of the girl’s population refuse to attend schools because of security reasons. I think education is essential for Afghan women across the country (Rural and urban areas). What seems to be the case now is that education is accessible widely in urban areas only... we need to make education accessible to women around the country and we also need to break the traditional taboos against women in Afghanistan which is probably a harder task than building schools. I do believe education is the way to empower the women of Afghanistan because they have the potential to be so much more than just housewives. To do all that, security needs to be available to the Afghan public.

 7. On a more recent note. The shootings by an American soldier that led to the death of 16 innocent Afghanis... What's going wrong? What are your thoughts on the way Afghanistan is being handled globally?

To be quiet honest, I wish I knew what was going on. First, the Qura’n (Holy book) was burnt in the military base (this happened last month) and now recently the soldier attacking civilians without any justification. I just hope that the US and the Afghan government will handle this case with sensitivity and care because had the roles been reversed, the soldier would have been trialled in the country where he committed the crime so justice can be served. We are grateful for the assistance of the international community in removing the Taliban and for helping us rebuild our country but at the same time this liberty should not be misused and Afghans should be left to make their own future political choices.
Afghanistan will never forget its roots and its principles as an Islamic country and whatever secular changes people are proposing has to be within the Afghan context which must respect our religion/traditions and customs. 

8. As an outspoken activist, does anything threaten you? What worries you most about your activism?

The only reason I will be threatened is because I am my father’s daughter... I grew up living a life where I always had to be careful with what I did and said so nothing has changed after my father’s martyrdom... if anything I have become more outspoken about his critics.

9. What can we, as global citizens, do to help alleviate Afghanistan's women?

The best thing global citizens can do is to raise awareness about the situation in Afghanistan. Journalists need to cover the positive stories as well the negatives, what you read and see in media today are all negative stories about Afghanistan. We are grateful for the international aid we receive but Afghans need to stand on their own feet, be able work on their economy and infrastructure and not get used to receiving aid money from our international donors. The country will never grow if we keep accepting donor money. 

As told to Kirthi Gita Jayakumar

1 comment:

  1. Fatima you feel the pain of others . your dad did for others.30 years civil war.