While this is, in essence, a chain letter, the events mentioned are very real, so I thought it appropriate to quote the entire e-mail rather than just pull a few sentences.
‘If you decide not to forward this, please send it back to me. This is an actual petition, and ‘signatures’ will be lost if you drop the line. Please take 3 minutes out of your life to do your part. And be sure to include other members of your household who are willing to sign. Oprah recently had a show about this atrocity and it was heartbreaking.
‘Madhu, the government of Afghanistan, is waging a war upon women. Since the Taliban took power in 1996, women have had to wear burqua and have been beaten and stoned in public for not having the proper attire, even if this means simply not having the mesh covering in front of their eyes. One woman was beaten to death by an angry mob of fundamentalists for accidentally exposing her arm while she was driving. Another was stoned to death for trying to leave the country with a man that was not a relative.
‘Women are not allowed to work or even go out in public without a male relative; professional women such as professors, translators, doctors, lawyers, artists and writers have been forced from their jobs and restricted to their homes. Homes where a woman is present must have their windows painted so that she can never be seen by outsiders. They must wear ‘silent’ shoes so that they are never heard. Women live in fear of their lives for the slightest misbehaviour. Because they cannot work, those without male relatives or husbands are either starving to death or begging in the street, even if they hold PhD’s. Depression is becoming so widespread that it has reached emergency levels. There is no way in such an extreme Islamic society to know the suicide rate with certainty, but relief workers are estimating that the suicide rate among women must be extraordinarily high: those who cannot find proper medication and treatment for severe depression and would rather take their lives than live in such conditions. At one of the rare hospitals for women, a reporter found still, nearly lifeless bodies lying motionless on top of beds, wrapped in their burqua, unwilling to speak, eat, or do anything, but slowly wasting away. Others have gone mad and were seen crouched in corners, perpetually rocking or crying, most of them in fear.
‘When what little medication that is left finally runs out, one doctor is considering leaving these women in front of the president’s residence as a form of protest. It is at the point where the term ‘human rights violations’ has become an understatement. Husbands have the power of life and death over their women relatives, especially their wives, but an angry mob has just as much right to stone or beat a woman, often to death, for exposing an inch of flesh or offending them in the slightest way. Women enjoyed relative freedom: to work, to dress generally as they wanted, and to drive and appear in public alone until only 1996. The rapidity of this transition is the main reason for the depression and suicide; women who were once educators or doctors or simply used to basic human freedoms are now severely restricted and treated as subhuman in the name of right-wing fundamentalist Islam. It is not their tradition or ‘culture’, but it is alien to them, and it is extreme even for those cultures where fundamentalism is the rule. Everyone has a right to a tolerable human existence, even if they are women in a Muslim country. If we can threaten military force in Kosovo the name of human rights for the sake of ethnic Albanians, citizens of the world can certainly express peaceful outrage at the oppression, murder and injustice committed against women by the Taliban.
‘STATEMENT: In signing this, we agree that the current treatment of women in Afghanistan is completely UNACCEPTABLE and deserves action by the United Nations and that the current situation overseas will not be tolerated. Women’s Rights is not a small issue anywhere, and it is UNACCEPTABLE for women in 2001 to be treated as subhuman and as so much property. Equality and human decency is a fundamental RIGHT, not a freedom to be granted, whether one lives in Afghanistan or elsewhere.’
I’ve been the recipient of this chain letter twice in the past week. It annoyed me because both senders should have known better.
While the subject matter is undoubtedly real, the manner of delivery is highly suspect and far from organised. For a start there is the complete lack of corroborating data. The petition has an emotive, but poorly written cut-and-paste style and mentioning Oprah always adds that air of respectability to any cause without letting things like facts get in the way.
I first saw this e-mail over a year ago before it made it’s way back to me this time, and I see some thoughtful soul has altered the dates to bring things more inline with current affairs.
My first step was tracking down the originator, querying their actions and the legitimacy of the message. In this case there was a return address:
If you receive this list with more than 300 names on it, please e-mail a copy of it to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking a shot in the dark I hit Brandeis University and searched for sarabande. Bingo! All of five seconds searching paid off.
Sarabande was a legitimate e-mail address, but it was removed on 3 January 1999 when the owner of the account freaked at the suddenly unmanageable influx of mail. The original mass mailing was unauthorised, but it was a well-meaning, if misguided, individual effort to help the Feminist Majority Foundation.
This was not a particularly well thought out plan. An internet petition would have little impact on anyone, because it’s a simple matter to forge a list of fake names and e-mail addresses. Even if all of the petitions were collated and properly organised, as most countries refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Taliban government, there is no way of getting it to the relevant authorities.
The hard-line Taliban rulers of Afghanistan are little more than schoolyard bullies. They thumb their nose at the rest of the world, while happily indulging in mindless tantrums, such as the recent destruction of the world’s tallest standing Buddha, an action that brought wide spread condemnation — even from many Islamic leaders. In the face of such scathing attacks from the world stage, a petition demanding human rights for women is hardly going to register on their scopes.
Signing this petition will do little, apart from giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling. If you really want to do something, it will take a bit more effort than adding your name to the bottom of an e-mail message. A good starting point is to call or write to your local minister or get in contact with any of the many humanitarian groups to find out what you can do to assist their causes.
Published WrittenByMe — 15.04.2001