“Whose conscience is cumbered and stands not clean, of another man’s deeds the worse will he deem.” – Cato the Elder
It has been a month now since Afghanistan watched in shock and horror, the terrifying scenes of a woman named Farkhunda being brutally beaten and burned to death by a merciless mob of ordinary citizens of Kabul for wrong allegations of burning the Holy Quran. Much has been written and discussed about Farkhunda over the past four weeks and after thousands of tweets, hashtags such as #JusticeForFarkhunda and #Farkhunda started trending and catching attention outside Afghanistan. A month on, the unfortunate reality is that just like the killing of any other Afghan citizen, justice is far from sight and investigations slow.
The day Farkhunda was killed was the day when Afghanistan proved the world right – a failed state where humanity had failed, religion had failed, education had failed, government had failed, police and public protection services had failed, youth had failed, and democracy had failed.
As hard as it was for me to watch the clips on social media, I made sure I watched the gruesome clips to remind me that this is not happening in the Afghanistan that is under the Taliban rule – this was something that was happening in the Afghanistan that’s seen supposedly fourteen years of democracy and flourishing of human rights and women’s rights activism for more than a decade now. I was glad I had the heart to see the raw brutality because it was the first time I experienced something I had never experienced before: I experienced being ashamed of my Afghan identity. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of shame as an Afghan. I wondered: where did we go wrong? What will the world think of us when they see these video clips? Isn’t everything Afghanistan is known for bad enough already?
It came as no surprise to me at all when my colleague at work mentioned that she had nightmares after watching the video clips of Farkhunda’s brutal beating in the streets of Kabul. Although she compared the angry mob to animals, many Afghans would say it’s an insult to animals because the people in streets of Kabul proved themselves much wilder. The day Farkhunda was killed was the day when Afghanistan proved the world right – a failed state where humanity had failed, religion had failed, education had failed, government had failed, police and public protection services had failed, youth had failed, and democracy had failed.
The Deadly Opportunists: Hijacking the Farkhunda Cause
It is not uncommon in Afghanistan that when there is an act of violence against women, opportunistic political groups hiding behind the masks of women’s rights, democracy and secularism take a harsh stand against religious groups and public figures, and engage in a blame game to score political points with the western audience where public chants of promotion of western democracy and values in a backward Islamic country is music to their ears – regardless of the humanistic universality of those values free of religion or politics. In Farkhunda’s case, at least initially, everyone in Afghanistan was left lost and confused because there were no mullahs with long beards and turbans to blame, or no Taliban to blame, or no foreign forces or intelligence services of other countries to blame as is a common habit of Afghans – this was an act of horrendous crime committed by an all-Afghan public that looked like any other Afghan public around the country. This was a pure case of a severely psychologically disturbed generation that has lost its conscience and had found the easiest victim of the Afghan society: a lone woman.
Nevertheless, it came to me as no surprise when I recently read a blog by a staunch member of the militant Marxist political group Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which is a self-proclaimed feminist and human/women rights activist group, put the blame on certain successful political figures of Afghanistan who’ve been engaged in the war against Communism in Afghanistan. It’s a shame that such so-called “feminist” groups have been banking on the miseries of Afghan women for over 30-years to pursue their own political agendas and getting away with it. If RAWA had any conscience, they would not politicize Farkhunda’s death and hijack the bigger cause to make it all about themselves and their underground cult-like political movement which still reminisces of a Communist-era Afghanistan. Worse still, is the fact that such political groups use the Farkhunda cause to raise funds for women’s rights and orphanages managed by themselves in Afghanistan from around the world on charitable humanitarian grounds – as a result, avoiding taxes and furthering their own political interests in Afghanistan.
The other group of opportunists is organizations such as the Human Rights Watch (HRW). Unfortunately, the nature of such institutions is dependent on the funding they get from international donors for their projects. The job security in such organizations is based on such funding and their job markets dependent on war zones like Afghanistan. Therefore, the more Farkhundas die in Afghanistan, the more reasons for such institutions to continue operating and continue getting funded. The work of such organizations has become so increasingly ineffective and political over the years that the vision and purpose for which the HRW organization stands for is lost.
Afghanistan remains a fragile country with our youth susceptible to all kinds of external influences. If they’re taught to be devout Muslims in madrassas funded by petro-dollars, they will follow blind faith. If they’re taught to be pro-western secularists in western universities where their education is funded by western Aid agencies through scholarships, they will follow blind ambitions.
The Unholy Saints and the Holy Sinners
Farkhunda’s ruthless murder united the online Afghan community on many fronts that even a cleric’s sermon which hinted at condoning the actions of the Kabul mob caught fire on social media, which resulted in him issuing a public apology and quickly taking actions for damage control. With an increasingly growing young population, Afghanistan remains a fragile country with our youth susceptible to all kinds of external influences. If they’re taught to be devout Muslims in madrassas funded by petro-dollars, they will follow blind faith. If they’re taught to be pro-western secularists in western universities where their education is funded by western Aid agencies through scholarships, they will follow blind ambitions.
The Afghan reality on the ground is that we have this exact contrast in our country today that is going to shape up our society in the future – a society of religious and political extremists – a deadly mix for the masses. The message I would give to our youth is that modernization of Afghanistan does not mean westernization of Afghanistan. Similarly, being a Muslim does not mean we can only be Muslims as dictated by the Arab countries. In our quest to be more like other countries, we will end up being less of ourselves and risk losing what our own rich heritage of a proud Afghanistan has to offer.
Farkhunda’s killing has been a rough awakening for the Afghan public and if there is one important lesson to be learned, it is this: we need to learn to be good human beings before we can learn to be good at anything else.