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Female Defiance and Education in Afghanistan

Rukshana, who the Taliban stoned to death at age 19

Rukshana – the Taliban stoned her to death at age 19

 

On October 25th the Taliban stoned to death Rukshana, a 19-year-old Afghan girl, on the grounds that she had committed adultery. After Rukshana’s father forced her to become the third wife of a 55-year-old man, she ran away with Mohammad Gul, a 22-year-old young man who she loved. Unmarried, Gul is alive and recovering after receiving 100 lashes as punishment; however, Rukshana was forced into a pit dug in the dirt, deep enough to only leave her head above ground. Encircled by male Taliban officials, rock after rock was thrown at the young girl until she died. In the face of such brutality, viciousness and callous disregard for life, how do we fight back? …what can we do instead? 

Violence from without, violence from within, violence against women…  In his newsletter, Nicholas Kristof suggests how we can fight back against such ruthlessness. Moreover, in a 2010 op-ed, Kristof asks: …what can we do instead? That is, instead of responding to violence with more violence. His question was in response to the escalating violence in Afghanistan during 2010 following Obama’s decision to increase troops in the region, which in Kristof’s words resulted in mostly…more dead Americans and Afghans alike; however, in light of the recent tragedies that have left us shocked, fearful and vengeful, Kristof’s question remains pertinent. In his newsletter, he suggests that we can fight back through the social justice works that are being performed by the women in these dangerous regions.  Explaining in his op-ed that while there’s abundant evidence that…bombs harden hearts, schooling, over time, transforms them. Kristof is referring to the many locally administered Afghan schools that have flourished despite the heavy hand of the Taliban. The voices of these courageous women must be amplified and their work brought to light by those of us who never want to see another viral video of the sadistic murder of a young girl.

Kristof highlights the work of one such woman, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL). Dr. Yacoobi was first recognized by Tanenbaum as a Peacemaker in Action in 2002. She is a shining example of how women, in particular, can bypass patriarchal regimes and empower young women through education and professional development, thereby creating social networks for local Afghans to turn to. Kristof’s recognition of Dr. Yacoobi is essential as her growing network of institutes can serve as a model for other women who desire to strengthen the bonds not only between women living under dangerous regimes, but to provide alternative avenues for men who seek lives absent of violence. Dr. Yacoobi eloquently recounts the challenges she has faced during her May 2015 TED Talk. Recalling Taliban members who had asked for the same opportunities as the girls studying at AIL, Dr. Yacoobi poignantly explains, We cannot only train women but forget about the men, because the men are the real people who are giving women the hardest time.

Support of the local, including activists and organizations, is essential to bolstering human development in these regions. Kristof’s op-ed compares the failures of alien educational institutions in Afghanistan versus thriving native institutions, such as AIL. Even in the most dangerous regions, like Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan, education …is possible, provided the work is done without Westerners and in close consultation with local people, Kristof explainsFor example, his op-ed points out that while government schools regularly get burned down because they are seen as foreign installments, in 2010 Dr. Yacoobi’s AIL supported over 300 schools all of which remain unharmed. 

Establishing gender equality and educational facilities is fundamental for conflict resolution and peacebuilding, although these stories frequently go unheard. Tanenbaum, like Kristof, understands the vital and urgent need to disseminate stories of human development and accomplishment in a sea of violent, inhumane and dark tragedies. And due to our great respect for his ceaseless efforts to place a spotlight on the courageous work of those fostering development in some of the most troubled areas of the world, Tanenbaum will be honoring Nicholas Kristof at our May 2016 Annual Gala, together with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize winner, best-selling author and business executive who fights for justice. Kristof’s determination to focus on the work of women in the field is absolutely essential for furthering the on-going success of these dedicated activists. Kristof and organizations such as Tanenbaum are serving to rectify this uneven coverage and to highlight models of civic engagement that will inspire others in war torn regions around the world.

Today we are faced with a similar choice; that is to say, of responding to brutality with further dehumanizing violence or embracing those who are experiencing the very same fear. Patient and thoughtful responses are most crucial in times of uncertainty. The stories of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action and those highlighted by the superb reporting of Nicholas Kristof offer local alternatives to violence.

For more information about the work of Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action and other unrecognized or under-recognized individuals, please subscribe to Mr. Kristof’s newsletter and Tanenbaum’s email updates.

Ritu Mukherjee
Conflict Resolution | Tanenbaum

 

White Evangelical Protestants Would Back Romney in General Election: News Roundup

In the news this week:  the difference between being a Mormon candidate in the primaries versus general election, what it means to be a black atheist, atheists are equated to rapists in a recent study, and other stories.

About half of all voters, and 60% of evangelical Republicans, know that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. The former Massachusetts governor’s religion has implications for his nomination run but not for the general election, should he be nominated as his party’s standard bearer.
 
White evangelical Protestants – a key element of the GOP electoral base – are more inclined than the public as a whole to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith. And this view is linked to opinions about Romney: Republicans who say Mormonism is not a Christian religion are less likely to support Romney for the GOP nomination and offer a less favorable assessment of him generally. But they seem prepared to overwhelmingly back him in a run against Obama in the general election.   PEW Forum
 
Jamila Bey, a 35-year-old journalist, said, “To be black and atheist, in a lot of circles, is to not be black.” She said the story the nation tells of African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights is a Christian one, so African-Americans who reject religion are seen as turning their backs on their history. This feels unfair to Ms. Bey, whose mother is Roman Catholic and whose father is Muslim, because people of different faiths, and some with none, were in the movement. The black church dominated, she said, because it was the one independent black institution allowed under Jim Crow laws, providing free spaces to African-Americans who otherwise faced arrest for congregating in public.
 
Recognizing the role of churches in the movement, Ms. Bey still takes issue when their work is retold as God’s. “These people were using the church, pulling from its resources, to attack a problem and literally change history. But the story that gets told is, ‘Jesus delivered us,’ ” Ms. Bey said. “Frankly, it was humans who did all the work.” NY Times
 
Distrust is the central motivating factor behind why religious people dislike atheists, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia psychologists.
 
"Where there are religious majorities — that is, in most of the world — atheists are among the least trusted people," says lead author Will Gervais, a doctoral student in UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "With more than half a billion atheists worldwide, this prejudice has the potential to affect a substantial number of people." Alternet
 
The Air Force Academy dedicated an $80,000 outdoor worship center — a small Stonehenge-like circle of boulders with propane fire pit — high on a hill for the handful of current or future cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of "Earth-based." Those include pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths. LA Times
 
The Catholic clergy has aggressively lobbied against the Obama administration's proposed rules for contraception coverage for the past few months, arguing that a mandate that would require health plans to cover birth control at no cost to women would force Catholic hospitals and universities to abandon their religious beliefs. But many of these health care providers already cover birth control and even abortion services for their employees — a reality that undermines the clergy's alarmist approach. Huffington Post
 
Charitable giving is trickling back up as the economy heals, but it could take years to return to pre-recession levels, nonprofit leaders say. Huffington Post