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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

COLUMN: Mullah Akhundzada’s Misogynistic Threat: A Reflection of the Deeper Crisis

The recently released audio message by the emir of the Afghan Taliban movement, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has sent waves of worry across the international community. Notwithstanding efforts by other Taliban leaders to appear more ‘moderate,’ this rare message from the reclusive Kandahar-based supreme leader has brought the undiluted misogyny of the Islamist organization into sharp relief. 

Referring repeatedly to what he deems is the ‘Western democratic conception’ of women’s human rights, Mullah Akhundzada expresses the resolve to act oppositely, by stoning women to death publicly for alleged adultery, as though this were the epitome of creating a ‘pure’ Islamic system. The Mullah makes it clear that such treatment of women is part of his mission of ‘salvaging and liberating the whole of humanity, by practically implementing the Shariah.’ Clearly, for this chief cleric, oppression of women is not just inevitable for implementing what he calls ‘God’s ordinances,’ but also marks the completion of the Taliban’s mission of seizing control of Afghanistan.  

By relying entirely on the highly controversial, unreformed set of Shariah laws which forms the basis of the menace of Political Islam, Mullah Akhundzada brings Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis to life (which has been used by several far-right extremist groups in the West for campaigning against Islam). His problematic understanding of ‘women’s rights in the West as practiced by Satan’s faction’ versus ‘women’s rights in Islam as enforced by God’s party’ is characteristic of the Manichean or binary opposite view that is similarly espoused by Islamophobes. This implies that for a society to be truly ‘Islamic’, women’s rights serve as the yardstick—it is women who must receive the opposite of everything that they are entitled to in Western societies.  

Another point worth noting in the audio recording is the dedication the Taliban’s emir displays toward safeguarding the depressive way of life that he wants for the women of Afghanistan under his baleful shadow. He threatens that for this purpose, his soldiers will practically fight the West for ‘even more than 20 years,’ under the direction of the Deobandi clerics who remain the guiding force behind the Taliban movement. It is pertinent to remember that the puritanical, austere Sunni Deobandi ideology that arose from the north India-based sprawling madrasa in the town of Deoband in the 19th century serves as the foundation for much of South Asian Islamist non-violent and violent extremism. 

The above analysis makes it evident that the cause of women’s continuing oppression is so personally important to the powerful Mullah Akhundzada that for this purpose, he is willing to risk further international isolation for his unrecognized theocratic government. This is a mullah-run regime that has already been condemned globally—although mere condemnation is not enough—for denying several fundamental rights to women and girls, based alone on being born female.  

Indeed, the Taliban’s Deobandi ideology views women as little more than domestic servants and objects for potentially forced sex, leading to uncontrolled reproduction. Watching a few Urdu-language videos of the notoriously misogynistic Pakistani mufti (legal expert authorized to issue Shariah-based rulings) called Tariq Masood suffice to understand this ugly reality.   

Understandably, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the foreign ministerduring the Taliban’s first regime until 2001, once remarked about women: It is like having a flower, or a rose. You water it and keep it at home for yourself, to look at it and smell it. It [a woman] is not supposed to be taken out of the house to be smelled.” The recent audio statement by Mullah Akhundzada is an unpleasant reminder of how much the Taliban have ‘moderated’ their approach toward women’s human rights which they disdain as a ‘Western concept.’   

The befitting answer to this xenophobic allegation pertaining to ‘Western influence’ is found in one of the interviews of Nawal El Saadawi, the doyen of Arab feminism, who noted, “Feminism is not a Western invention. Feminism is not invented by American women as many people think. No, feminism is embedded in culture and in the struggle of all women all over the world.” Thus, the concept of women’s equal human rights is as indigenous to Afghanistan as to any Western society, proving Mullah Akhundzada utterly wrong. 

Beyond Afghanistan—where the Taliban have even pulled female university students out of a plane to prevent them from flying to Dubai for sponsored education—the misogyny perpetrated by Islamist terrorists is as universal as that inside the country. From Daesh (wrongly called ISIS) in Iraq enslaving and serial-raping Yazidi women, to al-Shabaab in Somalia whipping and forcing Muslim women to remove their bras and shake their breasts publicly, to Hamas in Israel recently butchering and gang-raping Jewish women, this phenomenon is worryingly widespread. In fact, as soon as Islamist terrorists seize control of a territory, one of the first laws they enforce is to curtail women’s and girls’ fundamental rights. 

It is about time that Political Islam’s obsessive hatred of women and girls is addressed seriously both in academic and policy circles instead of doubting this the way Hamas’ sadistic treatment of Israeli women has been tragically questioned and suspected. This denialism only encourages this ideology to flourish and facilitates such atrocities to be repeated. The looming fear at this time is that Mullah Akhundzada will keep his word and unleash more cruelty on the already oppressed women of Afghanistan by weaponizing the Shariah.  

Indeed, this set of laws—whose problematic parts form the backbone of Political Islam—itself begs serious reformation by reformist Islamic scholars to bring it in sync with the humanitarian and equalitarian principles of Islam, minus misogyny and xenophobia, so that Muslims worldwide are aware that Islam requires justice to be practiced rather than sex-based tyranny.  

Similarly, imparting a feminist and humanitarian education to Muslim communities everywhere is also the need of the hour, which makes it clear that the timeless principles of Islam—as opposed to the man-interpreted misogynistic laws—do not permit sexist discrimination and oppression of women and girls. Neglecting these long overdue actions will ensure that the crisis within Islam continues and Political Islam thrives worldwide, affecting Muslims and non-Muslims, particularly women.  

In Afghanistan particularly, until the Taliban terrorists are allowed to occupy the country with brute force—and worse still, potentially recognized as a legitimate government—there appears zero hope that the group’s brutalization of women through weaponizing the currently unreformed Shariah will somehow be abated. For the West, the cost of tolerating this barbaric, terror-hosting government that leaves no stone unturned to crush Afghan females could well be another 9/11 as Osama bin Laden already promised, since what goes around comes around. 

author avatar
Naveen Khan
Naveen Khan is a nonresident research fellow with the Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Akron, Ohio, USA. Specializing in the analysis of Afghanistan-Pakistan geopolitical affairs and extremist-terrorist trends, she is currently engaged in conducting research and writing threat assessment briefs on the major terrorist organizations in Afghanistan-Pakistan, such as al-Qaeda, Daesh-Khorasan, and the Haqqani Network, intended for US intelligence professionals. Additionally, she has participated as a research team member of the Partnership for Peace Consortium’s Combating Terrorism Working Group (CTWG), in assembling the NATO-sponsored ‘Counter-Terrorism Reference Curriculum (CTRC)’, which recommends defense cooperation strategies for governments worldwide. In the past, Ms. Khan has conducted and published original primary research on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region on political violence, Pashtun ethnicity, and social conflicts. She has also written on the notion of an 'Islamic Revolution', Taliban ideology, Lashkar-e-Taiba's operations in Indian Kashmir, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's terrorist activities in the Pakistan-governed former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Her research has been published in the Diplomat, the Geopolitical Monitor, Modern Diplomacy, and at two of India's top think-tanks. She has also been invited to share her expertise at high-level international counter-terrorism conferences in Europe, and awarded an official commendation in London following her contributions to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism/Counter-Terrorism (PCVE/CT) by the National Coordinator for ‘Prevent’ (the British government’s CT strategy). In addition, Ms. Khan designed and taught Sociology courses at Pakistan's top Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, focusing critically on socio-political issues, with a key focus on conducting independent research. She holds an MSc in Sociology from the London School of Economics (LSE), with a Distinction in the History of Political Islam.
Naveen Khan
Naveen Khan
Naveen Khan is a nonresident research fellow with the Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Akron, Ohio, USA. Specializing in the analysis of Afghanistan-Pakistan geopolitical affairs and extremist-terrorist trends, she is currently engaged in conducting research and writing threat assessment briefs on the major terrorist organizations in Afghanistan-Pakistan, such as al-Qaeda, Daesh-Khorasan, and the Haqqani Network, intended for US intelligence professionals. Additionally, she has participated as a research team member of the Partnership for Peace Consortium’s Combating Terrorism Working Group (CTWG), in assembling the NATO-sponsored ‘Counter-Terrorism Reference Curriculum (CTRC)’, which recommends defense cooperation strategies for governments worldwide. In the past, Ms. Khan has conducted and published original primary research on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region on political violence, Pashtun ethnicity, and social conflicts. She has also written on the notion of an 'Islamic Revolution', Taliban ideology, Lashkar-e-Taiba's operations in Indian Kashmir, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's terrorist activities in the Pakistan-governed former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Her research has been published in the Diplomat, the Geopolitical Monitor, Modern Diplomacy, and at two of India's top think-tanks. She has also been invited to share her expertise at high-level international counter-terrorism conferences in Europe, and awarded an official commendation in London following her contributions to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism/Counter-Terrorism (PCVE/CT) by the National Coordinator for ‘Prevent’ (the British government’s CT strategy). In addition, Ms. Khan designed and taught Sociology courses at Pakistan's top Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, focusing critically on socio-political issues, with a key focus on conducting independent research. She holds an MSc in Sociology from the London School of Economics (LSE), with a Distinction in the History of Political Islam.

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