The below is a shortened version of my speech at Marea Feminist Review and Consulta Torinese per la Laicita public events in Genoa and Turin, Italy during 27-30 March 2015.
Today, we are all Farkhunda.
You know her by now – a 27 year old woman accused by a mullah of being an “infidel” who burnt verses of the Koran. She was attacked by a mob in Kabul, lynched, stoned, run over, burnt and her body thrown in a river whilst onlookers and police stood by. (See full report here.)
Immediately after her brutal murder, some Afghan officials like Senator Zulmai Zabuli and deputy minister of information and culture Simin Hasanzada sought to justify her killing. A mullah of Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque, Ayaz Niazi also justified it and said: “At such a situation, there is no need to go and check the girl whether she is sick or okay,” he warned following reports that she had mental health problems. He added: “Be careful O people! It will be a big mistake if they [perpetrators] were sent to the jail. The people will stand against this and then they cannot be controlled” – the usual threats – by religious gatekeepers of power – in support of the perpetrators on behalf of “the people”. Of course we heard justifications here in the west too. Someone Tweeted: “what does she expect if she burns the Koran” as if a book is worth more than a human life. Back in Kabul, her family was advised to leave their home for safety reasons; it was in fact they who had said she had mental health problems in order to safeguard their lives…
So far, this is a story we have heard many times over many years. A woman accused of a crime against religion or religious morality – real or imagined – who is tried and executed either by mob (or Islamist) violence or by the state’s violence in the form of Sharia law on behalf of “the offended sensibilities of the people”.
But “the people” as Mullah Ayaz Niazi learnt well includes many – led by women – who were outraged by Farkhunda’s brutal murder and would not justify it.
The ensuing protests meant that her family did not have to flee their home but could stand their ground. Her mother was able to say “I am proud of my daughter” and her brother, Najibullah, was able to announce that he is changing his second name to Farkhunda in memory of his sister. It showed that people would respect her and not “the people’s offended sensibilities”. A group of young people renamed the street leading to the area of her attack as Farkhunda’s Street and a tree was planted on the spot where her body was thrown. Also 28 men have been arrested with 13 policemen suspended following the attack. And all because of protests – most important of which included that women carried Farkhunda’s body– going against Islamic customs – to her gravesite and with her family’s permission. They surrounded her coffin right until the end, gave her the respect she deserved, and chanted: “we are all Farkhunda”.
And when Ayaz Niazi, the mullah who had justified Farkhunda’s killing, tried to join them, they refused, created a circle around her gravesite, and forced him to leave.
Azaryun, a youth activist says, “That is what Farkhunda teaches me: together we can change the narrative that others write about women. We stood up against the most respected mullah. We carried the coffin and buried her.”
Neayish, a medical student, said: “I was just crying.” “It was a long trek… but all my energy was focused on giving Farkhunda a respectable burial. It was the first time I realized my real power and told myself that I’m breaking the boundaries of tradition.”
What the protests around Farkhunda’s murder show are that “the people” of Afghanistan do not all agree. That “Muslims” are not all the same. Just like “Christians”, Italians and the Church and pope and Northern League are not one and the same.
In Afghanistan, too, there are women and youth who break taboos and change narratives and there are many men who stand with them against religion’s encroachment in people’s lives and against Islamism – the religious-Right. [Read more…]