Dead Poets Society

This is an absolutely horrible story.

She risked torture, imprisonment, perhaps even death to study literature and write poetry in secret under the Taliban. Last week, when she should have been celebrating the success of her first book, Nadia Anjuman was beaten to death in Herat, apparently murdered by her husband…“She was a great poet and intellectual but, like so many Afghan women, she had to follow orders from her husband,” said Nahid Baqi, her best friend at Herat University…Herat, in particular, has seen a number of women burn themselves to death rather than succumb to forced marriages. Anjuman’s movements were being limited by her husband, her friends believe. She had been invited to a ceremony celebrating the return to Herat of Amir Jan Sabouri, an Afghan singer, but failed to attend. Her poetry alluded to an acute sense of confinement. “I am caged in this corner, full of melancholy and sorrow,” she wrote in one “ghazal”, or lyrical poem, adding: “My wings are closed and I cannot fly.” Afghan human rights groups condemned Anjuman’s death as evidence that the government of President Hamid Karzai has failed to address the issue of domestic violence.

I don’t think domestic violence is really the right term for it. It doesn’t really cover it. It suggests (to me anyway) mostly sporadic, exceptional violence against a background of at least some basic rights and freedoms. What women like Nadia Anjuman face is more systematic institutionalized coercion and subordination against a background of no rights at all. Of being forcibly married, then told what to do and kept in confinement by a man who owns her whom she didn’t want to marry, and then murdered by him.

Women were banned from working or studying by the Taliban, whose repressive edicts forbade women to laugh out loud or wear shoes that clicked. Female writers belonging to Herat’s Literary Circle realised that one of the few things that women were still allowed to do was to sew. So three times a week groups of women in burqas would arrive at a doorway marked Golden Needle Sewing School…Once inside the school, a brave professor of literature from Herat University would talk to them about Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and other banned writers. Under a regime where even teaching a daughter to read was a crime, they might have been hanged if they had been caught.

Teaching a daughter to read was a crime. Because…? What? Because if a daughter knows how to read she might pick up a book or newspaper that has some semen on it and it would accidentally fall into her and get her pregnant? What?

One of them, Leila, said that she stayed up till the early hours doing calculus because she so feared that her brain would atrophy. “Life for women under the Taliban was no more than being cows in sheds,” she said.

Well, I guess that’s why. Because a woman with an atrophied brain is like a cow in a shed. She doesn’t rebel, she doesn’t talk back, she doesn’t run away. Makes life easy.

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