A prominent conservative leader in Afghanistan’s government threatened a female journalist when she questioned him about opposition to legislation that will protect Afghan women from violence. His reaction shows what a real “war on women” looks like.
Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, a member of parliament who is committed to a strict interpretation of the Quran, has opposed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, which would protect Afghan women against rape, not only from strangers but also from their husbands—something Islam allows, according to fundamental interpretations.
VICE correspondent Isobel Yeung interviewed Hanafi as part of an HBO documentary investigating the rights of women in Afghanistan and the increasing threats they face.
“What if a husband rapes his wife, is that domestic abuse?” Yeung asks Hanafi. “Should the man be punished or should the woman be punished for that, in your opinion?”
Speaking through an interpreter, Hanafi replied, “There is a kind of rape you have and another we have in Islam.” When Yeung begins to ask a follow-up question, she’s cut off by Hanafi, who tells someone off-camera they should stop the interview. Hanafi then says, “Maybe I should give you to an Afghan man to take your nose off.” Others who have heard the clip say the actual translation is “Hand her over to an Afghan man so he can give it to so hard it’ll come out her nose.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty later confronted Hanafi about the comments, asking whether he was going to apologize to the journalist. Hanafi at first denied even talking to Yeung: “I haven’t met such a person, I have no idea about this, and have not said anything,” he said. “No one has spoken with me.”
When pressed, he continued to deny having done the interview and accused the filmmakers of creating a fake video. “It’s very simple to make a video,” he said. “There are people who put together a head, a beard, and a body in a video that would look more authentic than the real person.”
After further questioning, Hanafi finally admitted to doing the interview but said he never threatened her. “When we were talking about marriage issues, I told her, ‘If you want to know about it, you can marry an Afghan man.’” When asked if he would apologize, Hanafi became defiant and demanded an apology from the filmmakers. “Who should apologize? Me or those who distributed [videos] against me? They are plotting against a person who is minding his own business.”
‘Things Are Very Gloomy for Women’
The producers of the HBO documentary set out to show how women are still denied basic rights in Afghanistan, despite hopeful signs that things had been changing for the better. In 2001, first lady Laura Bush highlighted the struggle for women’s rights when she said in a national radio address, “Muslims around the world have condemned the brutal degradation of women and children by the Taliban regime. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”
Since that time, there have been improvements, as millions of Afghan girls are now attending school. Women have served in government, business, and even the military. But despite these advances, Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for women.
“Things are very gloomy for women, and it’s getting worse,” Wazhma Frogh, the head of Afghanistan’s Women Peace and Security Research Institute, told NBC News. “There is much less space for women [in public life].”
“Women are being killed, raped and harassed on a daily basis much more than before — and overtly,” she said. She blamed much of this on generalized lawlessness exacerbated by the dramatic drawdown in foreign troops, which leaves women and girls vulnerable to attack and abuse. In fact, the United Nations calls the rates of violence against women in Afghanistan “exceptionally high,” with up to 87.2 percent of women having experienced some form of violence.
According to activists, the situation is getting worse, with a 31 percent rise in the cases of violence against women in 2015 compared to the year before. “This is a worrisome development that should be addressed — all the gains women made could be lost,” said Soraya Sobhrang, deputy chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
Execute the Infidels
Despite lawmakers trying to pass the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, it has been blocked in parliament by conservative Islamists who believe it violates the teaching of the Quran. Hanafi is one of the dominant voices opposing the act, which creates women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence. According to Hanafi, who is from the western Herat province, these shelters are actually “brothels” where revolution can ferment and spread, “killing millions.”
Women who are daring to speak out for their rights are being threatened. If they step outside their homes without a burqa, they become victims of abuse or violence. All the women interviewed by NBC, whether they were politicians, teachers, or activists, said they believed their lives were in danger.
Women are not the only ones threatened. Christians are in danger as well. According to Mohabat News, an independent Iranian Christian news agency, Hanafi has stated that converts from Islam to Christianity should be killed according to sharia law.
“Afghani citizens continue to convert to Christianity in India. Numerous Afghanis have become Christians in India,” Hanafi said. “This is an offense to Islamic laws and according to the Qur’an they need to be executed.”
Hanafi heads the parliament’s Legislative Commission and received the highest number of votes in the 2010 parliamentary election. Whether it has to do with women or Christians, the lawmaker has outspokenly defended Islamic law and has pushed back against Western-influenced efforts to “secularize” it in any way.
Islamism’s Public Opinion Problem
While secular and “liberal” Muslims have made strides throughout the world to elevate the status of women, the issue of women’s rights remains a problem in the Muslim culture, as various regions and sects interpret the Quran in different ways. Central to the conflict regarding the rights of women are passages that clearly say women are not equal to men:
“Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because men spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those among you who fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” Sura 4:34
“…Women shall with justice have rights similar to those exercised against them, although men have a status above women. God is mighty and wise.” Sura 2:228
Liberal Muslims do not interpret these in a literal way and believe in separation of mosque and state. They don’t want Islamic law to be integrated into state law, and they uphold the rights of women. However, a majority of Muslims do not hold to this position, not only in Afghanistan but in other countries as well. A Pew survey found that “Muslims who want sharia to be the law of the land in their country often, though not uniformly, are less likely to support equal rights for women and more likely to favor traditional gender roles.”
Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99 percent) and most in Iraq (91 percent) and Pakistan (84 percent) support sharia law as official law. However, in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia — including Turkey (12 percent), Kazakhstan (10 percent) and Azerbaijan (8 percent ) — relatively few favor implementing sharia law.
In the United States, where Muslims are more secularized, 51 percent of Muslims still say “Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to shariah.” Also troubling is nearly a quarter of the Muslims polled said, “It is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed.”
What Sharia Often Means for Women
While Muslim feminists argue that interpretations of sharia that oppress women have no basis in Islam and are merely misinterpretations by men who want to hold onto power, this is not everyone’s opinion. As outlined by the Clarion Project, while there are various views regarding the rights of women and marriage laws, there are some constants among those committed to sharia. These include:
A man is entitled to up to four wives, but a woman may only have one husband. In Western societies, a man typically only takes one wife.
The husband (or his family) pays a ‘bride price’ or ‘dower‘ (mahr, which is money or property paid to the bride) which she is entitled to keep. This “mahr” is in exchange for sexual submission (tamkin). Sexual submission is traditionally regarded as unconditional consent for the remainder of the marriage.
According to conservative interpretations of sharia, a man can divorce his wife by making a declaration in front of an Islamic judge irrespective of the woman’s consent. She isn’t even required to be there. But for a woman to divorce a man, his consent is required.
The husband is also completely responsible for the financial upkeep of the home, and “temporary marriage” (even for less than a half an hour) is allowed. The arrangement is basically legalized prostitution. A report by the Gatestone Institute charts its development in Britain. Wife-beating is also permitted, according to some scholars. In addition, there is no joint property—the man owns all property (except for what the woman owned before the marriage).
Particularly troubling: there’s no specific minimum age for marriage, even though most agree a woman must have reached puberty before she can be wed. Marriage as young as 12 or 13 is not uncommon in Muslim-majority countries. In Yemen in 2013, there was a highly publicized case of an eight-year-old girl who died of internal injuries suffered on her wedding night. According to Al Jazeera, “Nearly 14 percent of Yemeni girls [are] married before the age of 15 and 52 percent before the age of 18.” The case prompted calls for Yemen to pass a law setting a minimum age for marriage, although it has not yet done so.
Also, according to Clarion, “Even in the West, where Muslim women have the same legal rights as men, they have been prevented from exercising those rights by their male relatives.” Regarding modesty laws, many Muslim women respect the requirement to dress modestly and “freely choose” to conform. But in many Muslim-majority countries, women do not have the choice. If they don’t comply, they can be beaten by the police.
One of These Situations Is Not Like the Other
Violations of modesty laws frequently meet with violence in Muslim countries. Western women visiting Muslim-majority countries — for example, Saudi Arabia — are advised to dress modestly and not to travel unaccompanied by a man. Dubai has notoriously strict public indecency laws. Many Western tourists have fallen foul of them in the past.
Additionally, male guardianship applies to all women under strict interpretations of sharia: “A woman becomes subservient to her husband and needs his permission to: ‘leave the house, take up employment, or to engage in fasting or forms of worship other than what is obligatory.’ An unmarried woman is under the guardianship of her nearest male relative.” Human Rights Watch has issued a 50-page report condemning the situation of women in Saudi Arabia alone.
Women are also at risk of genital mutilation. As I wrote in 2014, this is what the real war on women looks like—and it’s not just in the Middle East:
Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that at least 150,000 to 200,000 girls in the United States are at risk of being forced to undergo FGM. According to census data from 2000, the number of girls and women in the United States at risk increased by 35 percent from 1990 to 2000. Activists say those numbers continue to rise, and more current statistics need to be gathered. There is no 2010 data. In 2000, states with the highest number of affected girls included California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
In light of such horrors, the “war on women” we hear about today in America pales in comparison. Equal pay for unequal work, free birth control, free healthcare, and name-calling in the midst of political debates can hardly be classified as a squabble much less an outright war when compared to what’s happening to Muslim women.
American women are living in the lap of luxury and whining about their “rights” while their sisters in Muslim countries—where the Quran is literally interpreted and applied in the political sphere—live in fear of oppression, violence, and death. Many have stopped going to school because they’re afraid of being attacked on the streets.
The Dangerous Unity of Mosque and State
One of the fundamental problems with Islam in relation to a free society is the belief that there is no separation between mosque and state. The kingdom of God is one kingdom, and it is the duty of “good Muslims” to establish God’s will and his law (sharia) here on Earth. Secularized Muslims reject this interpretation of Islam and believe religion should be separate from the political sphere. However, this is not the case for most Muslims throughout the world.
This point is often ignored by Western feminists who don’t want to appear politically incorrect by challenging abusive teachings regarding women. Whether the subjugation of women is the “correct” interpretation of the Quran or not is irrelevant. Who’s to decide which is right—the secularists and liberals or the fundamentalists? In the end, it doesn’t really matter.
The disturbing reality is many Muslims believe in a conservative application of sharia to one degree or another, and they see it as having a place in political realm. Whether it’s a man being able to rape his wife, not letting women have inheritance or custody rights, or simply keeping her covered, the fact remains that this mindset stands in opposition to the principles of liberty and equality that we hold in the United States.
Sharia is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. Just read this comparison by the Center for Security Policy and you’ll see why. Here’s one example:
Constitution: Fourteenth Amendment: ‘No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Shariah: Under dhimmi laws enforced in modern Shariah states, Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims are not equal to Muslims before the law. Under Shariah law, women, girls, apostates, homosexuals and ‘blasphemers’ are all denied equality under the law.
It is the duty and responsibility of American women to make a stand and push back against any violation of our rights. This threat to women across the globe can’t be ignored because we’re concerned about offending a religious sect or appearing to be politically incorrect. Lives are in danger. Women and girls (and Christians and homosexuals) are suffering, and it is only getting worse, not only in places like Afghanistan, but in Europe as well.
We would all do well to heed the warning of ex-Muslim Sabatina James, author of “Only the Truth Sets Us Free”: “Sharia is now finally with us. And the victims are primarily women. . . . The religion that causes the most bloodshed is being protected the most. I find that totally paradoxical. And sometimes by those who carry the banner of gender equality, multiculturalism and the right to sexual self-determination. But if Islamists set the tone, freedom of expression, homosexuality and women’s rights will soon be finished.”