Afghans Share Their Views on the West’s Influence

Nawa Arsala, 22, is an Afghan-American law student living in Washington.

The “Western” ways and laws in Afghanistan are not completely foreign to Afghans. Many forget that during the 1970s, Afghanistan was a flourishing and prosperous nation, with women who were teachers, nurses and entrepreneurs. The burqa was a rare sight, if seen at all. I believe that these laws are simply being reintroduced to a war-torn country that once had a taste of prosperity and democracy.

Curiouss Mindss, a teenage Afghan living in Kabul, wrote on Facebook:

Over 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population consists of people who have lived their entire lives facing tragic events like war and illiteracy and have no familiarity with modern civilization. Adapting and accepting Western cultures and thoughts are absurd and against their views. I’m an 18-year-old Afghan living in Kabul and unless these war-stricken Afghans vanish I’m pessimistic about the future of this war-torn country.

Jawed Nader, 30, lives in London and leads the umbrella organization British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group.

It’s a common misperception, reinforced by the international media, that democracy and human rights were imposed on Afghanistan after American forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. The 1964 Constitution included a bill of rights for Afghans, specifically including women. The 1977 Civil Code stipulated that girls under 16 should not be allowed to marry. The New York Times called this Afghanistan’s “Golden Age,” noting that “Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts.”

We Afghans have always been concerned with laws promising rights and democracy. It is just a coincidence that our fellow human beings in the West think the same way.

Female students at the Polytechnical University in Kabul in the mid-1970s.

Zh. Angelov/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

Female students at the Polytechnical University in Kabul in the mid-1970s.

It is very important for the international community, international media and Afghan counterparts to understand that moving ahead with Westernized ideologies only cannot bring democracy, human rights and women’s rights to Afghanistan.

While it is very important to look back at the past 12 years and measure the progress, one should always remember that there have been failures, too. While individuals and organizations kept pushing for women’s rights, they also created a huge hatred toward them, causing the conservative but influential rural men to say that women’s rights are against religion and Afghan values. The irony is that there has been a lot of publicity for women’s rights and promoting a few elite women activists in these years, but there hasn’t been any effort to build trust in communities, to encourage these conservative men to join the platform to support women’s rights and to ensure that the approach is not only according to the religious and traditional values but actually follows it taking the diversity of Afghanistan into consideration.

In terms of current laws including the electoral law, elimination of violence against women law, etc., I disagree with using the Westernized word with it. These laws are purely the efforts of Afghans within the government and civil society who made it happen through lots of lobbying and advocacy.

Saad Mohseni is the owner of the MOBY Group, Afghanistan’s largest media group.

Don’t judge Afghans by what they say but rather by what they do. It is an approach we apply to our television programming. Afghans are quick to criticize our various soap operas, reality TV shows, etc., but they fail to miss any of these shows. Today, millions of Afghan women are attending schools and universities, as well as the work force. The fact that they are allowed to “participate in life” is testament to the changing attitudes toward women. Bravado statements (from chauvinists) are expected from Afghan men. Again judge them by what they do (or allow), not what they say.

Shaharzad Akbar is from Afghanistan.

Women in skirts and heels walked down the street in Kabul in 1978.

V. Seykov/Keystone, via Getty Images

Women in skirts and heels walked down the street in Kabul in 1978.

The majority of Afghans do not consider women’s education a “Western value,” but see improvements in women’s education as one of the biggest achievements of the past 10 years. Similarly, women’s participation in public life is not a new reality to Afghans. I come from a village in northeast Afghanistan, and my father’s father, a local mullah, built the first school in his village. My maternal aunt traveled and lived alone in another province to go to university in 1971-72.

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