I’ve been writing about the inclusion of women for over a decade with some of my fellow activists and now it seems like we have to pause, because we’ve perhaps preached to an unwanted foe – the Taliban.
In producing a glossy glamouresque magazine called Sunnat E Khaula for women, the Pakistan Taliban have awoken to gender equality and want women to be part of their campaign to kill innocent men, women and children of this country. Just like they did in 2014 at APS school where 144 children were murdered so brutally there was a gorge of blood. The magazine calls women to “get together” in their homes and congregate to join jihadist forces. It implores them to be brave and learn to “use grenades.”
The magazine, perhaps designed by someone who reads the Cosmopolitan, invites reader interest with a special interview with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader’s wife who makes a passionate pitch for child marriages. There is an article by a young jihadist boy who helps his mother run a mujahideen camp and an intriguing enough cover of a woman cloaked in a burkah. Everything about the magazine is so normal, so everyday and yet so eerie.
In this country, if you want to port your phone sim, fix an incorrect gas meter reading, escape a false blasphemy accusation as an impoverished person, publish religious literature as a minority citizen or inhabit public space as a woman, the forces of the system are stacked against you. Yet strangely, it is ever so easy for a group that our government has vowed to extinguish to distribute its women’s magazine through print and social media. Openly. Daringly. It is just as easy for this group to glorify war and desensitize people from life’s dignity and artistry. The impunity and sanction with which Taliban operates tell a different story from the narrative that comes out of toothless National Action Plans and such. Banned groups form political parties. The airwaves are full of challenges to the writ of the state.
In the incident that happened in San Bernardino, California the co-conspirator was a woman and squarely a product of this new wave of terrorist group’s interest in women joining radical forces. They have an interest in not just women who are destitute and without social structure, but in fact women who are deeply within the framework – working class women including doctors and engineers.
They target women who embrace patriarchy because they realize that they cannot out-fight patriarchy. They target women who give in to the doctrine of radicalism because women have been fed the dogma diet right from the hands of the Ulema, who they’ve revered and now, armed with an alive and kicking Stockholm Syndrome, women get to be important, they get to be part of something seemingly divine.
The objective of the magazine is not to merely preach a rigid sense of morality, but to grab attention and to send a message – we’re here, unmarred and unmoved. It’s a taunt to the state, but the state remains immune to such taunts. So then, may security rest in peace. We continue to dishonour those 144 children, those 50,000 and so victims of terrorism since 2012 and the rest of the lost.
There is no control over the context of learning that is established at the 2,000 and more all female madrassas across the country. Women are going to be a very formidable force in the violence industry if we let this go unchecked.
Women are constantly pushed into dark corners, physically and metaphorically precisely because we remain the second worst place the in world to be a woman in Pakistan according to the gender gap index 2016. An open society with just laws would not permit TTP the audacity to call on women so blatantly. The TTP is picking up on the despondency of being a woman in this country. They are also feeding off of women’s loss of self, on lack of consent and of agency. A society that empowers woman does not allow 1,000 honor killings a year according to the Human Rights Watch, does not shame women who come out with harassment accusations, does deprive women of command over their own uterus and certainly does not create hostile cultures around professional and political women.
The war against this Taliban woman magazine is not just to merely shut it down, but to also turn up the volume of women’s voices and their demands for equality, regardless of how they define equality. This is a long game, one that I only wonder if the state is willing to trek far enough for.