It was election day in Afghanistan on September 18th, the second time the Afghani people have gone to the polls to select their leaders since 2001. According to the Human Rights Watch blog, the process was mostly free of violence and the logistics went smoothly. Some incidents of fraud were reported, and the pervasive "climate of fear" and intimidation ensured that some people didn't vote. The Financial Times reports that turnout was subdued with less than the 70% that voted in 2004 and less women going to the polls. (That still beats the pants off many jurisdictions, like the US, with voter turnout averaging around 50%). Overall, Human Rights Watch concludes: "the Afghan people, despite their widespread cynicism, showed that they're committed to an electoral process, even if it was flawed. Provisional results will be available October 10, 2005.
The role of women in this election is particularly interesting. By law, 68 seats out of 249 seats in the lower parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, are reserved for women candidates. In a curious case of political leapfrogging, this means there will be a higher proportion of women representation in a legislative body than many western countries. Given that just four years ago the Taliban was strictly controlling women's freedoms, this is also a huge reversal in fortunes. A cause for celebration indeed! Yet that's not even the most important bit. Many women are campaigning not just because of these quotas; they are running for office because "female candidates offer an alternative to the blood-stained hands of the country's warlords and druglords," says Jo Johnson in the Financial Times. With about 10% of the male candidates being implicated in war crimes and corruption -- about 500 in total -- Afghani people are just fed up with these leaders and want better options.
Of course, the road won't be easy for these aspiring women politicians. Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative culture, and this development represents a societal sea-change. A backlash always remains a threat. There are stories of intimidation, social ostracization, and husbands divorcing or punishing their wives for running (often by taking another wife). Still, this is an inspiring example of women finding the courage to stand up and fill the political vacuum. For this country, this is also a positive unintended outcome after years of bloodshed and unrest, not to mention proof of the wisdom in the old saying "what goes around, comes around". You pollute your own political pool with enough toxic behaviour, and eventually the social ecosystem bites back. I'd wager that in the next 5-10 years other polities are likely to see a similar feedback loop. For fun, just pick your political fishbowl of choice and play out this scenario. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but the long view evidence is clear on this front. Incredibly surprising things happen rather consistently these days... like the pivotal role women are now playing in Afghanistan.
Your website is cool, but it is tainted with the crypto-racist assumptions of white liberals that there's a "nice" way to exterminate Islamic culture: by liberating its women. The difference between Afghanistan and Iraq is that the latter has experienced white capitalist colonialism and the marketplace. It is hardly surprising that like Pakistan, Egypt and other Islamic countries conquered in the past by the safe European liberal-conservative political spectrum, Iraqis vent their rage against occupation by going out of their way to offend us by attacking women. When the Vietnamese were the victims of French Catholic capitalism, the ones who had the guts to go all the way turned to Communism - in that case supportive of women's rights. Ditto Polish Catholicism under Communist occupation. If you are occupied by aliens, you should take on views exactly the opposite just to show your hatred, because that hatred must be the rallying point for liberation. Sorry, but it's true. The Taliban was really the twisted product of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia's covert operations and reflected the genuine fear of their less castrated elites that the liberal west was plotting to enslave all Moslems under a corporate New World Order. And since we are the aliens, they see us as much Clinton (Bill and Hillary) as Bush. The proof: veiling of women was once the "privilege" of wealthy Arabs, not a central fact of Islamic identity. It spread among Moslems during a time when their way of life was being destroyed by us, and was adopted by the Saudis, I suspect, as fanatical proof that they weren't just Western puppets. Now the women of Afghanistan are being manipulated by our media and thinktanks to vote for President Unocal so they can prevent a backlash by the victims of our agenda. They've never experienced full integration into the capitalist order, meaning sweatshops and robber barons. Too bad they can't talk to the women of Bolivia and Ecuador about the future they have to look forward to as our servants. When the whites of the world, liberal and conservative alike, have raped and bled their world dry, we will look away while feminism and democracy will stand discredited for 1000 years for their role in supporting our crimes.