As the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to gain momentum across the world, leading to protests in major global cities, other groups which are systematically discriminated against are seizing the hashtag to advocate for their own lives and human rights. One such group is Afghans, in particular Afghan migrants and refugees, which have been victims of discrimination and xenophobia in both the Middle East and Asian countries as well as in Western nations. There are many Afghan refugees living in deplorable conditions in countries such as Turkey, Greece, Iran, Pakistan, and many generations of Afghans who have only known war in their country.
Afghan refugees burned alive
The #AfghanLivesMatter hasthtag started trending on social media after news reports that Afghan refugees had been burned alive by Iranian police forces in Yazd province. According to Reuters:
“Afghans have taken to social media to denounce Iranian police after a video of a car carrying refugees being set ablaze in Iran went viral, arousing new anger weeks after Afghan officials accused Iranian border guards of drowning migrants. (…) Police fired on the vehicle, suspected of carrying drugs and undocumented migrants after it crashed through a checkpoint, Ahmad Tarahomi, deputy Yazd governor, told state media.
After its tyres were hit, the vehicle continued to drive away on its wheel rims, igniting sparks which started the fire, Tarahomi said.”
The video was especially daunting because it featured a boy pleading with the officers, saying “give me some water, I am burning”. It was widely shared on social media and human rights groups used it as a demonstration of Afghan’s treatment by the Iranian State.
Iran’s mistreatment of Afghan asylum seekers
This is not the first time that Iran has been accused of violating the rights of Afghan asylum-seekers. According to Radio Farda, in May 2020, “Afghan officials said Iranian border guards killed 45 Afghan migrant workers by forcing them at gunpoint into a river on the border”.
Historically, Iran has been hailed as a protector of Afghan refugees. It hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world – widely estimated to be at 2.5 million – which has been growing ever since the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s.
But Afghans have routinely been denied basic human rights and Iranian citizenship. In recent years, Iran has also been aggressively pushing back against newcomers – even as the Taliban resurgence intensifies. According to journalist Fatemeh Aman:
“Afghans routinely cross the border into Iran and are frequently caught and deported back into Afghanistan. They endure inhumane treatment from smugglers and often lose their savings in the process. In 2019, alone, a total of 451,073 Afghans returned from Iran—a big chunk of them forced through deportation. They are usually dropped off at “Zero Point,” a neutral spot between the two countries. Deportees are subject to abuse from Iranian authorities, especially, when tensions are high between the two countries. Many of these Afghans are fleeing political and economic hardship and it is not uncommon for them to make multiple attempts to get into Iran. Others cross into Iran for seasonal work and return home after earning some money.”
Afghans in Iran are not entitled the same rights as Iranian citizens, even those who were born in Iran and have never left the country. Iranian authorities are well-aware of the desperation of Afghan residents in Iran, which is why they came up with a sadistically alluring proposal: recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria in exchange for money and Iranian citizenship.
The international organization Human Rights Watch has been monitoring the situation for years. Already in 2013, they published a report entitled “Unwelcome guests: Iran’s violation of Afghan refugee and migrant rights”, documenting several instances of violence by Iranian law enforcement against Afghans in order to pressure them to return to Afghanistan.
Denouncing the hypocrisy of Iranian officials
This might come as a surprise, but the Iranian government has expressed its full support for #BlackLivesMatter, and is presenting itself as a harsh critic against police violence in the United States.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi released a statement in defense of the protesters:
“To the American people, the world has heard your outcry over the State oppression; the world is standing with you. (…) The American regime is pursuing violence and bullying at home and abroad. We are greatly regretful to see, along with people across the world, the [violent] incidences of US police that have recently unfolded. We deeply regret to see [that] the American people who peacefully seek respect … are suppressed indiscriminately and met [with the] utmost violence. (…) To the American officials and police, stop violence against your people and let them breathe.””
Considering Iran’s track record on respecting the rights of minorities, such as Afghans, these declarations of support were immediately criticized by human rights groups and activists. When the video featuring Afghan refugees burned alive became public, it sparked the hashtag #AfghanLivesMatter in response. But it was not the online hashtag that human rights advocates came up with to expose Iran’s questionable record in protecting its own citizens.
Activisms extensively offered evidence of Iran’s human rights violations on Twitter in response to the tweets by Iranian officials, calling for justice. From the abuse of women to the torture of political activists and persecution of minorities, such as gays and lesbians, Iranians and Afghans on Twitter were in uproar.
One such example is the response of human rights advocate Nazanin Boniadi, who tweeted to Zarif:
“While we’re on the subject of ending bigotry, how about the Iranian Foreign Minister addresses:
And all the people persecuted by your government.”
If the Iranian officials thought standing up for #BlackLivesMatter was an effective dig against the United States, they were sorely mistaken. Instead, it became a heated online debate about State-sponsored violence in Iran and systematic human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian State.
Death of Mahsa Amini: How Governments are Denying Women’s Right to Choice?
Millions of Muslim women proudly wear Hijaab as a symbol of their religion. What makes them different from those protesting against obligatory hijab in Iran is the women’s right to choose.
But when you widen your horizon, you’ll realize that the dilemma of women’s right to choose is apparent across borders. Be it Iran, India, France, or the US, women are constantly fighting for control of their bodies.
The History of Pro- & Anti-Hijab Protests in Iran
Looking at Iran today, it can be hard to picture that only four decades ago, Iranian women were protesting for the right to wear hijabs. The pro-hijab movement sparked when Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi government outlawed any type of veil or head scarfs in an attempt to westernize the country.
At times, the government even forced a complete ban on hijabs, with police scrapping off women’s hijabs in public. During this period of Iranian history, the hijab becomes the symbol of freedom, revolution, and democracy.
The pro-hijab uprising brought down Shah’s government and put Ruhollah Khomeini in office. The Khomeini government, however, was far from ideal. By 1983, the new administration mandated the hijab for Iranian women.
Women were now forced to wear headscarves to an extent where they were punished with prison and even lashes for not abiding by the dress code. The worst phase started after 2005 when Dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad introduced the Morality Police; a police department made up of both men and women to keep an eye on women’s clothing in public.
All this brings us to 13 September 2022, when Mahsa Amini, a 22-years old Iranian Kurdish woman, was arrested for violating the hijab code. In police custody, she was subjected to brutal violence that ended up taking her life three days later, on 16 September.
And it was her horrific death that sparked Iran’s historic anti-hijab protest we are witnessing today.
Women’s Right: The Death of Mahsa Amini & the Dirty Politics
The death of Mahsa Amini has sparked unprecedented protests in Iran. Despite a visible crackdown by the Iranian security forces, which includes mass arrests and internet interruption; women are taking the movement to the streets at a scale never seen before.
However, let’s put protests aside for this article. Because what’s happening in Iran right now is much more than just women fighting for their right to choose.
There has been no shortage of individuals, groups, and foreign entities weaponizing these protests to push their political and geopolitical goals.
Many gulf countries, for example, are using these protests to push back the nuclear deal. Backing on the demonstrations, the Western governments, including the US and EU, are considering further sanctions on Iran — even though the economic sanctions have already caused more than enough problems for Iranian women and their families.
And above all are Islamophobes who are using the protest to criticize hijabs, Muslims, and Islam in general. But how is any of this going to help the protesting women in Iran?
Everybody is currently striving to further their agendas, while Iranian women are risking their lives on the street.
Iran and the US: Not So Different Countries for Women’s Rights
Although the US and the Iranian government have polar ideologies, the US is in no state to police Iran morally regarding women’s rights.
It is the US, where a 10-year-old victim of rape from Ohio is not allowed to go through an abortion because of the new state law. Women in the US are protesting against the blanket ban on abortion, with no hope for reforms.
On the other hand, the anti-hijab protest in Iran has reignited the hijab debate in India. Why is it so difficult for the Karnatak government to respect the choice of Muslim women students to wear a hijab to college? It’s absurd that these students have to fight their own government for their choice to be respected.
But be it Iran, Pakistan, India, or the USA, the debate remains the same: do women have the right to choose? Or is the word choice totally non-existential for women?
The Courageous Women of Iran
Women protesting in Iran are not again the hijab but against the imposition of the hijab. But when religion takes over governments, it creates an illusion of unlimited power. This is the case of Iranian authorities who are practicing absolute power by virtue of morality police.
But is it acceptable to restrain women against their will like literal goons?
The protest that started with the death of Mahsa has now become an international movement for women’s right to choose. And, make no mistake, women are not alone here. Most Iranian male population stands with courageous Iranian women on the frontline against injustice in the name of religion.
Let Women Exercise their Right to Choice
Yes, when it comes to hijab rights in Iran, India, or the US, choosing the right side is not always straightforward. It’s complicated with numerous factors, including individuality, choice, and religion, at play.
We should stand with Iranian women protesting for their freedom, fundamental rights, and liberation. I will continue to speak against governments banning women from wearing hijabs and against regimes that force them to wear them.
Hijab or no hijab: how about we let women everywhere have the right to choose?
Child Marriage in Afghanistan: Poverty Bearing More Child Brides
It is difficult to be a young woman in Afghanistan. Parents stuck in poverty are forced to sell their underage daughters into marriages, and the horrible nightmare repeats itself. Over and over again, in a different family, a different young girl, a different village, but the same gloomy fate.
But, what is behind the increasing child marriage in Afghanistan? Here’s an in-depth report:
A Year into Taliban’s Afghanistan
Last week marked a year of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. And the sudden government shift and violence have given rise to a massive refugee wave in the country.
Since the takeover, this southeast Asian country’s poverty has gotten worse. From food and financial recourse to healthcare and education, the Taliban have made Afghanistan, a living nightmare.
And, amongst the worst hit are children, especially young girls.
Arranging marriages (monetary deals) in the rural regions of Afghanistan has now become a common practice. While the groom pays the girl’s parents to close the agreement, the young girls traded in the deal often stay with the parent till they are 15 years old.
However, even before the Taliban, child marriages were ordinary in Afghanistan. For example, between 2018 and 2019; UNICEF reported 10 cases of the sale of children and 183 child marriages in Baghdis and Herat.
But, the stark increase in poverty after the Taliban’s takeover has forced thousands of desperate families into this ridiculous practice for survival.
Child Marriage in Afghanistan
In the rural regions of Afghanistan, populated by people displaced by drought and war, families are desperate for food and money. So much so that they are forced to marry off (sell) their daughters.
Today, girls as young as five are traded for marriage. This CNN report records a heart-wrenching case of a 9-year-old girl sold as a bride to a 55-year-old man.
Aziz, a ten-year-old girl, is amongst thousands of other child brides of Afghanistan whose fates have been sealed at such a tender age.
These young brides forced into marriage are robbed of their childhood. In addition, they frequently confront barriers to education and a future they are not mentally, physically, or emotionally prepared for. Thus terribly affecting their health.
For example, maternal mortality is a serious repercussion of child marriage in Afghanistan, which is estimated to be 28% nationally. In Asia, Afghanistan has the highest rates of maternal and newborn mortality. Around 700 to 1,600 moms pass away for every 100,000 deliveries.
And the worse the deprivation, the more children will be sold off as enslaved people or child brides and more often.
The Taliban regime has imposed a prohibition on selling women and girls and forcing women into marriage some months after seizing power. Afghan families, however, claim that there have been unconfirmed reports of women and children being forced into marriages with males, including Taliban leaders.
But, the forced trades are not just limited to young girls.
Children for Sale: Child Trafficking On a Rise
In an interview with ABC news; when Nosheen described how her family decided to sell her unborn child, she remarked;
“Sad doesn’t even come close to how I feel.”Nosheen
With five other children to support, her husband Aziz, whose identity has also been altered, said they were forced to accept the $US565 offer for their unborn child.
When the families cannot secure food, they are left with no choice but to sell their young children. In cases like Nosheen, infants are sold to couples searching for a baby. However, most young girls are traded as wives too much older men.
Most trafficked children come from internally displaced populations: families either forced to flee by the Taliban or voluntarily displaced due to a lack of livelihood.
Child Marriage in Afghanistan: The Role of the Crippling Economy
As a country strained with decades of natural disaster, poverty, and insecurity, Afghanistan’s economy has suffered a steep downfall for years. And a year into the Taliban’s rule has further worsened the economic condition of Afghanistan.
Economic sanctions and banking crisis depict the sharp end of the country’s economic collapse.
Over 95% of households across the country are experiencing food insecurity. Afghan children are starving. A report by UNICEF estimates that over 13,700 newborn babies have already died in 2022, as per data from the Ministry of Public Health.
The reasons are clear, the forced removal of women from the workforce and school is taking a toll on the country’s economy. An analysis by UNICEF highlights that depriving girls of education has cost the Afghan economy at least $500million in the last 12 months.
Humanitarian Aid: Drastically Under-funded
Life is tough in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Poverty is rampant, and families who, despite all atrocities, have managed to be together are forced to send their underage children out for work. Many parents unable to make the excruciating choice of selling their children are selling their organs to make ends meet.
Afghans need humanitarian needs now more than ever. But, despite seeking the largest ever humanitarian monetary aid of $4.4 billion; the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is drastically underfunded.
Ayman al-Zawahiri Killed In a Drone Strike By The US
The US killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, in an Afghani drone operation over the weekend, confirms President Bidden.
United States President Joe Biden has revealed that the US killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, in an Afghani drone operation over the weekend. The operation killed him on Sunday during a CIA counterterrorism operation in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. He was one of the most wanted terrorists in America and collaborated with Osama Bin Laden in the planning of the 9/11 attacks. The United States confirmed that it was a CIA drone that attacked and killed Zawahiri. The US claims that his death is the biggest blow to al-Qaeda since it killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Zawahiri was rumored to be hiding in the tribal region of Pakistan or within Afghanistan prior to his killing. A senior administration official told reporters that Zawahiri had been hiding for years. He confirmed that the operation to find and kill him was the result of “careful patient and persistent” work by the counter-terrorism and intelligence community.
Justice Has Been Delivered- Claims US President Joe Bidden
Bidden who was isolated by a recurrence of covid-19 was aware of the attack on Zawahiri. He spoke outdoors on Monday from the Blue room Balcony at the White House. He said that he had given the final approval for the “precision strike” after months of planning. This strike comes a year after Biden gave the order to remove US forces from Afghanistan. It was immediately afterward that the Taliban captured power there.
Talking about the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, Bidden made the following statement. ” I made the decision that after 20 years of war. The United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm. And I made a promise to the American people, that we continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that.”
“Our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year — he moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family,” he continued.
Biden further stated that “For decades, he was the mastermind of attacks against Americans.”
“Now, justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer,” Bidden said.
Ayman al-Zawahiri After The Killing Of Osama Bin Laden
Zawahiri, who turned 71 this year, had continued to be a prominent international face of the organization. This happened during the11 years after the US killed Osama bin Laden. He had served as bin Laden’s personal physician, political partner, and right-hand guy at one point. Al-Zawahiri had occupied the official page of the FBI under the “Most Wanted” title. The FBI page informs from the color of his eyes to his various aliases. Under his name the page mentions “Murder of U.S. Nationals Outside the United States; Conspiracy to Murder U.S. Nationals Outside the United States; Attack on a Federal Facility Resulting in Death”. It also mentioned that the United States Department of State offered a reward of up to $25 million for ‘information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of Ayman Al-Zawahiri’. On Monday the FBI updated its Most Wanted Terrorist poster with Zawahiri’s status as “Deceased.”
Who was Ayman Al-Zawahiri?
Zawahiri was born in Egypt in 1951 and raised in Maadi, several miles from the capital Cairo. As a student, Syed Qutb’s work greatly influenced him. Qutb was an Egyptian writer who was one of the foremost figures in modern Sunni Islamic revivalism. Zawahiri became a highly educated professional and trained in one of the country’s leading universities. He went on to become a doctor and an eye surgeon to the successor of Osama bin Laden.
When he was fifteen years old, he organized his first movement in an effort to overthrow the then Egyptian government. He made headlines for himself for the first time in a courtroom cage. It was following the 1981 assassination of the then Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat. The court apprehended Al-Zawahiri for his involvement in the assassination as a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Al-Zawahiri rose to prominence as a veteran of the Egyptian Islamist jihad. The government detained him along with a large number of other Islamists.
Merger with Al-Qaeda
Al-Zawahri fled Egypt shortly after Sadat’s murder and he made his way to Peshawar, where he joined Osama bin Laden. The Gulf war and the entry of the American troops into Saudi Arabia impacted Zawahiri’s ideology. It was due to these reasons he believed that Sadat had betrayed the Islamist cause. Soon Osama bin Laden completely shared his thoughts and made a similar opinion about the House of Saud. However, at one point al-Zawahiri advocated for striking the ‘distant enemy’ (the United States) first. He believed it would be better to topple the ‘close enemy’ (the Arab governments) later.
After bin Laden’s death, Ayman al-Zawahiri formally became the new leader of Al-Qaeda Central. Instead of a natural leader, his role in Al-Qaeda had always been that of a strategist and master planner. However, Zawahiri held the organization together. Under his leadership, Al Qaeda and its affiliates grew from an estimated 400 members on 9/11 to possibly 40.000 now.
Also, read How Russia Built A Channel to Taliban
How The World Reacted to The Killing Of Ayman Al-Zawahiri
A statement from the foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday hailed the US declaration of Zawahiri’s killing. “Thousands of innocent people of different nationalities and religions, including Saudi citizens, were killed,” it stated. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia welcomed the announcement by US President Joe Biden of the targeting and killing of the terrorist leader of Al-Qaeda Ayman Al-Zawahiri,” it said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter after the news of al-Zawahiri’s killing came out.
“The death of Ayman al-Zawahiri is a step toward a safer world. Canada will keep working with our global partners to counter terrorist threats, promote peace and security, and keep people here at home and around the world safe.” he tweeted.
Australian PM Anthony Albanese spoke in Parliament and sent his prayers to the family of the victims that died.
“For two decades, this man fled the consequences of his crimes. Our thoughts today are with the loved ones of all of his victims.
“So many lives have been lost and so much blood has been spilled since, including all those Australians who served, sacrificed, and gave their lives in Afghanistan,” said Albanese.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Monday confirmed an airstrike conducted by a drone in Kabul. He said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan views that as a clear violation of international principles.
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