‘Lightning rod to increase hate’: Politicians weaponise violence against Afghan women and girls to ‘legitimise racism’

‘Despite misogyny being fundamental to the worldview of the far right, there are now extremists out there who are pretending to care about women’s rights,’ says expert

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Thursday 19 August 2021 00:26
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<p>Internally displaced Afghan woman in a park in the capital of Kabul after being forced to escape her home because of conflict between Taliban and Afghan security</p>

Internally displaced Afghan woman in a park in the capital of Kabul after being forced to escape her home because of conflict between Taliban and Afghan security

Politicians are weaponising violence against women and girls in Afghanistan to legitimise virulent racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, campaigners and politicians have claimed.

Reports have surfaced of Afghan women being forced to marry Taliban fighters - who seized control of the south Asian nation in recent days - quit their jobs and remain at home, as well as enduring public flogging.

Some European politicians have responded to the crisis by focussing on anti-migrant and anti-refugee rhetoric.

Speaking in a televised speech after the Taliban seized Kabul, France’s president Emmanuel Macron warned France needs a strong plan to “anticipate and protect itself from a wave of migrants” from Afghanistan.

Austria’s interior minister Karl Nehammer said the country will consider removing failed Afghan asylum seekers to “deportation centres” in nearby countries and in Germany, Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic Union’s candidate for chancellor, warned: “2015 should not repeat itself.”

This is a reference to the refugee crisis which started that year and saw Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel open the country's borders to more than a million asylum-seeking migrants.

In Hungary, Levente Magyar, parliamentary undersecretary of the foreign ministry, warned: “Hungary will not accept Afghan migrants without any restrictions.”

Experts have warned some politician’s responses to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan are an attempt to appease the far right.

Joe Mulhall, head of research at Hope not hate, the UK’s leading antifascism campaign group, told The Independent: “For some on the far right the tragic events in Afghanistan are being seen an opportunity to push anti-Muslim politics in the west.

“Despite misogyny being fundamental to the worldview of the far right, there are now extremists out there who are pretending to care about women’s rights. Everyone must condemn the Taliban without reservation and also ignore those on the far right seeking to exploit this terrible situation to push racist tropes in Europe.”

While Kate Osamor, Labour MP for Jarrow, argued it would be “naive” to say the far right does not monopolise on the mistreatment of women to further their own ideologies.

Ms Osamor added: “The far right uses it. I am extremely concerned for the women and children in Afghanistan. I’m concerned that no real action will come out of today’s debate in parliament. It is not a vote.

“The government needs to take some positive concrete action to support people in Afghanistan - particularly women and children. We need to open our doors. I am concerned for all people in Afghanistan.

“While we are sitting around talking, people are dying and fearing for their lives and we have a responsibility to help them.”

Since American troops began leaving Afghanistan in May, the Taliban has steadfastly invaded the nation. Female Afghan journalists and healthcare workers have been killed in a slew of attacks since peace negotiations started between the Taliban and the American-backed Afghan government last year.

While the Taliban denies perpetrating these attacks, government ministers hold them responsible.

Andrea Simon, director of End Violence Against Women Coalition, a leading UK organisation, told The Independent liberating women is not of “genuine interest” to far right groups.

“They selectively condemn the treatment of women and instrumentalise calls to protect and defend women’s human rights to reinforce racist white supremacist narratives and spread hate-filled rhetoric,” Ms Simon added.

“Violence against women is fuelled by right-wing regressive policies and extremism around the world. We cannot let the horrific events in Afghanistan be commodified and manipulated into serving the hate-fuelled interests of the white supremacist far right movement.”

The campaigner warned the humanitarian catastrophe currently ravaging Afghanistan is having “devastating” repercussions on women.

“And it is right to expect safe passage and asylum to be offered to all those who need to flee Afghanistan for safety,” Ms Simon said. “There is no room for racist tropes of white saviourism, used to legitimise islamophobia and erase the agency of Muslim women, or diminish their role as key human rights activists and defenders whose voices need to be central to any response to the crisis.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, promised the group would honour women’s rights, but within the norms of Islamic law on Tuesday.

But experts have raised grave fears the hard-fought rights Afghan women have won in the two decades since the Taliban were defeated could be rolled back.

Women were blocked from working and girls were barred from going to school when the Taliban last ruled the country between the mid 1990’s and 2001. While women had to be chaperoned by a male relative if they wanted to leave the house during this period.

Shaista Aziz, a women’s rights and anti-racism campaigner, told The Independent: “The disastrous war on terror has claimed the lives of hundreds and thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and beyond.

“It has also pushed back women’s and girls rights and fuelled and mainstreamed Islamophobia, racism and anti-refugee and migrant hatred.

“The crisis in Afghanistan will be used as a lightning rod by the Taliban to further dehumanise women and girls but will also be used by extremists everywhere to increase racism, division and hate. It is essential that politicians, public figures and the media act in a responsible and measured way.”

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