Today we have a guest post from Julie Billaud, author of Kabul Carnival: Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan, out now.
The recent killing by a mob of Farkhunda, a 20-year-old woman, which occurred in open daylight in Kabul last week, is a powerful reminder of the precarious situation of women 14 years after US-led forces claimed to have liberated the country from Muslim fundamentalists. On March 19, Farkhunda, was beaten to death by a group of men near Shah-do-Shamshera mosque, after she was accused of burning the Quran. Her body was crushed by a car and set alight, in the presence of policemen, in a public execution in many ways similar to the ones the Taliban used to carry out on Kabul Ghazi stadium. Farkhunda’s dramatic story was soon to make the headlines of the international press, her death often explained in essentializing cultural terms: Farkhunda died because of the “culture of violence” or “the culture of impunity” that reign in the country, we were told. Again, it was Afghan society that was to blame, not the past 14 years of foreign military occupation and the flawed development projects of the so-called “reconstruction,” which have reinforced social inequalities and created a lumpen youth in thrall to radical Islam and violence. As Lila Abu-Lughod explains in her famous essay published in the American Anthropologist in 2002, short after the invasion of Afghanistan:
“The question is why knowing about the ‘culture’ of the region, and particularly its religious beliefs and treatment of women, was more urgent than exploring the history of the development of repressive regimes in the region and the U.S. role in this history. Such cultural framing, it seemed to me, prevented the serious exploration of the roots and nature of human suffering in this part of the world.”