Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Killing with honour.

LET me tell you about a woman called Serata.

She must have been pretty amazing, but I cannot show you a picture of her because no-one ever saw a point in taking a photo of someone who was not allowed to show her face in public.

Serata managed to get divorced in Afghanistan, which is not an easy thing to do.

Well, it is if you're a man. You just say you're getting divorced and that's it. If you're a woman you need his agreement, and witnesses to back your claim that the marriage needs to be ended.

It's even harder being a single mum because although women can now work in places, it is mainly in tailoring or agriculture where they earn a third of what men do.

And then you have to navigate the social problems of being an unmarried woman in a country where such a thing is rarer than heroin addiction.

Serata divorced her husband Mohammed Arif a year ago after a decade of violence. She must have had witnesses prepared to testify to a religious court they had seen her suffer more than the beatings men are allowed to administer to their wives - a code of conduct allowing beatings was endorsed by the West-friendly Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai just four months ago.

At the time of the divorce Serata was 29 and had three children, then aged eight, seven and one.

Somehow she found a home for them to live in. Somehow she earned money to feed them.

This week, a year after the divorce was granted, Arif burst into their home with some kind of blade and beheaded Serata.

He went on to cut off the heads of his two oldest children, aged eight and nine, because they had witnessed their mother's death.

He spared the two-year-old.

Arif is now on the run but the chances of his facing justice are slim. And in March and April this year two Afghan women were killed every week in what are oxymoronically known as "honour killings" - a total of 16 in two months.

In 2011 there were 20 cases in the entire year - one every three weeks, on average. There have been around 20 every year since 2001 when it was first counted. But in the past few months the rate at which women are being slaughtered has jumped five-fold.

Were that men, or soldiers, or children, or white people, or bankers jumping out of skyscrapers as the regulators closed in, there'd be a furore. But women without faces don't upset people the same.

And if there was a furore people would ask why five times as many women are being killed this year than last, and then we would have to sit and look at the answer which is because the Allies want out of Afghanistan after eleven years and £500billion.

In that time 37,000 civilians, just under 3,000 soldiers and at the last count 12 journalists have been killed, and countless thousands more people maimed, blown-up and shot.

At the same time wells have been sunk, bridges built, roads laid, girls sent to school and 500 women employed in the Afghan National Police.


But now we've decided to go, not because we've won but because we can't do any more. It's too expensive in cash and people, too messy and bloody and hard, so we're off and Mr Karzai is going to have to deal with tribal warlords, a corrupt army and police force, and the Taliban who have skulked back in from their caves to restart their reign of terror.

They are broadcasting radio programmes preaching hate and threats against those who do not comply with their instructions, they are throwing acid at girls who go to school and kidnapping women on their way to work, they are giving men who are sick in the head all the excuse they need, and their resurgence is prompting around 2,000 women a year to set themselves on fire.

The Taliban are demanding Karzai make them concessions and he is, because it's easier for him that way and never mind the people for whom it is harder.

The most important thing, you see, is that the handover of power when it comes in 2014 must look peaceful, which means problems must be ignored, passed over, and placated. Leaders of the western world must be able to shake hands with someone in Kabul for a picture, then walk away with honour as they wash their hands of the whole thing.

This Sunday at a summit in Tokyo various nations are expected to pledge around £2.5bn in aid for Afghanistan, to guarantee its continued improvement. Most of it will come from the European Union, which has said it will be "difficult" to offer financial support if women's rights aren't protected.

Just "difficult". Not impossible, not unlikely, not don't be ridiculous sonny, just "difficult". In other words, don't let women's rights be made a fuss of and it will by comparison be easier for us to keep sending money to line the pockets of men whose naked self-interest make City bankers look like Mother Theresa.

In the late 1990s women in Afghanistan were made to paint the windows of their houses so no-one could look in and see them. They were ordered to cover themselves from head to toe, they were beaten if they tried to go to hospital for treatment, they were banned from going outside their house without a male family member.

Today they are able to sit in Parliament, to go out in simple head coverings, to study, to work, to divorce when their husbands beat them more than is "acceptable". And every right they have gained in a decade is being bargained away by men haggling for power in the fourth most corrupt government on Earth, while our taxes go to fund their nasty little poker game.

Which is a long-winded of saying something which should be obvious, but obviously needs saying some more: that there is no point to the billions spent, to the thousands of lives lost and ruined, to the widows and orphans created all over the world, unless something changes forever.

Afghanistan wasn't invaded to help the women who live there but maybe it should have been. Since 2001 the war has been presented as an honourable thing to do, a way to catch the men behind 9/11 and build up one of the poorest nations on earth.

But if we don't at the very least help them on our way out - to insist the price of our aid and support is to grant basic human rights to every man, woman and child, to explain that violence is not cultural and beatings are not honourable and men are not gods who may do as they please - then the whole thing was a horrifying waste of time.

In the great league of dishonourable things to do, it puts us right up there with Serata's husband.

Which is not a place I want to be.

If no-one sees her face does it matter?