Trapped in A U.S. Sanctioned Afghan Love Prison
So, this is not about a metaphoric prison. This is about an actual prison. The point here is that when we think about whether what we did in Afghanistan, and how we withdrew, is right or proper has nothing to with, well, Afghanistan. Not only was the outcome never in doubt, but the process also never affected what was happening to the people when the Americans were occupying it for 20 years. We backed the crimes of their culture and our leadership literally told U.S. soldiers to look the other way when flagrant human rights abuses happened. Of course, our American occupation was destined to fail, and we even gave cover to allow them to establish their own severe brand Sharia law.
Let’s take a look at a few document stories of Afghan love. In one, a 17-year-old girl and boy are held in prison because people thought they might have had sex. The girl, a 17-year-old, was checked by prison doctors to see if she was still a virgin and telling the truth. Turns out she was a virgin still. The boy we can’t check of course. We guess maybe he is still a virgin.
So, a sex crime has not been committed. Now the two young lovers can get out of prison, and, unlike Romeo and Juliet, their families can properly consent to marriage so they can rightfully have sex. Well, that’s not how it ends. She gets three years in prison.
In other words, this modern love story has come to show the state the world is in. If that state is a non-state like Afghanistan. This story, taken from the true 2011 documentary The Love Crimes of Kabul, as streamed on HBO, shows us the state of the country 10 years after the U.S. 2001 invasion. The women’s love prisons, which are actually called just prisons, contain prisoners where 50 percent of them are there for love crimes, ostensibly all consensual, according to the documentarian. Or the type of action that we in America might call, well, nothing.
In another scene, the female warden tells a woman prisoner that she can expect to be sentenced. The prisoner had sex before marriage. In America, at worst, for consensual sex, the woman would wake up with a hangover around noon and just call it a drunken Friday night hook-up, maybe a mistake. In 2010 or 2011 in Afghanistan, a young woman might get a few years in prison, before she returns home a shameful outcast.
In a modern American rom-com movie script, we all get to chuckle when we see the bartender at the bridesmaid’s party return the woman’s wedding dress that is covered in vomit. He turns out to be not the gorgeous prince-charming she took home for a wild night, but a decent guy that isn’t the fake corporate winner but a sensitive artist. She is more successful than the bartender she has a coffee with but falls in love with him anyway. They might not get married, but a spark of love exists. They kiss and her front door closes. Not a prison cell door.
Even before being condemned, the young woman who had sex tells her cellmate who asks, Yes, I have thought of suicide. I thought of throwing myself from a third-floor roof into the high voltage power lines. Not what even bad consensual party sex in America should led to. And this young Afghan woman tried a dozen or so times, but her sister stopped her. Now she’s in prison without her sister surrounded by small toddlers that wander about the prison (Yes, babies and toddlers have to grow up in jail with their mother who committed sex crimes or regular crimes, the other 50 percent of women in prison.)
I don’t know if you could pick two countries where the outcome to a flirtation followed by consensual sexual pleasure leads to two totally different outcomes. One, a sort of life lesson that allows for modern realistic personal growth reflecting American real-life statistics where women are becoming more successful than men and accept that they won’t be saved by a childhood fantasy. The second, abject destruction of a young woman’s life because of love, forcing someone already teetering on poverty to fall hopelessly into a further downward spiral from social ostracism.
Clearly marrying these two strange countries on polar ends of the political and social spectrum together through a blind date they had on 9/11 would lead to disaster. Not the sad-funny ending of the lesson learned with a chance for love in a modern rom-com.
Instead, quite opposite for the Afghan girl. Her life will get even worse. Nowe enter the Taliban. Her confinement under extreme Sharia Law, where she had representation by an Islam lawyer, won’t end badly. It will end worse. Probably death, stoning, family public shaming, village condemnation. Remember, the Taliban before the American arrive in 2001 had a long laundry list of documented atrocities that were against human rights (at least human rights according to the West, though I believe should be universal). That list included ending education for women and basically all their human rights.
It’s critical to remember that Sharia law, the core Taliban method of governance and control, did not change under American occupation. This documentary is just of many. During that time, women suffered jail time and condemnation for falling in love, expressing interest in a male suitor, or having a boyfriend, and certainly a good stretch in the slammer for premarital consensual sex with even a finance. Establishing human rights was not the point of our occupation. For twenty years U.S. and NATO forces paid trillions and couldn’t even establish the most basic of human rights, the right to love.
That’s not failure. That’s reality. Sharia law does not allow for equality. The Quran establishes women as property of men, which Americans would call slavery. I am not being metaphoric, or ‘liberal’, all of America is far to the left of the Taliban. Sharia Law establishes that men can beat their women, or, in some interpretations, “lightly” hit them, or gently smack them around. (see the Quran 4:34, or the 34th verse of the Surah Nisa and one Muslim scholars excellent linguistic interpretation) The husbands face no repercussions for these acts of violence. Most women even blame themselves.
The love prison and love crimes will become worse under the Taliban. As the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Eslamzadeh showed us in his 2017 film Alone Among the Taliban — the only one made “behind enemy lines” of the Taliban — no women are on the streets with men in the town he reaches controlled completely by the Taliban. All are locked away. For women, every home becomes a prison. It’s the only way to keep them safe. Welcome Taliban, welcome back. We’ve kept your law intact.