In August 2021, after the Taliban captured Kabul, tens of thousands of government officials, translators and westernized elites fled Afghanistan, and almost all foreign journalists joined them.this era Not only journalists were evacuated, but translators, cooks and drivers were also evacuated. During one of the biggest international news events in two decades, many bureaus were empty.has disappeared wall street journalWashington postal, and the main network. Victor Blue, a photographer on a domestic mission, was asked to flee with his colleagues, but he refused. He was one of the few journalists who remained, spending months traveling across the country exploring the dark corners of Taliban rule.
Many media outlets believe that the US military is defending the pro-Western population against the deeply unpopular Taliban insurgency. But Blue quickly realized that in the heartland of the insurgency in rural areas, the situation was much more nuanced. First, US-occupied Afghanistan is a divided country. Afghans living in relatively calm areas tend to oppose the Taliban, but Afghans living in war-torn areas tend to view the Taliban as a better alternative to a corrupt U.S.-backed government. Western media missed this story. Partly because it is difficult (though not impossible) for foreign journalists to gain access to the war-torn countryside, the scale of the crimes committed by the U.S. military and its allies goes unrecorded. This violence has turned many rural Pashtun communities against the Americans. In some villages, almost every adult was directly or indirectly involved in the rebellion.
Yet there is a deeper reason why the West is so wrong about Afghanistan: Members of the largely liberal and secular Western press corps have difficulty accepting the fact that they have devoted years to covering much of the country So conservative and religious. . More than anything else, the Taliban’s semblance of piety has given the Taliban’s insurgency the sheen of legitimacy in rural Pashtun. Today, as a government, the Taliban offers few welfare services, no viable economic vision, and little human rights — but it has established religious services that rural populations find vital. Foremost among these is the Sharia court system.
Last May, Blue teamed up with filmmaker Ross McDonnell to document a Sharia court session. Ross MacDonald worked in Afghanistan for more than five years during the height of the war. As far as I know, the outside world has never successfully filmed such a process. “Swift Justice” offers an unparalleled look at the heart of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and sheds more light on what the West has failed to understand in America’s longest war.
There may be hundreds of Sharia courts across the country; the court featured in Swift Justice is located in the town of Musakala in the rural Pashtun hinterland of Helmand province; it was one of the most heavily bombed areas in Afghanistan during the occupation. According to locals, U.S. and allied forces have killed large numbers of civilians, turning the area into a Taliban stronghold. The Musa Kalla court has been operating for years, even before the US withdrawal, and appears to enjoy popular legitimacy. “I’m amazed that people have so much confidence in the judge’s decision,” Blue told me. “People see them as well-meaning brokers, imbued with religious authority.”
To a Westerner, the term “Sharia law” might conjure up images of sword-wielding zealots with Old Testament sensibilities. Traditionally, however, Sharia law — the Arabic word for “religious law” — has been associated with criminal harm such as murder, rape or theft. The rest deal with the prosaic stuff of family and marital relations and business dealings and rituals. Sharia courts have existed in Afghanistan for centuries, and during the American occupation they formed one of three different legal systems. The official courts of the U.S.-backed Afghan government are also notoriously corrupt and inefficient. Bribes are the lubricant of the system; murderers often get away with it, while innocents suffer in prisons filled with torture and other ill-treatment. There is also the tribal system, an informal and sometimes ad hoc method of dispute resolution based on rural Pashtun customs. Rural Pashtuns rarely miss the old Afghan government courts. Instead, the main tension today is between tribal and religious law.
The most compelling moment in “Swift Justice” comes when we meet Sophia, a twenty-five-year-old widow who resists her brother-in-law’s marriage proposal in court. Her eyes are barely visible behind the web of the burqa, but her voice is loud: “These men are vultures,” she said. “They live to inherit other people’s inheritance.” The subtext here is the contrast between the marriage rules in tribal customs and the marriage rules in Islamic law. According to the Pashtun tribal code, women are nothing more than family property.in practice you, the family exchanged women to settle the blood feud. Strict gender segregation is practiced in Pashtun villages, confining women to the home to preserve family honor. Women have no right to divorce. They are prohibited from owning property. They were disinherited. They are not allowed to pray in mosques. Adultery was illegal and punishable by death. A Pashto proverb captures this spirit: “Women are only half of humanity.”
Under Islamic law, women can own property and receive inheritance rights. They can pray in mosques. They have the right to divorce and are entitled to the equivalent of alimony. And, in the Hanafi sect, the school of religious law followed by the Taliban, marriage requires the woman’s consent. But according to Pashtun tribal traditions, women do not have such rights. Widows may be forced to marry their deceased husband’s brother, sometimes as a second or third wife. In recent decades, it has been common to hear of women marrying one brother after another in succession, with each brother killed in the conflict. As a result, the lives of many rural Pashtun women actually improved after the implementation of Sharia law. Of course, even the meager rights of Sharia law are a far cry from what women enjoy in a liberal system—but such a system never existed in rural Pashtun, not even during the American occupation. Under the previous Afghan government, rural Pashtun women enjoyed many rights on paper but few in practice. Blue and Macdonald asked Safia’s father whether she would win the lawsuit under a U.S.-backed government. “Forget about it,” he told them. “Under the previous government, they would follow the customs of the Pashtun tribe.”
Women who want to fight for more rights in Afghanistan may seek to exploit the tension between tribal and religious law. The Taliban government prohibits girls from attending high school or university and women from working outside the home. However, there is nothing in any standard interpretation of religious law that prevents women from work or education. The Taliban’s draconian measures actually mirror Pashtun rural customs, and their greatest crime is imposing these values on a very diverse country. Women may rarely leave home in the Pashtun hinterland, but in other areas women work alongside men, and some even run shops or own property. For the top Taliban, the tribal origin of these laws is an embarrassing question. They like to pretend they rule only according to Sharia law. This may account for the growing sentiment among Afghan women I interviewed who want to learn about “rights under Islam” and receive religious education. In remote communities, women even meet informally to discuss these issues. Afghanistan’s best hope may be these women, living in muddy, sun-baked villages in the countryside, learning to beat the Taliban at their own game. ❖