|Kabul: 8:06 AM      |
Welcome to Kabul:Reconstructions. You can follow the information below, which has been gathered from a
number of sources by a number of participants (click on the names at left for bios), to reconstruct your
own picture of events in Kabul since this site was launched on March 8th, 2003 and, in a sense, since the
reconstruction of Afghanistan began somewhere in the winter of 2001-02.
Some of this information has been provided in response to specific questions submitted by visitors like you. Please note that this section of the project is now maintained as an archive and has not been updated since 2005. Click here to ASK A QUESTION.
Arian Mouj Sharifi
The Miss Afghanistan debate (Miami Herald, Newsday, Newsweek, AP)
Miami Herald Posted on Wed, Nov. 05, 2003 Afghan beauty queen makes freedom statement
Everything I know about diversity, I learned from Captain Kirk. Well, that's not quite true. There's also Captain Picard. My point is that I've always taken what might be called the ''Star Trek'' approach to multiculturalism. It says in a nutshell that you should, whenever possible, avoid judging a foreign culture by the standards of your own. Just because a guy has blue skin and eats worms through the tentacle in his forehead doesn't make him a bad person. Words to live by, I've always thought. So you'll understand my hesitancy in discussing Vida Samadzai and her little red bikini. She is, for those who don't know, a gorgeous 25-year-old Afghan woman who recently competed at the Miss Earth pageant in Manila wearing the aforementioned swimwear. Draped across her chest: a sash that said Afghanistan. That nation, just two years removed from Taliban tyranny, is none too happy to be represented by a half-naked woman. Samadzai, a college student who lives in the United States, has been sharply criticized by both men and women in her native land. ''Cheap,'' ''lascivious'' and ''un-Islamic'' are among the choicer epithets that have been used. Some have demanded that her citizenship be revoked. Afghan culture, you will recall, holds women to a dress code of utmost modesty. The nation's religious customs dictate that a woman be covered from head to heels, rendered anonymous by the flowing fabric of her burqa, lest she incite unbridled lust in some innocent man. It seems strange to me, but my instinct is to keep my big American nose out of it, to remember that it's their culture, not mine. And if it were just a burqa, maybe I could. If it were just a question of modesty, I might bite my tongue. Problem is, it's more. Even before the Taliban came to power in 1996, Afghanistan was not exactly a paradise of women's rights. But women were at least integrated into the workaday life of the nation. They taught school, they served as doctors, they even worked in government. All of which came to a crushing stop in the five brutal years of Taliban rule. It wasn't just that women were banished to the burqa, effectively rendered invisible on the streets of Afghan cities. It was that they were in large part banished from those same streets, forbidden to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. They were, with rare exceptions, not allowed to work. Girls above the age of 8 were barred from going to school. Makeup was against the law. And all of it was enforced with brutal chastisements. A woman found to be wearing fingernail polish beneath her burqa might have her fingertips cut off. A woman caught not wearing her burqa might be raped as punishment. A woman waiting at a hospital for treatment of a severe asthma attack is said to have torn her robes off, trying to get some air. For which she received 40 lashes with a whip. So the issue here is not just a woman's modesty but her subjugation. And Samadzai's bikini is not just a fashion statement but a freedom statement - odd as that will seem to old-line feminists to whom beauty pageants have always been the devil's work. She is, in her small way, a Chinese man facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square, a German citizen jumping atop the rubble of the wall in Berlin, Rosa Parks under arrest on a bus in Birmingham. The burqa represented the theft of identity. It made a woman shapeless, faceless, sexless. In casting it aside, allowing her face and body to be seen, Samadzai reclaims a woman's most basic possession - herself - and defends her most basic right. The right to be. Afghans looked at pictures of her in her bikini and saw something hateful. I saw something hopeful, something self-possessed and free that I could never have seen before. I saw her face. Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
Newsday (New York) November 4, 2003 Bikini Unveils Hypocrisy on Afghan Feminism Marie Cocco is a nationally syndicated columnist and member of Newsday's editorial board. No one could have predicted going from burka to bikini quite so fast. But when freedom arrives, modernity follows. This is the triumph and the trial of Vida Samadzai. The 25-year-old college student caused a sensation in her native Afghanistan last week when she was seen on international newscasts strutting across a beauty pageant stage in a red bikini, her head high and her eyes ablaze with confidence. Samadzai, a University of California student who left Afghanistan years ago, has said she views her participation in the Miss Earth contest in Manila as a celebration of freedom, a message that Afghan women no longer must cower in submission. The Afghan Supreme Court promptly denounced her for violating the tenets of Islam and the "culture of the Afghan people." Afghanistan's embassy in Washington declared her participation to be a personal choice that "does not reflect the position of the Afghan government." Surely it's doubtful that American feminists who worked to free the Afghan women from their oppression under the Taliban considered the right to be a beauty queen as part of the manifesto. But then, hypocrisy always has pervaded the feminist conversation about women's bodies. The same women who protested the Miss America pageant in the 1970s were simultaneously consulting "Our Bodies, Ourselves" - an illustrated manual that had as its premise the idea that women should control and celebrate their bodies as they see fit. American women who despair at Britney Spears as a role model for their daughters find a certain delight in "Sex and the City." We can afford the luxury of these arguments. Afghan women cannot. That is the paradox of the Afghan pageant contestant. Politically active Afghan women say they support Samadzai's right to choose the runway as a route of self-expression. Still, they see it as a dangerous distraction, giving Islamic fundamentalists potent justification in their efforts to block the halting advance of women's rights. "It gives an argument for the extremists to sideline women and women's imaginations," said Sima Wali, president of Refugee Women in Development, a group that works inside and outside Afghanistan on women's political empowerment. "It becomes a powerful excuse for those who want to keep us from winning our power." The freedom of Afghan women still is routinely restricted, their lives at risk from pervasive violence. The United Nations reports that rape and gang rape, the kidnapping of girls, forced marriage and the sale of young girls into marriage continues. So does self-immolation by women seeking to escape these conditions. In August, the U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai reestablished an office of "vice and virtue" within the Ministry of Justice, a bureau that, under the Taliban, was charged with determining acceptable behavior. According to a progress report by Vital Voices, an international network of women political activists, the new director of vice and virtue has said he abhors the Taliban's harshness toward women but cautions against too much progress. Wearing makeup outside the home, Mohammad Wazir Razi Kabuli has said, would be going just too far. The draft constitution for Afghanistan, unveiled yesterday in Kabul, declares that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam." But it also prohibits discrimination and says all citizens have equal rights. The document declares education to be "the right of all citizens," but it speaks in a separate section of "balancing and promoting" the education of women. Afghan women are now allowed to work, but are restricted on commuter buses to three seats in the back. They are allowed to take part in politics, but their microphones at the pivotal Loya Jirga meeting last year were shut off after five minutes. The burka is gone as a symbol of oppression. Now it is worn regularly as a shroud required for security. In this cultural conundrum, where does the politics of a beauty pageant fit? It is impossible to be angry at a college woman who says she used it as a symbol of liberation, not degradation. And if the hoopla forces us to look again at the real humiliation of women in a country where the United States is so heavily invested, Samadzai's red bikini will have spoken loudly enough.
Newsweek Beauty is a Beast What the well-dressed Miss Afghanistan wore under her sash—and why it mattered to students of world affairs
Nov. 3 — If you want to get an idea how bogged down we're getting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, don't look at the list of two or three dead soldiers that shows up in your newspaper every morning. NOW, I PROBABLY just lost the attention of all my male readers by linking them to a picture of a woman in a bikini, but there's a reason why this particular picture of a woman in a bikini (did I mention that she's, like, totally hot?) is of vital interest to world affairs. That's because the woman spilling out of the red bikini is none other than Vida Samadzai, a 26-year-old college student and Afghani refugee who will compete next week in the Miss Earth pageant as Miss Afghanistan. Samadzai is the first person to don a Miss Afghanistan sash since 1972—when Afghanistan was experiencing the closest thing to freedom, economic development and national dignity that it's seen in years. Is there a link between the existence of a Miss Afghanistan (have I mentioned that she's totally hot?) and freedom? You wouldn't know it from the way Afghanis reacted last week, when they learned that an entirely hot refugee from their troubled country was representing them in a bikini. "We condemn Vida Samadzai," said the country's Minister for Women's Affairs, Habiba Surabi. "She is not representing Afghanistan's women, and this is not women's freedom. In the name of women's freedom, what this Afghan girl has done is not freedom but is lascivious." Surabi's comments were mild compared to the copious "man-on- the-bombed-out-street" interviews from Kabul that ran all week in the international press. "She is representing herself, not Afghanistan," sneered Muhammad Yusuf, 26. "It's wrong for a country like Afghanistan," Ahmed Munir Shehzad, 22, concurred. "This is not a good thing." Like others, he pointed out that dressing in a bikini is a violation of Islam's Shariah laws (in other words, it ain't Kosher). Of course, there is one problem with this line of thinking: A few million tons of American ordnance has pretty much ensured that Shariah isn't calling the shots in Afghanistan anymore. Now, as a proud American, you might be sitting there thinking that these Afghanis are crazy to object to having a woman who fled the Taliban in 1996— especially one this hot—represent them in a Western-style beauty pageant. After all, is she not ushering them into the future, a future complete with our notions of democracy, equality for women, free markets and peace? After all, who better than America to help Afghanistan make the difficult transition from the Stone Age to the Supermodel Age in one fell swoop? Well, almost anyone, actually. Let's face it, we're so full of ourselves that we think we can export democracy to Afghanistan and no one is going to complain when we also export the decadence that comes with it (not the least of which is sex and gender values that equate female empowerment with winning a swimsuit competition). Sure, most Afghanis understand that their country's patriarchal, sexist, oppressive society—burqas? No schooling for girls?—simply cannot survive in the 21st century if Afghanistan is to take its place among the community of nations. But must Afghan society swing all the way in the other direction? Is there no middle ground between freedom and "The Bachelor"? That's what Surabi meant when she said that Afghan women should not demonstrate their worth by using their "beauty or bodies," but by highlighting their skills and knowledge. That's nice. If someone made me God and my first job was to write a new Constitution to govern the entire world, the requirement to judge people by their abilities instead of their looks would be Article 1, Section 1. But Afghanistan is about to wake up and smell the opium: For better or worse (or for even more worse), the only way that women are given a chance to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the Western world is by using their "beauty or bodies." And if you don't like it, there are plenty of Taliban thugs hanging around Kandahar who would love to run the country again. For her part, Samadzai is no dummy. She studies (what else?) mass media at the University of California. As a student of Western media imagery, she knows how the game is played. "I would like to make people aware that, as Afghan women, we are talented, intelligent and beautiful," she told Reuters when asked about the bikini controversy (for a refresher course, click here.) To better understand the gap between Afghan society and our own, I could've called a lot of academics, but since the central theme of this article is the current Miss Afghanistan's intoxicating pulchritude, I called the only person in the world who understands the issue: The original Miss Afghanistan, Zohra Daoud, who represented her homeland in the Miss Universe contest in 1972. She fled the country shortly after the Soviet invasion of 1980 and came to the United States as a penniless refugee. But she worked hard and became a poster child (albeit one without a bikini) for the American dream. Still, to establish Daoud's credentials, I asked her the most important question: Do you think that the current Miss Afghanistan is, like, totally hot? "Yes, she is beautiful. She has a beautiful body," Daoud told me by phone from her Malibu, California home. Once we had established that Daoud understood the central issue, the interview proceeded. I needed to know whether appearing in a bikini was, in fact, antithetical to Afghani values. "There was no swimsuit in my contest because Afghan society was conservative even then," she said. "And now, after 22 years of war and jihad and the Taliban, we are even more conservative." But then wouldn't a bikini-clad Miss Afghanistan—and not an ugly one, either!—help push the country towards a new openness? (This wasn't me talking, of course, but that teeny tiny part of me that admits that Western civilization isn't all bad.) Wouldn't overt female sexuality help break down the old walls? Daoud disagreed. "Women in Afghanistan are fighting just to go to school and get health care," she said. "Wearing swimsuits doesn't help because the fundamentalists point to it and say, `See? We don't want to have anything to do with the West.' Islamic society looks at America and sees nude women, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, but not the freedom of choice, the human rights, etc. They see only the negative." Come on, could it really be true that Afghan men want to sit around and plot the next World Trade Center bombing rather than staring at pictures of bikini-clad women? Isn't there something inherently pacifying about Western decadence? "We need law-and-order first and then democracy, freedom and economic opportunity later," she said. Perhaps, but when, exactly, do hot women in red bikinis enter the picture?
Gersh Kuntzman is also Brooklyn bureau chief for The New York Post. His website is at www.gersh.tv
Miss Afghanistan May Face Afghan Charges By JONATHAN FOWLER The Associated Press Saturday, November 8, 2003; 3:19 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan - A 23-year-old woman who is the first Afghan in three decades to take part in a beauty pageant could face prosecution if she returns to her native country, a senior justice official said Saturday. Fazel Ahmad Manawi, deputy head of Afghanistan's Supreme Court, told The Associated Press that Vida Samadzai, a college student in California, had betrayed Afghan culture by appearing at the Miss Earth contest in a bikini - and may have also broken the law. "I hope that this lady regrets her actions," Mamawi said. He added that Afghan prosecutors may open an investigation, but refused to say what charges or penalties Samadzai could face. Regardless of any legal action, Samadzai's parading down a catwalk in a red bikini during the contest's qualification last month was a radical departure from the traditional image of Afghan women. She is now to compete in the contest's final round, held Sunday in the Philippine capital, Manila. Attempts to reach her Saturday were unsuccessful. But Samadzai has said she entered the contest to raise awareness of the plight of women in the homeland she left eight years ago for the United States. She also said she felt uncomfortable appearing in such a skimpy costume, but that wearing a bikini was a contest requirement. Afghan law is based on Islamic principles but stops short of the extremist interpretation of Islamic law, known as Shariah, which was applied by the former Taliban regime. Despite the fall of the Taliban two years ago, many Afghan women still wear the all-covering burqa robes that became an international symbol of the regime's hardline policies. Women who avoid the burqa respect Islamic tradition by covering their hair with a scarf. Samadzai's wearing the bikini led to criticism from the Supreme Court, which said such a display of the female body was un-Islamic. And in line with that judgment, Muslim contestants in beauty pageants over the years have been relatively rare. Four Muslims entered last year's Miss Universe contest in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They represented Turkey, which officially is a secular nation; Egypt, which has a constitution stipulating that Islam is the main source of law; as well as Singapore and Trinidad and Tobago, which have Muslim minorities. In 1972, Afghanistan held its first and only pageant giving Zohra Daoud the title of Miss Afghanistan. Daoud fled to the United States after the Soviet invasion in 1979, and now lives in Malibu, Calif., where she raises funds for humanitarian efforts in her homeland. Samadzai, who studies at California State University, Fullerton, left Afghanistan in 1996. It was not immediately clear whether she has any family in the country. She said she was "appointed" as a contestant by people aware of her work as a volunteer fund-raiser.
Miss Afghanistan Wins Award at Miss Earth Sunday, November 9th, 2003
MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Miss Afghanistan Vida Samadzai, condemned in her homeland for parading in a bikini at the Miss Earth contest, failed to make the semifinals but won the pageant´s first "beauty for a cause" award on Sunday. The 23-year-old Samadzai, the first Afghan in three decades to take part in a beauty contest, she was cited for "symbolizing the newfound confidence, courage and spirit of today´s women" and for "representing the victory of women´s rights and various social, personal and religious struggles." Samadzai could face prosecution if she returns to her native country, a senior Afghan justice official said Saturday. Fazel Ahmad Manawi, deputy head of Afghanistan´s Supreme Court, told The Associated Press that Samadzai, a college student in California, had betrayed Afghan culture by appearing at the Miss Earth contest in a bikini - and may have also broken the law. "I hope that this lady regrets her actions," Manawi said. He added that Afghan prosecutors may open an investigation, but refused to say what charges or penalties Samadzai could face. Regardless of any legal action, Samadzai´s parading down a catwalk in a red bikini during the contest´s qualification last month was a radical departure from the traditional image of Afghan women. Samadzai said in an earlier interview that she felt uncomfortable in the skimpy attire, but did it to qualify for the contest and raise awareness of the plight of women and children in her homeland. She said she was "appointed" as a contestant by people aware of her work as a volunteer fund raiser and as a founder of an Afghan women´s rights organization. "It gives me a chance to speak up and send my voice out there and let people know that the Afghans are in great need of help," she said. Samadzai left Afghanistan in 1996 to study in the United States. The Miss Earth crown went Sunday to Miss Honduras Dania Prince. Brazil´s Pricila Zandona was selected first runner-up, Costa Rica´s Marianela Zeledon Bolanos was chosen second runner-up, and Miss Poland Marta Matyjasik was third runner-up.
Kabul: Partial Reconstructions is an installation
and public dialogue project that explores the multiple meanings and resonances of
the idea of reconstruction -- as both process and metaphor -- in the context of present-day Kabul.
www.kabul-reconstructions.net is an online discussion forum, information resource, and medium for the communication of questions and answers about the reconstruction between people inside and outside the city of Kabul itself.