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President Biden Must Oppose the Taliban’s Current and Future Crackdown on Human Rights
Afghans make their way the road to the military entrance of the airport for evacuations, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 (MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)
(MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)

President Biden Must Oppose the Taliban’s Current and Future Crackdown on Human Rights

Nina Shea

In last Monday’s speech on Afghanistan, President Biden made the claim, “I have been clear that human rights must be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery.” He is right that basic human rights are central to America’s foreign policy, as a matter of law and core national values. This is in stark contrast to the CCP (the Chinese Communist Party), which has taken a recent interest in supporting the Taliban. Biden must lead in standing up for the rights of all Afghans, especially those in imminent peril.

Apart from the chaos and violence confronting the throngs fleeing to Kabul’s airport, the fate of human rights under the Taliban demands serious concern. Biden’s policy decision to remove even the small residual U.S. military force in Afghanistan delivered over 40 million Afghans into the hands of one of the world’s most brutally repressive Islamist regimes. Surrendering Afghan troops, U.S. supporters, and former government employees were immediately subjected to bloody retribution—barbarians do not honor the Geneva Conventions. But Taliban repression will last way beyond this transition period. The sweeping disregard for basic human rights norms will continue as long as the Taliban holds power.

Everyone under Taliban rule—Muslim or not, male or female, Afghan or foreign—is at risk of severe punishment for exercising basic human rights. The Taliban’s first acts upon taking over were to declare on its media, “Afghanistan is conquered and Islam has won,” and to raise a white flag with the Islamic profession of faith written in black. A Taliban commander declared this week that the group will govern by sharia. There can be no doubt that the Taliban will rule by an extreme application of sharia, as it did between 1996 and 2001.

This means the state will use harsh forms of coercion to enforce conformity to what the Taliban religious elite proclaim to be Islamic principles. These rules will cover all aspects of life, from men’s shaving practices and women’s dress and activities, to permissible topics of discussion and study, as well as to what the West considers to be criminal, civil, inheritance and family law matters.

Under the Taliban’s sharia, Afghans will be denied the pivotal right to religious freedom. Those who convert from Islam, of course, will be killed if they don’t quickly recant. But denying religious freedom also means, international rights to freedom of belief, expression, publication, association, assembly, movement, marriage, education, occupation, and other areas are to be circumscribed by the Taliban religious code.

The Afghan people will lack the right to make the laws they live under, as the Taliban religious men claim to govern under direct and unmediated Allah’s laws, not democratically made ones, which they scorn as anathema. It is this failure to recognize the human agency in the interpretation and application of sharia that will place the Taliban system beyond the realm of debate, criticism and accountability. Reforms will become nearly impossible. Cloaked in religion, this new legal system will be insulated from criticism and moderation by apostasy and blasphemy laws that bring harsh corporal punishments and even the death penalty.

The woman gunned down in the street this week for not wearing a burka is just the beginning. Imams are being ordered to make lists of girls over 15 and widows under 45, to distribute them as war booty to Taliban jihadis. All women are to be put under male guardianship and reports already exist of stores barring unescorted women. Girls’ schools are shutting down. As scholar Farahnaz Ispahani noted, women who held high office now find themselves on Taliban lists for retribution. Models’ faces for women fashion ads have been blacked out. If the Taliban does allow women to work, it will be in limited occupations. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid’s statement that there would be “no discrimination against women, but of course, within the frameworks we have,” means that all women are to be equally suppressed, not that they won’t be suppressed.

Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Shia Muslim Hazaras, and others (whose leaders requested that I not mention out of fear for their lives), collectively numbering under one percent of the population, will suffer religious persecution. Zebulon Simantov, the last Jew in Afghanistan said he wants to stay until the High Holidays in September to tend to the only synagogue, in Kabul, before ending the 2,000-year-old Jewish presence there. He may be the only non-Muslim tolerated since the others are considered apostates or polytheists—and the Taliban may fear Israel.

Christians are estimated to range between 10,000 and 12,000 and are mostly converts from Islam who live in the deep underground, Matias Perttula of International Christian Concern told me in an email. They have no formal church building apart from a small chapel in the Italian embassy. Recent reports from Christians on Twitter indicate that they feel “thrown to the wolves” and some have received telephoned death threats,“We know who you are and we’re coming for you.” A frantic Catholic mother at the Kabul airport is pleading for papal help for herself and her five children in finding refuge in Italy—her husband disappeared last week amidst reports of jihadi death squads going from door to door hunting Christians. The entire Christian community is in danger of wholesale slaughter.

Western aid workers, Christian or not, are fleeing the country since they, too, are at great risk. In 2010, Taliban jihadists shot to death 10 members of the medical team of the Christian NGO, International Assistance Mission, who were hiking with packhorses through mountain ridges giving eye care in remote villages. Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban propagandist back then as well as now, explained in the New York Times, “the medical team was killed because they were ‘spying for the Americans’ and ‘preaching Christianity.’”

Journalists for Western media are fleeing in droves. Teachers, dissidents, NGO activists, LGBTQ are other groups in obvious danger. Without basic rights, in fact, everyone is at risk of arbitrary arrest and punishment. For example, Afghans with non-Islamic tracts in their libraries and on their laptops and cell phones will have to be very careful. In 1999, the Afghan Intelligence Division arrested and mercilessly tortured Sayed Abdullah, a Muslim employee of the Red Cross, for having two Bibles in his private 500-book collection. When his torturers got through with him, he needed a leg brace and suffered chronic injury to his kidneys, hearing, sight and memory, he revealed in a Washington Post interview.

Taliban sharia rule is catastrophic for human rights. Congressman Chris Smith and Senator Lindsey Graham are among those advocating U.S.-protected humanitarian corridors to help targeted Afghans escape. Beyond that, President Biden should use the administration bully pulpit to expose Taliban atrocities and lead a Western coalition to pressure its regime and any party that allies with it, including the CCP.

Read in The Epoch Times

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