Afghan Evils Ignored at Our Peril

It was only after weeks of international outrage that Canada's House of Commons, in response to a motion sponsored by NDP leader Jack Layton, unanimously voted on Monday to condemn a death sentence faced by an Afghan journalist.

About time, too, although the Harper government still hasn't had much to say about the case, at least not for the record.

Why has it not been pounding on Afghan President Hamid Karzai's desk?

Why has it not led the world's protests?

Where is the accountability for Canadian blood and treasure?

I am sure I am not the only Canadian who would like to know why our troops are getting blown up to prop up a regime that has, despite fine words in its new constitution, no regard for women's rights - or the ability of journalists to discuss how the prophet Mohammed regarded women.

That's because, in Afghanistan, even long after the Taliban was toppled from power, if you suggest that women should be equal to men, you might as well book a cell on death row.

That's where Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh is.

Last Oct. 27, the 23-year-old journalist was arrested in the northern province of Balkh on charges of "blasphemy" and "disseminating defamatory comments about Islam."

His crime?

Downloading a document from an Iranian website that deconstructs what the Koran says about marriage - and argues that Muslim fundamentalists who promote the inequality of the sexes misrepresent the teachings of the prophet.

On Jan. 22, in a closed courtroom and without legal representation, Kambakhsh was sentenced to death - although there is speculation that he is a mere proxy for his brother, also a journalist, who has written hard-hitting critiques of the government.

Well, it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for?

Because I'm not so sure any more.

If journalists cannot freely do their jobs or discuss oppression of women without suffering persecution by the state - Afghanistan's upper house approved the death sentence for insulting Islam - then it doesn't matter how many tanks we throw in there. The "mission'' is a failure and our troops are being killed for nothing.

Despite all the la-di-da words about building schools and restoring infrastructure, the truth of the matter is, say international aid organizations, women continue to suffer mightily in Afghanistan. And if women suffer, children suffer. And the violence will never end.

"In 2007 more women killed themselves in Afghanistan than ever before - that shows that the situation hasn't got any better," wrote Malalai Joya in The Independent last week.

She's an Afghan MP suspended from Parliament because she has criticized her fellow delegates, calling them "mafia" and worse. But who can blame her?

"The murder of women in Afghanistan is like the killing of birds, because this government is anti-women," she continued. "Women are vulnerable - recently a 22-year-old woman was raped in front of her children by 15 local commanders of a fundamentalist party, closely connected to the government. The commanders then urinated in the face of the children. These things happen frequently."

According to Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, the level of domestic violence against women has not abated, forced marriages continue and, every 30 minutes, a woman dies in childbirth.

Long before Sept. 11, 2001, women in the West, notably Toronto journalist Sally Armstrong, tried to direct the west's attention to the plight of women in Afghanistan. They could see the evils being perpetrated there while the rest of the world turned its back, didn't want to know and didn't care.

We turn our backs again at our peril. Women are like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. If they are keeling over, then you can bet a nasty explosion will happen soon.

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