Posted by: emjb | September 10, 2005

The darkness didn’t end that day four years ago

One of the books I work on at my day-job is a collection of articles about Islam and the west. Included in it were some decrees, reproduced below, issued by the Taliban while it was in power in Afghanistan.

Though of course, there are still corners of Afghanistan where similar stupidity holds sway, thanks to our Adventure in Iraq taking resources from our efforts in Afghanistan. 4 years after 9/11, no Osama is to be found, Afghanistan is in chaos, and a constitution is being drafted in Iraq that may very well open the doors to Taliban-like assholes because we didn’t have a plan beyond “Hey let’s bomb some shit.”

Not that I’m angry.

But anyway, I copied these three sets of decrees because they are so astonishing in their ignorance and hatred. Especially in comparison to the calm, enlightened tone of another series we are doing on Muslim thinkers such as Albucasis and al-Khwarizmi. Like Christianity, Islam has its shining lights and its patches of complete darkness, the Taliban being one of the worst.

When I originally saw the manuscript, I assumed the bad grammar was due to mistranslation. Instead, the editor told me, it was due to the fact that most members of the Taliban were near-illiterate, and the translators had stayed as true to their actual words as possible.

Here it is. This is not copyrighted. These texts were originally displayed in a Dutch art exhibit, if I recall correctly.

Taliban Decrees, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1996

Decree announced by the General Presidency of Amr Bil Maruf and Nai Az Munkar (Religious Police.)

Women you should not step outside your residence. If you go outside the house you should not be like women who used to go with fashionable clothes wearing much cosmetics and appearing in front of every men before the coming of Islam.

Islam as a rescuing religion has determined specific dignity for women, Islam has valuable instructions for women. Women should not create such opportunity to attract the attention of useless people who will not look at them with a good eye. Women have the responsibility as a teacher or co-ordinator for her family. Husband, brother, father have the responsibility for providing the family with the necessary life requirements (food, clothes etc).

In case women are required to go outside the residence for the purposes of education, social needs or social services they should cover themselves in accordance with Islamic Sharia regulation. If women are going outside with fashionable, ornamental, tight and charming clothes to show themselves, they will be cursed by the Islamic Sharia and should never expect to go to heaven.

All family elders and every Muslim have responsibility in this respect. We request all family elders to keep tight control over their families and avoid these social problems. Otherwise these women will be threatened, investigated and severely punished as well as the family elders by the forces of the Religious Police (Munkrat).

The Religious Police (Munkrat) have the responsibility and duty to struggle against these social problems and will continue their effort until evil is finished.

Kabul, November 1996
Rules of work for the State Hospitals and private clinics based on Islamic Sharia principles.

Ministry of Health, on behalf of Amir ul Momineen Mullah Mohammed Omar.

1. Female patients should go to female physicians. In case a male physician is needed, the female patient should be accompanied by her close relative.
2. During examination, the female patients and male physicians both should be dressed with Islamic hijab (veil).
3. Male physicians should not touch or see the other parts of female patients except for the affected part.
4. Waiting room for female patients should be safely covered.
5. The person who regulates turn for female patients should be a female.
6. During the night duty, in what rooms which female patients are hospitalized, the male doctor without the call of the patient is not allowed to enter the room.
7. Sitting and speaking between male and female doctors are not allowed, if there be need for discussion, it should be done with hijab.
8. Female doctors should wear simple clothes, they are not allowed to wear stylish clothes or use cosmetics or make-up.
9. Female doctors and nurses are not allowed to enter the rooms where male patients are hospitalized.
10. Hospital staff should pray in mosques on time.
11. The Religious Police are allowed to go for control at any time and nobody can prevent them.

Anybody who violates the order will be punished as per Islamic regulations.

Kabul, December 1996
General Presidency of Amr Bil Maruf

1. To prevent sedition and female uncovers (Be Hejabi). No drivers are allowed to pick up women who are using Iranian burqa. In case of violation the driver will be imprisoned. If such kind of female are observed in the street their house will be found and their husband
punished. If the women use stimulating and attractive cloth and there is no accompany of close male relative with them, the drivers should not pick them up.
2. To prevent music. To be broadcasted by the public information resources. In shops, hotels, vehicles and rickshaws cassettes and music are prohibited. This matter should be monitored within five days. If any music cassette found in a shop, the shopkeeper should be
imprisoned and the shop locked. If five people guarantee the shop should be opened the criminal released later. If cassette found in the vehicle, the vehicle and the driver will be imprisoned. If five people guarantee the vehicle will be released and the criminal released
3. To prevent beard shaving and its cutting. After one and a half months if anyone observed who has shaved and/or cut his beard, they should be arrested and imprisoned until their beard gets bushy.
4. To prevent keeping pigeons and playing with birds. Within ten days this habit/hobby should stop. After ten days this should be monitored and the pigeons and any other playing birds should be killed.
5. To prevent kite-flying. The kite shops in the city should be abolished.
6. To prevent idolatory. In vehicles, shops, hotels, room and any other place pictures/ portraits should be abolished. The monitors should tear up all pictures in the above places.
7. To prevent gambling. In collaboration with the security police the main centers should be found and the gamblers imprisoned for one month
8. To eradicate the use or addiction. Addicts should be imprisoned and investigation made to find the supplier and the shop. The shop should be locked and the owner and user should be imprisoned and punished.
9. To prevent the British and American hairstyle. People with long hair should be arrested and taken to the Religious Police department to shave their hair. The criminal has to pay the barber.
10. To prevent interest on loans, charge on changing small denomination notes and charge on money orders. All money exchangers should be informed that the above three types of exchanging the money should be prohibited. In case of violation criminals will be
imprisoned for a long time.
11. To prevent washing cloth by young ladies along the water streams in the city. Violator ladies should be picked up with respectful Islamic manner, taken to their houses and their husbands severely punished.
12. To prevent music and dances in wedding parties. In the case of violation the head of the family will be arrested and punished.
13. To prevent the playing of music drum. The prohibition of this should be announced. If anybody does this then the religious elders can decide about it.
14. To prevent sewing ladies cloth and taking female body measures by tailor. If women or fashion magazines are seen in the shop the tailor should be imprisoned.
15. To prevent sorcery. All the related books should be burnt and the magician should be imprisoned until his repentance.
16. To prevent not praying and order gathering pray at the bazaar. Prayer should be done on their due times in all districts. Transportation should be strictly prohibited and all people
are obliged to go to the mosque. If young people are seen in the shops they will be immediately imprisoned.

You know, what I actually find most instructive about these lists is the way in which all freedoms are related. The freedom of a woman to leave the house is not so far removed from the freedom to own a bird, listen to music, or fly a kite. The freedom to worship as you please or not is not far removed from the freedom to wear makeup or dance at a wedding. Those who hate the big freedoms never stop there; they always go after the small ones too, eventually, because all freedoms are a threat to their control.

We would do well to remember that, in a year when our leaders stage “freedom” marches that forbid freedom of the press and restrict the freedom to assemble; when they allow religious whackjobs to threaten our freedom to teach our children science and not dogma; when they support mini-Talibans that seek to forbid women the right to contraception or abortion.

It’s all connected, and it would be a mistake to assume that just because nothing you care about has yet been affected, that it won’t be. Letting the fundamentalists go after others is no insurance that they won’t come after you too.

The sad irony of 9/11 is that it has been used as an excuse to make us more like our attackers, not less. How can we call ourselves free if our leaders are doing their best to take away our freedoms, one by one, in the name of protecting us and controlling us? What freedoms are we protecting when we hold American citizens in prison without trial, in defiance of our most basic Constitutional principles? When we hold prisoners in Guantanamo without evidence? When we torture Iraqis to death in Abu Ghraib in ways worthy of Saddam and Stalin? To those to whom we have done these things, do we look any different than the Taliban?

I am afraid for my country. I am afraid for our souls, if we continue down this path. The damage already done is bad enough; what else is to come?

9/11 will be a day of documentaries and speeches, of pontificating and ceremony. But some of us will be mourning more than the 3000 victims killed that day; we are mourning the darkness that descended upon us in the aftermath. The darkness that, like that of the Taliban, uses our own ideals and fears and twists them into instruments of oppression.

The darkness we must not give into, whether it comes in the form of terrorism, or from within our own troubled country.



  1. If you took the Patriot Act, threw in a few grammatical errors, and mixed it in with those Taliban decrees, it would be almost seamless.

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