Skip to main content

Why world must react to Taliban execution

By Zainab Salbi, Special to CNN
July 11, 2012 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zainab Salbi: Execution of woman in Afghanistan is show of Taliban's confidence
  • She says killing woman for alleged adultery flouted Afghan legal system, spirit of Islam
  • She says Taliban uses force to repress women first; world must react, not just denounce
  • Salbi: It's short step between Taliban brutality toward women, aggression to rest of world

Editor's note: Zainab Salbi is an Iraqi American writer, activist and social entrepreneur who is founder of Washington-based Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization aimed at helping women survivors of war

(CNN) -- The execution of Najiba, an Afghan woman in her 20's, shot 13 times in front of a cheering crowed in Parwan province -- and seen widely online in a grainy cell phone video -- is a show of confidence by the Taliban.

It's unclear why she was shot, but local officials offer various reasons for her execution.

She was reportedly executed last month for adultery, a crime that is indeed punishable in Islam. But for an adultery charge to be proved, Islam requires four eyewitness accounts that match precisely.

This is nearly impossible in cultures like Najiba's, where sexual acts are extremely discrete. But that religious requirement is irrelevant in any case to the Taliban, whose fanatic view of Islam has been nothing but a violation of the spirit of the religion itself.

Manhunt under way for Taliban who shot woman in public execution amid cheers

After an hour-long trial, Najiba was shot either by her Taliban husband or someone else. (One version of the story is she had affairs with two Taliban members.) But this case is less about Najiba and more about the Taliban demonstrating its power, even as the United States and Afghanistan attempt negotiations with the Taliban.

You see, women are like the canary in the coal mine: What happens to them is an indicator of a larger political direction for the society.

The Taliban has consistently used women to demonstrate its power. When it first took over much of Afghanistan in 1996, it imposed the harshest seclusion and prosecution of women in modern history. Afghan women suffered under house imprisonments. They were forbidden education and any form of mobility, to name only a few of its brutal prohibitions.

Why women face challenges in Afghanistan
Why women face challenges in Afghanistan
Afghan woman executed in public

But when the international community entered Afghanistan in 2001 and started introducing laws to protect women's rights, albeit in very basic ways, the Taliban retreated as its political and military power was weakened. In the past two years, however, and particularly since the international community started talking about withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban began boldly resuming its own rules in provinces where they have recently regained control, such as Parwan province. And this has been reflected in one act of violence toward women after another.

Through such public acts -- sometimes recorded, as this one was -- the Taliban is demonstrating its complete disregard of the Afghan government and the national rule of law.

Women's rights cannot be taken lightly, nor can they be seen as a marginal issue separate from the political process of a country. The international community entered Afghanistan with a clear promise to protect women's rights and invest in creating opportunities for women to stand up on their feet.

Afghan women took advantage of the opportunities that were presented. They ran for and took political offices, they sent their daughters to school, they took loans from microcredit entities and started new business, and they worked in factories all at personal risks.

They are now asking whether the international community is planning to abandon them as forces prepare to depart Afghanistan in 2014, and they are worried, very worried indeed.

Educated and uneducated women working in all sectors in the country are asking the same question: "Is the international community going to sacrifice its promise to protect us from the rule of the Taliban in order to reach political settlement with it?"

If it is, then all the efforts of every soldier, every taxpayer, every humanitarian worker who has worked -- and in some cases, died -- in Afghanistan will have been in vain.

To abandon the protection of women's rights to seek political agreement with a force of repression is to risk a return not only to insecurity in Afghanistan, but I'd dare say to the world.

The Taliban only started its acts of violence with women. We have to remember that it did not stop there. That violence eventually affected every Afghan man and child, and it eventually came to America and impacted the world.

Saving Face: The struggle and survival of Afghan women

The taping of Najiba's execution is the Taliban's message that it is confident. What's going to be the message back to them from the Afghan government and the international community? Will it be to demonstrate that women's rights and protections are valued in actions, in addition to the political statements already made condemning the execution? We all are responsible for the answer to that question.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zainab Salbi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT