Wednesday, March 09, 2016

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "The Lovers" a Lesson on Theocracy

"A chronicle of Afghanistan's modern-day Romeo and Juliet" PBS NewsHour 3/7/2016


SUMMARY:  Zakia and Ali are Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet -- with all the heartache that description implies.  Separated by religion, ethnicity and their own families, the young couple defied them all by eloping.  Rod Nordland of the New York Times chronicles their remarkable odyssey in his book, “The Lovers,” and joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss the intersection of romance and religion in the Muslim world.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Zakia and Ali first came to the world’s attention in the pages of The New York Times in 2014.  Later, the paper would capture their story on video.

They had grown up on adjacent potato farms in Afghanistan’s remote mountain province of Bamiyan, playing together as children, and, as teenagers, falling in love.

ZAKIA (through interpreter):  At first, I wasn’t aware of my feelings, because I didn’t know him.  I was very young and didn’t understand these things.  When I was out in the farm fields, he wrote his cell phone number and gave it to me.  Then we talked on the phone and he said, “I love you,” and we got to know each other and started to love each other.

ALI (through interpreter):  It looked to me that it wasn’t possible for us to get together.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Indeed, it was prohibited because of the Afghan custom of arranged marriages and by Islamic law.  The two were separated by religion and ethnicity, she a Sunni and Tajik, he a Shiite and Hazara.

When their love became known, the couple, especially Zakia, faced condemnation, beatings and later the threat of death from her family.

ROD NORDLAND, Author, “The Lovers”:  Her family were not wealthy, but they were big and they were numerous.  And they — on their side, in their quest to kill her, they had a very powerful weapon, and that was the knowledge that nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted for an honor killing in Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN:  A new book tells the story.

It’s called “The Lovers: Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet,” by New York Times Kabul bureau chief Rod Nordland.  Nordland wrote the original article and a number of follow-ups.

We met recently at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., as a new exhibition on Afghanistan art, Turquoise Mountain, was being installed.

Nordland told me he'd been looking for a way to report on so-called honor killings, the murder of young women by their own families for causing them shame.
ROD NORDLAND:  When it comes to a lot of these abusive customary practices, that’s right.  They’re still as prevalent as they once were.

Honor killing, child brides, the practice of baad, when a little girl is sold to pay a family debt, often a debt for some moral crime that a male relative has carried out.  It would be unfair to say there hasn’t been improvement, because there are millions of girls in schools that didn’t exist during the Taliban time.

Still, when you look at the metrics, Afghanistan still remains the worst place in the world to be born a woman, in life expectancy, maternal mortality, anything.  And you look at it, and that’s pretty shocking, considering the investment that we have tried to make in bettering women’s lives.

COMMENT:  This should be a warning against the extreme Christian Conservative movement to force everyone to abide by their beliefs (gay marriage, abortion, etc).

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