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The first Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs to work after the fall of the Taliban, Dr. Sima Samar, did not even have her own office, Yvonne realized when she met her in March 2002. "In the end she was hounded out of office," she says.|
"Being a woman in Afghanistan is a tough life," Yvonne concludes. "But it has been for centuries -- it has to do with customs and traditions."
Not even Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given up these traditions.
"Karzai is very much promoted as a man of America, as a U.S. puppet," says Yvonne, who now presents the political program 'The Agenda' on the Iranian Press TV channel. "But has anybody met Karzai's wife? Does anybody know her name? Is anybody even allowed to ask for her name?" she wonders.
"On one hand, he says he is promoting Western values, but, on the other hand, he is Pashto through and through. I don't see him doing anything to promote women. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the Taliban regime was great for women. But certainly their lives have not improved."
Even if women are often subjugated in Muslim societies, Yvonne is convinced that Islam stands far from these traditions, which is why she, a feminist, has joined this faith.
As her spiritual journey progressed, Yvonne gradually began adopting Islamic practices and cutting out un-Islamic customs like alcohol and cigarettes. "I had a battle with cigarettes which I finally won -- at last," she jokes.
Yvonne also started wearing the veil, finding it "liberating not to be judged by the size of her legs."
But then it was her own society that she felt oppressed. "I've always been outspoken," she says, referring, for instance, to her critical views against the way detainees in the war on terror are held captive without charge, and often tortured. "I have been a trade unionist all my live; I've been passionate against the war; I've spoken on anti-war platforms, on Muslim and non-Muslim events. But as soon as I put on a hijab (Muslim veil), I was called an extremist for my views."
Yvonne finds that interesting. "You can't win," she fiercely says. "You're criticized one minute for being silent, subjugated, oppressed and not saying anything. And when you do say something, they say: 'Oh, she's an extremist.'"
Yvonne's veil has nothing to do with extremism. Although, before her conversion, she recalls looking at veiled women as "silent, oppressed creatures," she now wears it as a means to show her Muslim identity, and to be respected as a Muslim who does not want to be offered a glass of wine. Yvonne knows what she defends -- Islam purely and simply.
The grades used -- largely by Western media -- to measure the levels of Islam such as "moderate Muslim" and "Islamist," are nonsense in her eyes. "What is a moderate and what is an extremist? I really don't know," she says. "I am a simple Muslim. I follow no scholars or sects. I merely follow The Prophet and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's tradition). Does that make me an extremist?
"I once said being a Muslim is a bit like being pregnant. You are or you are not. Whoever heard of anyone being moderately or extremely pregnant?"
Yvonne strongly opposes media distortions and manipulations about Islam. She once declined an offer by a Hollywood producer who, after having read her book, "In the hands of the Taliban," expressed an interest in making a film, but had misinterpreted the Taliban as "dirty, filthy, stinking Arabs."
Fearing the story would be "demonizing an entire section of the Muslim community," she answered to the producer: "First of all, the Taliban are not dirty, filthy, stinking Arabs as you call them; they're largely from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Furthermore, they were all very handsome young men."
One wonders if it were their turbans that she got inspired by in designing her veil's style.
* Published in the MIDDLE EAST TIMES on Jan. 16, 2008. Asma Hanif is a post-graduate student at the London School of Journalism.