Life Under Fundamentalist Islam
23 February 2015
We have learned a lot about the world through our “story time.” The book we just finished is a good example of this: The Breadwinner by award-winning Canadian author Deborah Ellis.
This book, written for teens, is a fictional account of life in Afghanistan under the Taliban, based on true stories the author was told during several months visiting Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Russia. It is a stark eye-opener to the brutal realities of Islamic fundamentalism — a totalitarian ideology which is making rapid advances in Europe, with American not that far behind.
Following are some excerpts from The Breadwinner which paint a vivid picture of what your Islamic future in the Western world might one day look like. Read it and weep! Weep for what Afghans have suffered. Weep for what you will suffer under that same demonic ideology — Islam.
Parvana wasn’t really supposed to be outside at all. The Taliban had ordered all the girls and women in Afghanistan to stay inside their homes. They even forbade girls to go to school.To find out all the details of Parvana’s life and her family, what happens to her father, and how she becomes the breadwinner of the family, be sure to get a copy of the book and read the entire story. Better yet, because this book is the first of a series, you can save some money by getting The Breadwinner Trilogy from the very start.
Parvana had had to leave her sixth grade class, and her sister Nooria was not allowed to go to her high school. Their mother had been kicked out of her job as a writer for a Kabul radio station. For more than a year now, they had all been stuck inside their one-room [apartment], along with five-year-old Maryam and two-year-old Ali....
She was afraid to look up at the soldiers [patrolling the streets]. She had seen what they did, especially to women, the way they would whip and beat someone they thought should be punished. Sitting in the marketplace day after day, she had seen a lot. When the Taliban were around, what she wanted most of all was to be invisible....
Most people in Afghanistan could not read or write. Parvana was one of the lucky ones. Both of her parents had been to university, and they believed in education for everyone, even girls....
But now the country was ruled by the Taliban militia. They were Afghans, and they had very definite ideas about how things should be run. When they first took over the capital city of Kabul, they forbade girls to go to school....
Both of Parvana’s parents had come from old respected Afghan families. With their education, they had earned high salaries. They had had a big house with a courtyard, a couple of servants, a television set, a refrigerator, a car....
That house had been destroyed by a bomb. The family had moved several times since then. Each time, they moved to a smaller place. Every time their house was bombed, they lost more of their things. With each bomb, they got poorer. Now they lived together in one small room....
Now most of the country was controlled by the Taliban. The word Taliban meant religious scholars, but Parvana’s father told her that religion was about teaching people how to be better human beings, how to be kinder. “The Taliban are not making Afghanistan a kinder place to live!” he said....
Her father had lost the lower part of one leg when the high school he was teaching in was bombed.... He used to have a false leg, but he sold it. He hadn’t planned to. False legs had to be specially made, and one person’s false leg didn’t necessarily fit another. But when a customer saw father’s leg on the blanket [at his marketplace stall], he ignored the other things for sale and demanded to buy the leg. He offered such a good price that father eventually relented.
There were lots of false legs for sale in the market now. Since the Taliban decreed that women must stay inside, many husbands took their wives’ false legs away. “You’re not going anywhere, so why do you need a leg?” they asked....
Kabul had once been beautiful ... whole sidewalks, traffic lights that changed color, evening trips to restaurants and cinemas, browsing in fine shops for clothes and books.
For most of Parvana’s life, the city had been in ruins, and it was hard for her to imagine it another way. It hurt her to hear stories of old Kabul before the bombing. She didn’t want to think about everything the bombs had taken away, including her father’s health and their beautiful home. It made her angry, and since she could do nothing with her anger, it made her sad....
“How do women in burqas manage to walk along these streets?” Parvana asked her father. “How do they see where they are going?”
“They fall down a lot,” her father replied. He was right. Parvana had seen them fall.
Parvana and her father slowly made their way up the steps of their building. They lived on the third floor of an apartment building. It had been hit in a rocket attack, and half of it was rubble.
The stair were on the outside of the building, zigzagging back and forth on their way up. They had been damaged by the bombs, and didn’t quite meet in places. Only some parts of the staircase had a railing....
The water tank [in their apartment] ... was almost empty [so] she’d have to make five trips to the water tap. Six, because her mother hated to see an empty water bucket....
Parvana grumbled all the way down the steps and down the block to the neighborhood tap. The trip home, with a full bucket, was worse, especially the three flights of stairs....
Parvana knew that she had to fetch the water because there was nobody else in the family who could do it. Sometimes this made her resentful. Sometimes it made her proud. One thing she knew — it didn’t matter how she felt. Good mood or bad, the water had to be fetched, and she had to fetch it....
Mother and Nooria had to wear burqas whenever they went outside, and they couldn’t carry a pail of water up those uneven broken stairs if they were wearing burqas. Plus, it was dangerous for women to go outside without a man....
Mother and Nooria were always cleaning something. Since they couldn’t work or go to school, they didn’t have much else to do. “The Taliban have said we must stay inside, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in filth,” mother was fond of saying. Parvana hated all that cleaning. It used up the water she had to haul....
Parvana looked around their tiny room. All of the furniture she remembered from their other houses had been destroyed by bombs or stolen by looters. All they had now was a tall wooden cupboard, which had been in the room when they rented it. It held the few belongings they had been able to save....
The only window in the room was a small one, high up on one wall. The Taliban had ordered all windows painted over with black paint so that no one could see the women inside. “We won’t do it,” father had said. “The window is so high and so small, no one can possibly see in.” So far, they had gotten away with leaving it unpainted.
For short periods, on clear days, the sun would come through the window in a thin stream. Ali and Maryam, would sit in that ray of sunshine. Mother and Nooria would join them there and, for a few moments, the sun would warm the flesh on their arms and faces. Then the planet would continue its spin, and the sunbeam would be gone again....
At the end of the room was the lavatory. It was a very small room with a platform toilet — not the modern Western toilet they used to have! The little propane cookstove was kept in there because a tiny vent, high in the wall, kept fresh air coming into the room. The water tank was there, too — a metal drum that held five pails of water — and the wash basin was next to that.
Other people lived in the part of the building that was still standing. Parvana saw them as she went to fetch water or went out with her father to the marketplace. “We must keep our distance,” father told her. “The Taliban encourage neighbor to spy on neighbor. It is safer to keep to ourselves.” It may have been safer, Parvana often thought, but it was also lonely....
Nooria hadn’t always been the oldest. Hossain had been the oldest child. He had been killed by a land mine when he was fourteen years old. Mother and father never talked about him. To remember him was too painful....
When the Taliban first came and ordered all men to grow beards, Parvana had a hard time getting used to her father’s face. He had never worn a beard before. Father had a hard time getting used to it, too. It itched a lot at first.
[One evening] four Taliban soldiers burst through the door. Ali was the first to react. The slam of the door against the wall shocked him, and he screamed.
Mother leapt to her feet, and in an instant Ali and Maryam were in a corner of the room, shrieking behind her legs.
Nooria covered herself completely with her chador and scrunched herself into a small ball. Young women were sometimes stolen by soldiers. They were snatched from their homes, and their families never saw them again.
Parvana couldn’t move. She sat as if frozen at the edge of the supper cloth. The soldiers were giants, their piled-high turbans making them look even taller.
Two of the soldiers grabber her father. The other two began searching the apartment, kicking the remains of dinner all over the mat.
“Leave him alone!” mother screamed. “He has done nothing wrong!”
“Why did you go to England for your education?” the soldiers yelled at father. “Afghanistan doesn’t need your foreign ideas!” They yanked him toward the door.
“Afghanistan needs more illiterate thugs like you,” father said. One of the soldiers hit him in the face. Blood from his nose dripped onto his white shalwar kameez.
Mother sprang at the soldiers, pounding them with her fists. She grabbed father’s arm and tried to pull him out of their grasp.
One of the soldiers raised his rifle and whacked her on the head. She collapsed on the floor. The soldier hit her a few more times. Maryam and Ali screamed with every blow to their mother’s back.
Seeing her mother on the ground finally propelled Parvana into action. When the soldiers dragged her father outside, she flung her arms around his waist. As the soldiers pried her loose, she heard her father say, “Take care of the others” ... then he was gone.
Parvana watched helplessly as two soldiers dragged him down the steps, his beautiful shalwar kameez ripping on the rough cement. Then they turned a corner, and she could see them no more.
Inside the room, the other two soldiers were ripping open the toshaks with knives and tossing things out of the cupboard.
Father’s books! At the bottom of the cupboard was a secret compartment her father had built to hide the few books that had not been destroyed in one of the bombings. Some were English books about history and literature. They were kept hidden because the Taliban burned books they didn’t like.
They couldn’t be allowed to find father’s books! The soldiers had started at the top of the cupboard and were working their way down. Clothes, blankets, pots — everything landed on the floor.
Closer and closer they came to the bottom shelf, the one with the false wall. Parvana watched in horror as the soldiers bent down to yank the things out of the bottom shelf.
“Get out of my house!” she yelled. She threw herself at the soldiers with such force that they both fell to the ground. She swung at them with her fists until she was knocked aside. She heard rather than felt the thwack of their sticks on her back. She kept her head hidden in her arms until the beating stopped and the soldiers went away.
Where was her father? Did he have a soft place to sleep? Was he cold? Was he hungry? Was he scared?
Parvana had never been inside a prison, but she had other relatives who had been arrested. One of her aunts had been arrested with hundreds of other schoolgirls for protesting the Soviet occupation of her country. All the Afghan governments put their enemies in jail.
“You can’t be truly Afghan if you don’t know someone who’s been in prison,” her mother sometimes said.
No one had told her what prison was like. “You’re too young to know these things,” the grown-ups would tell her. She had to imagine it. It would be cold, Parvana decided, and dark....
The prison was a long way from their home. Buses were not permitted to carry women who did not have a man with them. [Mother and she] would have to walk the whole way. What if father was being held somewhere else? What if they were stopped by the Taliban in the street? Mother wasn’t supposed to be out of her home without a man, or without a note from her husband....
Parvana realized that mother hadn’t been out of the house since the Taliban had taken over Kabul a year and a half before. She could have gone out. She had a burqa, and father would have gone with her any time she wanted. Many husbands were happy to make their wives stay home, but not father....
“Nooria, write mother a note,” [Parvana said].
“Don’t bother, Nooria. I will not walk around my own city with a note pinned to my burqa as if I were a kindergarten child. I have a university degree!”
“Write the note anyway,” Parvana whispered to Nooria, when mother was in the washroom. “I’ll carry it in my sleeve.”
Nooria agreed. Her penmanship was more grown-up than Parvana’s. She quickly wrote, “I give permission for my wife to be outside.” She signed it with father’s name.
“I don’t think it will do much good,” Nooria whispered, as she handed Parvana the note. “Most of the Taliban don’t know how to read.”
Parvana didn’t want to go, but she knew that sitting at home waiting for them to return would be even harder.
“Hurry up, Parvana,” her mother said. “Your father is waiting.”
Parvana slipped her feet into her sandals and wound her chador around her head. She followed mother out the door.
Helping mother down the broken stairs was a little like helping father, as the billowing burqa made it hard for her to see where she was going.
Mother hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. Parvana thought she might be having second thoughts. After that moment, though, her mother pulled herself up to her full height, straightened her back and plunged into the Kabul street.
Parvana rushed after her. She had to run to keep up with her mother’s long, quick steps, but she didn’t dare fall behind. There were a few other women in the street and they all wore the regulation burqa, which made them all look alike. If Parvana lost track of her mother, she was afraid she’d never find her again.
Now and then, her mother stopped beside a man and a woman, or a small group of men, or even a peddler boy, and held out a photograph of father. She didn’t say anything, just showed them the photo.
Parvana held her breath every time her mother did this. Photographs were illegal. Any one of these people could turn Parvana and her mother over to the militia.
But everyone looked at the photo, then shook their heads. Many people had been arrested. Many people had disappeared. They knew what mother was asking without her having to say anything.
Pul-i-Charkhi Prison was a long walk from Parvana’s home. By the time the huge fortress came into view, her legs were sore, her feet ached and, worst of all, she was scared all over.
The prison was dark and ugly, and it made Parvana feel even smaller....
If Parvana’s mother was scared, she didn’t show it. She marched straight up to the prison gates and said to the guard, “I’m here for my husband.”
The guards ignored her.
“I’m here for my husband!” mother said again. She took out father’s photograph and held it in front of the face of one of the guards. “He was arrested last night. He has committed no crime, and I want him released!”
More guards began to gather. Parvana gave a little tug on her mother’s burqa. Her mother ignored her.
“I’m here for my husband!” she kept saying, louder and louder. Parvana tugged harder on the loose cloth of the burqa....
“I’m here for my father!” she called out.
Her mother looked down at her through the screen over her eyes. She reached down and took Parvana’s hand. “I’m here for my husband!” she called again.
Over and over, Parvana and her mother kept yelling out their mission. More and more men came to stare at them.
“Be quiet!” ordered one of the guards. “You should not be here! Go from this place! Go back to your home!”
One of the soldiers snatched the photo of Parvana’s father and tore it into pieces. Another started hitting her mother with a stick.
“Release my husband!” her mother kept saying.
Another soldier joined in the beating. He hit Parvana, too.
Although he did not hit her very hard, Parvana fell to the ground, her body covering the pieces of her father’s photograph. In a flash, she tucked the pieces out of sight, under her chador.
Her mother was also on the ground, the soldier’s sticks hitting her across her back.
Parvana leapt to her feet. “Stop! Stop it! We’ll go now! We’ll go!” She grabbed the arm of one of her mother’s attackers. He shook her off as if she were a fly.
“Who are you to tell me what to do?” But he did lower his stick.
“Get out of here!” he spat at Parvana and her mother.
Parvana knelt down, took her mother’s arm and helped her to her feet. Slowly, with her mother leaning on her for support, they hobbled away from the prison.
It was strange to be in the marketplace without father.... Women were not allowed to go into the shops. Men were supposed to do all the shopping, but if women did it, they had to stand outside and call in for what they needed. Parvana had seen shopkeepers beaten for serving women inside their shops....
Parvana wasn’t sure if she would be considered a woman. On the one hand, if she behaved like one and stood outside the shop and called in her order, she could get in trouble for not wearing a burqa. On the other hand, if she went into a shop, she could get in trouble for not acting like a woman!
Before she had time to make a [decision], a voice behind her shouted, “What are you doing on the street dressed like that?”
Parvana whirled around to see a Talib glaring at her, anger in his eyes and a stick in his hand.
“You must be covered up! Who is your father? Who is your husband? They will be punished for letting you walk the street like that!” The soldier raised his arm and brought his stick down on Parvana’s shoulder.
Parvana didn’t even feel it. Punish her father, would they? “Stop hitting me!” she yelled.
The Talib was so surprised, he held still for a moment. Parvana saw him pause, and she started to run.... She didn’t care if people were staring at her. All she wanted was to get as far away from the soldier as she could, as fast as her legs could carry her.
More men moved onto the field, but they weren’t soccer players. Several men were brought in with their hands tied behind their backs. A heavy-looking table was carried out by two of the soldiers....
One of the men was untied, then bent over the table. Several soldiers held him down, his arms stretched out across the table-top....
All of a sudden one of the soldiers took out a sword, raised it above his head and brought it down on the man’s arm. Blood flew in every direction. The man cried out in pain....
“These men are thieves,” the soldiers called out to the crowd. “See how we punish thieves? We cut off one of their hands! See what we do!”
Just before she left, Parvana caught a glimpse of a young Talib man, too young to have a beard. He was holding up a rope strung with four severed hands, like beads on a necklace. He was laughing and showing off his booty to the crowd....
Mother ... had heard about the events at the stadium from other women’s group members. Some had husbands or brothers who had been there. “This goes on every Friday,” mother said. “What century are we living in?”
“I just want to be an ordinary kid again,” Parvana said. “I want to sit in a classroom and go home and eat food that someone else has worked for. I want my father to be around. I just want a normal, boring life....”
Parvana was tired. She wanted to sit in a classroom and be bored by a geography lesson. She wanted to be with her friends and talk about homework and games and what to do on school holidays. She didn’t want to know any more about death or blood or pain....
Everywhere, there were people who were hungry and sick. Women in burqas sat on the pavement and begged, their babies stretched across their laps.
And there was no end to it. This wasn’t a summer vacation that would end and then life would get back to normal. This was normal, and Parvana was tired of it.
Summer had come to Kabul. Flowers pushed up out of the ground, not caring about the Taliban or land mines, and actually bloomed, just as they did in peace time....
Kabul was a dark city at night. It had been under curfew for more than twenty years. Many of the street lights had been knocked out by bombs, and many of those still standing did not work.
“Kabul was the hot spot of central Asia,” Parvana’s mother and father used to say. “We used to walk down the streets at midnight, eating ice cream. Earlier in the evening, we would browse through book shops and record stores. It was a city of lights, progress and excitement.”
Parvana could not even imagine what it had looked like then.
“My name is Homa,” she said. “I escaped from Mazar-e-Sharif just after the Taliban captured the city.... They went from house to house, looking for enemies. They came to my house. They came right inside! They grabbed my father and my brother and took them outside. They shot them right in the street. My mother started hitting them, and they shot her, too. I ran back inside and hid in a closet. I was there for a long, long time. I thought they would kill me, too, but they were finished killing people at my house. They were busy killing at other houses.
“I was so scared they would come back for me! When it got dark, I ran outside. I ran from building to building, looking out for the soldiers. There were bodies everywhere. The wild dogs had started eating some of the bodies, so there were pieces of people on the sidewalks and in the streets. I even saw a dog carrying a person’s arm in its mouth!
“I couldn’t face anything else. There was a truck stopped on the street. Its motor was running. I jumped into the back and hid among the bundles. Wherever the truck was going, it couldn’t be worse than where I was.
“We traveled a long, long time. When I finally got out, I was in Kabul. I went from the truck to the building where Parvana found me.” Homa started to cry. “I just left them there! I left my mother and my father and my brother lying in the street for the dogs to eat!”
I have not yet read to my daughter the second book of the series, Parvana’s Journey nor the third book, Mud City — but I am hoping to in the near future. It is vital to teach our children about the realities of their Islamic future, because it is surely coming!