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Why the Future of Women in Afghanistan Matters So Much


“I am sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?”

This is how Zarifa Ghafari, the youngest mayor in Afghanistan, describes her future with the Taliban now in charge of her country. They have frequently vowed to kill her in the past. Her father was gunned down last November, twenty days after the third attempt on her life failed.

The Taliban declared an "amnesty" yesterday and called on women to join their new government. Their spokesman declared during a news conference Tuesday in Kabul, “We assure that there will be no violence against women.”

However, when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, their fighters tortured and killed the country’s former president, then hanged his body from a traffic post. Women who were unaccompanied in public places could be beaten; an Afghan mother was forced to kneel in a stadium and then shot dead between the goal posts.

According to the US State Department, women over the age of eight were prohibited from attending school; females were given only the most rudimentary access to health care; the Taliban raided and temporarily closed a foreign-funded hospital in Kabul because male and female staff allegedly mixed in the dining room and operating wards.

Which should women and girls in Afghanistan believe: the future now promised by the Taliban or the one predicted by their past?

"Life can only be understood backwards"

Søren Kierkegaard was right: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

The crisis facing Afghanistan is a tragic object lesson in the importance of history to a culture and corresponding civilization. However, this lesson is not limited to Afghanistan. I believe there are principles to be learned that apply directly to America and our future in these critical days.

As I noted earlier this week, the Taliban have been driven by a version of Islamic theology known as “Deobandi.” It excludes all studies and traditions not directly related to the study of the Qur’an. Crucially, it claims that the “purity” of the Qur’an and the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (known as the Sunnah) is the goal for which Muslim society should strive.

In essence, the Taliban seek to create a culture mirroring the seventh-century world in which Islam began. This worldview motivates their disparaging view of women, non-Muslims (“infidels”), and Muslims who disagree with them (“apostates”).

In addition, they are a product of their Afghan history. As National Geographic notes, their country is landlocked and surrounded by mountains, deserts, and competing empires. It has been surrounded historically on the north by countries influenced by Russia, on the west by Iran and Persian influence, on the south by Pakistan and British influence, and on the east by Chinese influence.

The Afghan people have been resisting foreign incursions for centuries, nearly all by non-Muslim powers. The Taliban have also thrived in rural areas neglected by governing elites in major cities. Their tribal culture is the product of their faith, their environment, and their history.

Their governing approach in the future is likely to reflect these values, to the tragic detriment of women and all who oppose their puritanical version of Islam.

The "cultural climate change" we face today

Os Guinness is one of the most perceptive cultural analysts in the Christian world. His new book, The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom, is a work I cannot recommend too highly.

In it, he explains our cultural moment as a conflict between two versions of freedom: the 1776 American revolution and its commitment to freedom within a Judeo-Christian worldview, and the 1789 French revolution and its commitment to freedom within a radically secularist worldview.

Guinness notes that the Russian and Chinese revolutions which followed the French shared its commitment to secularism. They also produced genuine totalitarianism and “became the epitome of oppressive evil and the complete denial of liberty.”

These revolutions “were overtly antibiblical, antireligious, and anti-Christian, and their overall record on freedom has been dismal. ... their claims to be the true and reliable source of human freedom have been left in tatters by the history of their repressive secularist regimes in the twentieth century and the slaughter of millions of their own citizens.”

Why is this history relevant to the current moment? Because there is a transformative movement afoot in America and the West that repudiates the 1776 American revolution and seeks to remake our country along the secularist lines of the 1789 French revolution.

Guinness writes: “In the form of postmodernism, political correctness, tribal politics, and the extremes of the sexual revolution, the advocates of cultural Marxism and critical theory are now posing serious threats not just to freedom and democracy but to earlier understandings of humanity and to Western civilization itself.” He calls this “cultural climate change” and warns that it is “damaging the way we used to live and beginning to shape the way we need to live if humanity is to flourish.”

Four crucial commitments

What does a biblical approach to a flourishing civilization look like? Let’s identify four foundational commitments:

One: God is the creator and sustainer of the universe and of all life (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16-18). His word is true (John 17:17; Psalm 119:160) and guides every dimension of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalm 119:105; Matthew 4:4).

Two: All people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and thus are equal in value and worth to God (Acts 10:34; Galatians 3:28) and should be to each other (Mark 12:31).

Three: People are inherently sinful (Romans 3:23) and thus require governing authority and the rule of law to which they owe obedience and support (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). At the same time, those in authority should lead by serving (Luke 22:26) with personal integrity (1 Timothy 4:12) and humility (Philippians 2:3).

Four: Society and individuals should do all they can to care for those in need, including the poor and afflicted (Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17; 27:19), the widow and the orphan (James 1:27), and all who need our help (Matthew 25:35-40).

How Afghans have flourished

Taken together, these commitments fuel a culture motivated by personal character and collective progress in which individuals and society each serve the other for the common good. They clearly contradict the antireligious French revolution, the communistic dictatorships of China, Cuba, and North Korea, the corrupt authoritarianism of contemporary Russia, and the secularist revolution currently sweeping the West.

It should not surprise us that civilizations that reject these biblical principles tend to struggle, while those who embrace them tend to flourish. This is not a health-and-wealth gospel or a promise that people who live biblically will not suffer in our fallen world (John 16:33). Rather, it is a historical observation built on the logical fact that creatures who live according to the plans and purposes of an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful Creator should expect to experience the results of his “good and acceptable and perfect” will (Romans 12:2).

Consider the results of democracy in Afghanistan across the last two decades. While decidedly imperfect and often led by corrupt officials, the society there thrived in significant ways:

  • Infant mortality rates fell by half.
  • In 2005, fewer than one in four Afghans had access to electricity; by 2019, nearly all did.
  • Denied education under the Taliban, more than one in three teenage girls today can read and write.
  • The “social progress index” in Afghanistan, measuring prosperity, human development, and overall happiness, rose dramatically.

My point is not that Afghan society, like that in America and every other nation in our fallen world, has not struggled with massive challenges. Rather, it is that worldview matters. The foundational beliefs of a society are enormously influential in determining its present outcomes and future flourishing.

The crucial question

I am praying that the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan will not lead to dramatic reversals for women and others in Afghan society, but if the past is a reliable predictor of the future, the prospects for them are indeed dim.

I am also praying that America and the West learn from the failed revolutions of the past and present. Os Guinness is right: “Either America goes forward best by going back first [to biblical foundations and morality], or America is about to reap a future in which the worst will once again be the corruption of the best.”

This statement is a present-tense reality: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Psalm 33:12). However, nations are made of people. So let’s add: “Blessed is the person whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ.”

Are you living a life God can bless today?

Publication date: August 18, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Norbert Kobus

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes DenisonForum.org, First15.org, ChristianParenting.org, and FoundationsWithJanet.org. Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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