Television can be a force for liberty in totalitarian and theocratic societies, but it can be used to thwart liberty, as well. Case in point: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s Daily Beast report on disturbing events in Afghanistan:
In the past several weeks, controversial television presenter Nasto Naderi has stepped up a campaign he began this year accusing women’s shelters of supporting prostitution and other behavior considered immoral. In December, Naderi showed footage of a family guidance center run by the organization Women for Afghan Women, followed by pictures of family guidance and women’s shelter staff entering their offices. According to Naderi, women’s shelters encourage behavior that violates Islam, though he has yet to offer any evidence to support his allegations.
The unwanted attention has sent a chill through women’s rights supporters in Kabul and created an environment of both fear and defiance among shelter workers. In a conservative country with little history of providing safe havens for domestic-violence victims, the concern is that Naderi’s charges could do great harm—and put shelter workers at risk.
“By these kinds of programs, people’s minds may be swayed, and they may think negatively about these kinds of safe houses,” said Selay Ghaffar of the organization HAWCA, which offers legal aid and temporary shelter to Afghan women seeking to escape domestic abuse.
Naderi makes no bones about what’s really driving his propaganda campaign, boasting that his people “have fought 30 years to put the word ‘Islam’ in front of Afghanistan […] But some NGOs come and want to make another way for our country.” It certainly isn’t concern for the shelters’ quality—“Mr. Nadiri says he hasn’t visited any of the 17 shelters officially registered with the government.”
Women’s defenders fear the legitimization of the Taliban could mean the end of the shelters:
Women’s advocates say shelter opponents are emboldened by reports of peace talks with the Taliban, and the prospect that more conservative religious forces once again will gain power in the country.
“Our government wants to talk with the Taliban about peace and no one is talking about women’s rights,” said Maria Bashir, the country’s only female chief prosecutor. “If the Taliban comes to government and peace is successful, then they will close those shelters.” […]
To some women leaders, Naderi’s provocative broadcast shows just how vulnerable women’s rights are in Afghanistan. Although the government hasn’t moved to close any of the safe houses and has publicly backed women’s right to work and education, last year Afghan President Hamid Karzai bowed to public pressure and created a government commission to look into exactly what services the shelters provide.