Before September 11, the twin towers of the World Trade Center that dominated the lower Manhattan skyline were little more to me than architecturally undistinguished eyesores that overshadowed the Statue of Liberty
in the harbor. I did not perceive (who did?) that these glittering beehives of high finance were arrogant obelisks of Satanic American capitalism to the radical Muslim fundamentalists plotting their suicidal
acts of terrorist destruction.
How did it happen that the American way of life, as symbolized by the towers, came to be considered such a threat to religious fanatics halfway across the globe? Ironically, the words blurted by the American
Christian fundamentalist Jerry Falwell in a televised conversation with Pat Robertson after the blast gave us the answer. America stands for feminism, abortion rights, gay freedoms, civil liberties and
untrammeled political expression, all the individual freedoms that Falwell's adherents, or any closed society of patriarchal militants yearning to turn back the clock, ahbor. Most assuredly progressive
American values do threaten fundamentalist Islam, which attempts to obliterate half its population, the female half, by keeping it housebound, under the veil, uneducated, and without the means to earn a living.
I do not want to oversimplify. The crucible breeding the insanity of Middle Eastern terror is a seething mix of international greed, oil exploitation, ignorant anti-Semitism, decades of civil war, a dislocated
feudal peasantry in the grips of a drought, dire poverty and hunger, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, and the potent legend of an earlier time when a proud Islamic culture, rich in literature,
architecture, and art, ruled much of the world. But two points must be stressed:
1) Repression of women is central to the Islamic fundamentalist-terrorist mindset.
2) American foreign policy in the Middle East has ignored this leading indicator for twenty-five years.
The sanctuary and support that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda found in Afghanistan is due in part to the shortsighted, covert CIA activities in the region. To stop Marxist expansion and win an ideological
battle against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the U.S. spent billions of dollars to arm and train the so-called Afghani Freedom Fighters. Empowered by U.S. bazookas and rockets, the mountain guerrillas
successfully waged their war against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul, but the values they held dear were based on a strange concept of freedom. Between rounds of artillery fire, they expressed their
religious zeal and extreme machismo by publicly stoning women to death for adultery. Horrific and widely reported as these actions were, our government apparently believed it was more important to end Soviet
influence than to interfere with ancient customs and take concrete steps to protect women's lives.
When the Kabul government was routed, a civil war erupted among the various ethnic groups that had comprised the so-called Freedom Fighters. In the ensuing anarchy, the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban emerged and
took power. Incapable of rebuilding the roads and cities of their war-torn country and lacking the means to eradicate its traditional cash crop, the opium poppy, the roving militias directed their zeal toward
religious purification by means of terror. Praying became mandatory five times a day; men's beards were required to be of certain length; symbols of Western decadence-- music, films, television-- were
banned. Above all, the Taliban's campaign for the Elimination of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue directed its terror against Afghani women.
Women were forbidden to work outside the home; girls were barred from attending school; no female could appear on the street without being shrouded in a head-to-toe burqa with a narrow mesh eye slot, or venture
outdoors without a male relative at her side. Those who violated the Taliban's decrees were beaten, imprisoned, and sometimes killed.
With typical blindness, the major players in the chess game of international diplomacy saw the repression of Afghani women as a side issue, if they saw it at all. They still fail to see that the apocalyptic
mentality of those who would bring down the United States through terror in the skies is essentially no different from the apocalyptic mentality of those who enforce gender terror in the streets, each in the name of
religious purification and Holy War.
One American organization, the Feminist Majority led by Eleanor Smeal, has taken up the plight of Afghani women. Smeal's Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan has worked tirelessly for six years to
alert national and international policymakers to the Taliban's gender war. To learn more about the connection between the liberation of women and the eradication of fundamentalist terrorism,, click on www.feminist.org/afghan/intro.asp.