The Radical Feminist, Afghanistan's Sara Bahayi

afghanistans northern militia, photo courtesy of faculty of journalism moscow state university ap photo van sekretarev

afghanistans northern militia, photo courtesy of faculty of journalism moscow state university ap photo van sekretarev

AFGHANISTAN, Mazar-i-Sharif – Yesterday, U.S. citizens awoke to 'news reports' that a YouTube video of a dress that changed colors had received 25+ million hits. People spoke about it on elevators, argued their selection of colors in cafeterias, shared and watched the video on their iPhones, and an endless round of recaps flooded every local and national news outlet.

Concurrently, Americans awoke to the incredible story featured on the front page of the Washington Post about Sara Bahayi, the only female taxi cab driver in Afghanistan. This woman is the epitome of a radical feminist, but her story of courage and tenacity remained far from the topic of inane conversation.

Unlike the bra burning icons of the 60's who sought the opportunity to break through the glass ceiling in Corporate America and ascend to the vaulted ranks of male executives, or even those who just wanted to escape the ennui of their housewife status; Bahayi, 38, is one of a new breed of women who are risking their lives in pursuit of basic freedoms.

As Afghanistan's first and perhaps only female driver, Bahayi's life and those of her loved ones are in very real danger. Something that most women take for granted has become the focus of a feminist revolution in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. It is easy to call yourself a feminist if you are safely ensconced in a political and social system which legislates equal rights protections, even if these protections are not always enforced.

It is quite another to seek equality in a society and culture in which women are considered chattel, a precept that is enforced by Taliban militia and other radicalized groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman, who at 15-years-old was shot in the head by an assassin and nearly died because of her efforts to lobby for the right for girls and women to get an education, is an example of the lengths to which extremists will go to reinforce their belief systems.

Bahayi has waged her quiet campaign of civil disobedience for 10-years driving a taxi through the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif. She has been threatened with grievous harm and even death, though she bravely takes the opportunity to talk to some of her male passengers to try and help them understand that driving a car even if it is a taxi, is not sacrilegious. However, most of her passengers are women who seem to feel more comfortable riding inside the car with a woman driver, and even in some cases riding in the front passenger seat.

Unlike the feature photo in which Burqa clad women are forced to ride in the open trunk of a car, Bahayi has literally taken control of destiny at the wheel of her taxi. According to the Washington Post, she earns roughly $10-20 she earns per day. As an unmarried, childless woman, she uses the money that she earns to help support 15 relatives. "She started working outside the home in the late '90s when her brother-in-law was killed by the Taliban; a male neighbor taught her to drive after Bahayi decided her high school teacher's salary was insufficient; she got her drivers license two years ago in a class of 30 students, all male, only nine of whom passed the test. When driving into Taliban-controlled areas, she sometimes disguises herself as male..."

Bahayi has waged a quiet revolution and it is nice to read that her inspirational story was brought to international attention. Reportedly she is in negotiations to open a dealership. Because of the complexity of property ownership in Afghanistan's patriarchal society, she will require the initial investment and auspices of male partners to launch her business. However, she has stated that once the business is established, she hopes to transform it into Afghanistan's first female-owned car dealership. Watch her tell her story in her own language.

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Did Bergdahl Desert in Afghanistan? Questions Remain for Families of Slain Soldiers

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 01:56 a.m. DST, 6 June 2014

"Dirt Devils" Photo by: Marines

THE NEGOTIATIONS that freed prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban insurgents are continuing to amass criticism as more and more controversial information about Bergdahl and the deal surface.

While Republicans originally condemned the bargaining agreement because Congress was not notified about the release of Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay detention center, and because the government in effect negotiated with terror groups during the settlement, the disapproval is becoming increasingly bipartisan, and is starting to include more voices from Bergdahl's past.

New insight from Bergdahl's unit have been particularly troubling for the image of the liberated soldier. Gerald Sutton, for instance, was a close friend and comrade of Bergdahl and unequivocally states that his fellow soldier was a deserter. Many in Bergdahl's platoon have made similar remarks, and auxiliary evidence supports many of their claims.

Before leaving his post in Paktika, Afghanistan, Bergdahl mailed his personal belongings, including his laptop, to his parents in Idaho. In the months leading up to this shipment, Bergdahl used his laptop to email his parents and explain his frustration with American involvement in the region, and stated that he was ashamed to be an American.

Also noteworthy, a military investigation written in the months after Bergdahl went missing indicate that the young soldier has run away from duty in the past. Once during training, Bergdahl left his exercises in California and later returned. In an incident unrelated to his capture, Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan and reappeared soon after. Why serious action was not taken after either of these incidents is unknown.

Claims that six men died trying to locate their comrade are cause for anger, but the proof is somewhat dubious. Six men died in the Paktika in the months after Bergdahl's disappearance, but whether or not these men died directly searching for their fellow American is unclear. Some members of the platoon say yes, while other intelligence cites a rise in regional violence as the root of the six fatalities. Still, it is likely that at least some of the deaths are directly related to the search for Bergdahl.

Two things are true as this saga unfolds. As a United States soldier in harm's way, the government was right to pursue Bergdahl's release, although the conditions of the trade are questionable. One national for five is an exploitation of the high value that America holds for each service member.

And also, like all Americans, Bergdahl should be regarded innocent until proven otherwise, no matter how damning the evidence.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Bowe Bergdahl Freed by Taliban, But at What Cost?

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 12:42 p.m. DST, 2 June 2014

"Early-morning dismounted patrol mission" Photo by:  The U.S. Army

AN AMERICAN SOLDIER captured in Afghanistan in 2009 is returning home. 28-year-old Bowe Bergdahl was the last prisoner of war from the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom conflicts.

His homecoming marks the end of an ongoing discussion with Taliban executives, which were largely mediated by Qatari representatives. Since 2011, the United States has actively pursued Bergdahl's release. A recent video provided by Taliban leaders indicated the young man's failing health.

In June of 2009, Bergdahl left his military outpost in Paktika, Afghanistan for reasons still unknown. Outside of the military stronghold, Bergdahl was captured by Taliban affiliates. Those close to the family have described Bergdahl as a sensitive, questioning young man who was struggling with aspects of his service. This, coupled with the possibility of preexisting mental health problems could help to explain his disappearance.

The nation celebrates his arrival, but Bergdahl's release is not without a price. Five Taliban officials are scheduled to be released from Guantanamo Bay detention center and transported to Qatar. Here, the five are required to spend one year, and will be monitored to some extent.

Those safeguards are not enough to prevent their return to extremism, according to some conservative members of Congress, namely Californian Representative Howard McKeon and Oklahoman Senator James Inhofe. The two have become outspoken critics of the White House's secret negotiations.

Among their concerns--Congress was not notified about the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees a month in advance as per federal law, and the move to bring Bergdahl out of harm's way broke a longstanding American policy of not negotiating with terror groups.

In the years since his son's capture, Robert Bergdahl has learned Pashto, the language widely spoken in Afghanistan. Using this new skill set, R. Bergdahl has made efforts to speak with Taliban members to arrange his son's release.

According to officials, B. Bergdahl has spoken relatively no English in the past five years and he is having difficulty communicating in his native tongue. His father will help him in the meantime, as he adjusts to civilian life in his hometown of Hailey, Idaho.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Pregnant Pakistani Stoned in "Honor Killing" Outside High Court

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LAHORE, Pakistan -- Islam does not allow for "honor killings." And yet, a 25-year-old pregnant Pakistani woman is the latest victim of murder at the hands of her family. The couple had been engaged for several years, and were only recently married.

Farzana Parveen was beaten and stoned to death earlier today, 27 May 2014, outside of a high court in Lahore. Parveen and her newlywed husband Mohammad Iqbal had traveled to the court earlier today to debunk claims that Iqbal had abducted Parveen. The bride's family had reported the false claims to police in order to regain custody of the woman.

Before the couple had a chance to testify their mutual love, they were surrounded by a group in excess of 20. According to police, someone in the crowd shot a handgun into the air as the mob attempted to kidnap Parveen. Their efforts were ineffective, and at this point the assemblage struck Parveen with sticks and stoned her with bricks from an adjacent construction site. The brutal public display is continuing to draw disapproval by officials and the community.

The attackers included her father and several brothers. So far, only her father, Mohammad Azeem, has been detained. Officials are now searching for the brothers and other family members that conspired in the brutal murder.

Conservative communities in Pakistan practice arranged marriage. Through matrimony, many Pakistani families seek to associate with another family of like class, wealth and ethnicity. Today, marriage outside of this tradition is performed more often, but the stigma against an unendorsed marriage is strong.

According to Amnesty International, 960 "honor killings" were recorded in Pakistan in 2010. That number could likely be higher, as crimes against women are often unpunished and underreported in the region. Most follow a similar equation--males execute a female family member, in order to redeem the family name for the alleged immorality of the female relative.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

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Malala Yousafzai, Two Years After Attempted Assasination

Malala Yousafzai, Oval Office 11 October 2013, Photo Courtesy of White House

Malala Yousafzai, Oval Office 11 October 2013, Photo Courtesy of White House

UNITED STATES - On October of 2012, 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot for speaking up about women's rights to education. As an inside correspondent with BBC, subject of two documentaries and frequent guest in newsrooms, Yousafazai was becoming the poster child of youth activism and women's rights. A Taliban gunman attempted to silence her and to set an example. She was hospitalized for three months.

The attack failed to curb her passion for political activism and, with international support, she continued her crusade for education soon after her recovery. Instead of silencing her and the movement, the attack raised global awareness with spokespeople from the US, the UK and Canada showing their outrage and support.

The next time she spoke publicly was on 12 July 2013 -- her birthday. She celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City where she spoke to a global audience about the role youth can play in ensuring worldwide education. She supported the Global Education First Initiative, which aims to have all school-age children, particularly girls, in school by year 2015. The day became known as Malala Day.

Another namesake is the Malala Fund, which has raised $7 million to spend on education projects in remote areas of Pakistan.

The most recent effort is the We Are Silent Campaign, to be held on April 17. She encourages the world to take a 24-hour vow of silence in honor of 31 million girls worldwide who are denied an education.

Since the shooting, Time magazine featured her in 2013 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. She made history as the youngest nominee for the (2013) Nobel Peace Prize, and was nominated again in 2014. With help from journalist Christina Lamb she's written a memoir entitled "I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up For Education and was Shot by the Taliban." She's gone to Buckingham Palace and the White House and plans to continue her career in political activism.

Opposition to Child Marriage in Pakistan Gains Momentum

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PAKISTAN - Child marriages are a major and disturbing problem in Pakistan and elsewhere. Eleven percent of the world's children will be married before the age of 15 -- amounting to over 2 million child brides. In Pakistan 7% of girls married are under the age of 15, according to UNICEF. This number may be higher as there are many unreported cases. However, there has been an increased effort to raise awareness and lower these numbers.

Former prime minister and UN education official Gordon Brown proposes "child marriage-free zones' in Pakistan. One of his concerns about child marriage is that not many girls are able to finish school. This leads to few women being able to be productive and influential members of society, which in turn makes it harder for them to help other girls escape forced marriage. Brown aims to break this cycle.

He wants teachers and girls to work together to fight child marriage. He wants girls to know their rights and feel empowered enough to stand up to those trying to force them into marriage. Brown is also working to raise global awareness and commitment. The UN is giving 10 million dollars and the EU is giving 100 million euros (about 138 million dollars) to the cause. The message they are trying to send is that it is important that all children need to be educated, and there is international support to make this happen.

The fight against child marriage in Pakistan also has internal support, notably from legislator Marvi Memon. Ms. Memon is a conservative politician and businesswoman, serving as the central and public figure of the Pakistan Muslim League presided by Nawaz Sharif. She's introduced a bill to Pakistan's National Assembly that calls for stricter punishments to those involved with child marriage.

Currently the penalty for arranging child marriage is only $10 and a month in jail. Memon wants to raise that to $1000 and a two-year jail sentence.

She's facing opposition from the Council of Islamic Ideology. The CII says that marriages of anyone who's reached puberty, regardless of age, are acceptable under Islamic law. According to them any laws restricting marriage of girls who've reached puberty, including the minor punishments already in place, contradict the teachings of the Koran.

With the help of Islamic scholars, Memon wants to fight back by showing that Islam is supportive of women. Child marriage has health risks because child brides often conceive shortly after marriage. With their bodies not ready for pregnancy, there are often complications involving both mother and child. It does not go against Islamic law to try to prevent this.

If the bill is passed, it may be hard to enforce. Even with official government support, Pakistani police may be hesitant to interfere with what for many is a culturally acceptable norm.

Child marriage is not an easy-fix problem. But with Brown's campaign for education and global awareness and Memon's fight for stricter consequences, there is hope for the future of Pakistani girls.

Pakistani Elections: Uncertain, Yet Laudable Milestone

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Sam Hargadine, ContributorLast Modified: 13:40 p.m. DST, 03 April 2013

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Photo by Reuters, Faisal Mahmood, Pakistan Politics Election

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The smoke filled back-rooms of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, would make even 1920s Chicago blush. Power is concentrated among a few connected families with long histories intertwined by periods of conflict and cooperation.

Often times it seems the phrase, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', is an apt characterization for the evolving coalitions that have kept the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in power.

But stay in power it has, at least for its first five-year term. For the first time since Pakistan's partition from India, in 1947, a civilian government is preparing to transfer power democratically. Elections are scheduled for 11 May 2013; however, the outcome is uncertain.

The PPP has marked its five-year tenure with corruption charges, poor governance, and weak oversight of the military. The likelihood of it retaining power is bleak.

The leading candidates include the main conservative opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif; Imran Khan, a famous cricket star; and (less likely) former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

The PPP's most important security victory has been the relative pacification of the Swat Province in Northwest Pakistan. This achievement is distracted from however by Karachi's, Pakistan's business hub, slide towards violence. Minority groups and religious moderates are consistently threatened and/or attacked there.

All in all, the PPP should be given credit for its completion of a five-year term. It managed to wield enough influence among the military to stave off a coup; no small feat for a country that has had gruesome natural disasters and security breaches in the last term.

This laudable milestone however does not mean the PPP deserves to retain power. Transferring power will be current President Zadari's legacy. It is either that or a legacy of extreme corruption and impotency.

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