Just before boarding my flight from Kolkata to Dubai last Thursday, I picked up a copy of the July 12 issue of The Gulf Times and read a disturbing story entitled: Women Protest Over Afghan Execution. The story reported the public execution of a 22 year-old woman for alleged adultery. This latest episode of violence against women in Afghanistan took place in a village about 100-kilometers outside of Kabul, the capital of this Islamic nation. The execution of this woman named Najiba was captured on video. The disturbing video shows the young woman seated on the ground while a group of Taliban militants prayed before pronouncing her sentence and shooting her in the back several times at close range — all this as dozens of men cheered from the adjacent hillside. Najiba’s execution sparked both local and international outrage, calling for Karzai’s government to bring the culprits to justice.
Afghanistan is a very dangerous place for women. According to the country’s Independent Human Rights Commission, there has been a sharp increase of violence against women in the past year. Earlier this month a woman and two of her children were beheaded in eastern Afghanistan by her own husband. This was just one more in a series of so-called honor killings. And, what makes Najiba’s execution even more abominable is the revelation by Basir Salangi, the governor of Parwan Province. According to Salangi, two Taliban commanders were sexually involved with Najiba, either through rape or romantically. These two men decided to settle their dispute by torturing and killing the young woman. The double-standard is evident. The honor is not. Is it any wonder why Afghanistan is a dangerous place for women? The hypocritical and self-righteous Taliban have once again demonstrated what the world would look like with the absence of grace. When power is not tempered by grace, things can get ugly in a hurry.
The Bible speaks of an occasion when some religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus — a woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1-12). The man, of course, was nowhere to be found. The religious leaders reminded Jesus that the law allowed for the stoning of such a woman. Jesus invited any among the woman’s accusers who was himself without sin to cast the first stone. That’s all it took to remind these hyper-pious men that their lives were as covered by the filth of sin as that of the woman they had publicly humiliated. And then, after the woman’s accusers had all left, Jesus forgave the woman and told her to change her ways. This simple act of grace gave this woman an opportunity to make a new start. And who among us has not longed for a new start?
The answer to making Afghanistan a safer place for woman and children goes much deeper than anything that Karzai’s government can do. What is broken or missing is a fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life and the capacity to exercise mercy and grace — all of which are not a part of the Taliban worldview. Without the presence of grace and love to temper power, we can expect to read more stories about woman and children who are the victims of hypocritical and brutal men who have no regard for the value of life and who are unwilling to come to terms with their own sinfulness. The Taliban and others like them have turned Afghanistan into an ugly and unsafe place. And there is certainly no honor in that. May Najiba’s executioners be brought to justice.