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As an american, and as one born to this egalitarian and free
society, regardless of how and where and when such qualities are
diminished, even here, to me this following article declares
what Islam, if not what it is, what it has become. The fact that
the Taliban helped to stop the flow of heroin onto these shores
was possibly a redeeming feature, but, it was so ancillary a
part of their basic human viewpoint, that even that solitary
benefit of their regime will not be missed, and pales next to
their riddance. But the basic treatment of women, and the 'laws'
of Islam, are repugnant to me, and I don't think it's just
because I'm an american, or a parent, but because I think I've
developed a view of secular humanism in the absence and
examination of religions, and laws, like these, and I think such
a view can be arrived at regardless of where one is, as long as
one is given the freedom to think.
Which freedom is, admittedly, rare.
Women alone see straits worsen
'Keeps' in Pakistan struggle to survive
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff, Globe Correspondent, 1/14/2002
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Their two brothers were taken away in the
middle of the night, soon after the Taliban came to their Afghan
city and knocked on the door to ask, ''Are there any men here?''
A year later, an unknown gunman killed their father, who had
supported his children on a modest tea-and- kebab restaurant in
So the family was left with only women - a mother and two
daughters - who were forbidden under Taliban laws to work or
even leave the house without a male relative as an escort.
''When my father died, my mother wanted to keep the restaurant,
but we sold it,'' said 19-year-old Rahima. ''Under the Taliban,
it is impossible for a woman to run a restaurant.''
Rahima and her older sister are victims of the cruelest Catch-22
of the former Taliban rule: Unable to support themselves in
Afghanistan, they fled to Pakistan, where they now earn their
living as ''keeps,'' women who have sex with four or five
regular customers each month in exchange for money to pay rent
or the electric bill.
''In America, I think it is possible to live without a man,''
said Rahima in halting English. ''But here, even in Pakistan,
you need a father, a husband, or a brother. We don't have any
man. ... It makes our life so difficult.''
Rahima's mother works two or three days per month bringing
second-hand clothes to Islamabad from Peshawar, but she can't
afford the family's $40 monthly rent and the $100 she needs each
month for her kidney medicine.
So the two sisters collect money from men in exchange for their
''friendship'' in rates ranging from $20 to $200. Clad in a
red-plaid shirt and black stretch pants, Rahima with her
sparrow-thin frame brings in twice as much as her somber,
round-faced sister Sohaila, who dons a black traditional veil
and looks far older than her 27 years. Both women asked that
only their first names be used. They've changed their names
since leaving Afghanistan.
Behind the pale blue curtain that divides the three-room flat
the three women share with two other families of refugee women,
Rahima leaned against a chair and fingered a heart-shaped
gold-plated necklace. She told her problems to a young Pakistani
salesman, who translated for a visitor.
''All of the neighbors, they know about us. They know we don't
have any man,'' she said. ''People knock on our door all the
time and force us to do wrong things. Men bother us when we walk
down the street.''
The married salesman who helped translate confessed that he,
too, is a regular customer.
''They are very selective,'' he said, adding that the sisters
count a Saudi doctor among their patrons. ''But I am their
friend, so they do not charge me the same as rich man. When I
have about 1,000 rupees [about $16], I can go with Sohaila. When
I have 3,000 [$48], I can go with Rahima.''
In this part of the world, where ''honor killings'' of
flirtatious or adulterous women by their husbands, fathers, or
brothers are still widely accepted as justice, Rahima's
profession marks a tragic irony that was part of the Taliban's
Draconian rule that left women like her with few options.
Rahima said she ultimately fled Kabul with her mother, sister,
and a young female neighbor after middle-aged Taliban soldiers
visited their home to demand that the girls marry them.
''I wanted to marry,'' said Sadia, the neighbor. ''But we didn't
know these men. We didn't know their families and I didn't want
to gamble with my life like that.''
The story is hauntingly similar for Sonia, another 19-year-old
Afghan refugee in Islamabad who works as a prostitute alongside
her own sister. The name Sonia is what her customers call her,
not her given name.
After the Taliban raided Sonia's Kabul home, making off with
everything from jewelry to the television to her perfume, the
soldiers returned to tell her father they wanted to marry his
''My father said yes, but you should first get engaged in a
proper way,'' Sonia recalled. ''We fled the next morning for
The family moved to Islamabad, but Sonia's father left the
country to find work in Europe and later was jailed on
immigration charges. Sonia and her sister worked for three years
in a textile factory, earning about $20 a month for grueling
14-hour days, until their boss told them there were no more jobs.
''We were penniless,'' Sonia said.
A female friend offered to introduce her to ''someone who could
help,'' a construction company mogul who gave her about $80
without asking for anything in return. For a month, he took
Sonia for rides in his car and out to restaurants. He told her
mother not to worry.
''I was a virgin at that time. I didn't know anything about
sex,'' Sonia said, adding that her only previous experience came
when the son of her family's landlord began to kiss her in
secret, sparking a scandal that prompted her family to move to a
After four weeks of friendship, the businessman mixed Sonia an
alcoholic drink, which is just as taboo in this Muslim country
as extramarital relationships. He spiked the drink with a drug
and she woke up the next morning to find her life forever
''Virginity should be lost with your husband on your wedding
night,'' said Sonia, who began to weep on the shoulder of a
bearded male friend. ''I was a very good girl in Afghanistan. I
have never been like this.''
Sonia stayed with the construction mogul for about a year,
collecting between $240 and $320 a month as well as
recommendations for other well-heeled clients.
Now she bubbles about glamorous evenings in Karachi and weekends
spent in Lahore with high-class people. She happily slapped
hands with her sister, polished off a mountain of french fries,
and hugged everyone in sight. But when the jokes passed and the
room grew quiet, she clung like a child to the arm of her male
friend, another paying customer, and murmured ''don't leave''
and ''where shall we go?''
At 19, Sonia and Rahima are both younger than their country's
22-year-old war. They can't remember when Kabul, their hometown,
was a sophisticated and glamorous city in the region. Although
the fall of the Taliban has prompted thousands of Afghan
refugees to return home, these women say it is too late for them.
''In my custom, if a woman is not a virgin, then nobody will
want to marry her,'' Sonia said. ''So I can't go back to
Afghanistan. There is nothing for me there.''
Globe correspondent Rana Mubashir contributed to this report.
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 1/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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