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‘They Will Ban All Art’: Afghan Filmmaker Sahraa Karimi Urges Protections for Women and Artists From Taliban

Sahraa Karimi
Sahraa Karimi (from Facebook)

Noted Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi has penned an open letter calling on the world to wake up to the impact of the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan. She calls for protection for filmmakers and for women in general against the brutal militants who have overrun the country amid the final U.S. withdrawal of forces.

Karimi’s letter was sent to international media organizations and posted in different forms on her Facebook account. On Sunday, the Taliban’s grip on Afghanistan seemed to be near complete as militants were reported to have swept into the nation’s capital of Kabul, forcing the president to flee.

In another Facebook video message Karimi says: “Greetings, the Taliban have reached the city. We are escaping.” She is seen running and urging others to escape while they are still able.

The Taliban has surged to take almost total control of the country in just a few weeks since the U.S. withdrew its troops. The force, which is somewhere between a patchwork of armed militias and a political movement, is noted for its conservative Muslim social agenda and repression of rights for women and girls.

The Taliban was throttled by the U.S. and its allies some 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks in New York and outside Washington, D.C. It has used the ensuing two decades to prepare for a comeback and also to create a softly-spoken public relations and political dimension. These days, it runs a website and maintains representative offices in Qatar.

Karimi, who previously directed “Hava, Maryam Ayesha,” a film about abortion that appeared at the Venice festival in 2019, says that despite the slick public image, the Taliban’s agenda is brutally feudalistic, paternalistic, and involves turning the clock back on women’s rights.

“[The Taliban] will strip women’s rights, we will be pushed into the shadows of our homes and our voices, our expression will be stifled into silence. When the Taliban were in power, zero girls were in school. Since then, there are over 9 million Afghan girls in school. Just in these few weeks, the Taliban have destroyed many schools and 2 million girls are forced now out of school again,” said Karimi.

“Everything that I have worked so hard to build as a filmmaker in my country is at risk of falling. If the Taliban take over they will ban all art. I and other filmmakers could be next on their hit list,” she said. Karimi is also head of state-owned Afghan Film.

Karimi says that the Taliban’s agenda targets the suppression both of women and the liberal arts.

“In the last few weeks, the Taliban have massacred our people, they kidnapped many children, they sold girls as child brides to their men, they murdered a woman for her attire, they gouged the eyes of a woman, they tortured and murdered one of our beloved comedians, they murdered one of our historian poets, [and] they murdered the head of culture and media for the [now deposed] government,” her letter asserted.

Khaled Hosseini, author of the book “The Kite Runner” which was later adapted as a film, called the Taliban takeover a nightmare.

“The American decision has been made. And the nightmare Afghans feared is unfolding before our eyes. We cannot abandon a people that have searched forty years for peace. Afghan women must not be made to languish again behind locked doors & pulled curtains,” he said on Twitter.

The Taliban’s control of Afghanistan became real on Sunday after fighters poured into the capital city, Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, reportedly flying to safety in Uzbekistan.

Ghani said that he had escaped in order to avoid further bloodshed. And in a Facebook posting suggested that the Taliban is responsible for what happens next.

“The Taliban have made it to remove me, they are here to attack all Kabul and the people of Kabul. In order to avoid the bleeding flood, I thought it was best to get out. Taliban have won the judgement of sword and guns and now they are responsible for protecting the countrymen’s honor, wealth and self-esteem,” Ghani said.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the group sought a “peaceful transfer of power” in Afghanistan the next few days. “We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” he told BBC News.