Human Rights Abusers Condemn Taliban over Alleged Dress Code
The world's guardians of human rights were aghast today over reports that the government of Afghanistan was instituting a mandatory dress code for that country's Hindus that would allow them to be distinguished from the Muslim majority.
"We want to make quite clear that forcing social groups to wear distinctive clothing or identifying marks stigmatizes and isolates those groups and can never, never, be justified," lectured U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
It turns out, however, that the truth of the matter is less than clear. A subsequent report from the French wire service AFP said that Hindus would not have a different dress code, but were to carry thumb-sized yellow stickers in their pockets. This would let police know they were non-Muslims and therefore exempt from certain laws that apply only to those of the Islamic faith, like the requirement of shutting down businesses during the five daily prayers.
Although in this light the State Department's denunciations seem overblown, they should be refreshing for those frustrated by unconditional American support for one of the world's premier human rights abusers: the state of Israel.
If that's the case, the move doesn't seem so harsh, regardless of what one thinks of the Taliban. The norms of Islamic societies have traditionally called for differentiating clothing between Muslims and non-Muslims, from the time of Umar, the second caliph, to the Ottoman Balkans less than a century ago.
Although in this light the State Department's denunciations seem overblown, they should be refreshing for those frustrated by unconditional American support for one of the world's premier human rights abusers: the state of Israel. No doubt today's condemnation of the use of "identifying marks" to "stigmatize and isolate groups" was just a warm-up for a policy of across-the-board respect for human rights, whether the victims or the alleged abuser is Jewish, Hindu or Muslim.
In the near future, we can expect from the American government similarly severe condemnations of Israel's anti-Muslim and anti-Christian policies, which are reflected--among other places--in mandatory Israeli identity cards which identify the holder by his religion.
The identity cards "mark one's nationality as Jewish or Arab and are thus used as a basis to discriminate," writes an American Jewish student in Tikkun, a progressive Jewish journal. Last year, an Israeli politician, embarrassed by the "racism" that the identity cards represented, tried to introduce legislation to abolish the system. The bill went nowhere in the face of a renewed Palestinian struggle for liberation and opposition within the Israeli government.
"I will try to delay a vote [on the identity card legislation] in the committee so that no one gets the impression that Israel is no longer a Jewish state," explained Rabbi Avraham Ravitz of the Torah Judaism Party.
Also heartening was today's condemnation by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose spokesman said he found the Afghan government's move "particularly painful," and noted that "the only purpose of labeling 'others' as outsiders" is the "ostracizing [of a people, their] forced separation from society," and their ultimate extermination.
It is wonderful to witness such a major change of heart on human rights issues from an organization that in the past has cooperated with the security services of Apartheid South Africa and blindly supported Israel's ostracizing and forced separation of the Palestinian people. Stay tuned to the ADL for across-the-board denunciations of human rights violations in the near future.
As expected, the government of India soundly condemned the Taliban's reported action. "We absolutely deplore such orders which patently discriminate against minorities," an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman told reporters.
The international rights group Human Rights Watch will be pleased to learn that India is now rejecting discrimination against minorities. In 1999 the agency reported that "an environment of increasing hostility toward religious minorities has been fostered by elements closely aligned with those in power. The burning of churches and assaults on Christians, including priests and nuns...are tacitly supported by the government...eyewitnesses have identified politicians and local officials as participants in the attacks..."
Joining those groups who suddenly found a conscience today were the spirited folks at HinduUnity.org, a website run by glorifiers of Hindu violence. Their apparently recent discovery that Hindu belief "is extremely tolerant towards other religions" prompted them to denounce the Taliban's move. "It is a shame to the civilized world that a society has to face religious persecution in these modern times," lamented the website's news release.
HinduUnity.org's conversion to the doctrine of religious tolerance came so suddenly that they apparently did not have time to update their website to reflect their new-found sensitivities; at press time the site still called for all Muslims to get out of India, it still warned that the 1992 destruction of the historic Babri Mosque by Hindu fanatics was "only the tip of the iceberg" in a coming campaign of mosque demolitions, and it continued to assert that "for the survival of Hinduism, it's people and it's culture, [Mohandas Ghandhi] had to be assassinated. "
So let's set aside for a moment the question of whether the government of Afghanistan's actions were good or bad, or whether they were accurately reported. Let's instead savor a moment when the world's leading human rights abusers and their supporters found a conscience. Hopefully it will still be around when their victims start demanding their rights.
Hamza Al-Zenitsawi is a writer on international affairs and lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Topics: Government And Politics, Human Rights