Columns

Lily Cole, the burka and why we were right to leave Afghanistan

21 August 2021

9:00 AM

21 August 2021

9:00 AM

I have the feeling that Joe Biden will have to wait a while before he receives his Nobel Peace Prize, the traditional gift bestowed upon an American president if he’s a Democrat and before he’s actually done anything. The civilised world — by which I mean the mass of deluded lefties and liberals who understand nothing but firmly believe that they are the civilised world — is aghast at the man right now. There is no doubt in my mind that the pullout of US troops from Afghanistan was atrociously handled by a doddering halfwit and based upon magnificently flawed intelligence. But there is even less doubt in my mind that, one way or another, the West was right to extricate itself from that dusty, arid, stone-age hellhole and should never have become involved in the first place.

A few bombing strikes to obliterate Tora Bora and annoy al Qaeda is all very well. Attempting to cajole the country, at the point of a gun, into becoming an award-winning liberal democracy is another issue: it never works. Not least because the overwhelming majority of Afghan citizens don’t seem to have very much regard for western liberalism. But once again it is fascinating to see the worldview of the liberals shattered by the unwanted intrusion of reality — on so many levels. Why do these people still have hegemony when they are demonstrably wrong about almost everything?

The allegation against the US government is not that the Americans and the West indulged in 20 years of neo-colonialism, attempting to coerce a hideously backward third-world country into abiding by the mores of, say, Sweden. No: the anger is that we have now left Afghanistan to it. And in particular, anger at the ‘betrayal’ of Afghan women, who may soon be forced back into their homes and only allowed out when dressed as Darth Vader and accompanied by a sexually repressed male. By pulling out we have colluded in misogyny, then.


Well, let’s look at a few facts. Afghanistan is indeed ranked as the world’s worst country for gender equality by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report. But that was before the Taliban took control. In other words, 20 years of inculcating the benefits of treating women as equal citizens has not turned out terribly well. Sure, for a bunch of middle-class women in Kabul, opportunities were opened. These are the women you will have heard on your radio expressing their justifiable terror at the return of the Taliban. But for the vast majority of Afghan women, nothing much will change. And for some it may even change for what they believe is the better, however bizarre or odious that might sound: remember, not everyone subscribes to our own comfortable and expedient belief system.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the social conditions in which women live, Afghanistan is the second worst country in the world — just ahead of Syria and behind Yemen — according to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. On both lists, the worst countries in the world for women are Islamic states. And this brings me to two further typical non sequiturs in the liberal paradigm.

The model Lily Cole was castigated this week for posting shots of herself in a burka, along with an inane injunction that we should all celebrate diversity. The goblin-faced clothes horse was apparently surprised to be the target of so much odium — and I don’t blame her. Until Monday, the burka and other forms of Islamic dress were indeed revered by the left as an emblem of diversity. Marks & Spencer was applauded when it started selling designer hijabs, for example. Television advertisers gain approval when they include women in burkas in their asinine little films. Even the organisation for which I am a volunteer, the Kent Wildlife Trust, uses the image of a woman in a burka behaving responsibly while enjoying a walk in my local nature reserve. I haven’t seen a woman in a burka anywhere near the place in ten years. It is virtue-signalling again, gaining approval and leftie kudos by revelling in diversity.

But now, suddenly, the burka is revealed as what it is: a signifier of suppression. There are before and after photographs in our liberal daily newspapers. The first show women happily going about their work in Kabul, unveiled; in the second, women are shrouded from head to toe — and we’re expected to be appalled. But if it is suppression in Afghanistan, why is it not in Tower Hamlets or Bradford? I kind of hoped, reading all the stuff about the betrayal of the Afghan women, that this might have been a moment of epiphany for the white liberals. That they would see the burka, at last, for what it is. But nope, not a chance. These are people who can hold two completely contradictory notions in their heads and believe them both equally. In other words, they are very stupid.

Stupid, too, to insist that by leaving Afghanistan we have let these women down. For sure, we promised the world, delivered a corrupt government and then left. That’s the sort of thing you get with neoliberal evangelism. But following their arguments, should we not invade Saudi Arabia, where women have only recently been allowed to drive? Or Mali, Niger, Chad, Mauritania — and any number of the Islamic states where the subjugation of women is not hugely dissimilar to what might be expected under the Taliban? But they will not join the dots, these people. They castigate the Taliban and exculpate Islam. Have you even heard the word ‘Islamic’ mentioned on TV or radio in connection with the Taliban? From what you hear they might simply be rather rigorous Methodists or something.

Still, God help Afghanistan, and the women in particular. In a decent world, they would have been born in Israel.

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