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Islam has influenced many cultures around the world. For centuries, Islam has had an immense influence on the Afghan culture. According to this religion, women have no rights. The men took advantage of this system by translating only what they wanted from the Koran; to enslave the women in our culture for their own desires. From the beginning, the women on no account had any civil rights or have power over their own lives, and most were uneducated and had accepted what their teachers taught in schools and mosques. My family moved to the US when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. I thank god to be one of the lucky women who did not have to live in Afghanistan and for giving me a better place to live in America. Unfortunately, this was not the case for the majority of the Afghan women. Under the cruel Taliban government the women were banned to work, and were not allowed outside their homes without being escorted by a man. The film Osama, inspired by a true story, is about Osama, a young girl who did lived in Kabul while the Taliban regime. Through Osama's story, I had a chance to see what it was like to live in Afghanistan as a woman. This is a story of a girl whose faith was in the hands of many different people: her family, the Taliban soldiers, and the city judge. Osama and I have different lives on different continents; however, we both could have had more rights and better life if we were born men.
Women under Taliban law did not have the rights to speak freely, to show their face to men, to go outside without an escort, and the right to work. Osama's father was killed in the Kabul war during the Russian invasion, leaving behind his widow wife and only child, Osama. The only hope of survival for her family was Osama, who was forced to learn to become a man by day and a woman at night. Afraid of starving in poverty, Osama's mother forced Osama to wear her father's clothing, cut her hair, and behave like a man. She worked in the daytime and accepted her family's decision of transferring her in to a boy. Under the Taliban's extreme law, if caught, Osama would be sentenced to death. This young girl learned how to behave according to the rules, even though she was
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mortified every time the Taliban soldiers looked at her with suspicion. Moreover, she
was harassed in the streets by the kids for looking like a girl, she was stoned and chased
Both Osama and I dreamed of the life we could have had if we were men. The Taliban governed according to the law of Islam and the law says a "man" comes first. If it was not for this religion, Afghan culture would have been different: women would have lived free and equal to men; women would have been controlled to such a degree and made to feel less important than men. Although I have lived in the US since age eleven, I grew up in an Afghan family which shared Afghan cultural values to some extend. Both Osama and I have lacked many rights as women: neither of us was encouraged to think for ourselves or make our own decisions; we were both a curse to our families. Our families, specially our grandmothers, were not happy that girls were born because we would only be labor for them until we wed.
Osama was unconscious of any other alternative so she accepted it and had fewer psychological conflicts. However, I lived in the US where freedom is the symbol of this country. I lived in a prison most of my life when I knew freedom was not far from me. This was the most difficult years of my life. My older and younger brother laid strict rules for me: since my father had passed away, my mother considered that the males in the family should make the rules. They dictated what I could wear, I had to be very obedient, and I could not date at all and accept my arranged marriage. Why mother, I asked my self often growing up. Am I not your flesh and blood? If not as a part of the family, then as a woman, do you not have any compassion for your own kind?
Living in the United States, I learned my rights, even though most of my life I was pressured in different ways as Osama was to live in a traditional manner. I have many questions: as a mother how can one love a son more then a daughter? Now that I have my own children, I see it is impossible to see my own flesh and blood any differently because of their sexes. I did not bring a child into the world, so one day he would provide for me. Why didn't our mothers think the same way?
I fail to understand the Afghan idea that men must always be the sole providers and women, the child bearers who stay home. If so, did our family bring us in to this world only for their own needs? Did our parents bring us to this world only for the purpose of being feed and cared for in their old age? Is there no absolute love amongst these people who follow this ridiculous culture? One of the most important questions I have is how can a woman see another woman as any less than a man? We women give birth to these men! Are we not worthy of respect and being valued, and shouldn't we ourselves have self-respect and self value as women? If our mothers would have raised all their children as equals, today Afghan women could have had the freedom to go outside without an escort. Osama's mother and grandmother were upset and questioned why Taliban men were controlling them because, unlike Osama, they didn't grow up during the Taliban regime. Did they not realize that "they" created the men who then did not give them the right to speak? I cannot help but blame our mothers!
I could not help but wonder what it would have been like if I had been born in the United States, somewhere more liberal, where a woman has the right to live as a woman without being reminded what a curse she is to her family for not being a boy. My mother had one boy and one girl, and then I was born. Everyone wanted another boy but unluckily I was a girl. My grandmother always reminded me of a story. She believes only boys are the rightful children of their father's name and should inherit his rights. She used to say, "Girls will go to their husbands, and boys are the tree from which we will enjoy the fruit." Osama was often reminded of this fact by her grandmother and mother, who told her, "If I had a son I would have never needed another man's help to escort me." When Osama's mother cut her hair to prepare her for becoming a man.
Osama lived through other problems like poverty, as well as the cruel Taliban government, while I lived in California where I did not have such problems. I have never experienced hunger or poverty, but Osama lived that way every day after her father died. I can imagine how desperate she must have been to know the consequences of betraying the Taliban rules and still go out side portraying a man in order to survive.
As afghan women, we are to obey our family, an edict which is programmed in to our minds at a young age, or we would be disowned, however, I was able to break away from this and Osama wasn't. My mother arranged my marriage. Osama by force married the old mullah, which was arranged by the Taliban judge. While Osama accepted her fate, I chose to change mine. Having the right to do so in the US, I broke off my arranged marriage. After this, I lost my status as a "traditional" Afghan girl. I changed my faith and chose to live as an American, as I did not want to live as an Afghan woman. Osama stayed within her faith because the Taliban government gave her two choices: death or obedience.
Osama and I do have this in common: we did not have the support and love of a man when we really needed it. The Taliban found out that Osama was portraying a man, and she went to jail instantly. She had impersonated a man amongst men in the Islamic school and at work although she was aware it was illegal. When caught, the Taliban soldiers hung her with chains inside a dark well for hours. She screamed and cried, "mama, mama....someone help me..." but no one came to her rescue. Osama felt alone, but at least she did not feel betrayed because these men were either distant classmates or the Taliban soldiers who she did not expect to care for her tears, whereas I was betrayed by my own blood that broke my heart and soul. When I broke off my marriage, I needed help in my time of sorrow and pain. My brothers turned their faces away from me. The Afghan men ignore women no matter how close a relation they are. When a woman is being condemned for anything, no man comes to help. Where Osama's punishment was physically brutal, I was broken in spirit and soul. Her pain was physical and she recovered. Whereas, my soul is going to never be complete again.
Osama and I both lived in fear of what would become of us in different ways. She married a sixty-year-old cruel mullah, and I broke the Afghan tradition of obeying my family and breaking my marriage. In many different ways, we both were helpless, where she chose her culture, and I choose my freedom. In the end, we both lost one thing to gain something else. Osama lost herself forever, locked in the mullah's prison life, while I lost my status amongst my people. Osama is a stronger woman than I am. I cannot imagine living in the condition in which she survived day after day, yet in different ways, we both lived under the Afghan culture and made the best of it.
The Koran has put a woman's faith fourth: first comes man, second, the children, third, the valuables including the camel, finally fourth, woman. This is how Osama was brought up. Osama could not fight for freedom she did not know existed On the other hand, I lived in the US for most of my life and I chose to change my life style and values, possible for me. The brain-washing of the Afghan way of life, "To accept that I come after a camel." It is crazy! I know now for certain, I made the right decision. I cannot live in the era of the prophet Mohammad 1300 hundred years ago. I do not accept the Islamic or the Afghan way of life, not only as a woman but also as a human being. My heart goes out to Osama, for she lives the life that I despise, and I wonder if there is any hope for her freedom one day.