Earlier today, reading The New York Times over my coffee, I came across a small AP story about the murder of Shaima Rezayee, a young Afghan woman who was killed, apparently, for being too “Western”.

Ms. Rezayee, 24, had been (until March) the host of “Hop”, a music video show on the station Tolo TV.  She was a popular figure who proudly dressed in Westernized garb, a sign of the “new” Afghanistan.  But her appearance, and her program, drew criticism from conservative clerics and other Islamic “scholars”, who effectively engineered her ouster two months ago.

Reporters Without Borders says that she is the first journalist to be killed in Afghanistan since the end of the war in 2001.

Most tragically, the main suspects in her death are two of her brothers.

Much more on the flip.
Shaima Rezayee seems to have been an almost perfect example of the positive changes that were made possible in Afghanistan following the removal of the Taliban from power.  Prior to the U.S.-led invasion, Ms. Rezayee was denied schooling and forced to wear the burqa in public, but from all accounts jumped into the new society with both feet.  While she shed the burqa, she hardly dressed provocatively (at least by our standards).  Here she is in a Reuters photo taken from an appearance on an interview program back in February:

At the time, she told Reuters, “Whenever I go out, some people say some [bad] things. But there are more who praise me. Especially my family — and a lot of young people in this country encourage me.”  Apparently, her brothers may not have shared those beliefs.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

The killing illustrates the struggle facing Afghanistan’s post-Taliban culture. Many urban young people have started to wear jeans, listen to Indian pop music and dream of romance. But their conservative elders see such behavior as un-Islamic and Western.

Women face a particularly tough time if their behavior is seen as too loose or their clothes are perceived as too tight. For a family, such behavior is often taken as an insult to honor. Most marriages are still arranged in Afghanistan, and even a casual chat between a man and a woman can create problems.

For many young people here, Rezayee was an icon. She wore Western-style clothes and the barest of headscarves. She drank alcohol. She had male friends. She joked around with her male counterparts on the “Hop” video program. She was flirtatious.

In this story from AzadiRadio|Radio Free Afghanistan (via Radio Free Europe|Radio Liberty), Reporters Without Borders, the France-based organization, claimed that

Rezayee was fired from Tolo TV after she was personally criticized by conservatives for her on-screen behavior.

TV Tolo Director Saad Mohseni denies the report. He told RFE/RL that Rezayee decided to leave the station because the work schedule did not suit her.

“The conditions were such that she could not work full time; therefore, she wanted to work several hours, several days and both sides agreed that she should leave Tolo. it happened three or four months ago,” Mohseni says.

Mohseni says it is very unlikely that Rezayee was killed because of her former job.

“As far as we know she had never been threatened. There are other people in Tolo who are being threatened every day because of their work, because of the way they present the news,” Mohseni says. “There are people who are not happy about it (the way news is presented) — especially about our news and documentary programs. But we are not aware that Shaima Rezayee had received threats. We have to wait for the police investigation to be finalized then we can comment.”

Such naïveté is not becoming, Mr. Mosheni.  As a side note, Tolo TV is the creation of an Afghan who had returned to the country at the end of 2001 after spending the Taliban years in exile in Australia.

According to the full version of the AP story by Daniel Cooney (which can be found at Egypt Election Daily News or at USA Today, among other locations),

Tolo TV, has in particular drawn fire. In March, the country’s council of Islamic scholars criticized Tolo and other stations for transmitting “programs opposed to Islam and national values.”

It’s doubtful that Ms. Rezayee’s departure that same month was coincidental.  Shortly after her departure, she told a radio interviewer that she’d heard rumors that someone wanted to kill her.

Again, from the AP:

Jamil Khan, head of the criminal investigation department for Kabul police, declined to comment on a possible motive for the killing, but said police would question Rezayee’s two brothers after mourning ceremonies conclude early next week.

“We suspect family members may be involved in the murder,” he said. He didn’t elaborate and relatives could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ms. Rezayee was shot in her family’s home; two of her brothers were present at the time and, according to unconfirmed reports, may already have been arrested by the authorities.

In a somewhat disturbing sign that Afghan society may still not be all that willing to deal with the rampant misogyny lingering in the wake of the Taliban, the RFE/RL story describes this reaction:

Saeed Soleiman Ashna, a news presenter at Tolo TV, says Rezayee’s death has saddened her fans and former colleagues. “We are all sad and feel sorry for the death of our colleague. Shaima Rezayee was one of our best colleagues,” Ashna said. “She used to present an entertainment program. Yesterday we [heard] the news that she is dead, but we still don’t know if she was killed or committed suicide. She became famous in a very short time. We have very good memories of her.” (emphasis added)

Obviously, for some, denial is just a river in Egypt.

Of course, it’s not exclusively women’s rights that are under siege.  From the Tribune:

But the culture war has turned dangerous in other ways. One of the demands by the kidnappers of an Italian woman this week was that Radio Arman, the sister radio station to Tolo TV, stop broadcasting “Young People and Their Problems.” The popular show airs love letters, often of doomed romance and often from teenagers. Conservatives have repeatedly criticized the program.

Another “Hop” vee-jay also has been holed up at the television station since Wednesday, fearing for his own life. Shakeb Isaar, 22, the most controversial host on “Hop,” said he has received death threats. He said he is afraid to go home and he believes Rezayee was killed because of being on “Hop.” He said she was famous in Afghanistan for breaking ethical rules.

“No one is safe in Afghanistan,” Isaar said. “If you want to talk about me, I’m like an American in World War II in front of Hitler.”

He said he was dragged out of a car about two weeks ago and beaten because of the program. Isaar also has received death threats on his cell phone in the middle of the night. One man said he was just waiting for the right time to kill him, Isaar said.

He said he wants to leave Afghanistan and he is trying to apply for asylum at various embassies.

Isaar also said Rezayee was a very good friend and he missed her.

While there’s no question that the lives of women in Afghanistan have improved tremendously since the toppling of the Taliban, events such as these show just how much further that nation has yet to travel.  Of course, this kind of episode is hardly unique to Afghan society, but then, Western forces are not engaged in nation-building in those other places.  We must make a stronger commitment to ensure that we do not permit Afghanistan to lapse back toward its recent Dark Age.  To paraphrase from one of our own great statesmen, it is for us here to highly resolve that Shaima Rezayee shall not have died in vain.

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