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'Kite Runner' Author on Writing, Afghanistan, and His New Book - The Atlantic

Many who end up in shelters or prison are fleeing such situations. Although no longer strictly a crime, running away from home for a woman is viewed as tantamount to committing zina, a serious crime in this conservative Islamic country. The past several years have brought both legal advances for women and a political backlash against them, Akrami and others said.

Many police officers have received training in how to treat female runaways and victims, but the number of female police officers remains low. About men have been prosecuted under a decree criminalizing violence against women, but the measure has recently been challenged as un-Islamic by conservative leaders, and a legislative change in the criminal code now forbids family members from testifying on behalf of abused women. The letter asked him to step up enforcement of the decree, support making 18 the minimum age for marriage, promote women's shelters which are often criticized as brothels and increase the number of female police officers.

The government has not responded officially, but analysts said Karzai, due to leave office next summer, is unlikely to alienate conservatives by speaking out on the issue. With NATO forces preparing to withdraw and the country facing an uncertain political future, many women's advocacy groups fear that the gains they have made in the past decade are starting to erode as conservatives reassert themselves and Taliban insurgents wield more sway.

In a recent interview, the president's adviser on religious affairs, a conservative Muslim cleric named Enayatullah Balegh, accused the West of trying to force change on Afghan culture. I feel sorry for Western women who are treated like prostitutes and shown naked on television," Balegh said. Nothing the international community does will change that.

But change is already coming fast to this once-insular society, leading to frequent and sometimes violent clashes within families over arranged marriages, love affairs, incest and poisoned relations with in-laws. Many girls are beginning to refuse arranged marriages and insist on staying in school. High-profile abuse cases have been shown on Afghan television, encouraging other victims to flee or come forward.

They wanted a son so much they made their daughter live as a boy

Yet even prominent women who speak out for women's rights are not immune to retribution. Noorzia Atmar, a former member of parliament, fled an abusive husband and tried to seek a divorce. After her story appeared on Afghan TV, the husband burst into her office and threatened to kill her. Many of those who try to escape marriages end up in prison. The female wing of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Kabul, a padlocked dormitory inside a prison complex, currently houses 25 girls and young women who are awaiting trial or serving sentences for crimes linked to moral misbehavior.

Those suspected of zina are required to undergo medical exams to determine whether they have had intercourse. On a recent afternoon, between embroidery class and preparing dinner, about 10 of the inmates told their stories. As with those living in shelters, they were allowed to be interviewed on the condition that their full names and faces not be revealed.

Many gave convoluted and semi-coherent accounts of family abuse, forced marriages, love affairs, rebellious behavior or vengeful violence. But there were several tragic common threads. All of the detainees had endured harsh treatment and crushing dilemmas they were far too young to handle. And most of them had taken daring or desperate paths to escape — running away with young men, trusting unscrupulous strangers, stealing money from home.

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Narany, 17, wept into her blue head scarf as she told of being married at 15 and bearing a son, then being forcibly divorced and married off for a second time to an older man she did not like. She ran away with her former husband, got caught and is now serving four years in prison for adultery.

Ruma, also 17, said that when she was in seventh grade she was taken out of school and ordered to marry a man who already had a wife and three children and who used her as a servant. A policeman took pity on her and they ran away together. This particular novel casually references the supernatural, such as divs and jinns. Often, it seems Western fiction condescends and rejects the mystical in favor of realism. Do you think Western fiction could benefit, or learn, from Afghan storytelling?

There is room for everything. I think if you reject a certain kind of storytelling you handicap yourself and limit your options. I think current Western contemporary fiction rejects even more than the mythical, it rejects the "sentimental" story. An instinct that has any aspirations of appealing to the reader on a deep emotional level is occasionally branded as sentimental in a kind of professorial, condescending way.

My background has never been in literature. I've gone to medical school.

So, I don't consider myself part of "that" world. So what is said does not affect me all that much. But I do think we are seeing an enrichment of contemporary fiction in this country by the rise of new, young voices from Pakistan, India, Iran and hopefully Afghanistan. This can only add dialogue, make it more interesting and instructive as well. Aside from your career as a novelist, you've spent considerable time and energy as a goodwill ambassador to Afghanistan.

That nation has endured decades of warfare and tragedy, most recently the post U.


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What are the grievances that Afghans have with the U. Is the rift irreparable, or can the wounds be healed? There's an abandonment complex in Afghanistan which had its origin in the wake of the Afghan-Soviet war. I'll relate the generic Afghan voice I've heard over and over again in many Afghan communities, which says that once the Afghan-Soviet war was over and Afghanistan had served its purpose by playing a major role in the downfall of the Soviet Empire and ending the Cold War, the West abandoned Afghanistan and its people.

Afghanistan was then exploited by thugs, the militia men, the Taliban and so forth. That is the main grievance leveled against the U. That has echoes to what we're seeing in Afghanistan now. Afghan people are a sovereign people. It's well-documented that they don't like foreigners on their soil.

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However, there is an anxiety, a sense of trepidation about what will happen once U. Are we going to see a repeat scenario that we witnessed after the Soviet War?

follow url Is the country going to unravel and revert back to ethnic war of the 's? Is there going to be mass displacement of ethnic populations? Are we going to see another Afghan refugee crisis? Are we going to see the return of power of peoples for whom democratic ideals are not a priority? These are the views of the Afghan people, and the grievances they have against the West. They want the West to assure them they won't abandon them so it reverts back to this previous state.

We should remember that a great deal of promises were made to Afghanistan after I happen to be one of those that say that significant things have been accomplished in Afghanistan. There's been improvement in the health care sector, education sector, and personal freedoms and so on. For many Afghans, however, the reality they currently face falls short of the expectations they had after the U. Much of that is also leveled against the current Afghan government and its shortcomings and inability to provide for the Afghan people.

Afghanistan's problems seem so overwhelming and insurmountable. What is the proper way for Americans to "help" Afghanistan and Afghan people? People need to understand who the Afghans are and their wishes and aspirations. There's a myth that suggests that Afghans want the U. I think it's important for Westerners to know that's not the case and it's not a constructive way to view Afghans. Afghans are not beggars; they are fiercely proud and extremely resourceful.

They are a very determined people who want to rebuild their country. What the Afghans do want is economic and civic space to accomplish these things. It's been a challenge to deliver this to them in the past 10 years. The U. There are more aid organizations in Afghanistan than you can count and the rebuilding needs are massive.

In Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban increasingly involves covert operations

There is a fatigue when it comes to Afghanistan. This is a particular concern of my own. The Afghan narrative, I have noticed personally, has changed a lot in the past 10 years. People seem far more receptive to the idea of "let's support Afghanistan and its people, let's invest in the country and let's rebuild," but it's very hard to get traction for that particular story. I understand why because this war has been long and costly in all sorts of ways.


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  5. Love, Fate and Afghanistan Summary!
  6. As an Afghan I can't help but hope that the gains that have been made in Afghanistan - and they are significant - that those gains are not lose once more when the U. You have had a unique journey toward becoming a storyteller. A child of immigrants, you first became a physician and then a novelist at In many immigrant communities, children are told to abandon their creative ambitions to pursue the safety of the "holy trinity" of professions: doctor, engineer, and businessman.

    As such, many of us have become successful professionals, but we haven't produced many modern artists.