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remembering farkhunda


Farkhunda. Farkhunda was her name.      Some news stories are so odious, so heinous, that the stain of their airing lingers. Festers for weeks.      It is raining here as I type.      Eight days ago, outside the Shah-Du-Shamshaira mosque and shrine, set in the heart of Afghanistan’s reformed capital, Kabul – a short distance from the Presidential Palace – the law was found wanting. A young woman was accused of inciting a fever in verse. A fever which smouldered. Erupted in flame. Feeding on the word as law.      No person less exalted than this central mosque\’s mullah, it seems, accused Farkhunda of burning the Quran.      Though no one saw her commit any such act, word quickly spread throughout the maze of streets and lanes. Dancing on the rooftops. Igniting in mouths. An assembly of townspeople gathered at the shrine.      It is unclear whether Farkhunda sought shelter in the mosque.      Initial reports on the BBC\’s World Service spoke of banging on the doors, of rocks the size of fists hurled at windows.      What is certain is that the young woman was caught up in the mob. Punched and kicked by outraged teenage boys and men. Folded through the gates.      One of them closest to her struck her in the face with a stick. Another knocked her to the ground.      The district\’s police were alerted. Accounts have it that the division station is situated less than one kilometer from the shrine. Police were certainly present.      Emboldened by the screams of righteous men and women, a curtain of blood obscuring her face where her veil was stripped away, she was stamped on repeatedly. Trampled on by scores of feet.      The weight of tendons. Bone. Pulsating hearts.      A car.      Farkhunda was driven over and dragged by a rope for several yards. Someone produced a canister of petrol and fuel was poured over the hapless woman. Someone else produced a match. Farkhunda was set alight.      The police stood well back and did nothing to protect her. Their attempts to disperse or contain the mob were enervated at best. Makeshift cudgels and debris rained down on her. A blanket was thrown over her prone body to assist in the burning.      A woman, not much older than the victim, spat in the direction of the blaze and jeered. Others, still, celebrated by punching the air. All of this recorded on cellphone, and distributed on Facebook.      Later, rumours persisted that Farkhunda was still alive when they dumped her body in the river. The apparatus of the law appeared to have lost its voice. The imam made no comment.      Several arrests were made after tempers cooled.      It took two hours to murder her. 120 minutes. To rub her out. To annihilate a voice of reason forever.      Her family issued a statement to the effect that their daughter had been mentally unstable for a number of years. It transpired this statement was in fact concocted by the chief of police, allegedly to safeguard Farkhunda\’s immediate family from reprisals.      The truth simply beggars belief.      Ultra-conservative in her faith, according to her father – a studious undergraduate in religious studies, a volunteer at her local school, where she taught the Quran to children – witnesses have it  that the 27-year-old quarreled publicly with mullahs over their practice of encouraging impoverished local women to squander their money on tavees – charms – and of preying on superstition. Their argument escalated to the point where she was denounced not just as a heretic, but falsely condemned for burning the Quran: a crime punishable by death under Muslim law. Just a few weeks after the capital\’s celebrating International Women’s Day, on March 8, with a number of events sponsored by the many international agencies working for Afghan women and human rights, such a despicable turn of events could scarcely have come at a worse time.      A policeman who witnessed the incident from its outset, Sayed Habid Shah, said Farkhunda had denied the mullah\’s accusations.      \”She said I am a Muslim and Muslims do not burn the Quran.\”      Official investigators corroborated her claim.      Following international and domestic pressures, police purport to have detained some eighteen individuals connected to the incident, in addition to suspending thirteen policemen for dereliction of duty. It remains unclear, however, as to whether criminal charges supplement this suspension.      It would appear, too, that the mullah responsible for inciting Farkhunda\’s murder remains immune to prosecution.

     Uniquely, in a very public splinter from tradition, women\’s rights activists bore Farkhunda\’s coffin at her funeral.

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