This morning I read in Sunday’s Observer (it often takes days for me to catch up with the papers) about Malalai Kakar and how a photograph of her is being misused – even abused – by a far right group in Britain. As I read the article I got steadily angrier. Malalai was a policewoman in Afghanistan. Just think about that for a minute. For most of us when we think of Afghanistan we probably think of repression, of women being denied any kind of equality, and I am not for one minute suggesting that Afghanistan is some kind of egalitarian paradise. But this woman – and others – working as a police officer was something to celebrate.
Malalai was killed by the Taliban in 2008. She had been warned by them to stop her police work and had received death threats. In an interview with a documentary film-maker she said “I am not forced to wear the burqa, my husband or the police force does not require it. I want to wear it because it gives me advantages.” You can see the picture that has been misused of her in the Observer article linked above. She is wearing a burqa and pointing a pistol. I can see how some might find that image disturbing or unsettling. The background to the photograph is that she threw the burqa over her police uniform at the last minute as she headed out as part of a police mission to free a kidnapped teenage girl. (Interesting piece about Feminism and the burqa here)
Malalai commanded a unit fighting crimes against women. She died for her work and her beliefs. She was not a terrorist. Yet now this image of her is being abused by a far-right group who describe themselves as both a patriotic political party (hmm, ok) and a street defence organisation. Now what exactly is that? It sounds like something scary and dangerous to me. People are entitled to different beliefs we say, but no way should such a group be allowed to tarnish the memory of Malalai Kakar and other courageous women like her. I am only one person, but today I remember Malalai Kakar’s bravery and honour her. Please do the same.