The horrific murder of Farkhunda
(AWTWNS 6 April 2015)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 6 April 2015 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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The horrific murder of Farkhunda

6 April 2015. A World to Win News Service. Farkhunda, a 27 year-old Afghan woman accused of burning the Koran, was brutally beaten to death by a lynch mob in the presence of a group of police who did nothing to stop them. The murder took place near the famous Shah-Du-Shamshaira mosque and shrine in the centre of Kabul, only a few hundred metres from the presidential palace.

Hundreds of men beat Farkhunda to the ground with their fists and wooden planks. Then they trampled her. She tried to struggle against them, and was beaten again. This continued until she stopped moving. The men ran her over with a car and then set her body ablaze near the Kabul River.

This horrifying murder shocked the country, the world and provoked protests and demonstrations following her funeral. Farkhunda, whose last name is not revealed, probably for the safety of her family, had just earned a degree in religious studies and was preparing to take a teaching post.

What led to her murder was her brave protest against the selling amulets and charms by the mullahs and religious authorities. According to family members, she urged women at the shrine not to waste their money on superstitious wares, arguing with the mullah who sold them at the mosque. In retaliation, the mullah took out a few burned pages from a fire pit and shouted, “This infidel woman burned the holy Koran.” Men began yelling at her and the sparse crowd quickly congealed into a lynch mob.

Under pressure from the authorities, Farkhunda’s family had to leave Kabul, supposedly for their own safety. It was announced that family members said she was mentally ill and had previously tried to commit suicide.

Such incidents are not uncommon in Afghanistan. Domestic and international media were slow to react until videos of her murder circulating on social networks sparked outrage in Afghanistan and abroad. Her funeral on 22 March was attended by thousands of men and especially women. Her coffin was carried exclusively by women, said to be an unprecedented gesture. The angry women chanted “Justice for Farkhunda!” and “Death to the killers!”, and did not allow a prominent cleric to take part in the funeral.

The biggest demonstrations condemning her murder took place the day after. Thousands of women and men of all ages attended. Some young protesters painted their faces red to bring to mind Farkhunda’s bloody face as she resisted the mob. Protesters also chanted slogans against the officials and religious leaders who had initially justified the attack. They chanted, “Supporting crime itself is a crime”, “We all are Farkhunda”, “Ignorance, ignorance is the enemy of humanity” and “Shame on you, A and G”, meaning Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Ghani was recently elected president with U.S. backing, and Adbullah, his former rival, occupies the new post of chief executive in a power-sharing deal brokered by Washington.

Protests against Farkhunda’s murder were not limited to Kabul but also broke out in other major cities such as Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. This support allowed her family to resist government pressure to distance themselves from their daughter and instead publicly proclaim that they were proud of her defiance and courage. At the funeral they were able to mourn the death of their beloved along with the thousands who were present and the sympathy of millions around the world. Her brother Najibullah changed his family name to Farkhunda in memory of his sister and denied that she was mentally ill.

The role of Afghanistan’s Islamic government and religious authorities

This murder threw a harsh spotlight on Afghanistan’s brutal political system. Videos of the scene clearly show a score of armed police officers present but doing nothing to stop the lynch mob. The initial government reaction was to condemn Farkhunda, not her killers. The spokesman for the Kabul police chief called Farkhunda “an apostate’”, which meant that her murder was acceptable. According to Human Rights Watch, Abdul Rahman Ahmadzai, a top official in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, told the Kabul television station 1TV that if Farkhunda had done something “in opposition to the ayahs [religious verses] or the Koran, she’s not a Muslim, we justify the action of the people.”

Some clerics also insisted that mobs have a right to defend “their” Islam at any cost. They went so far as to say if the government arrested those involved in the killing, that would provoke “an uprising”. All the official statements condemned people who insult the Koran rather than condemning the cold-blooded murder of this young woman. They implied that the mob members, whom they called “the people”, were doing their duty.

It was only when they saw the outrage all over the country and the world that the authorities began to change their tune. President Ghani declared, “We are not going to allow mob justice” and the Afghan parliament stepped in to channel the anger by forming an investigation commission. An official investigator said no evidence was found that Farkhunda had burned a copy of the Koran. Later, the authorities announced that they had arrested 28 people, suspended 13 police officers and sacked the police spokesman. But this U-turn was no surprise because in the face of people’s indignation even the Taliban condemned the murder of Farkhunda on 24 March.

Obviously at this point all these reactionaries had little choice but to condemn the murder of this young woman. President Ghani knows full well that “mob justice” is an inseparable part of his regime and of this kind of regime in general, which relies on thugs, whether from the government overall or particular rival factions, to enforce their will in the name of the religion of the people and the will of god. In countries around the world, including Iran, to name jut one of many examples, mobs often act as unofficial enforcers of reactionary regimes, their state ideology and their values, along with the more official representatives of the state.

Some points about the importance of this attack

It is amazing that even in a country that has been devastated by reactionary wars for more than 35 years, where air bombardments and other imperialist crimes created some of the bloodiest scenes in recent history, still the murder of Farkhunda was not and could not be treated as an ordinary murder. Rather, this murder concentrates some of the country’s most important contradictions. The Western imperialists, led by the U.S., invaded and still occupy the country – in fact have made it clear that there is no near end in sight for their occupation – under the pretext of liberating women from the fundamentalists, but all they have brought is national ruination, more entrenched fundamentalism and more oppression of women.

Farkhunda was brave to challenge the mullah and his wares, his so-called good-luck charms, because she knew they were useless and only for deceiving the people. The incident showed that there are women who despite being hemmed in so brutally do not give up and are not intimidated, but are determined to fight even though it might cost their life. It also showed there are many people who will offer their support despite the risks. Instead of strengthening religious fundamentalism as intended, this dirty and viciously backward act brought people to condemn and expose religious backwardness and its representatives, including those who hold state power. This struggle could also expose those who are running the crime scene from behind the curtain – the U.S. and its allies.

The Afghan authorities, the imperialists, the Taliban, domestic and foreign media and even many activists and ordinary people who support the protests have been united in stressing that her murder was unjustified because Farkhunda was innocent of the accusation against her. It has been said that in opposing good-luck charms she was standing up for “real Islam” and should be considered a religious martyr. Whatever the facts may be, such a totally wrong approach could imply that her murder would have been justified if she had in fact burned a Koran. This stand objectively accepts the values of male chauvinism and religious obscurantism. It represents an authorization for mullahs or mobs to murder other women and men because they are not “real Moslems”. Instead, what should be emphasized is that the murder of Farkhunda would have been a vicious crime even if she had burned a Koran. Nobody should be allowed to force anyone to accept what to believe or not believe. The possibility that the accusation against Farkhunda was false only makes the horror more obvious.

Even though the government officials who at first justified the murder retreated under the pressure of people’s protests, it never even occurred to them to clearly state that her murder should be unambiguously condemned in any case. This shows that they have the same mentality as the mob that lynched her. What else could be expected from a regime whose rule is based on serving the imperialists, whose life blood is corruption and whose legitimacy comes from religion and fundamentalism? The regime will never go far from these reactionary pillars that sustain it. It can only promote and enforce the oppressive social relations and values represented by the mullah at the Shah-Du-Shamshaira mosque and the mob that brutally murdered Farkhunda. This is what connects the mob, the mullah, the regime and the imperialists who invaded and began occupying Afghanistan 14 years ago.

The protest of women and men against Farkhunda’s murder must continue. It could be turned into part of a struggle for a better society, a society where there is no oppression of women, no religious rule and no imperialist domination. Carrying out a fight throughout Afghan society against male chauvinism, fundamentalism and imperialism would be an important step in such a struggle.

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