Afghanistan Education Global Womens Rights

Voices from Kabul, Afghanistan: “You Can Take Our Lives, But Not Our Education”

This opinion piece is by Zareen Taj, originally written for Ms

Monday morning, I received more than 40 pictures and six video clips from the horrific mass killing of innocent Hazara girls in Kabul on Saturday. I cannot stop screaming. They were too young and full of dreams to have their lives cut so tragically short. I am speechless, my mind is numb, my eyes unfocused. I don’t have the words to express my anger—but I must write, because you must hear this story. Listening to the fragile voice of this injured girl“I never accept defeat. A defeated person never reaches her goal. I rise up from the place I fall”—broke me into pieces. Her voice is not a voice of a survivor, but of an incredible human being who tries to hide her pain and suffering and stands for all the girls, giving hope for the future.

Everywhere in Afghanistan, extremists are responsible for killings and hostile environments—but the genocidal killing of Hazara people is a targeted annihilation of my people. In just the past five years, the Hazara people have endured several mass killings in a small poor neighborhood, Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul. These killings target the young and educated generation of Hazara people, in an effort to stop the powerful generation of Hazara women who are paving new paths of progress and development in Afghanistan.

In the past 20 years, the leadership, civic engagement and community work of Hazara women and girls has spurred incredible progress. They have forged these paths in spite of war raging around them, actively rewriting history. Throughout history, their vulnerability as an ethnic minority never defeated the Hazara community. Uncertainty and challenges in life have not just pushed Hazara women to survive—they created the conditions for them to make an impactful difference. Despite the mass killings, the stories and voices of Hazara women, particularly the stories and voices of injured, have shown that nothing can defeat the Hazara. Nothing will stop us from getting an education and creating change for ourselves and others.

From these bloody scenes, from hospital beds and graveyards, I hear pain, but I also hear these messages:

  • You can take our lives but you cannot take education away from us.
  • You can kill us but you cannot eliminate us.
  • We rise up every moment we fall.
  • Don’t kill us for love of education and being Hazara.
  • Despite the killings, we will continue to get an education to bring a better future for our people.
  • We never let darkness control our lives.
  • We continue to fight against extremists with our pen and our lives to bring a better future to the country.

But today, I cannot escape the blood. The video shows scattered pieces of innocent bodies, bloody books, bloody bag-packs and bloody shoes—all of the trappings of full lives that were eliminated in a moment. As a member of the Hazara diaspora, safe in my home in the U.S., it is painful for me to sit in front of my computer and write about yet another mass killing. Are you not listening? Why does this continue to happen?

The government of Afghanistan has failed to protect the Hazara community—even in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. We fear for the future of our community because we cannot trust the government of Afghanistan to protect school children. Who will protect our community from extremists?

Today, the girls in the video have chosen to be back at school, to show the extremists that you cannot stop us from learning. One of the injured girls said this:

“I will walk with my bloody clothes into bloody school to stand for my fallen sisters.”

For my people, obtaining an education is our best hope at weakening the power of extremists in Afghanistan. The Hazara community sees education and civic engagement as a way to emerge out of oppression and resist injustice. Education is our power. The extremists may try to take that power, and the targeted killings of the Hazara are a symptom of the deeply rooted hatred of Hazara people. Their goal is clear: to eliminate the Hazara, to wage civil war.

I am calling today for the urgent attention of the United States and the international community. We must re-think the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The lives of the Hazara depend on it.