24 July 2007

Hunger for Books, Desire for Martyrdom

Somini Sengupta's article from Pakistan in today's New York Times struck me for the familiar details of its portrait of teenaged girls. The article quotes nineteen-year-old Hameeda Sarfraz lamenting:

“My contact with books is gone. At home the only thing for me to do is take care of my parents. I clean the house. I cook.”
The Sarfraz family lives in rural Pakistan, where opportunities for a young woman to either read and escape household tasks seem thin.

And then there's this scene:
Up the road from Miss Akhtar’s home, in a village called Kotla,...four girls, ages 15 to 18...sat in one girl’s home telling their story. . . .

Mohammed Matloob, the father of one of the girls, walked in. . . . His daughter, Nagina, 16, ordered him to leave the room, which he did, with a surprised shrug.
I could almost hear the girls scolding, "Daddy!"

What's startlingly unfamiliar about these scenes is that these are young female Islamists, teenagers who attended the Jamia Hafsa Islamic school for girls associated with the Red Mosque in Islamabad.

The students of that mosque bullied their neighborhood, taking over a public library and kidnapping some women to accuse them of prostitution. The mosque and its schools contained enough weapons to produce a gun battle with police that stretched over days and took many lives.

The female students brought the Red Mosque's version of Islam home to their villages. Sengupta's article starts with Sarfraz teaching the value of martyrdom to local children, both girls and boys. The four girls interrupted their conversation not just to tell the father to leave, but also to cover their faces with scarves.

At core these young women seem to want the same things we can find many other teenagers wishing for: books, privacy, respect. But they're not finding those things in their villages; they're finding them in a form of their faith that praises intimidation, suicidal gestures, and even stricter gender segregation.

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