VEILED COURAGE: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance
Not too long ago, this passionate, partisan book about Afghan women—in particular, those associated with RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan)—might have attracted few readers. Originally planned as a study of a women's organization opposing fundamentalism, the book took on a new and more urgent tenor after September 11: to give "representation to the rural, the uneducated and the female members of the Afghan populace" and to convey the history and present-day role of RAWA, founded in 1977, long before the civil wars, as "the first women's organization whose members are willing to risk their lives explicitly for the issue of women's rights" and "the only group, male or female, to organize an underground resistance against [the Taliban]." Through affecting personal testimony from RAWA's members and supporters (including some men), sociologist and novelist Benard shows "how ordinary people are transformed into resistance fighters." Founded by a charismatic woman named Meena, RAWA's public work has been daring (publishing a bilingual Persian/Pashtu magazine, Payam-e-Zan ["Woman's Message"]) and dangerous (operating schools and medical facilities in refugee camps in the Afghan border area). Their clandestine work has been perilous—they've smuggled endangered families to safety, moved survivors of massacres "out of the killing zone" and secretly photographed Taliban beatings, torture and executions. Benard, an adviser to RAWA and the wife of one of President Bush's Afghan advisers, writes with fervor and at times abandon ("Given that level of U.S. air support, a middle-school soccer team could have taken Kabul"). Addressing the physical, intellectual and emotional oppression of Afghan women, this is a powerful—though clearly hastily assembled—book. (Apr. 9)
Forecast:General readers will quickly snatch this up, and it may also find academic use in women's studies classes, although its methodology is not very scholarly. It will be widely reviewed and is more sociology-oriented than the two books it will likely be displayed with, Zoya's Story (reviewed below) and My Forbidden Face (Forecasts, Mar. 11).