In 1997 Sally Armstrong, then editor-in-chief of Homemaker’s magazine, wrote an article about the women of Afghanistan and their lives under the misogynist Taliban regime. More than 9000 letters poured in from readers demanding that something be done to get these women out of bondage. Since then, Armstrong has stayed in touch with the women she met while researching the article, as well as the ones she met on subsequent visits to that troubled, complex country. Recently named as UNICEF’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, Armstrong has an insider’s view of the terror, abuse and misogyny the women and children in Afghanistan have faced for more than two decades of civil war and, in particular, since the Taliban took over.
Veiled Threat begins on September 27, 1996, the day the Taliban seized power and put women under house arrest. Armstrong introduces us to the women — a radio announcer, a psychiatrist, a pharmacist, a civil engineer and the new deputy prime minister of Afghanistan, Dr. Sima Samar — who describe their rapid-fire descent into the waking nightmare of life under the Taliban. Dr. Samar’s story and the personal revelations of other Afghan women are woven throughout the narrative of Veiled Threat. They vividly illustrate the harsh realities of the lives of women and girls, as well as the cloak-and-dagger covert action the women were taking to subvert the hateful edicts of the Taliban.
Armstrong then steps back to describe the centuries-old history of misogyny and the way customs such as honour killing found their way to Afghanistan. She also highlights the extraordinary work women around the world were doing to rescue their sisters in Afghanistan while venerable bodies such as the United Nations were virtually silent.
She leads us through the fractured history of Afghanistan, a country where tribes have warred with each other endlessly and where women’s human rights have ebbed and flowed with the whims of the victors. She examines what Islam actually says about women and accuses the Taliban and other fundamentalist leaders of distorting Islam for political opportunism. She assesses the monumental impact of September 11 and ends her book with intriguing conclusions drawn by Afghan women.
Based on first-hand experience that includes Armstrong’s own unexpected stay with the Taliban and years of passionate involvement in the struggle for women’s human rights in Afghanistan, Veiled Threat brings a humane and informed view to the lives of women in this tragic and awesome land.