My first reaction to the terrorist attacks was: Arm the women.
Not us. We're already armed with education and freedom, two things Muslim women in some sectors aren't allowed to have. I mean, of course, arm the women of Afghanistan and wait about an hour.
Forget trying to smoke out Osama bin Laden from his hole. Get our special forces to smuggle in a couple million weapons, which they can distribute through the feminist underground, and bin Laden and his Taliban henchmen will be history. T-shirt vendors get ready: (ital-bold) "Bin Laden, done Laden, got the turban." (untial-unbold)
Those tents the Taliban makes Afghan women wear are sufficiently spacious to accommodate a nice automatic weapon until just the right moment. And since the men have covered their women so completely, with their eyes barely visible through their burqa veils, they won't have to wonder why all the women are suddenly smiling.
I'm only half joking. For America's "New War," as at least one of the networks has dubbed our current engagement, is new only to us. To the women and girls of Afghanistan, it's an old war that has made Germany's Nazis look like gentlemen and America's worst chauvinist pig like Phil Donahue.
It's also a war that's been fought for several years by America's feminist organizations, whose leaders deserve a good cap doffing for a change of pace. The National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority and others have worked for years to raise awareness of what we're all beginning to know about the Taliban. They lobbied strenuously to keep Afghanistan out of the United Nations and were among those who urged U.S. officials not to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government.
Here's a reminder of what Afghan women know as reality. They're banned from education, working or speaking to an unrelated male. They can be arrested for venturing outside their houses without a male relative, and even then only for a government-sanctioned purpose. For walking down the street with an unrelated man, a single woman gets 100 lashes. If she's married, she's stoned to death.
Thousands of men routinely herd themselves into stadiums to watch as errant women are ceremoniously flogged. Even boys have permission to use weapons on members of the captive sex if they think the women are breaking any of the Taliban's laws. Their favorite weapon, second only to automatic weapons, is a broken-off car aerial or electrical cable, the better to whip them with.
Jan Goodwin, editor of "On the Issues" and author of "Price of Honor" about Afghanistan's women, tells of a teen-age Taliban guard who shot a young mother when he spotted her rushing her ailing toddler to a doctor. The woman was covered head to toe, as required by law, but she was unescorted. Although she survived the attack, she was blamed for her fate. She wasn't supposed to be out.
Girls face a similarly grim future. Unless, that is, the United States and its allies are successful in wiping out the Taliban.
It can't go unspoken that most Americans didn't much notice the plight of Afghan women and girls until bin Laden delivered his diabolical philosophy to our shores. Which suggests that the United States no longer can afford to ignore human-rights violations anywhere they exist.
President Bush's campaign promises to limit military involvement to areas of "strategic interest" became moot on Sept. 11. As bin Laden has proved, human rights are always of strategic interest wherever they occur geographically or however their violators define themselves politically.
Bin Laden and the Taliban have to be eliminated, no quibble about that. But the only way to ensure stability in post-Taliban Afghanistan is to liberate the women and ensure their continued freedom. What we do for the least of these strangers may determine ultimately what gets done to us.