I saw an amazing report on the news last night about an incident in Afghanistan. The report by Norwegian journalist Yama Wolasmal was shocking and inspiring. It is a clear demonstration of the need for good journalists, now more than ever, engaging in the public debate. I think this one man’s courageous and intelligent reporting may have affected a fundamental change in the Taliban’s tactics. Not only did Wolasmal tell us in the West what happened, he shows his report to the Taliban head honcho, and that, my friends, takes this 5 minute report on the evening news to an entire different dimension.
Did anyone else see this? I looked in the Guardian, Washington Post and NYTimes headlines this morning, and find no mention. Is a lone Norwegian reporter making such a significant report without the world be able to watch it?
Well, above is the video on youtube, screenshot.
Below is my summarized transcript. All the direct quotes are my translations of the Norwegian subtitles. Any errors are inadvertent and I would appreciate them being brought to my notice.
Transcript and summary.
NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting System) journalist Yama Wolasmal visited a provincial teaching college where female teachers were getting their diplomas at a graduation ceremony attended by family members and friends sporting smart phones, and local Taliban members carrying their usual weapons.
After the ceremony there will be post-graduation celebrations. The NRK team has been invited to interview one of the graduates, Fatima, at her post-graduation party.
The principal speaks to the assembly, announcing that the class of 2021 includes 32 science, 16 math, and 12 English teachers, all women.
The college’s staff, all male, have worked hard to assure these women’s educational rights. They are clearly proud of having educated a class of female educators. The vice principal blesses the women in his closing remarks. “I congratulate all of you with the completion of your education. May God love you even more and give you a good life. “
But, the mood changes when Fatima holds a speech. She says in English: “To seek a higher education is the duty of both girls and boys. If education is good for men, it is also basic rights for women, too. “
Then she dares to speak up to the Taliban in their own language, Pashto : “When I ask why girls are not allowed to go to school, they say our honor does not allow it… “
She stops. Looks right, then left with frightened eyes. Someone speaks to her off camera, and Wolasmal tells the viewers that Fatima has to abruptly end her speech. She haltingly concludes, “So, girls should be allowed an education, and in closing I would like to thank the Taliban.”
One of the local guests of honor, a popular author named Ustad Asif Samin, is disturbed by what he sees and gets up to address the crowd (my translation of the Norwegian subtitles): “It is difficult to speak the truth before the Taliban. If the Taliban disagrees with that, let them listen now. We must speak in a manner that they find acceptable. If you don’t have an income [you must] say, Thank you, we deserve it, for we have been in cahoots with unbelievers..“
A Taliban member approaches the podium and gives Samin a reprimand, saying: “Can you watch what you say a little?”
Samin replies, giving the young Taliban member an affectionate tug on his beard: “No, I will speak and you will listen to me. Thank you, please sit down.”
Samin continues his tirade: “You are armed. Remove your weapons and see if you then can speak that way to me. Do not think that you are better than we are because of your weapons. Know that it is you who must serve us, not the opposite.”
The graduation ceremony is cancelled and the girls and their families are ordered to return home. NRK is ordered to stop filming. What began as a poignant event ends in chaos, leaving several hundred newly educated teachers without their diplomas, graduation ceremony and celebrations.
Back in the studio, NRK asks Wolasmal, who has returned to Kabul, what happened to Fatima and Samin. Wolasmal says Fatima refused to talk to NRK as planned. She was scared to death as she hurried home. The highly respected author, Samin, who is popular throughout Afghanistan, was taken into custody by the Taliban’s secret service and put into a police car. The townsfolk immediately surrounded the car and tried to stop it from leaving. When it it drove off, whisking Samin to police headquarters, elderly townspeople piled into five cars and took chase. They made such a ruckus that Samin was released after several hours in custody.
That afternoon in Kabul, Wolasmal reported his experience to the Taliban’s official press secretary. He was shocked, accepted all blame and delivered an apology to the author and students. He said female teachers are in short supply and extremely important to Afghanistan’s future development. He said the women will be given their diplomas and the incident would be investigated.
Wolasmal concludes his report saying the incident shows two things: First, the Taliban is controlling many areas of the country through fear. That they interrupt people mid-speech, denying them the right to speak their mind, can only be seen as a threat. Second, it shows that local populations will not tolerate such bullying. The fact that the entire village made their way to police headquarters, surrounding the building and refusing to leave before their beloved author was released, shows that people feel empowered. The Taliban is going to have to take note and know they can no longer govern by fear and intimidation.