USA TODAY, March 20, 2002
Women tell own stories of Taliban oppression
By Carol Memmott
No memoirs of world tragedy are more wrenching than those based on the recollections of a nation's young people. Just as the Holocaust and Cambodia's Killing Fields gave birth to memoirs of unrelentingly terrible childhoods, Afghanistan's decades of brutality are adding new voices to the genre.
But because the emotional damage is so fresh and Afghan politics so tenuous, two young women who are now sharing their stories with the world are publishing their memoirs under pseudonyms. It's not so much to protect themselves as it is to protect their families and members of such organizations as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
Zoya's Story is another simply told yet achingly realistic tale of a girl whose parents are killed by Muslim fundamentalists when she is 14. Zoya reveals no details of how her parents were killed out of fear her identity will be discovered. But her parents' disappearance spurs her to continue their work, particularly her mother's commitment to rescue the victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in Afghanistan.
In 1992, at age 14, Zoya moved to Pakistan with her grandmother. She attended a school funded by RAWA donations. As Zoya's Story begins, she is crossing over the Pakistan border into Afghanistan on a mission for RAWA, her first trip to her homeland in five years. As she looks through the mesh opening of the burqa, which chafes her eyelids, she worries that the Taliban will search her bags and find the photographs that document murders the Taliban committed by stoning, burning or hanging their victims. The men whose arms have been amputated for thievery, the women whose fingertips have been chopped off because they dared to wear nail polish.
As a child in Kabul, she accompanied her brave mother as she spread the word of RAWA throughout the city. That Zoya should carry on her mother's work is a tribute to her faith in the future of her country. When Zoya was approached by two foreign journalists who encouraged her to share her story in a book, Zoya asked, "What is special about my story?"
Zoya's Story, like Latifa's, is a universal one of human rights violations. The fact that we cannot see the faces of these young writers is a painful reminder of their circumstances and the roles they will play in their country's evolution.