“When you think of Afghanistan, think of Germany. When you think of their women, think of the Jews,” keynote speaker Annette Zumba said to a packed room at the University Club on Saturday morning.
Santa Barbara acknowledged United Nations Day 2001, commemoration the creation of the U.N. on Oct. 24, 1945, with a fundraiser for the U.N. to benefit the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an international organization. Members of the Santa Barbara chapters of the U.N. and RAWA, as well as other guests, discussed on a panel the struggles of Afghan women, the Sept.11 attacks and the Middle East in general to an audience of about 100.
Zumba, the Santa Barbara community liaison for RAWA and an expert on the treatment of and aid to the Afghan women, was the keynote speaker.
“What September 11th has changed is that the University Club has an event with this topic. On September 10, we wouldn’t have been here discussing this topic,” Zumba said.
Zumba said RAWA membership has quadrupled since the terrorist attacks began. The organization, which began in Afghanistan in 1977 as a civil rights group, turned into an underground government resistance group and presently acts as a liberation organization.
Currently, RAWA aids Afghan women with medicines and provides underground teachers with 15 to 20 children or women in a classroom, Zumba said.
Zumba spoke about the conditions in Afghanistan from when the Taliban regime took over in 1996, which left women without jobs, education or freedom, and the children without fun or hope for a promising future. The Taliban uses violence to control women, children and men who are not part of the Taliban, Zumba said.
“Women cannot educate their children in cultural literacy because they are under house arrest. If they break Taliban law, they could have a limb amputated in the street, they could be stoned to death, or they could be executed in a public arena. Children have no toys and will be struck by men if they are found playing with a toy, even if it is homemade,” she said.
The burqa, a long veil worn by women that must cover their entire body, including their hands, is symbolic of the control the Taliban has over Afghan women, Zumba said. The burqa must be worn any time a woman leaves her house, which she cannot do without her husband.
“[The burqa] is uncomfortable. I feel like I dissapear, like I have no identity,” said RAWA member Rowena Collins, who wore a burqa to the event. “It is really hard to talk to people because they can’t even see my face.”
Zumba said a lack of literacy and awareness among the people in Afghanistan makes it hard to inform them about world politics.
“Eighty-five percent of the country men are subsidence farmers who probably didn’t here about September 11 until the first bomb dropped from the U.S. And they wonder why this is happening. There is virtually no TV, no radio, no newspaper, no postal service. The only information given to the people is when Osama bin Ladin disseminates information,” Zumba said. “But, as it is with any kind of regime where control is based on keeping people ignorant, their information is in the form of propaganda.”
Zumba said the Taliban operates from a “paranoid truth” – they believe someone is out to “get them.”
“Why do they hate us? Because they hate. Why did they strike the towers? Capitalism. Why did they strike the Pentagon? Power. They can’t understand why there is no secular power, but that is why we built this nation,” she said.
Frank Kelly, a former U.N. member and Associated Press journalist, said America should work toward peaceful relations with Afghanistan.
“Terrorists should be treated as people who have created a crime against humanity. The case should have been taken immediately to the U.N. and the terrorists should have been tried in an international trial,” Kelly said.