West's feminists under fire from Afghan female general
By Stephen Farrell in Kabul, The Times, 28 November 2001
THE general leans forward in the gathering gloom, her eyes glinting with anger, and delivers a surprise attack on an unexpected foreign enemy.

Not the Soviet Union for invading Afghanistan, nor the Americans still bombing her country. Not the Pakistani- backed Taleban, nor yet their Arab legions, whose Wahhabi fundamentalism fuelled much of the regime's misogyny.

Instead General Suhaila Siddiq, 60, sighs with exasperation at Western feminists and their obsession with the burka, the all-enveloping veil whose forcible use symbolized for many outsiders the Taleban's oppressive rule.

"The first priority should be given to education, primary school facilities, the economy and reconstruction of the country but the West concentrates on the burka and whether the policies of the Taleban are better or worse than other regimes," she says dismissively. "Let these things be decided by history."

She believes that the burka, which was worn long before the Taleban and still is by most women around Kabul, is not the battlefield upon which to fight their war.

General Siddiq is Afghanistan's only woman general, a surgeon, hospital director and heroine to a generation of young women who remained in the country. Born in Kandahar the daughter of a powerful regional governor, she is that rare thing: an Afghan Pashtun who is not comfortable speaking her own language and prefers Persian, historically the language of the Kabul elite.

Now head of the Women and Children's Hospital in Kabul, she is scornful of exiled Afghan women's rights campaigners and Western feminists who champion their agenda. Her most withering comments are reserved for such vaunted women's champions as Emma Bonino, the former EU Commissioner, who brought the wrath of the Taleban down on Afghan women when a CNN crew accompanying her filmed women patients in Kabul in 1997.

Of Hillary Clinton, another supposed advocate, she simply says: "She cannot defend her own rights against her husband, how can she defend the rights of my country?"

At the 400-bed hospital in Kabul, where she now heads a separate women's section, her colleagues speak reverentially of the woman who took on the Taleban on their own ground.

"General Siddiq, General Siddiq," repeated nine times, was the universal answer from women medical students asked to name the person they mostadmired in the world.

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