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Kabul Carnival

Kabul Carnival: Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan

Julie Billaud
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Kabul Carnival
    Book Description:

    After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the plight of Afghan women under Taliban rule was widely publicized in the United States as one of the humanitarian issues justifying intervention.Kabul Carnivalexplores the contradictions, ambiguities, and unintended effects of the emancipatory projects for Afghan women designed and imposed by external organizations. Building on embodiment and performance theory, this evocative ethnography describes Afghan women's responses to social anxieties about identity that have emerged as a result of the military occupation.

    Offering one of the first long-term on-the-ground studies since the arrival of allied forces in 2001, Julie Billaud introduces readers to daily life in Afghanistan through portraits of women targeted by international aid policies. Examining encounters between international experts in gender and transitional justice, Afghan civil servants and NGO staff, and women unaffiliated with these organizations, Billaud unpacks some of the paradoxes that arise from competing understandings of democracy and rights practices.Kabul Carnivalreveals the ways in which the international community's concern with the visibility of women in public has ultimately created tensions and constrained women's capacity to find a culturally legitimate voice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9114-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PROLOGUE: “If Only You Were Born a Boy”
    (pp. 1-4)

    “As I grew up, my mother constantly repeated to me: ‘if only you were born a boy.’ So I eventually became one.” This is the pragmatic way in which eighteen-year-old Zahra explains how she became Zia. Zahra rents a small room in a family house located next to Kabul Polytechnic University. When, a couple of years ago, her parents divorced and remarried, none of them wanted her around anymore. Mistreated by her stepfather, neglected by her mother, and with no relatives to take care of her, she set out to take her future into her own hands and not to...

  4. INTRODUCTION: Carnival of (Post)War
    (pp. 5-28)

    In September 2001, a few weeks before the first bombs were dropped on Kabul, I was sitting in a small nongovernmental organization (NGO) office in Paris, watching on my computer screen news releases announcing the formation of a coalition of Western nations preparing to launch a war against a country that few people had paid much attention to before. For many Westerners, Afghanistan kindled fantasies of deserted landscapes, bearded tribal warriors, and burkas. The NGO for which I worked was born with the Soviet-Afghan conflict and had remained in Afghanistan since 1979 when the first French doctors were sent to...


    • CHAPTER 1 Queen Soraya’s Portrait
      (pp. 31-61)

      In December 2001, a few days after the Afghan interim government was officially appointed, the Ministry of Information and Culture opened on its ground floor a hall for press conferences. On the large walls of the conference room, paintings of the different kings of Afghanistan—Timur Shah, Abdur Khaman, Habibullah, Amanullah, Nadir Shah, and Zahir Shah—were displayed in chronological order. Only in one painting did the king appear with his wife. The painting was a replica of a famous photograph of King Amanullah and Queen Soraya Tarzi. However, the Afghan authorities had modified the original picture of the royal...

    • CHAPTER 2 National Women’s Machinery: Coaching Lives in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs
      (pp. 62-84)

      Four years after my first journey, in winter 2007, I landed in Kabul for the second time. Renovations had somewhat improved the appearance of the small airport trapped between snowy mountaintops. Customs officers in uniforms were equipped with computers, the moving walkways were running, and passengers were directed toward waiting lines. A semblance of organization prevailed. But what surprised me the most was to discover that even though the city’s infrastructure still remained in disarray, billboards and commercials had anarchically invaded the streets of Kabul. “Roshan, Nazdik shodan!” (Roshan, close to you!), a new mobile phone company advertised. “Urdu y...

    • CHAPTER 3 Public and Private Faces of Gender (In)Justice
      (pp. 85-108)

      In thirty-five years, Afghanistan has known a series of regime changes: a constitutional monarchy (under Zahir Shah), a republic (under Daud and the PDPA), an Islamic emirate (under the Taliban), and finally an Islamic republic (under President Karzai). Each of these regimes has defended contrasting—and contested—interpretations of sharia law and granted it a different position within the legal apparatus, especially in areas concerned with family law. Family law reforms have constituted—and still constitute—one of the most hotly contentious sites of reform in Afghanistan. This is because, as Nancy Tapper (1984, 296) phrases it, “In Afghanistan …...


    • CHAPTER 4 Moral Panics, Indian Soaps, and Cosmetics: Writing the Nation on Women’s Bodies
      (pp. 111-146)

      In March 2007, an article entitled “Zanan az democracy soy istefada mikunand” (“Women Misuse Democracy”) was published inArman-e-Milli, a national weekly newspaper.¹ The article reported that the director of the Department of Women’s Affairs of Balkh Province had complained about “the semi-naked [sic] and skimpy clothes worn by women at wedding parties and other ceremonies in the province.” In the interview she gave to the newspaper, Feriba Majid expressed her concern about what she thought was a misunderstanding of women’s rights and democracy. She commented that “we know that everyone interprets democracy in his own way, but some women...

    • CHAPTER 5 Strategic Decoration: Dissimulation, Performance, and Agency in an Islamic Public Space
      (pp. 147-176)

      The bus was making its way through a dust storm. The dust was blinding us, entering our noses and throats, making us cough like asthmatic patients, reaching under the layers of our clothing. Women veiled under theirchadariwho were seated in the front of the bus were covering their babies under their long blue enveloping robes in an attempt to protect them from the polluted air. “Chadariare sometimes practical,” commented Fawzia, who had invited me on that day to her parents’ home in Dasht-e Bashri, a poor and desolate suburb located to the southwest of Kabul.

      Seeing Massoma...

    • CHAPTER 6 Poetic Jihad: Narratives of Martyrdom, Suicide, and Suffering Among Afghan Women
      (pp. 177-202)

      In November 2007 Fatana Gailani, founder of the Afghanistan Women Council and wife of Pir Sayed Gailani, a prominent political and religious figure, organized a conference for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Jalalabad, her native city. Jalalabad is located in Nangahar, a province bordering Pakistan predominantly populated by Pashtuns, which has faced a constant rise of attacks against governmental institutions and NATO troops since the fall of the Taliban regime. Having interviewed her a few days before in her office in Kabul, Gailani had invited me to accompany her on her trip in order...

  7. CONCLUSION: The Carnival Continues
    (pp. 203-210)

    I last visited Afghanistan in 2007. As I write, I am in London and I unexpectedly got back in touch with Khadija, the Hazara singer whose story I recount in Chapter 6. Through a common friend called Misha, who studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies and spent some time studying Hazaragi music in Afghanistan a while back, I learned that Khadija was now in London. Misha gave me her phone number and we reunited for a dinner at my house. Khadija has not changed, even though she may have lost some of the roundness of her cheeks....

    (pp. 211-218)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 219-226)
    (pp. 227-240)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 241-244)
    (pp. 245-248)