Saturday, May 29, 2010

Afghan girls stay in school despite attacks

If there is any hope of Islam living peacefully with Western civilization, this is the start.


Afghan girls stay in school despite attacks

Females determined

By Paul Wiseman, McClatchy-Tribune  May 29, 2010

The ninth-graders at the Khadija tul Kubra girls school were sitting outside enjoying a spring day, waiting for their afternoon history class to start, when they smelled something strong and as sweet as perfume.

Some collapsed. Some clutched their stomachs and vomited. Some wandered around in a daze. A student ran to get Headmistress Huran Nesa. But as Nesa stepped into the schoolyard, she lost consciousness.

"When I opened my eyes, I was in the hospital," she says.

Law enforcement officials such as provincial police chief Brig. Gen. Mohammad Razaq Yaqubi say the school was the target of a poison attack. He and others suspect it was done by adherents of the Taliban, the former Muslim clerical rulers of Afghanistan whose version of Islam forbids girls from getting an education.

Last month, a poison spray was loosed on two other girls schools in the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz. Dozens of girls were sickened and needed hospitalization, says Homayun Khamoush, director of Kunduz Regional Hospital.

If the aim was to stop the girls from going to school, then it failed.

"My father was scared," Marwa Mahmoodi, 13, says.

Marwa said her dad wanted her to drop out for awhile after the attack, but, "I was not scared. I told my father, 'If I lose the last drop of blood in my body, I am going to finish school.' "

Marwa's determination appears to be a trend. Prior to the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, virtually no girls were enrolled in school. Today, a record 2.5 million girls are enrolled in grades first through 12th, according to UNICEF, the United Nations' children's fund. That's up from 839,000 in 2002.

"The demand for girls education has increased and is increasing," says Mohammad Sediq Patman, deputy minister for academic affairs at the Education Ministry in Kabul. "We receive letters from very remote districts. They used to consider girls schools a blasphemy. But today they ask for girls education."

Some credit the increase in enrolment not just with the removal of the Taliban but a change in attitudes among Afghans.