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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview With Jan Goodwin

Aired October 28, 2001 - 08:06   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well you've seen the images out of Afghanistan. The women who are forced by Taliban law to cover themselves from head to toe. Well, our guest has seen life inside Afghanistan from the woman's point of view.

Jan Goodwin is a journalist and author of the book "Price of Honor." Good morning, Jan.

JAN GOODWIN, AUTHOR, "PRICE OF HONOR": Good morning.

PHILLIPS: Well you were the first female into Afghanistan in 1984. You returned a number for times later. Even received a threat from the Kremlin that all foreign journalists would be killed at a time that you were going back into this country. Why did you continue to cover this story?

GOODWIN: Basically, because I don't think it should be that easy to devastate a population. And the Soviets were trying to put a blanket of silence around the country, which is something, of course, that the Taliban has tried to do more recently.

And if we don't go in and report on this, then the folks who are tyrannizing the population, committing all sorts of crimes against humanity, will never be brought to -- will never be questioned about it.

PHILLIPS: How is the Islamic extremism affecting the lives of women? You've seen it firsthand.

GOODWIN: It's pretty awful. I mean, the women I interviewed said that, We are being buried alive; we are the living dead. I mean, imagine yourself losing every personal power. You may not go to school, of course. You may not be educated. You may not go out without a man.

But they even dictate that you cannot pluck your eyebrows. You cannot cut your hair short. I mean, every personal power has been taken away from women.

PHILLIPS: You know what I think is interesting? I think there's a misconception that this oppression -- the Taliban's oppression of women -- has to do with religion. But actually it has nothing to do with religion, correct? GOODWIN: Absolutely not. I mean, this is -- most of what they have done has absolutely nothing to do with Islam at all. It has to do with consolidating and gaining power.

And this is something that when I was last in Kabul a couple of years ago, I was interviewing the then-deputy foreign minister. And he said to me -- he admitted as much, he said, Basically, these repressions of women are necessary until the country learns to obey us, until we control the country. I mean, he said exactly this.

So what they have done is to hijack one of the world's major religions. It is the population -- it is the religion of one fifth of the world's population -- and perverted it for political means.

PHILLIPS: Now it was the Afghan women that helped write the country's constitution back in '64. Also, women played a lot of very important political roles. Let's talk a little bit about the history of women. It's not -- it hasn't always been this way.

GOODWIN: It absolutely has not. I mean, people tend to think that they have always been utterly oppressed and that they've always been required to dress this way. And in heavens (ph), in the '60s and '70s women in Kabul could and did wear miniskirts. But they were also -- they served in parliament, as you mentioned. They helped write the country's constitution. And they were diplomats. They served in the Cabinet. They were judges. They were lawyers, architects, engineers, physicians. Fifty percent of the country's doctors were women.

PHILLIPS: Weren't they even generals in the army?

GOODWIN: They were, indeed, long before the Soviets came in with a much-touted campaign of liberating women.

PHILLIPS: So -- OK, and I think about this. OK, they were generals in the army. So you would think these women had this warrior instinct. Is there any way that they can overthrow this oppression? Do you see a chance that, at this moment right now, that they have any type of -- well, more power than maybe people think they have?

GOODWIN: Well, certainly, those who are outside of Afghanistan right now are, in fact, trying to organize so that they make sure that they are at the peace table in any postwar negotiations, so that they are involved in the reconstruction of their country.

But if you want to overthrow this regime, you have to remember it's very similar to Saddam Hussein. If you stand up against this regime, it's not only you that's going to be killed, it's your entire extended family. And this is very hard to do.

You also have to remember that this is not a regime they voted into power. This is one that took force at the point of a gun.

So if you stand up and say, OK, I'm challenging the Taliban, chances are you're going to get your head blown off; and this has happened quite frequently.

PHILLIPS: OK, let's talk postwar Afghanistan government. Do you see any women being integrated there?

GOODWIN: Well, I'm a little bit concerned right now, because in the last week the exiled Afghan king has talked about, we must make this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the grand assembly, which will then go on to choose the government; we must make it broad-based.

Colin Powell, our own Secretary of State; General Musharraf, the head of Pakistan, also said that the Taliban will be invited into this group. However, women have not been mentioned. What really worried me was yesterday, in an interview with the "New York Times," a senior adviser to President Bush on Afghanistan came out and said, We must mute the oppression of women; this is not our priority right now; this is not something we can worry about right now. We don't want to offend our Muslim allies. Things of this nature.

Well, the Taliban had exactly the same message, which was, It is not our priority right now. We have a war to fight. So women's rights don't matter. And to say that we -- this cultural relativism to say that we must not impose our sort of values on another culture is absolute nonsense. Women already had these rights in this country.

And, in fact, we once said the same thing about female genital mutilation: They can go ahead and do it because culturally it's acceptable. We had judges who said that in our courts when people were applying for political asylum because of this, and we sent them back.

I mean, if this oppression was against men, if men were being locked up, if men were not allowed to leave their homes, not allowed to work to support their families, I wonder whether we would be hearing senior Bush administrators -- senior Bush advisers saying such things.

PHILLIPS: Jan Goodwin, journalist and author. You don't want to miss this book, "Price of Honor."

I have to tell you, as a female, I respect what you have done within your work. Thanks so much for being with us.

GOODWIN: Thank you so much.

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