For Farkhunda

The lynching of a young woman named Farkhunda in bustling downtown Kabul on March 19th just before nowruz (the Persian/Afghan New Year), has wracked Afghanistan and the Afghan community worldwide. Social media has been saturated with the bloodied pictures and videos of her, and thousands of demonstrators seeking justice for her killing and protesting lawlessness have turned out in the streets of Kabul and other major cities since her death, including both a candlelight vigil and a rally in Washington DC coinciding with President Ghani’s visit to the U.S.

The false accusation that Farkhunda had burnt a Qur’an led to her brutal beating and killing by a huge crowd, without intervention from the police. Farkhunda was in fact a religious devotee and was teaching other women about the Qur’an, including warding them off from superstitious practices like the taweez or talismans that can often be a form of exploitation.

Something unusual happened at Farkhunda’s funeral: women carried her coffin, also a form of protest against the mob of men who killed her. Many have written poems and songs in support of Farkhunda, honoring her memory and calling for justice for her murderers. Here is one more response:


The Charlatan’s Game

Women wait in line to charm their problems
like snakes.
The long-beard lures them with ritual services,
offers to alter their fates:

a taweez to cure the sick or childless
taweez to boost your business
a taweez to locate that lost necklace
taweez for a visa to the West
a taweez to marry the one you’re attracted to
taweez to get him to stop beating you.

But God cannot be cajoled or tricked
with tiny box-trinkets stuffed with scribbled verses
worn around the neck,
paper runes ingested with water.
God is not reading them.

God is aghast.

She who loved the holy book,
who warned women
not to buy the con-man’s charms,
not to weigh his pockets down with trust,
she who wore her scarf pulled low across her brow,
she who was sane enough to endanger
the charlatan’s game, lucrative
on the eve of the new year:

she is the one
accused of burning sacred pages,
whose knowledge threatened their supremacy

the one they seized
the one they beat with sticks
whose wisdom their ignorance sought to silence

the one whose bloody face they unveiled,
they videotaped
whose blood, whose power to bring forth life terrified them

she is the one they trampled
the one they crushed under wheels of a truck
whose image will haunt them in their sleep

she is the one whose cries have spilled from mouths
in streets of Kabul, Herat, Washington, Toronto,

she is the one whose battered body they burned,
they threw into the riverbed of refuse and human waste.

Her name was Farkhunda,
but this spring equinox was not Farkhunda—not auspicious, not blessed,
as birds scattered from the sidewalk outside a downtown Kabul mosque
escaping the rabid mob as Farkhunda could not.

All we can do now is paint our faces red
carry her coffin over and over,
over our heads through the streets of our dreams
and scream our skin burning
with the fire they set to her,
cry for consequences that will speak
the language of no,
the language of never again
the language of this is not us,
this is not human
this will not stand
let this end
let this end.

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