February 2 marked 500 days since the Taliban banned Afghan girls from secondary education. That day the Taliban also arrested university professor Ismail Mashal, one of the few men to bravely protest the Taliban’s recent ban on women’s university education.
In solidarity with his students and thousands of women and girls prevented from exercising their basic rights, Mashal, 37, tore up his academic degrees on live TV. Mashal said, “If my sister and my mother can’t study, then I do not accept this education.” He then shut down the private university he managed, saying, “Education is either offered to all, or no one.” A few weeks later, he built a wooden cart and traveled around Kabul, handing out free books to the public. It was apparently this peaceful act for which he got detained last Thursday.
Mashal’s sense of justice, solidarity, and dissent provided a ray of hope in a country where peaceful protests are often solely championed by women. Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, public protests involving Afghan men standing up for women’s rights have been rare. It’s a vital step toward an understanding that all oppression is interconnected and the Taliban’s misogyny is ultimately harmful for all.
Media reports indicate that the Taliban have accused Mashal of “provocative actions” and creating “chaos” that harms their rule. For them, any form of peaceful protest would seem to be a “provocative action.”
Since taking power, the Taliban have relentlessly silenced female protesters who peacefully chanted “bread, work, freedom” for all citizens of Afghanistan. Mashal’s arrest shows that the Taliban’s unwillingness to tolerate dissent is not limited to women, but extends to anyone who dreams of a rights-respecting and more equal Afghanistan.
The Taliban should immediately release Ismail Mashal, drop any charges against him, and end their campaign of repression against women and girls’ participation in public life.