I’m too old now to believe in heroes, but I still very much believe in heroic acts. And what Ismail Mashal has been doing in Afghanistan is worthy of all our praise.
The university professor is one of the few men to bravely protest, again and again, the Taliban’s 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 in December.
“If my sister and my mother can’t study,” he declared, “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.
And it was apparently this act that finally led to his detention on Thursday. His aide said Mashal was “mercilessly beaten” as he was being taken away.
The Taliban have reportedly accused Mashal of “provocative actions” – which, of course, for the thugocracy, includes exercising your right to peaceful protest.
Thursday, by the way, also marked 500 days since the Taliban banned Afghan girls from secondary education.
Sahar Fetrat, my colleague and assistant researcher in HRW’s Women’s Rights Division, explains why Mashal’s actions are so important.
“Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, public protests involving Afghan men standing up for women’s rights have been rare.”
This newsletter has several times highlighted the “unstoppable courage” of protesting Afghan women, despite the Taliban’s relentless attempts to silence them.
But Mashal’s arrest, Sahar says, “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.”
Mashal’s self-sacrificing actions and the Taliban’s response have demonstrated how oppression is widespread and interconnected: women are not alone.
Brave. Admirable. And yes, let’s say it: heroic.