Summary and book reviews of Veiled Courage by Cheryl Benard

Veiled Courage

Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance

By Cheryl Benard

Veiled Courage
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2002,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

In Afghanistan under Taliban rule, women were forbidden to work or go to school, they could not leave their homes without a male chaperone, and they could not be seen without a head-to-toe covering called the burqa. A woman's slightest infractions were met with brutal public beatings. That is why it is both appropriate and incredible that the sole effective civil resistance to Taliban rule was made by women. Veiled Courage reveals the remarkable bravery and spirit of the women of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), whose daring clandestine activities defied the forces of the Taliban and earned the world's fierce admiration.

The complete subordination of women was one of the first acts of the Taliban. But the women of RAWA refused to cower. They used the burqa to their advantage, secretly photographing Taliban beatings and executions, and posting the gruesome pictures on their multi-language website, rawa.org, which is read around the world. They organized to educate girls and women in underground schools and to run small businesses in the border towns of Pakistan that allowed widows to support their families.

If caught, any RAWA activist would have faced sure death. Yet they persisted.

With the overthrow of the Taliban now a reality, RAWA faces a new challenge: defeating the powers of Islamic fundamentalism of which the Taliban are only one face and helping build a society in which women are guaranteed full human rights.

Cheryl Benard, an American sociologist and an important advisor to RAWA, uses her inside access to write the first behind-the-scenes story of RAWA and its remarkably brave women. Veiled Courage will change the way people think of Afghanistan, casting its people and its future in a new, more hopeful light.

Chapter One: Men, Boys and Dust

Men, boys and dust. That was my initial impression when I first went to the Afghan border area in 1982, an expert in project design sent to assess the efficiency with which aid was being delivered to Afghan refugees by the international community. I had lived, traveled and studied in other countries, including Islamic ones, but even there, my contacts had been limited to people like me--modern, educated, urban people. This was not the group that populated the border area or lived in the refugee camps.

Reviewing the aid projects consisted of two activities. I toured the camps, visited the health clinics and distribution centers and surveyed the other services Western agencies were providing. I took part in the meetings where these agencies discussed how things were going and decided what to do next.

The camps were in desolate areas half an hour to an hour from the nearest Pakistani town. You took an unpaved road into what seemed like ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks, author of Years of Wonder and Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women
These are dispatches from a hidden war, memoirs of a struggle whose heroics rival, and deserve to be as celebrated, as those of the French resistance or the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Cheryl Benard's research among unimaginably courageous Afghan women is, by turns, horrifying, enlightening and inspiring.

Author Blurb Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban
For too long Afghan women have been depicted as merely the victims of war, repression and extremist ideologies. Now for the first time we hear the voices of those Afghan women who for years have silently stood up to oppression and resisted. Cheryl Benard has done a major service to Afghan women and women everywhere by letting us hear the caged birds sing. An enormously important book as the world sets out to help Afghanistan rebuild.

Kirkus Reviews

A timely insider's account of the bad fortunes of Afghan women under the Taliban regime-and its predecessors and likely its successors as well. Novelist and policy analyst Benard (Turning on the Girls, 2001, etc.), who is married to an Afghan dissident and has traveled widely in southwestern Asia.

Library Journal - Sandra Issacson

This work should serve as a call to arms for free women everywhere. Benard makes it clear that the suppression of women is rooted in Islamic fundamentalism and will not automatically end after the Taliban are removed.

Publishers Weekly

Addressing the physical, intellectual and emotional oppression of Afghan women, this is a powerful though clearly hastily assembled book.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

This essential, important book will be sought by those curious about resistance in Afghanistan.

Reader Reviews
Islam Abor

Hunting book
This book has been written attacking Islam as always. Showing Islam as an aggressive, racial, extreme religion is such a cheap way for this author to ensure her book is sold. Yes, I am Muslim and I know exactly what I am talking about. After reading...   Read More

Kris Lindbeck

The stories in this book go right to your heart. The women whose stories the author tells are heroines who have risked their lives to bring education and health care to women under Taliban rule, and are gearing up for a new struggle against another ...   Read More

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