An Open Letter to Charities in Afghanistan in "Defence" of Our Women (Post #1)

#1
8 March 2021
by Shamayel Shalizi
An open letter to charities working in Afghanistan in “defence” of our women:

 

(This was written in 2017, and posted on my personal Instagram, before it was reported and taken down. I’ve made a few edits but the sentiments remain the same.)

 

 

Everyone has been massively supportive about Blingistan, it’s made me blush, smile, laugh, and has filled my heart with such warmth- I wake up everyday loving what I do (and pray for a day when I can focus only on Blingistan, and my art, instead of also having to work a full-time job). I’ve received 3 critiques that were incredibly negative, to the point of verbal abuse, all surrounding the AK-47 Always Strapped Ring.

The last was from one of the charities I was working with. This is what hurt the most. I do not expect the entire world to understand what I am doing, or what all of my art means- including Blingistan items. I do not expect the entire world to like what I am doing. That's not what this is about, it's about the problematic nature of the critiques. I reached out to this charity to let them know I'd be sending them donations from sales made on Blingistan. They were thrilled and accepted, sent me all the banners/symbols and press kits to be able to highlight this partnership...until I sent the first donation...then I received a strongly worded e-mail. It was from one of the Afghan women on the board (up until then I had been only in communication with the many white women who worked at this charity).

This Afghan woman claimed I was “glorifying sex and violence” and could not promote me anymore nor have me promote our partnership on my site. They would gladly accept future donations of course, just no mentions of it. Sorry, but a team compromised of middle class white woman and elite Afghan women sitting behind a comfortable desk in a beautiful office building somewhere in the “first world” does not get to tell me if I am or am not glorifying sex and violence when I am making jewellery centred around my identity and my homeland.

So I am going to set the record straight. The glorification of sex: I do not even have the patience to address- I’m glorifying sex because I want women to feel badass, be badass, and wear jewellery that reflects that? Because I promote body positivity? Because my models are not all professional models? Because a lot of people who wear Blingistan- men and women alike, myself included, feel at home in our bodies- or strive to? Because we feel comfortable adorning that body? You, as women in the NGO sector, specifically in Afghanistan, where an entire war has been based on the "liberation" of our women- should you not be excited and thrilled and supportive of ALL this energy?

Not saying that we are all “liberated”- that is a very loaded term and concept, and within the confines of a global patriarchy, very hard to actually be…but you must be able to see the cognitive dissonance of your charity's actions vs. your charity's words. If you are not for the liberation OR the ability to wear jewellery for Afghan women then what the fuck is your NGO doing? Do you want to make sure our Afghan women, myself included, stay “un-liberated” in the Western White Feminist perspective that you practice? Could it be because your bills are paid by our suffering? Are you one of those organisations that has sprung up post 2001 who loves the attention your charity gets in direct relation to the constant news cycles and fetishisation of our Afghan women? What is it? Because I take all of this as not only insulting but ignorant, close-minded, disingenuous, and downright violent.

 

The glorification of violence? Violence is a precondition to this very conversation, without it we'd be dust. How can we talk about the past 50 years of Afghanistan without confronting the very violent nature of those 50 years? Who created the Kalashnikov? Don't tone police something that has affected the entire world: war, colonisation, imperialism, and systemic oppression. The glorification of violence- something that actually, YOU are doing, by silencing my jewellery, through your space in the world of war institutions + charity.

How do you get to tell me how to be Afghan? Who are you? What lived experience do you have as me? I am actually one of the oppressed, I am an Afghan woman, who has lived in war torn Afghanistan as well as the war profiting Western world. I know you're far away in a Western city, but do you remember your wataan, oh Afghan woman who is writing me? As one of the oppressed, so what if I want to bear arms? What's the problem?

Do you have a problem with Malalai of Maiwand or Nazo Ana, the hero of the second Anglo-Afghan war, and the grandmother of modern day Afghanistan, respectively, who both bore arms? And rightfully so? What about the hundreds of Afghan women who stood up against the Soviets? What about the thousands of Afghan women before that? Should we stand idly by? Should we rewrite history so that we can fit the narrative your charity uses to pay its bill? Don't be so obtuse. And by the way, this most certainly includes you, Afghan woman at this charity. Where is your ghairat? You're okay with the men who were martyred fighting for their nang ow namoos*, their pride and honour, you, and their wataan*, but Allah forbid recognising your sisters, our grandmothers, who did the same?! How many of your own people, men and women, picked up an AK-47 in hopes to give you a good life in your azaad wataan*?

 

I choose to wear the AK-47 ring from @blingistan everyday for a reason, just like other women (and men! unisex sizing as always!) chose to wear it everyday for their own reasons. The AK 47, the Kalashnikov, the Kalash, is the reason why I am sitting here typing up this post. It is the reason why, indirectly, I started Blingistan. It is the reason why I can speak English and Russian (both badly). The Kalashnikov had been in and out of Afghanistan before, but when it entered on the backs of the Soviet army, when they invaded Afghanistan, it took on a truly different meaning. The AK was used when the Soviets fought Afghans, when the Afghans fought the Soviets, when civil war broke out, when Afghans fled the country, when Afghans were martyred, when the Soviets withdrew and left Afghans with Kalashnikov’s on their backs to create all around chaos through internal faction fighting, when more Afghans fled, more Afghans were martyred, more Afghans were left wounded, displaced, and traumatised.

If those first AK’s brought to ignite/enforce a war that set off a domino effect on the country where my blood is from, where my mom ran to school as a teenager, becoming more and more beautiful by the day, where my father smoked his first cigarette in an all too familiar Kabul summer night, where my great-great-great x times whatever grandmother is buried; and I want to fucking remember that. I want to wear it on my hand in remembrance. In solidarity. For all the martyrs killed with this machine, for all the money illegally and legally made from this machine, for all the destruction it caused, but I also wear it because, everyday when I look down at this machine, I am reminded by the fact that had this AK never come into Afghanistan, I would be living a much, much different life. We all would. My life, my reality would be so different. As would yours. I would be someone whose life had not been completely dictated by wars fought with Kalashnikov's. It is mourning what could have been. 

We must not forget that our brothers and sisters all over the world, fighting against colonisation, imperialism and capitalism, fighting for freedom, independence, and for the right to live happily and safely as themselves, have all used the AK-47. From Leila Khaled to the Black Panthers, we stand with all our fellow freedom fighters. I may not be carrying an AK right now, like my ancestors did but don't fret- my hands are being used for the revolution, regardless. My AK-47 clad hands. The AK-47 ring is not an argument, it is not a debate, it is an opinion and a choice, it's empowerment and solidarity, it's respect and pain, beauty and war, it is a conversation starter, and this is why I chose to wear mine. We Afghans are more than our violence but without recognising the depth that violence has plunged into our hearts- the deep pain and the deep beauty we can feel because of these Kalashnikovs and all that they represent, we will be lost.

ghairat: honour

nang ow namoos: pride and honour 

wataan: homeland

azaad: free