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Woman minister upsets closet Taliban
19 June 2002
Powerful Islamic fundamentalists have launched a fierce attack on Sima Samar, the Minister of Women's Affairs, accusing her of blasphemy and demanding that she be given "appropriate punishment" which, under sharia law, means death.
The onslaught on Ms Samar, one of only two women ministers in President Hamid Karzai's interim government, is the high point in a surge of confidence by fundamentalists who have been allowed to dominate the grand tribal council, the loya jirga, in Kabul in the past few days.
The attack appeared in a front-page headline and half-page letter from "a reader in Kabul" to the editor of Mujahed (Soldier of God), a weekly newspaper. The letter, which was entitled "Afghanistan's Salman Rushdie?", claims Ms Samar told a Canadian newspaper in April: "I don't believe in sharia." Although sharia's relevance to the complexities of modern life is debated, every Muslim is expected to accept its principles.
"In Afghanistan holy sharia still rules," the letter adds. "Our people know what punishment awaits anyone who insults Islam and the Prophet... We ask the judicial authorities to investigate Sima Samar for her insult and prepare the appropriate punishment."
Ms Samar reacted to the attack with outward calm on Monday. "They are threatening me. I'm here and it's fine, so what?" she said.
Months after a US-led military offensive toppled the Taliban, radical Islam lives on in Afghanistan. Kabul University is another example. New, US-educated administrators are trying to rebuild the nation's main university but the Taliban's extremist indoctrination and generations of conservative Islamic culture have left their mark.
"There are a lot of closet Taliban," said Zahir Wahab, an adviser to Afghanistan's Minister of Higher Education.
"It is by no means over, the struggle."
Jonathan Steele, Kabul