Karzai promotes crackdown on vice

| Mon Aug. 7, 2006 8:16 PM EDT

In Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan?), people are lining up to apply for jobs within a proposed department that would crack down on vice. Plans are for the department staff to monitor people for "correct" Islamic behavior.

Sound like the old Afghanistan? Blame outsiders. Religious officials say that foreign troops and visitors have introduced alcohol, prostitution and the like to the country, and now something must be done to get rid of them. President Karzai is one of the leaders of this movement against vice. He is motivated, according to the Washington Post, partly by pressure from religious groups, but also by a desire to upstage Islamic Taliban insurgents who continue to attack in the south.

The new department may actually be the old Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice. Under the Taliban, this branch of the government was brutal--whipping women whose veils slipped and arresting men whose beards were too short. The police have already destroyed thousands of bottles of alcohol and have detained a number of Chinese women suspected of being prostitutes, some of whom were deported. As things stand now, establishments such as restaurants may serve alcohol to foreigners, but not to Afghans.

"We would be as different from the Taliban as earth and sky," said Sulieman Hamid of the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, who would oversee the virtue and vice monitors. Government officials insist that a renewed crackdown on vice will not involve beating people or taking away their rights, but would be "educational" in nature.

The Afghan government recently sent 1,200 South Korean Christians back to South Korea because of fear that their presence would offend Muslims. In March, an Afghan man who converted to Christianity underwent a threat of capital punishment, but instead, he was allowed to flee to Italy. In May, angry mobs vandalized several Chinese brothels.

According to Human Rights Watch, many people in Afghanistan--especially women--are very concerned about the reincarnation of the Department for the Protection of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice. Sam Zia Zarifi of HRW says:

Unfortunately the international [community] has not helped Karzai economically or from a security standpoint as much as it should have. Therefore Karzai is under pressure from groups who we think want to abuse Afghanistan's current situation and in the name of religion put critics and women and girls under political pressure.
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