Turning on the Taliban: Radical fiction from the Sewing Circles of Herat
A lecture by Nushin Arbabzadah, UCLA, part of the Afghanistan in Ink conference.
Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Homira Qaderi is the only survivor of Herat’s literary association which was secretly set up during the Taliban rule in the 1990s. Known by the cover name of the Golden Needle’s Ladies’ Sewing Circle, the literary association inspired the title of Christina Lamb’s book, the Sewing Circles of Herat. The association’s three other women committed suicide, leaving behind Qaderi who moved to Iran and recorded the fictionalized form of the circle’s stories in Gūshwārah-ye Anis (‘the Earring of Anis’). A collection of eleven short stories published in Tehran in 2005, the Earring of Anis introduces a radically new feminist voice to contemporary Afghan literature.
Written in response to the Taliban rule in the 1990s in the city of Herat, the book is part of a long tradition of dissident literature in Afghanistan but Qaderi’s protagonists introduce the new element of female individualism and defiance of religion and tradition. As such, Qaderi’s work subtly combines political opposition to the Taliban state with criticism of traditional oppression of women. Hence, the Earring of Anis is illustrative of the kind of literature that thrives under extreme conditions of censorship when reading itself becomes an act of political subversion. Qaderi’s criticism of the Taliban is part of a wider critique of religion and tradition in Afghan society and for every rebellious female protagonist in her stories there’s the subservient, conformist and silent counterpart who enables oppression through her conformist attitude. Written in the isolation of Iranian exile, like most contemporary Afghan writers Qaderi responds to Afghanistan’s recent political history, including the Soviet invasion, the rule of the Taliban and finally, life in exile. But her stories stand out for the sheer radicalism of their protagonists who include an unwilling mother, a murdering wife as well as an unfaithful wife.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Qaderi’s work is that her unconventional protagonists were imagined in a time and place of extreme misogynism, suggesting that radical states triggers radical imagination.