(Global Christian Relief) — Until recently, Afghan professor Ismail Mashal could be found wheeling books around Kabul and passing them out for free in response to the Taliban’s ban on higher education for women and girls. An outspoken critic of the Islamist government, Professor Mashal dramatically quit his job on live TV and tore his diploma to protest the ban on women attending university. But then, on Feb. 2, Mashal was violently beaten by members of the Taliban, arrested and hauled off to an unknown location.
Sadly, this incident of repression is just one of many that regularly take place in Afghanistan. In the 18 months since the U.S. withdrawal, the situation in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime continues to disintegrate, delving ever further into the completely brutal and absurd. The United States — and democracy’s allies around the world — clearly should be doing more to help Afghanistan and its people.
Under the Taliban’s rule, women and girls have been erased from society. They are not allowed to have jobs or attend school, are forced to wear hijabs and must be accompanied by a male relative in public. They can no longer visit parks in Kabul or go to the gym. Travel has been restricted. Laws protecting women have been abolished and public floggings have returned.
Even female mannequins in Afghanistan aren’t safe anymore. They face the same harsh choice as the country’s flesh-and-blood women: cover up or be beheaded. Based on their strict interpretation of Islamic law, forbidding images of the human form, the Taliban announced store owners must remove the heads of their mannequins or get rid of them. As a compromise to comply and keep their stores open, owners have covered the heads with hoods, plastic bags and even aluminum foil.
Along with women and common sense, Christianity and religious freedom have also been erased. While the Taliban claim no Christians even live in Afghanistan, the actual number of Christians currently living in the country probably numbers in the low thousands. By some measures, the Taliban’s war on Christianity has cooled slightly, but Afghan Christians remain in grave danger. Many are forced even deeper underground, making them less visible. Fewer Christians living in the country also means fewer reported incidents.
Those Christians face exclusion and violence from within their own families, and there have been accounts of members of the extremist group going door to door, seeking out those who practice faiths other than Islam. Since leaving Islam is considered punishable by death under the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law, the decision to follow Jesus can have devastating consequences.
So where has the U.S. been in all this? In his recent State of the Union address, Joe Biden made no mention of Afghanistan or the thousands of refugees whose status remains in limbo at bases overseas. This prompted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to tweet: “President Biden has apparently forgotten about Afghanistan, but I can assure you the world has not.”
Throughout this crisis, thousands of Afghan refugees have been displaced to bordering countries and face an uncertain future. For the 76,000 refugees — including Christians — who were evacuated during the U.S. withdrawal, Congress has failed to create a path to legal permanent residency. Our government officials should immediately correct this and resettle these refugees and religious minorities driven out by the Taliban. Christians, especially converts from Islam, are in just as great a danger of being tortured, killed or imprisoned as those who worked with the U.S.
The State Department also needs to designate Afghanistan a Country of Particular Concern for the ongoing systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom. The Taliban have been designated as an entity of particular concern, but not the entire country. This lack of designation is unnecessarily holding the U.S. back from recognizing the full scope of the problem and imposing targeted sanctions on the bad actors persecuting Christians and other religious minorities.
We cannot forget the resilient people of Afghanistan who are suffering under this terrible, oppressive regime. Afghan Christians continue to find ways to circumvent the Taliban to live out their faith. The world should find a way for all Afghans to live in freedom — now.
Dr. David Curry is president and CEO of Global Christian Relief, America’s leading watchdog organization focused on the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide. In addition to equipping the Western church to advocate and pray for the persecuted, GCR works in the most restrictive countries to protect and encourage Christians threatened by faith-based discrimination and violence.