Is there anything to write about this week but Afghanistan? The full horror of the all too familiar pattern of killing, torture, intimidation, blackmailing, robbery in Afghanistan is slowly emerging. Like everyone else, we have been shocked by the appalling pictures and stories of people desperate to leave the country before they fall into the hands of the Taliban.
We lack any authority to add to the vast amount of news and commentary about a highly complex international situation. But there is one aspect of it that we and everyone else who is interested in human rights can understand only too clearly. The Taliban are bullies. They use abusive power to force individuals or groups into submission.
But – and it may seem outrageous to make this comparison but.... the exploitation of women and men, girls and boys as means to ends which benefit the most powerful individuals or groups is not so alien to us in the West as we might like to think.
It would be naïve of us to believe that our own country in its chequered imperial past has not been guilty of bullying on a large scale. And there’s no doubt that the well-being of the Democratic party in next year’s mid-term elections is higher on President Biden’s political agenda than the well-being of women and girls in Afghanistan.
In the workplace, bullying is endemic. Subtle forms of bullying – threats of redundancy, promotion, perks, permission to work or not from home, are commonplace. Patterns of bullying have emerged in hierarchical organisations like the police and the army. The ‘Me Too’ movement has unearthed thousands of stories of sexual harassment linked to promises of promotion at most and ‘just a bit of fun’ in everyday parlance. The church has its own stories of clerics using their power to manipulate young people in their charge often to satisfy their own power hunger or lust. The Taliban are far from being the only ones who justify their abuses of power and human rights in the name of God.
Much, maybe most, bullying takes place in the home as women and children live in a climate of manipulation and emotional and physical threat. Abuses of power can occur in the name of ‘discipline’. Parents work hard at encouraging children to walk and talk and grow independent. But children think for themselves and ask questions about parental values. Perceived threats to the parental power of dominant and inadequate men(and women) result in intimidation, threats and abuse of partners and dependent children who, like the poorest people in Afghanistan, lack any means of escape.
All these forms of bullying, and many others, like physical or cyber bullying in schools, have complex roots and find various expressions. The significant common factor is abuse of power against those who fear reprisals if they fight back and have no means to escape.
Nobody is going to stop the Taliban’s abuse in the short term. It may seem like a puny response but... in our own worlds, we can all practise kindness and take time to work at cultivating those trusting relationships on which equality and power-sharing is based. We can imagine and experiment with new patterns of power-sharing. We can develop our communication-skills. We can learn to ‘let go’. We can listen to ‘the other’. We can stand up to bullies wherever we find them. We can recognise that change is vital if we are going to practise power-sharing in families, in churches and in the wider world. It's a tiny gesture of fight-back - and an expression of our own freedom.