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Courageous Afghan teenagers help start an underground book club in defiance of Taliban.

Jonny Diamond

May 9, 2022, 10:34am

It’s been nine months since the Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan, filling a vacuum left by the hastily departing American occupying forces—things have not gone well. Among other draconian measures, the Taliban government has moved aggressively to limit educational opportunities for girls and women, shuttering numerous high schools in a move that forecloses on the future of millions.

In response, a group of high school-aged students, along with older civic activists, have started an “underground” book club that meets on Saturdays somewhere in west Kabul. According to this feature in Al Jazeera, one of the first books the club read was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s autobiography Living to Tell the Tale, chosen in part because it illustrates how one can be successful even with limited education (Garcia Marquez dropped out of college).

Says cofounder Tareq Qassemi of the need for a space for young women to read and discuss literature freely: “These girls are the brightest of our generation; they need to be polished. We light the path for them, and they find their way.”

The parallels between the theocratic conservatism of the Taliban and the rising power of the Christian Right in America are clear and chilling: in only the last few months, high schoolers in Pennsylvania and North Carolina have organized in resistance to book bans imposed by the religious few on the secular many.

Though the courage of these teenagers is deeply admirable, in America and Afghanistan alike, I only wish they didn’t have to fight for the basic right to read.

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