Last month, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl and her classmates were shot by the Taliban. The reason? They were attending school and advocating for all girls to get an education. In October, a 7-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl were decapitated. Why? Because family members worked for the local police. These are instances that happen regularly in Taliban-controlled regions. But to understand how awful the Taliban’s actions can be, English Teacher Peggy Elhadj said that that it is important to duplicate their rules, in a controlled environment.
In the middle of the hallway, Mac Anabtawi (’14) stifled a laugh. “Excuse me, did you just laugh?” his Taliban escort, Phoebe Mitchell (’13) asked. Dean of Students Joe Chodl, the chief Taliban leader for the day, posed the same question: “Why did you laugh, Mac?”
Mac put his head down. He, and the Grade 11 and 12 students of Elhadj’s English class, were experiencing Reverse Taliban Day.
“The men are not allowed to look a female in the eye, must always be accompanied, and not laugh,” Hayden Nadler (’14) said. “We are starting to feel the empathy and the understanding for the people in this situation.”
After her class read A Thousand Splendid Suns, a 2007 novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini that shows life with the Taliban in control, Elhadj had students participate in Taliban Day, where girls had to be escorted by boys. She then worked with Chodl to create a Reverse Taliban Day, so that the boys could also feel what the girls feel.
During Taliban Day, the women were required to follow the same rules that women living under the Taliban follow, at least the ones that could be realistically performed. These included not being able to look someone in the eye or laugh, but also to always be accompanied and always wear a headscarf.
These, however, are the minor restrictions that the Taliban have established. The obligations that women must follow are much more drastic, and include not being able to wear nail polish or refuse a marriage proposal. School is off limits. The punishments for disobeying these rules vary from one’s fingers being chopped off to decapitation. The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist political group with a strong presence in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.
“The depravity of what the Taliban do is off the scale, but by participating in just the minor rules of what the Taliban follow, we get a sense of just how awful it would be if we had to live by the actual regulations,” Nadler said.
Participating in the two days allowed students to get a taste of life under the Taliban, teaching valuable life lessons. “Whenever I see a women with a headscarf, I’ll know she is a real woman, with feelings, thoughts and emotions,” Kayla Hanigan (’13) said.