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05/28/2013

Balloons threaten Afghan culture and values: Taliban

Thisiskabul
Artist Yazmany Arboleda posted a photo on Instagram of Afghans being given balloons.

As peace initiatives go, it was never going to bring the 10-year Afghan war to an end but handing out 10,000 bright pink balloons on the streets of Kabul couldn’t hurt.

Residents of the Afghan capital, recovering from a shocking Taliban siege the day before, could do with forgetting about their troubles.

But New York artist Yazmany Arboleda who organized "We Believe in Balloons" still managed to earn the wrath of the Taliban. The insurgents’ official website denounced the handing out of balloons as a covert “war on our religious values.”

Qari Habib wrote on the Voice of Jihad website that the 100 volunteers were “without headscarves, with tight jeans and tops on and even with mini-skirts,” according to AFP. 

That last point about mini-skirts is highly improbable in a conservative city like Kabul.

“After distributing some balloons they wandered around Kabul aiming to break the culture of hijab,” he continued. 

For someone so concerned with outsiders changing Afghan culture that last word, ‘hijab’ is curious -- it’s an Arab word, not really used in Dari or the Taliban’s native Pashto.  Afghanistan has never had a ‘culture of hijab.’ Women tend to lightly toss a ‘chodar’ scarf over their hair, almost as an afterthought, like women in Iran, Pakistan or India. They don’t go for the more severe hijab seen on devout Arab women. 

But whether a culture is being broken is a moot point.

Arboleda told The Huffington Post that each balloon contained a message of peace from people around the world. 

"I see this project as a platform that transforms the single story of catastrophe that the world sees in Afghanistan into multiple narratives that highlight our shared humanity."

That is something that will certainly be lost on the literal-minded Taliban.

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour


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Balloons are wonderful. They are symbols or joy and happiness. Kuddos to those who thought about handing them out. Sometimes it's the simple things that really matter.

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