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An American Bride in Kabul

by Jonathan Leaf
Contributor
Sunday Feb 16, 2014
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If you wonder why U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, there’s a book you should read that isn’t about 9/11. Written by the well-known and much admired feminist author Phyllis Chesler, it’s called "An American Bride In Kabul: A Memoir".

In spite of its title, the book is only partially a memoir. Much of it is historiography and political and social analysis. Yet its subject is far from dry. Indeed, the story Chesler tells is harrowing.

That tale takes place fifty years ago, when she left Bard College and eloped with a handsome college classmate from Kabul. When her groom brings her back to his homeland, her nightmare begins, for although Abdul represents the forces of progress in Afghanistan, he is far from attuned to his new wife’s emotions or rights.

Soon she is little more than a slave in his wealthy family’s mansion. Her passport is taken from her, and her mother-in-law starves her. Her husband beats her. She suffers from miscarriages and repeated bouts of dysentery, and she becomes malnourished, dropping to 95 pounds. She is, in fact, soon near death, but no one seems to care. Her husband’s main concern is that she is damaging his career prospects by her behavior: Once wearing a bathing suit while alone with another woman and asking him to meet him for a lunch at a popular Kabul restaurant.

Yet with the ironic and unexpected assistance of her miserly, polygamous father-in-law, she manages to escape. Determined to further his son’s professional track, he is glad to be rid of his Jewish daughter-in-law.

Her passport is taken from her, and her mother-in-law starves her. Her husband beats her. She suffers from miscarriages and repeated bouts of dysentery, and she becomes malnourished, dropping to 95 pounds.

Chesler uses this personal story as a frame through which to examine the culture of radical Islam. One particular subject of likely interest to readers is the Islamist attitude towards homosexuality.

As she notes, in many Middle Eastern countries religiously prescribed execution is a normative punishment for homosexual acts, yet relations and even rape of young boys is a routine part of everyday life.

Chesler shows how this is the inevitable consequence of the ritual seclusion of women; purdah creates a world in which being gay as a man is a mortal risk and a source of profound shame but also quotidian.

Best known for her 1972 book "Women and Madness," which successfully exposed the once-widespread practice of male therapists sleeping with their female patients, Chesler places her focus principally upon the ways in which women are subjugated and immiserated. But she also shows the hate within radical Islam for gay men and lesbians, Jews, Christians and many others.

Although Chesler is not sanguine about the prospects for change, she is a true must-read for any who might wish to ignore the violence and fanaticism that lies inside a world determined to contest with ours.

by Phyllis Chesler

Jonathan Leaf is a playwright and journalist living in New York.

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