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Book Review / The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future

This book is worth reading for the jigsaw puzzle that is Middle Eastern politics and the kinds of people who are involved or affected by it. It is difficult to understand exactly what life is like in that part of the world and so drawing on direct experience is always welcome.

However, I do wonder how much the co-writer, a BBC journalist, had in 'livening up' the story and introducing such obvious propaganda. I enjoyed reading about Koofi's childhood, and how certain sections of Afghan society lived, about the different areas of geographical Afghanistan - before being subjected to the Taliban - and also the fact she seems to feel so much love for her country. The story of her experience of being attacked in her home district, fleeing to Kabul and starting off a better, more equal life (for example, being able to go to school), also, in my opinion, needed no extra fluff or attempts to make us 'feel' the emotional content. Readers tend to be good at connecting with stories such as Koofi's, but scraping barrels is too easily observed.

The problem is - and this is the unfortunate by-product, I think, of having a journalistic input in a biographical arena - that every time something comes up after the mention of Islam - even the regressive Islam of the Taliban that Koofi objected greatly to - and primarily the subjugation of women, there is a line or two of how these things form a heavy part of Afghan history and how Western people might not quite understand why these things are accepted. Certainly, Westerners may very well not understand why some actions were taken (or not taken), but when writing a biography there should be no need to justify every single thing that we Westerners might take exception to, nor indeed can both sides of different oppressive experiences (from a Western view) be defended at the same time, when the author herself is opposed to one of them. Indeed, this is why I believe it is more propaganda - the work is too forceful in its attempt to make us understand why women, who are very much aware that things are not right with their place in society, are treated so distastefully in Afghanistan under Islam. Koofi often mentions about the beatings of her mother by her father, wanting to find a man who respects her (more than other women in Afghanistan expect, it seems), and also the fact that when she was in Parliament the men treated her and the other women like second-class citizens. The proble is, that she has spent the whole book up to that point (parliament) defending the ways of Muslim men (and I purposefully point out the Islamic factor because she does so herself pointedly), and so when she is confronted by all these 'traditional' ideas in an arena such as politics she takes great offence to them, as if they should automatically accept her presence, ad against everything she has previously justified.

My respect is fully with her for carrying on and earning the votes that won her the seat, but either you believ in something or you don't. You cannot defend the use of the burqa in your own society and damn it when the Taliban enforces it on women. You cannot defend your father not ever speaking to you (but to tell you to go away once) and him beating your mother, but object to the way the Taliban treats you as a woman when under their regime, which is not so different. There are some horrific things, obviously, that the Taliban carried out, but she is very much concerned most of the time with making them - the followers of more conservative Islamism - as the wrong kind of Muslim.

It cannot be both ways, and I think that either the author was coached to push the emotional agenda or she is severely conflicted and refusing to accept the things she does not agree with because she does not want to betray what everyone expects of her as a good Muslim woman. It seems far too much like we are being subjected to some light emotional manipulation so as not see parts of her region and her country for what they are in comparison with our own, and indeed, what Koofi seems to be searching for - she was fighting for Afghanistan to become a democratic, and I would argue, more egalitarian country, after all. Change is very hard, especially the changing and challenging of opinions, however, she could learn something about politics, like her heroines Thatcher and Gandhi. Actions speak louder than gender.

It's extremely unfortunate that this was what I left this book with. Hardly anything of her political career was written about. I would have loved to have heard the kinds of things she was fighting for in that parliament and whether these people who looked down on her changed their views. It's likely I will look into her interviews and appearances to find out a bit more, as I find her interesting, but whichever editor decided it was OK to push so much baseless padding (like the letters to loved ones at the beginning of each chapter, which personally gave nothing to the story and disrupted my interest quite a bit) on a story that seemed perfectly legitimate without, might leave Koofi needing a new one if literature is going to make up more of her future.


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