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In recent days, following the disastrous withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the discussion has opened up about how the Taliban now ruling from Kabul should be treated. Especially since despite being blocked on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, senior Taliban spokesmen continue to spread their violent ideology via Twitter.
Twitter is the only major social media platform that has not banned the Taliban from using it, and senior members of the terrorist organization count close to one million followers among them. Taliban leaders alone, such as Zabihullah Mujahid, who has more than 330,000 followers, Suhail Shaheen, who has nearly 372,000, Mohamed Naeem who gathers more than 220,000 and Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, with more than 60,000, add up to a Twitter audience of 982,000.
Noticing the difference, the media rushed to contact the spokespersons of the most important social networks for an official opinion regarding the use of their platforms by members of the terrorist organization that violently took over Afghanistan.
“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organisation policies. This means we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them,” a Facebook spokesperson told BBC.
Facebook stressed that the policy applies to all of its platforms, including its flagship social media network, Instagram and WhatsApp.
A proof of this is that when the Taliban seized power in Kabul on Sunday, it set up a WhatsApp helpline for city residents, allowing them to report violence, looting or other problems directly to the group’s Complaints Commission (trying to sell that renewed image of a peaceful organization).
Later on Tuesday, the Financial Times reported that the Taliban’s complaints hotline had been blocked by Facebook, along with other official Taliban channels.
In response, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid accused Facebook of censorship at a press conference and said that “the question should be asked of those people who claim to be promoters of freedom of expression and who do not allow the publication of all information (…) to the Facebook company, this question should be asked.”
While Facebook maintains a block on the Taliban given its policy against “dangerous individuals and organizations,” Twitter maintains that the Taliban can keep their accounts active as long as they “do not break the rules.” In a statement obtained by Mediaite, a company spokesperson said it would “continue to proactively enforce” its rules on “glorification of violence, platform manipulation and spam.”
The company added in its statement, “Twitter’s top priority is keeping people safe and staying vigilant.”
“Why on God’s green Earth does the Taliban spokesman have an active Twitter account, but not the former President of the United States? Who’s side is the America-based Big-Tech companies on?” tweeted Republican Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) on Sunday.
“Freedom and democracy are not doing well when Twitter continues to ban Trump’s account but relays the Taliban spokesperson’s without any second thoughts” tweeted French Member of the European Parliament Jérôme Rivière.
And the fact is that, since the events that took place on Capitol Hill on January 6, all the major social media platforms joined in the perfect excuse to block Trump while he was still the president of the greatest military and economic power in the Western hemisphere.
Meanwhile, YouTube, owned by giant Google, promised CNN on Tuesday that it would “cancel” any account it believes is operated by the Afghan Taliban. Even TikTok, owned by China’s giant ByteDance, told CNBC that it is removing content that supports or praises the terrorist group.
Setting out the Taliban’s official political agenda for the first time since taking power, the group’s spokesman insisted that women would be allowed to work and study. Although, in an ominous play on words, he guaranteed their rights only “within the framework of sharia.”
The Taliban and their history against Afghan women’s rights
Islam has a tradition of protecting the rights of women and children. In fact, Islam has specific provisions defining women’s rights in areas such as marriage, divorce and property rights.
Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected by law and were increasingly gaining rights in Afghan society. Women received the right to vote in the 1920s, and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan Constitution provided for equality between men and women. As the country began to move towards democracy, there was a climate of tolerance and openness and women were making important contributions to national development.
As early as 1977, women constituted more than 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. By the early 1990s, an estimated 70 percent of school teachers, 50 percent of government workers and university students and 40 percent of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian aid organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work.
But the Taliban’s version of Islam is not supported by the world’s Muslims. Although the Taliban claim that they act in the best interests of women, the reality is that the Taliban regime cruelly reduced women and girls to poverty, worsened their health, and deprived them of their right to education and, often times, the right to practice their religion in freedom. The Taliban are out of tune with the Muslim world and Islam.
Afghanistan, under the Taliban, had one of the worst human rights records in the world. The regime systematically repressed all sectors of the population and denied even the most basic individual rights. However, the Taliban’s war on women was particularly gruesome.
This is why President George W. Bush, during the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism on November 6, 2001, referred specifically to the plight of Afghan women, and insisted that “no nation can be neutral in this conflict.”
“Women are imprisoned in their homes and denied access to basic medical care and education,” President Bush said at the time. “Food sent to help starving people is stolen by their leaders. Religious monuments of other religions are destroyed and children are forbidden to fly kites, sing songs. A seven-year-old girl is beaten for wearing white shoes.”
The assault on the status of women began immediately after the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996. The Taliban banned women from university and forced them to quit their jobs, shutting down an important source of talent and expertise for the country. They restricted their access to medical care, brutally enforced a restrictive dress code and limited women’s ability to move around the city.
The Taliban perpetrated heinous acts of violence against women, including rape, kidnapping and forced marriage. Some families resorted to sending their daughters to Pakistan or Iran to protect them.
For the past 20 years, the United States has waged a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan as Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda. Although they have not been formally named by the State Department as a terrorist organization, they have been treated as such because of their undeniable links to enemies of the U.S. and the West.
Today, as their leaders violently seize power again in Afghanistan, and though they want to sell the world a rejuvenated and sugar-coated image about their past, the same rapists of women have accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.
In the end, for Twitter, a politically incorrect president like Donald Trump is a threat to security and stability that breaks all its norms, but the Taliban are tolerable if they “behave.”
Tomás Lugo, journalist and writer. Born in Venezuela and graduated in Social Communication. Has written for international media outlets. Currently living in Colombia // Tomás Lugo, periodista y articulista. Nacido en Venezuela y graduado en Comunicación Social. Ha escrito para medios internacionales. Actualmente reside en Colombia.