[...] The picture shows an Afghan woman being subjected to a body search by an American soldier. The photo had provoked weeks of venomous letters to the editor condemning this practice. The same shot had been blown up and used for the Yank-bashing election campaign that swept the clerics into unprecedented power in the provinces closest to the Afghan border. To most Pakistanis and Afghans, this photo is hyper-offensive, showing a demure Islamic beauty disrespected by an American brute.
The latent feminist in me cannot be stifled. There is some potent propaganda to be countered. "Look a little closer," I said. "That is a woman soldier who is patting the Afghan lady down."
"Impossible," all the Muslim men in the room say in unison. The masculine ambience of this frontier city near the Khyber Pass is so pervasive that, at least in a warlord's antechamber, a female soldier is utterly inconceivable, even if you have a picture of her in front of you.
[...] A Western military attaché told me how grenades and rockets were often retrieved from beneath the odd burqa. Women must be checked during routine arms inspections and this presents a quandary: how to be culturally sensitive conquerors and not offend the folks you liberated last year and now want to disarm.
Some etiquette is evolving. Now American female soldiers start gun raids in Afghanistan by bounding out of helicopters and stripping down to their sports bras. Only then do they take village women aside to be searched. It is a quick way to prove their femininity to Afghan elders unaccustomed to seeing women in trousers. I reckon it must leave quite a few of the old boys slack-jawed and goggle-eyed.
Current Music: Ashtrayhead -- Playmate ♬