I went to Kabul, Afghanistan, in March to see old friends. By chance, I arrived the day after a woman had been beaten to death and burned by a mob of young men. The world would soon come to know her name: Farkhunda. The name means “auspicious” or “jubilant.” She was killed in the very heart of the Afghan capital, at a popular shrine, the burial place of an unnamed ghazi, a warrior martyred for Islam. Years ago, I worked only a few doors away. I knew the neighborhood well as a crossroads for travelers and traders, a market street beside the Kabul River, busy with peddlers, beggars, drug addicts, thieves, and pigeons. It was always a dodgy neighborhood. Now, it had become a crime scene.
In April, at the end of the traditional 40-day period of mourning for the dead woman, that crime scene became the stage for a reenactment of the murder by a group of citizens calling themselves the Committee for Justice for Farkhunda, which was pressing the government to arrest and punish the killers. Shortly after the performance, the office of the attorney general announced formal charges against 49 men: 30 suspected participants in the woman’s murder and 19 police officers accused of failing to try to stop it. On May 2, a trial began at the Primary Court, carried live on Afghan television. Farkhunda is now dead and buried, but her story has had staying power. It seems to mark the rise of something not seen in Afghanistan for a very long time: the power of people to renounce violence and peacefully reclaim themselves. This makes it worth recalling just how events unfolded and what messages they might hold for Americans, in particular, who have been fighting so fruitlessly in Afghanistan for 13-plus years.
Punched, Kicked, Stomped, Stoned, Crushed, Dragged, and Burned
On Thursday afternoon, March 19, Farkhunda visited the Shah-e Du Shamshira shrine. There, about 30 other visitors watched as a few young men began the attack that would end her life. Some of the onlookers took up a cry that summoned yet more: Allah-u Akbar (“God is great”). When, less than an hour later, the woman’s body was torched, police estimated that the crowd had reached 5,000 to 7,000 people. From the start, onlookers used their mobile phones to take photos or videos, many of which were later posted on Facebook and watched by tens of thousands more throughout the country and eventually the world.