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Valentine’s Day in Afghanistan

Sunday, or maybe Saturday, August 14, was  the day of a big celebration in Kunduz Province in Afghanistan. “People were very happy seeing this,” Nadir Khan reported to the New York Times.  The event occurred in the local bazaar and was attended by 200 or more celebrants.  Some indulged.  Some watched.

When I studied Geography at age 9, I was fascinated with Afghanistan.  Since then, he sound of the word has sent my mind off to minarets, sounds of melodious prayer, beautiful small rugs laid on sand.  The mystery and romantic ambiance about this country lingered long after I became aware of serious flaws in the culture.

The closest I came to experiencing the culture was a few days spent, first in Kuwait, then another few days in Tehran, and a visit to an estate in the countryside in Iran. We were meeting with business associates of my husband and I was treated with great respect, deference, and courtesy everywhere we went.

The very first evening in Kuwait matched my  ten  year fantasies in almost every detail.  About 80 beautifully dressed guests were served dinner in a large tent by white robed waiters who carried golden pitchers with long curved spouts, just like the Arabian Nights illustration. Jewel toned rugs covered the sand and the Persian Gulf murmured softy only a few yards away.  Unusual musical tones and laughter  were in the background.  Our host was third in line for the ruler position in Kuwait, had been educated in London and was incredibly impressive in his native dress and head dress.  His wife was much younger than he, had gone to school in Switzerland, spoke fluent English, and was the perfect hostess.

I was fairly jet-lagged, sleep deprived, and fatigued from traveling half way around the world,  so the entire evening had a  surreal sense of  unreality.  Even the huge roasted animal at the head  of the buffet table seemed  to be part of a stage setting.  It was as if the evening matched my childhood  fantasy so closely that I wondered which part was really happening.

However, the clear memory is still there of the welcoming friendliness of the people I met on this long ago journey.  This is now in sharp contrast to the kick in the gut feeling I experienced when I read that the villagers in Afghanistan  stoned Siddiqua first.  She had broken off her engagement

to someone she did not want to marry, and eloped to another town. She was 19 years old and in love with  Khayyam.

For the stoning, she wore the enveloping wool burqa, which may have meant that it took many stones to injure her seriously, and many more to actually snuff out her life.   Her brother, who was in the crowd at the bazaar,  may have been in a quandary about whether to throw a big stone to shorten her punishment or to throw a small stone in the hope that someone would call the whole thing off.   No one did, of course.   200 people were “very happy”, according to the report.  I wonder about this.

Did someone collect a pile of stones so that each person could select his?  Or did they each bring their own stone to the hearing?

The family members who tricked the couple into returning to the village after the elopement could have had second thoughts as the blood ran down her face.   Who knows what goes on in the minds of murderers as they select the perfect stone?

The sharp, physical pain of the first stone as it bruised her body would have been excruciating, but the second stone would have been worse.  The knowledge that her brother was in the crowd picking out his stones and judging how hard to throw may have been more painful.  Knowing that she was dying for love could have been even more painful than either.

To console herself, she might have remembered their elopement. Or she might have wondered how Khazzam  could have believed their family members  as they tricked the couple?  He was 25 years old and should have recognized the betrayal.   Members of their own families had promised they could marry if they returned home.  “Why did we return?” she might have asked herself as the bruises multiplied.  She probably thought her family would protect them.  Their love felt sacred.  How could this exquisite feeling be a cause for death?   It takes many sharp stones to extinguish the flame of a 19 year old in love.

The last, killing stone probably didn’t hurt at all, since death followed closely.

The would be groom had to wait while she died before they began throwing the stones to kill him.  Earlier, as a Taliban mullah prepared to read the judgment, Siddiqua and Khayyam defiantly confessed, “We love each other no matter what happens.”

Khayyam’s father and brother attended the stoning as well.  What thoughts went through their minds as they looked at the stones and contemplated how hard to throw?

In Afghanistan, men are allowed four wives.  Khazzam already had a wife and two children, who will now grow up without a father.


Because a religious court decided he fell in love with the wrong girl.

Why?  Because a religious court says so.


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