In telling ways, the Taliban’s brand has always been the burka. I mean brand here in both senses. In the old West one, the mark you burn into something to stake your claim to it: one unmistakable sign the Taliban had taken charge of a village, town or city was that all the women wore the full head to toe covering burka.
In the modern sense, here is what the Taliban’s burka brand conveyed in Afghanistan and Pakistan: power, control, and a return to the good old days – of justice, swift and sure, based on pure Islam and traditional tribal patriarchy.
It’s a brand that still seems to work in areas under Taliban control, which tend to be rural and tribal, but to grow, maybe even to survive the challenge of the Islamic State, the Taliban needs to recruit beyond its present holdings, in towns and cities, among men with a more urbane view of life and women and among women themselves.
In re-branding for a new audience, the Pakistani Taliban, like the Islamic State before it, still touts the old-time religion – fundamentalist Wahhabi or Deobandi Islam – but to a generation for whom “tribal father knows best” is something to escape. This means recruiting loose ends men on city streets and universities, and courting some women better fitted for Kevlar battle jackets than burkas.
Ironically this still-infrequent phenomenon – jihadi women as fighters or suicide bombers – became a reality at a peak moment of politically-inspired fear and loathing of everything Muslim in America and much of Europe.
The result, our guest, Rafia Zakaria, has pointed out in her new book Veil, has transformed the cliché used to brand Muslim women from “submissive” to “subversive.”
Rafia Zakaria is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon, 2015) and Veil (Bloomsbury, 2017). She is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy as well as