April 2016 marked a new month in history for children’s television– Sesame Street introduced a new character– Zari, its first Muslim, Afghani muppet. Zari is the first muppet to wear a head scarf and greet others in Arabic.
Zari recently joined Yahoo! News’ Katie Couric, and greeted her with a shortened greeting from the Qur’an. Zari said,
“As-Salam,” which is the beginning part of the Quaran’s Arabic phrase, “As-Salam Alaikum Wa Rahmatallah,” which means, “May peace and Allah’s mercy be upon you.”
This year, she appeared on Afghani television version of Sesame Street, called “Bagch-e-Simsim.”
Sesame Street announced that Zari “will be on the show to talk about the importance of good health, universal acceptance and the empowerment of girls.” Sesame Street VP of Global Impact, Sherrie Westin stated, “The exciting part about Zari is that she is modeling for young girls that it is wonderful to go to school and that it’s OK to dream about having a career.”
Nothing could be more ironic. And misleading.
Under Islamic rule in Afghanistan, girls are prohibited from learning to read or going to school, without fear of punishment of death. According to the Qur’an, women and girls have little to no legal or human rights at all.
- 85 percent of Afghan women have no formal education and are illiterate,
- 40 percent of Afghan girls attend elementary school; only one in 20 study beyond the sixth grade,
- Roughly three times more boys attend school than girls,
- Most Afghan parents believe it is unnecessary for girls to be educated. Schools for girls have been burned down, hundreds of their teachers continue to be threatened or killed, and girls continue to fear being physically harmed or killed while walking to or from school,
- More than 50 percent of Afghan girls are married or engaged by age 12,
- Almost 60 percent of girls are married by age 16,
- 80 percent of forced and arranged marriages occur in poor rural areas to far older men including, 60 years old and older– whom they meet for the first time at their “wedding,
- “The risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth for girls under 14 is five times higher than for adult women.
- Afghan widows, on average, are 35 years-old; 94 percent are illiterate; most have more than four children to support.
In Feb. 2009, President Karzai signed a law institutionalizing human rights abuses against Afghan Shi’a women:
- Denies women the right to leave their homes except for “legitimate” purposes;
- Forbids women from working or receiving education without their husbands’ express permission;
- Explicitly permits marital rape;
- Diminishes the right of mothers to be their children’s guardians in the event of a divorce;
- And makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands – even though husbands may inherit immoveable property from their wives.
Worse still, under Islamic rule in Afghanistan, peace means only one thing: peace according to Islam, not peace according to the Western definition.
Yet, Zari’s greeting, refers to this exact peace as “normal,” when in fact, it is the most oppressive against girls in the entire world.