How a U.S. Military Contract Could Impede Women’s Progress in Afghanistan

Originally published at NewsReal’s That’s What She Said


Four Afghan women have achieved something that would have been unimaginable a decade ago: they are training alongside male recruits to become pilots in the Afghan Air Force. Amidst headlines about poverty, illiteracy, and breathtaking levels of violence against women, their accomplishments are beyond heartening.

Second Lt. Sourya Saleh hopes to serve as a role model for other Afghan women after completing her aviation training in the United States.

“We are very happy to be going to open these doors for the other women to come and join the military, to show them you can do this and make our country proud,” she said. “We want for all Afghan girls to know they can do anything.”

Another newly minted officer, Second Lt. Mary Sharifzada, told the Air Force Times that becoming a pilot has been her dream since she was a little girl:

“I want to show the people of Afghanistan that women are strong,” Sharifzada said. “We want to show the people of the world that the women of Afghanistan are strong and they can do anything they want.”

“They said I’m as brave as a man,” said Second Lt. Masooma Hussaini.

As brave as men, and according to Lt. Col. John Howard of the Thunder Lab training program, as capable as their male counterparts. But these women and future recruits may not get the chance to prove “they can do anything they want” if the United States selects Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer to supply turboprop planes for the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

In the April 2011 issue of Smart Girl Nation, my friend Ashley Sewell explains how the Brazilian plane would bar skilled female pilots from flying Light Air Support (LAS) and light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) missions:

The front-runners are the American-made Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 (a plane like the T-6 training aircraft that would accommodate 95% of women pilots) and the Brazilian-made Embraer EMB-314 (a plane that sticks to older standards thus eliminating the possibility of being flown by a woman).

Those older standards exclude more than 80 percent of women (and small men) from safely flying the planes that will be used to train and equip the Afghan Air Force.

There’s no question that operational performance and pilot safety should be the primary criteria in choosing between the Embraer and Hawker Beechcraft planes. But if the two aircraft perform comparably, can we afford to indulge the Commander-in-Chief‘s childish love affair with Brazil, forcing the struggling Afghan Air Force to sideline much needed talent?

That’s not the only reason the Hawker Beechcraft proposal is superior. Read more

The Tyrant & His Chains: A Reminder to Reid, Graham, & Obama

Originally published at NewsReal.



In 1989, the offices of my neighborhood newspaper were firebombed by a terrorist. Molotov cocktails ignited a blaze that gutted the first floor of the building, incinerated furniture, and left computers and telephones all but vaporized.

A short time later, a man called 911 and said, in an accent the FBI later identified as Pakistani, “Can you please listen to my message very carefully. Very very important. You know that British author who wrote the book The Satanic Verses. For to protest I throw the bomb. I’m sorry but we got to do more bombs pretty soon if they don’t stop from publish that book. That’s it.”

Two weeks earlier, the novelist Salman Rushdie had gone into hiding when Iran’s “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on him for writing a novel that questions the founding myth of Islam. Khomeini’s fatwa offered a bounty of more than $5 million to anyone who could kill the author. It also threatened “all those involved in its publication.

The bombing of The Riverdale Press occurred shortly after the editors published “The Tyrant and His Chains,” a scathing criticism of America’s largest bookstore chains for responding to the Ayatollah’s threat by pulling all copies of The Satanic Verses from their shelves.

The chain store executives excuse their surrender to the Ayatollah by expressing concern for the wellbeing of their employees, but by knuckling under they’ve put others at risk. If a threat can knock the books from the shelves of the Big Three, terrorists may reason, think what a bomb in an uncompliant bookstore could do.

Moreover, terrorism feeds on its successes. What will Waldenbooks do when a homegrown would-be tyrant demands the removal of a politically controversial book from its shelves? And how will it handle the next step, a demand that stores stock a particular book?

The day after the firebombing, the Press published its weekly issue on schedule. Headlining the front page was an editorial titled “We Will Not Be Silenced.”

Mayoral candidates Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani gathered with hundreds of community residents to offer their support for the Press, and newspapers around the country reprinted “The Tyrant and His Chains.” As “a statement of solidarity with the publishers of the Riverdale Press,” Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan asked that the editorial be printed in the Congressional Record alongside a resolution “condemning the threats against the author and publishers of the Satanic Verses.”

Speaking on the Senate floor just before the resolution passed, Republican Senator Bob Dole said:

Terrorism is terrorism. It is abhorrent. It must be condemned. There is no justification for it, period.

That is the policy of this country, and of civilized countries everywhere. That is the essence of this resolution.

Let us underscore our continuing commitment to this policy, this strong and necessary policy, by passing this resolution. And let that act be encouragement to those who refuse to buckle under to the threats of terrorists, and a rebuke to the Khomeinis of the world, who care not a whit for anyone’s rights or beliefs but their own.

If the Senate voted on that resolution today, would Lindsey Graham, Harry Reid, and President Obama give it the full-throated, bipartisan support it received in 1989?  Who would today’s leaders hold responsible for the attack on The Riverdale Press?

Would Graham call Rushdie’s novel “a terrible thing” that “put our troops at risk”? Would he say, “Freedom of speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war”?

Would Reid kowtow to Khomeini as he did to Karzai? Would he promise to “look at” passing a resolution to censure the editors of The Riverdale Press and Rushdie for exercising their First Amendment rights?

Would the president denounce Rushdie for blasphemy against Islam and call the publication of his book “an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry“?

These are the words Graham, Reid, and Obama used to criticize the Florida pastor who burned a copy of the Koran. Rather than blame Afghan President Hamid Karzai for igniting hostilities or a barbaric culture in which violence is often the default setting, they are holding one law-abiding demagogue in Florida responsible for deadly riots in Afghanistan.

22 years after Democrats and Republicans came together to support freedom of expression and condemn the terror attack on a Bronx newspaper, we are watching the formation of a new bipartisan coalition, one that advocates wartime suspension of First Amendment rights and submission to the demands of Islamist street thugs and leaders. 22 years later, we’re announcing to the world that our Constitutional rights are fragile enough to crumble in the face of threats, intimidation, and unspeakable acts of violence abroad.

First they came for the Koran burner …

Remembering 9/11/2001

Photo credit: wallyg on Flickr

I have never written a personal account of my experience on September 11, 2001.

I’ve honored the sacrifices made by our troops and their families and I’ve addressed the war on terror, both on this blog and elsewhere.  But I’ve avoided committing my personal thoughts to paper and pixel, partly because those feelings are intensely personal and difficult to capture, but also because I feel guilty for feeling like my experience matters.

I was in New York City when the first plane hit, but I was 15 miles away from the World Trade Center. While I knew two people who perished, they were not close friends or family members.  And like so many Americans, especially those in their teens and 20s, I had my naïveté about the world stripped violently away that morning, my sense of security obliterated.  But what right did I have to feel pain and grief when so many others never had a last goodbye with loved ones?

When American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. I was blow drying my hair, getting ready to teach a 9:30 a.m. class.  Running late, I had to forgo my usual morning pilgrimage to 7-11 and instead dashed across the street to the bodega to grab a cup of coffee-esque sludge as the second tower was hit.

“Everything’s gone to hell,” said the guy who handed me my paper cup.

I smiled politely and nodded as I paid, thinking the intended meaning had gotten lost in his thick Korean accent.

“You heard? You heard? The twin towers are on fire. Two planes hit the World Trade Center.”

Like a dolt, I replied, “Really?”  As if this man would have any reason to lie about something like that.

“Go, go. Put your radio on,” he said.

I ran to my car and flipped on 1010 WINS for the short ride to campus.  The broadcasters were using words like “unbelievable” and “disaster.”  They hadn’t moved on to “terrorism” yet.

I was struck by the grotesque contrast between what I was hearing and what I was seeing. The sky in New York had never been that fiercely blue, so clear it almost hurt to look up.  A slight breeze rustled the trees on the parkway, cooling the air to a perfect compromise between summer and fall. And yet reporters on the radio spoke of terrifying explosions and the thick plumes of smoke that seemed to carry shreds of paper over the East River.

Arriving at work, I caught my first glimpses of the burning towers on computer monitors as I walked past my colleagues’ offices.  I felt a growing tightness in my chest and stomach as I realized the likelihood of more casualties than I could imagine.  I wondered how many World Trade Center workers were running late like me.

A roomful of laughing, carefree 18-year-olds greeted me on the lower level of the library building. It was utterly surreal, these oblivious freshman faces expecting me to teach while Manhattan burned.

But I did.  Numbly, flatly, I made it through the longest 90 minutes of my life.  As we left the classroom, one student explained to her friend, “It’s totally karma, this World Trade Center thing. These bankers are just, like, getting what they have coming for being greedy.”

I still wonder, would she have said the same thing if she knew both towers had crumbled while we were cocooned in that classroom?

I spent the afternoon migrating from desk to quad, quad to desk, needing to be near people, but needing even more to get in touch with my parents, both of whom had meetings scheduled in Manhattan.  The phone lines were jammed and the volume of email being handled by our campus servers was delaying delivery by hours, so it was mid-afternoon when I heard from my mom. Like a little kid who’s been lost in a department store, hearing her voice made me cry.  It was 24 hours before I reached my boyfriend.  We wouldn’t hear from my father for two days.

Gathered outside in the afternoon with friends and coworkers, the eerie stillness of the sky was interrupted every so often by the high-pitched squeal of a fighter jet flying over the metro area.  I had never seen a plane traveling so low.  But even more chilling was the way all other aircraft had disappeared from the sky.  We didn’t know how many had been grounded and how many might have been repurposed as weapons of mass destruction.  Without any sense of the irrationality in what we were saying, we entertained fears that our campus could be the next target.  Planes were falling out of the sky – why not onto a college campus?

I wanted to do something – anything – but hospitals were turning away blood donors, and only those trained as first responders were being asked to report to Ground Zero. There was nothing to do but go home to the television.

I spent the night at my mom’s house glued to the television, realizing that our country was under attack yet not understanding how that could be.  We watched people escape the intense heat and smoke by plunging to their deaths on the rooftops and blacktop below.  We had no frame of reference, no point of comparison to cope with these scenes as they played on a seemingly endless loop.

Over the next few days was when I truly realized everything had fallen apart.

A dear friend of my mother’s spent night after night waiting for news of her brother-in-law, an NYPD Emergency Services Squad officer and volunteer firefighter.  His remains were never found.

A student who worked for me left campus to be with her family as they awaited news of her father that would never come.

Everywhere I went, the faces of the dead stared back at me from flyers posted by families looking for their lost loved ones.  I knew they were gone, and yet I couldn’t stop looking at the photos and other details, hoping beyond hope that just one of them might be walking the streets with amnesia.

I went to the Union Square vigil a day or two after the attacks.  The cloying scent of cheap candles and cheaper incense helped to mask the smell coming from Ground Zero as I walked among the photos, flowers, and prayer cards.  I saw heartfelt displays of patriotism, but by that point, there were also anti-American statements chalked onto the pavement.  There was one I’ll never forget: “The real cause of terrorism is U.S. foreign policy.” Another said, “Abolish religion to end terrorism.”

I made my way down to Washington Square Park that night and found my feet frozen in place across the street from the arch.  The iconic marble structure that had once framed the twin towers now framed nothing but the haze of acrid smoke and the blindingly bright floodlights at Ground Zero.  I stood there for a long time with my shirt pulled up over my face to filter out the worst of the filthy air, but I didn’t go any further.  I couldn’t.

As a kid, I spent countless hours in the PATH station below the World Trade Center, hanging out with my boyfriend (now husband) until it was time for him to catch the train.  A few months before the collapse of the towers, I had jury duty in lower Manhattan and had lunch on the concourse level.  And less than a week before the attacks, I drove past the towers with my sister, who was moving out of state the next day.  She looked up and with as much drama as she could muster said, “Goodbye twin towers.”

I’ve never been to Ground Zero, and I’m not sure I’ll ever go. I don’t want to see a hole in the ground.  What I want to see is a pair of ugly steel skyscrapers filled with people from all over the world living their lives in a free and secure United States of America.

Al-Qaeda Militants Using Rape of Men and Women to Produce New Suicide Bombers

The organized rape of men, women, and children has emerged as the suicide bomber recruiting tool du jour at Middle East al-Qaeda camps. Rape, and the attendant shame levied on victims by adherents of fundamentalist Islam.

Samira Ahmed Jassim, dubbed “The Mother of Believers, is accused of recruiting over 80 women to become suicide bombers. Exploiting the culture of honor killings, Jassim orchestrated the rapes of young Iraqi women as a method of dishonoring them. After the women had suffered perhaps the greatest humiliation in Islamic culture, Jassim would step in to advise them that martyrdom through suicide bombing was the only way to redeem themselves.

Via GayPatriot comes a second report of rape being used as a barbaric al-Qaeda recruitment tool, this time on men and boys:

Evil al-Qaeda chiefs are raping young male converts to shame them into becoming suicide bombers, it emerged yesterday.

The intense social stigma and fear of more gay sex attacks leaves Muslims prepared to die.

The warped new tactic was revealed by a reformed Algerian militant. Abu Baçir El Assimi said: “The sexual act on young recruits aged between 16 to 19 was a means to urge them to commit suicide operations.”

The environment cultivated by fundamentalist Islam is one in which the innocent victims of rape bear all the shame and stigma of the assault while the rapist earns extremist brownie points for terrorizing the next batch of suicide bombers into compliance. Rape is one more violent weapon in the arsenal used to coerce young men and women into making a sacrifice that piety alone does not compel them to make. They are shamed into seeking redemption by taking as many lives as possible in the ultimate service to Allah.

Unlicensed Reporter Heading to Israel

Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, derided by the angry far left for being an “unlicensed plumber,” is now an unlicensed war correspondent for Pajamas TV. The AP reports:

The Ohio man, who became famous during the U.S. presidential campaign after asking Barack Obama about his tax plan, is heading to Israel as a war correspondent for a conservative Web site called

Dubbed “Joe the Plumber” by McCain’s campaign, Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher was held up as an example of an American worker who would be hurt economically by Obama’s election.

Wurzelbacher says he’ll spend 10 days covering the fighting and explaining why Israeli forces are mounting attacks against Hamas.

He tells WNWO-TV in Toledo that he wants “go over there and let their ‘Average Joes’ share their story.”

Michelle Malkin has begun the countdown to death wishes aimed at Joe The Plumber from his far left “admirers.” I’m taking bets on who will be the first to suggest he’s heading to Israel to help Bristol Palin cover up the exact date of Tripp Palin’s birth.

9/11 and The Enduring Strength of the American People

On September 11, 2001 when terrorists unleashed unspeakable horrors on The United States, they inspired fear and uncertainty in the hearts of Americans. But they were blind to the resolve, the courage, and the patriotism of the American people. They inspired a million acts of kindness and compassion that day, and every day since. They sparked a sense of pride in the American way of life that I had heard about but never witnessed growing up in New York City. And when the ash settled and the acrid smoke dissipated, brave Americans stood ready to serve their country with grand shows of strength and quiet acts of patriotism.

Today, seven years after I watched fighter jets take ownership of serene blue skies, I pay tribute not only to those we lost and those who risked their lives, but to every American who has contributed to the war on terror since. We owe you our lives and our freedom.

To those who risk accusations of prejudice to report suspicious activity, your have our heartfelt thanks. To the innocent Middle Eastern immigrants who believed in America enough to submit to interviews and surveillance, you have our deepest gratitude. And to our troops throughout the world, you are in our hearts every day, and your courage and love of country will not be forgotten.

Other notable remembrances from the blogosphere:

Why I’ll Never Forget 9/11 – Rob Taylor @ Red Alerts

9/11/2008: Remembering James Joe Ferguson, Always – GayPatriot

Remembering 9-11 – Cassy Fiano

Bush 7, Terrorists 0 – Ann Coulter

9-11 – Never Forget – Dr. Sanity

9/11 Tribute – Heartache Still Lingers – 7.62mm Justice

Where Were You This Day? – American Princess

9/11, Again – Ace of Spades

Seven Years Gone By – Jumping Without a Chute