The Globe and Mail, May 23, 2001 Hindus must wear ID badges, Taliban says Afghan plan condemned around the world; edict 'chilling reminder' of Nazi policies MURRAY CAMPBELL With reports from AP and Reuters Wednesday, May 23, 2001 The thousand or so Hindus living in Afghanistan are being forced by the ruling Taliban regime to wear an identity label of bright saffron on their clothing to distinguish them from the majority Muslims. The edict announced yesterday -- a chilling reminder of the yellow Star of David that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany -- was quickly deplored by the United States as "the latest in a long list of outrageous repressions" in the country of 25 million. "This is a chilling reminder of those times. . . . Such laws are never passed for the benefit of the minority affected," said Keith Landry, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. The move, which will also require Hindu women to wear a veil, was denounced by Muslims in Canada. It also angered India, which has an overwhelming Hindu majority population, and prompted fears that Hindus in Afghanistan are being singled out for persecution. Maulawi Abdul Wali, Afghanistan's powerful Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, said this latest Taliban edict is in line with with Islam and that a fatwa or religious order from Islamic scholars has been sought. The new edict will be enforced once it receives the approval of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader. "The non-Muslim population of the country should have a distinctive mark such as a piece of cloth attached to their pockets so they can be differentiated from others," the Taliban's Voice of Shariat radio quoted Mr. Wali as saying. The decision to mark out Hindus could further isolate the fundamentalist Taliban, who control more than 95 per cent of the Central Asian country. In recent years, Afghanistan's rulers have used a harsh interpretation of Islam to bar women from most jobs and from getting an education, to ban all forms of light entertainment and to destroy ancient statues of Buddha. The Taliban is under United Nations sanctions for giving protection to Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, who is accused by the United States of running a global terrorist network. Mr. Wali said no decisions had been made about how Hindus would identify themselves but an Indian press agency said it had obtained a copy of a decree that would order them to wear a saffron-coloured patch and to put a two-metre yellow cloth on their houses. Mr. Wali said the restrictions were required by Islam. "Religious minorities living in an Islamic state must be identified," he said. However, other Islamic nations -- including Iran and Indonesia, which have many minority groups -- do not have any such requirement. The special edict will be meant only for Hindus, Mr. Wali said, because there are no Christians in Afghanistan and Sikhs can be easily recognized by their turbans. (The sole Jew living in the capital, Kabul, returned to care for a synagogue there after a sojourn in Israel.) An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the edict "further evidence of the backward and unacceptable ideological underpinning of the Taliban." Many Hindus, who used to number about 50,000 in Afghanistan, have left the country in recent years. A spokesman for the Shiv Sena party, a member of India's coalition government, predicted the Taliban would use the law to intensify persecution. "Once Hindu homes and Hindu women are identified, it is easy to rob their houses and harass the women," he said. Willard Oxtoby, professor emeritus of religion at the University of Toronto, said the Taliban's action flies in the face of 1,400 years of largely peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Hindus. He said a principle of Islam since its foundation in the seventh century has been to tolerate other religions, such as Christianity and Judaism. Muslims came to terms with Hinduism when they penetrated the Indian sub-continent, he added, and Hindus were included in this category of protected persons, known as dhimmi. "In general, this [edict on clothing] represents a departure in terms of intolerance of a minority," Prof. Oxtoby said. "Most Muslims worldwide will not wish to identify with this policy." The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada denounced the Afghan rulers yesterday. "Taliban are creating a very intolerant religion in the name of Islam and Muslims will not tolerate this," said spokesman Syed Soharwardy in Calgary. The Taliban move carries a special poignancy for Jews, who were forced to wear a yellow Star of David in Germany and its occupied possessions after 1935.
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