Taliban and sex slavery: OPEN and the genesis of a Fake News story

A recent article published by OPEN, an online newspaper directed by Enrico Mentana, denounced the Taliban’s alleged forced marriage of Afghan women with the headline: “Afghanistan, the Taliban’s re-education of women has already begun: sent to Pakistan and forced into sexual slavery”.

While the Taliban have taken oppressive measures in the past, the narrative about forced marriages proposed by OPEN just now seems to clash with the Taliban’s claim that they want to practice a more balanced Islam, less distorted by the tribal customs of the past.

OPEN doesn’t spare blows and speaks of real “sex slaves” citing an article appeared on The Independent, written by Vrinda Narain, who in turn takes the news from an article published by The Hindustan Times which, quoting another newspaper, The Sun, states that the Taliban would have asked local imams, in the conquered areas, for the list of unmarried women between 15 and 45 years of age to propose them to their fighters.

Therefore, one of the first things to note is that the main source of the news in an English tabloid, but above all that, even in the case the facts will be confirmed, the question is very different from what the tabloid headline of the OPEN article claims.

Here is the translation of the document presented in The Sun article:

“Cultural Commission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

Statement by the Islamic Emirate regarding the marriage of young girls and widows with the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Peace be upon you and God bless you. The Islamic Jihad defeated the foreign invaders, in particular the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate in Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, they managed to take over most of the points and districts in the northern provinces, thanks to God.

Therefore, in order to overcome the ignorance and deviation from the faith and the social problems of the youth in these areas, the Islamic Emirate officials are asking that all the people of these provinces, especially the mullahs and imams, report unmarried or widowed women between the ages of 15 and 45 to the Islamic Cultural Commission of the Islamic Emirate.

Those sisters will be protected through the marriage with the Mujahideen and they will be offered an Islamic education in Waziristan… insha Allah”.

We can easily understand that even this document, whose authenticity is not confirmed, is quite different from the way OPEN reports it: the new local state and religious authority wants to take a census to propose women in marriage to the fighters who are engaged, indeed, in a struggle for national liberation. To judge with objectivity, we must consider the cultural context and the war situation in those places, or we could use the deforming lenses of the colonial gaze and make war propaganda.

In which line would sexual slavery be mentioned? The deduction is perhaps dictated by the prejudice that these Muslims, these Afghans, are bloodthirsty barbarians. This image contrasts with that of the marines, holding newborn babies in their arms at Kabul airport.

The article written by Narain and quoted as a source by OPEN calls for immediate sanctions and uses an incriminatory tone without reference to any investigation or evidence regarding the reported abuses.

Explanations arrived almost immediately. The Wall Street Journal article by Said Shah refers to alleged killings of Afghan soldiers who have surrendered and to forced marriages. However, in the same article, the current spokesman of the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, immediately denied everything, stating that the Taliban have kept their promise of amnesty for those who decide to lay down their weapons and that both the accusations (killings of those who have surrendered and forced marriages) are false and baseless, and that they are against the principles of Islam and also violate their cultural traditions.

To be short, according to Zabihullah Mujahid, the article published by OPEN would be a plain and simple fake news.

The Indian newspaper The Times of India also reports the formal denial of Zabihullah Mujahid, group’s spokesman at this regard: “These are just groundless rumours based on false documents created specifically by propaganda”.

The deontology would suggest citing primary sources of information, verifying them and, in case of lack of evidence, at least specifying that these are allegations, not proven facts and that those directly involved have strongly denied them.

This is the opposite of what we find in the OPEN article which screams in the title about sexual slavery by the Taliban and instead it speaks about something else, without focusing on any serious investigation to the news.

This is how fake news is made up.