The Main Aspects in My Forbidden Face

11/25/2012 07:15:00 AM 0 Comments A+ a-

Actually, this was my essay writing while I studied the Politics of Narrative Methods in my university, I just wanna share what I've read and analyzed. The novel is titled "My Forbidden Face" and was written by Latifa (actually this was her pseudonym). The story's setting is in Afghanistan. This tells about a girl who lives with her family under Taliban regime.

Just read my analysis then :)

here's the book cover

I. Introduction

    My Forbidden Face is the true story of an Afghanistan girl who faces life under Taliban rule.  Latifa, the narrator also the writer, is a teenager who enjoys much of the same luxuries as American teens until the Taliban takes over Kabul, Afghanistan.  Under Taliban rule, Latifa and the rest of her family and friends are forced under the Taliban's ruthless regime.  Beatings, rapes and executions become frequent occurrences in the streets of Kabul as the terrorist group dictates over the people of Afghanistan. (

   This novel consists of seven chapters. In the first chapter, the narrator tells about when the Taliban come to the city and start to take over the city of Afghan, with the sign of the white flag over the mosque. Then the Taliban regime changes all the rules of the country with Islamic rule of their version. In the story, the Taliban take over the city after the civil wars happen. The Taliban has changed all the rules of the country; the most influenced is women which are actually restricted, like the bird in a cage, for the author gives the chapter’s title. The plot increases in the next chapters, the conflict becomes more serious and horrible.

   This novel is actually kind of diary book by the author. The story is based on true story of the author. Around 1996-2001, the Taliban had power to control Afghanistan, after they took  Jalalabad and Kabul 1996, previously civil wars happened for four years before the periods of Taliban. The story is held along the periods of Taliban, when women became passive victims awaiting liberation. This novel represented the voice of women in Afghanistan at that period.

   In Povey’s (2007) journal book Afghan Women, to understand the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban, it is important to understand why and how the Taliban came to power. Afghanistan was under the power of Soviet. Afghanistan was also given support by Saudia Arabia, Pakistan, Europian countries and other countries in the region. Mujaheddin was under the power of USA. US National Security Adviser, under President Jimmy Carter, admitted that the CIA has been instructed to give secret aid to the Mujaheddin. And this   led to a brutal civil war by Mujaheddin until the country was devastated. After that, the Soviet collapsed and Afghanistan society saw it as their victory because their liberation from Soviet. Indeed, the war against the Soviet invasion had a devastating impact on the rural population and the economy. Cities were also destroyed. With the collapse of the state, the aid community increasingly performed the role of a surrogate state, providing food, healthcare and education. A number of women worked for the aid agencies and also continued carpet weaving and handicraft production. (Rostami-Povey, 2007: p. 22)

   From their devastated country, women started to build their economic lives. There were many people who had died in civil war, included their husbands, and it made them to build their lives from the beginning. However, no long since that, the Taliban came, and they grew out the young generation of Mujaheddin. They ‘educate’ the young Mujaheddin at their madrassas (religious school). Since that, Taliban took over the city and made their own rule of Islamic rules.

   The Taliban actually didn’t use Shari’a law all out, they adopted the norms and values of Pashtunwali to treat the women, so it became restricted and poor of liberation for women. The women became victim of liberation at their own country. Since Taliban came, women couldn’t work to help their economic lives.

II. Women Representation

   We may find some topics to be discussed from this story. I will discuss some main topics from this novel. The most interesting topic that I want to discuss is the representation of the women. Since this novel is based on true story, I want to analyze how are the women represented in this novel from the point of view of the narrator itself? But besides that, I will not focus on how women are represented; I also want to try to analyze the Islamic rules which are used by Taliban.

   Afghan women discuss gender in the context of social relations, Islamic religion,culture, domination, subordination and masculinity. Afghan women or other Middle East countries always relate to ethnic, gender, Islam, and culture. And it’s related with Afghanistan’s history, it demonstrates how gender relation have been affected by ethnic conflict, state formation, state-society relation, and imperial domination. Women’s life and freedom are always depended on them who have authority in their country or it means who rules the country.

   Women were successful only if they quoted from the Qur’an in praise of the value of education and showed that the Qur’an does not advocate a hierarchy in which men are placed above women. They found this approach effective, and some men allowed their wives and daughters to be educated. (Rostami-Povey, 2007)

   As what I know from the Islamic rule for women, Islam guards very protectively the women and children. Islam rule the social intercourse between men and women, and it is also to protect women. The use of jilbab and himar for adult women are written in Qur’an distinctively, it is also to protect the women. (Al-Quran, Al-Ahzab:59; An-Nur: 31)

    As what I’ve written in my summary before, Afghan women’s life has been changed since Taliban take over the city. Women is described could live happy and normal, although it was civil war “Just yesterday, despite the civil war, life was ‘normal’ in Kabul, even though the city is in ruins.”  (Latifa, 2001)

    It means, although the city is in ruins but the narrator’s life is called “normal” before the Taliban comes to the city. I assume the ‘normal’ life in what narrator’s mean is the life with freedom, where they can live without any rules that restrict them especially the women. In the story, the authority of the Taliban is signed with the white flag over the mosque. The white flag is the sign of the Taliban, and this means that Taliban has taken over the city.

    In the story, women’s lives are closer with the sorrow and pain. In page 33, the narrator also tells that their family has the proverb that their family kept reciting to reassure ourselves “Joy and sorrow are sisters”, although they are in ruins, actually they are in happy situation in family, and it’s normal for them. We may see from the words that are used by the narrator how their lives are actually fully with joy, but they are actually they live behind the shadow of sorrow.

    In chapter 2, I’m interested with the use of the title, A Canary in a Cage. Actually, the family of the narrator has the canary in a cage, but this is also a metaphor when Taliban restricts the women. It is clearly showed in page 79, when the Narguesse try to take off the chadri of the women

   “You’re nothing but woman! You have no right to speak, no right to raise your voice. You have no right to take off your chadri. The days when you could travel and walk around without a chadri are over!” (p. 79)

    These statements indicate the restriction for the women with chadri and also for the women’s right. Women are like the canary in a cage, it can’t fly freely. The women do not have the right like the men should be. I assume in this novel, the narrator wants to focus to gender issue or feminist issue, because it’s talked about the women’s right. How they should the chadri when they go somewhere which is like the canary in a cage.

    Women’s life is told like the canary in the cage, they’re restricted by the new rules. Maybe the author wants readers are more sympathy to the women in this novel. She wants to tell us how women live at that time. It tells that “But fear has become second nature to women now. It’s always with us.” (p. 86), it means that women in Afghan have been accustomed to have fear. It is the same with the words “Joy and sorrows are sisters”

    The women career have changed since Taliban come, they who have a job become unemployment, because the rules say so. Although it has, the women still try to do another job in their house, “Other women bake bread or traditional pastries that their sons sell in the street. Some women do embroidery, or make necklace” (p.96) It is actually the same what Povey has explained in her journal book,“A number of women worked for the aid agencies and also continued carpet weaving and handicraft production” (Rostami- Povey, 2007: p. 21)

   The different treatment for women including when the checkpoint:
“For the women, the Taliban use little boys not much older than eight- these are the only males who may approach us. Since women may not work, there can be no policewomen” (p. 102)

    Since there are no women who may not work, they use boys to check the women. The Taliban also will not search the women’s baggage, because they will not touch the women’s clothes (p. 103) It means, the Taliban still have regards to the women not to touch the women’s clothes. They use the little boys to do that since they’re not yet baligh.

    From the story, some parents wants their children get exiled from their own country. Many seriously considered leaving Kabul. Some married their daughters to boys who lived in the West, planning to join their daughters later and lead the entire family into exile. Others tried to sell their possessions to finance an often secret trip abroad (p. 179-180). Those things happen because the Taliban restrict them especially the women.

    There are some parts of the story which the narrator compares the situation of their country when Soviet still in the state like the narrator was reminiscing how the television offered them a lots of entertainment programs. There were open radio stations poured out floods of music. (p. 180)

    “The day before the mujaheddin arrived, at the end of April 1992, we were attending a marriage in the Hotel Kabul in the center of the town…. The festivities got under way at around four o’clock. Girls and boys were dancing in Western dress, and we dined before the religious ceremony was scheduled to begin.” (p. 182)

    Those passages happened before the Taliban came to the country, or at that passage the mujaheddin also didn’t arrive yet. From those passages, the Afghan were still in influence of Western culture, the Soviet was still there.

    There are terrified cases when the narrator tells the condition in Taimani, where there was a clandestine school for little girls, but they had to walk half an hour to get there, which was tremendously dangerous for them. One day, the bodies of several girls, seven or eight years old, were discovered in a garbage dump. They had been kidnapped, raped, and strangled with their own clothing. (p. 167)

Still in Rostami-Povey journal, quoted from Najia,
   “Even a small minority of educated women and middle-class women were forced to marry the Taliban. I know of an educated woman who was the head of the school of medicine at the university and was forced to marry the Taliban. They were either forced or did it out of poverty or fear. Sometimes a woman who was married to one Taliban was raped by ten other Taliban. Sometimes they were taken to outside of Afghanistan, especially to the Gulf region and were sold as sex workers.” (Rostami-Povey, 2007)

    From the fact that written in Povey’s journal, I consider this case with the case that happen in the novel. There were actually relevant, although the narrator in the novel told about the girls and Najia told about the women, but there were actually in same condition. Women got raped and killed.

    In the story, Latifa and her sister and her friends made an underground school because many parents don’t want their children indoctrinated by the Taliban, then a lots of boys in the neighborhood don’t go to school anymore. From this case, I assume there are many underground movements, associations, organizations, that are made by the society because of Taliban restriction. For example, as what Shafiqa told in Povey’s journal about her activity as the director of Women’s Vacational Training Centre

    “We had 6,000 students from seven to thirty-five years of age. When the Taliban came to power, they closed down our institution. But we continued our underground activities in our homes. Many times we were threatened with imprisonment and torture, but we continued. It was very difficult for men as well. Men also had problems if they wanted to work. They had to grow beard and hair to a particular length, and there were no jobs for them to do. In some ways, it was easier for women. Wearing chaddari allowed us to do some work.” (Rostami- Povey, 2007 : p. 29-30)

    They move underground without the knowledge of Taliban, they try to protect their organization to survive for the society. Women and men have the same difficulties to live. Women are very restricted, men should grow beard to have job. And this makes men hard to give life to their family. However, Islam obliges the men to seek income to fulfill their needs. But Taliban make it complicated.

III.Islamic Law

  In this novel, is also showed the Islamic law that is used by the Taliban to ruleAfghanistan. However, the Islamic law that they used is kind of their version. Still in Povey’s  journal, especially for the treatment to the women “ Their treatment of women was based on the conservative norms and values of Pashtunwali that they had absorbed in the madrassas rather than on the Shari’a law.” (ibid, p. 23)

   However, in the story the narrator tells us that the country will be ruled by a completely Islamic system. If we see from the Islamic rule, there are some rules that are not according to Shari’a. For example,

“All non-Muslims, Hindus, and Jews must wear yellow clothing or a piece of yellow cloth. They must remark their homes with a yellow flag so that they may be recognizable.” (p. 49)

  For I know, in Islamic law, Islam doesn’t differentiate between the Muslims and non-Muslims. Other page shows when Taliban have massacred hundreds of civilians in the holy city and kidnapped Iranian diplomats in the name of religion that would never condone such barbarism. (p. 129) Then still in the same page,

  “They preach jihad” observes my father, “but a Muslim does not kill another Muslim. Nowhere does it say in the Koran that one should take another life. This is the proof that they make up their own Shari’a, trying to persuade us that everything they decided is written in the Koran. Their laws aren’t written, they’re connected by a few mullahs who ought to keep themselves.”(p. 129)

   From the passage above, I assume, the Taliban use Shari’a to legalize their own will and as what narrator’s father told above, they make up their own Shari’a. Jihad is in the Koran, but not for killing other Muslims, Jihad is done for release and save other Muslim who is under the evilness of kafir. So, I assume, the Taliban do not use all Shari’a law totally.

    The most significant topic in the chapter 2 is the country which is ruled by the completely Islamic system. It is actually interesting to discuss, whether the Taliban rules the country using the Islamic rules, on the other hand, there are many rules are in contrary with the Koran, for example in case,

    “The Koran specifically states that a woman may show her nakedness to a man if he is either her husband or her physician.” (p. 69) In contrast, the Taliban government rules that “No male physician may touch the body of a woman under the pretext of a medical examination” (p. 48)

    I think it is weird that they use Islamic rules but there is racialism especially for the women, whereas there is no racialism in Islam. Islam has ruled the relation between the men and women specifically in 5 rules, there are justice, trade, health, education, and marriage. Physician is including in health, so it is allowed in the Koran.

IV. Massacres and Regime

   We may find in the novel, the chapter that tells us about the massacres. The Massacres, of course, are much related to the government authority. In the story, we may find some massacred which is done by Afghanistan regime whether the Taliban, Mujaheddin, or Communist.

   “The Taliban have massacred hundreds of civilians in the holy city and kidnapped Iranian diplomats in the name of religion that would never condone such barbarism.”
    The Taliban use religion as their reason to do massacres with the name of jihad. It has been explained in the third part of this essay.
    Besides the Taliban, massacre was also done by Communist regime.

“A week later, there was a television report on the crimes committed by the Communists. Group of prisoners were shown; executed en masse at Pol-i-Sharkhi: hundreds of pairs of shoes lying scattered about; and mass graves. When the Communists were in power thousands of people accused of anti-Communism had been arrested, executed, and thrown into common graves.” (p. 187)

    This shows that massacre is not only done by the Taliban but also Communist regime. They killed everyone who becomes their opposite. During the civil war, massacre happen brutally in Afghanistan. Mass graves are founds in many places as what narrator said below

    “Much later, after Massoud’s mujaheddin arrived in Kabul, they showed us a terrifying report on television. When they dug up this greasy dirt, they uncovered the corpses of prisoners who had been summarily executed. So we had been walking, without realizing it, on a mass grave.”(p. 145)

    The regime is very influenced on the society life. The policy will influence the feature of the country. For example, Afghanistan under Soviet, become the communist nation, with the typical ideology and life-style. The Taliban take over the country, then they use Islamic law as the nation law, the ideology of the nation also change and also the life-style of the society.

      After the Communist regime fell, they tried to take the city back. The Afghan claimed this was their victory against the Soviet.

   “After the victory against the Soviets, the Afghan resistance controlled almost all the countryside, and the Communist government in Kabul tried principally to defend the large cities, the main roads, and the airports.” (p. 137)


   In this novel, the territory of Afghanistan is still questioned because, the area ofMiddle East is adjacent. While the narrator tells her journey to Jalalabad, she finds Pakistanis take Afghan’s land, and make their own rule and policy.

   “It’s obvious that Pakistan is using our devastated country ruined by years of civil war, as a convenient washing machine to ‘launder’ merchandise. That’s also why Pakistan speedily recognized the Taliban regime – many of whose fighters came from Pakistan, with the blessing of the United States.”(p. 112) 

    The Pakistanis exploit Afghanistan land because the country is in ruin. Moreover, Afghanistan in the civil war was supported by Pakistan. I assume that Pakistanis feel that they reserve to own the land.

    “This territory really belongs to us, and the Pakistanis stole it. It’s not their land, and they’re so conscious of this that before they killed Najibullah, they tried to make him sign a document officially recognizing this illegal border.” (p. 108)   

     So I assume, maybe there is a conspiracy between the Afghanistan government which means the Taliban, with the Pakistanis, so they can take the land and make their own rule on it. During the civil war, Afghanistan was supported by Pakistan, and they give the contribution to Afghan with sending their army to help in civil war.


     My Forbidden Face is a novel based on true story written by Latifa, a pseudonym of the writer. The stories of the novel are not really different with her own experiences as an Afghan woman who lived in Taliban regime. If  we compare My Forbidden Face with the journal book Afghan Women written by Elaheh Rostami-Povey as a non-fictional book, we may find the same cases happen in Afghanistan, especially in women representation. This novel actually talks about gender, ethnic, and nation. From this novel, I find four main topics; there are women representation, Islamic law, the massacres and the regime, and also the territory.


Latifa. (2001). My Forbidden Face (L. Coverdale, Trans.). New York: Hyperion.

Rostami-Povey, E. (2007). Afghan Woman: Identity and Invasion. London: Zed Books. (retrieved on Friday, Dec 9th 2011)