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Blue of Noon
Despite the Taliban’s ouster, the trademark, powder-blue Afghan burqa remains ubiquitous on Kabul’s streets. Every Muslim society has its version of the veil, but the hooded burqa beats the rest in reducing women to a ghostly anonymity. The Iranian chador fully reveals the face, and even the Saudi abaya allows hands and eyes to be exposed. But the burqa is an all-encompassing garment, with the face-flap making even casual eye contact impossible. One can sense, though, that the burqa’s persistence in post-Taliban Afghanistan has less to do with religious orthodoxy than with the prevailing political mood. All that powder-blue actually expresses a widespread anxiety—that the Islamic fanatics haven’t really been routed, that they’re just lying low to fight another day. Under the Taliban, the burqa signified the brutal suppression of women. Today, the same garment symbolises uncertainty and fear about the future. The day there is less blue on Kabul’s streets, we can be sure that ordinary Afghans have acquired confidence in the strength and stability of their government. Meanwhile, many women, afraid to throw off the burqa, have modified its design, making it, in my opinion, an even more unsettling sight. They have cut away the front section up to the waist, but otherwise retained the cloak and the draconian hood. So, you can be startled on the street by two brightly-coloured trouser legs on high heels, briskly walking towards you in a powder-blue haze.