Taliban Threaten Death Against First Female Afghan Pilot

Afghan pilot

The “glass ceiling” in Islamist societies is much thicker than anything Western feminists complain about. Case in point: the first female Afghan pilot, 21-year-old Niloofar Rahmani, who says she has been driven to the verge of quitting her “dream job” by death threats from the Taliban, and even from members of her own extended family.

“Her parents and siblings also fear for their lives, and the family of eight lives in hiding, their comfortable middle-class life lost,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Rahmani says the first threats were delivered via phone, by angry men shouting in a language she did not speak. In the summer of 2013, the first written threat was dumped on her doorstep: “You have not taken our threats seriously. Islam has instructed women not to work with the Americans or British. If you carry on doing your job, you will be responsible for your destruction and that of your family.”

The letter, signed by a branch of the Pakistani Taliban, instructed Rahmani to “learn from Malala Yousafzai.” They probably should have thought that message through a bit further, since Yousafzai, a courageous critic of Islamist misogyny, survived a murderous attack and went on to win the Nobel Prize while still a teenager. Her attackers (or, at least, a group of Usual Suspects standing in for them) were recently given life sentences in Pakistan, while she celebrated her 18th birthday a few weeks ago by opening a school for refugees in Syria.

Of course, the lesson Rahmani was supposed to learn was the “driven out of your home after nearly dying at the hands of a thug squad” bit. Unfortunately, members of her own extended family joined the Taliban, describing her as a tool of American imperialism (and even the alleged forced spread of Christianity by U.S. forces!) and demanding she be punished for bringing “shame” to the clan. Members of her family have been attacked, sometimes physically.

“Had I known, I would never have put my family through this,” she said, crediting the enduring support of close family members with keeping her alive.

She is indeed very popular with the United States military. “The U.S.-led coalition had publicized Capt. Rahmani’s achievements, helping turn her into one of the faces of the post-9/11 generation of Afghans, those who came of age after the end of Taliban rule. Online photos of the young pilot in her khaki jumpsuit, loose head scarf and aviator sunglasses went viral,” the Wall Street Journal recalls. She was given an International Women of Courage Award by the U.S. State Department, and flew with the Navy Blue Angels in San Diego, where she was honored with her own holiday by the mayor.

Unfortunately, the Afghan military doesn’t seem nearly as united or vigorous in supporting Captain Rahmani. When she and her family decamped to India to escape from Taliban death threats, the Afghan Air Force accused her of abandoning her duty and tried to make her resign. Her superiors were “reluctant to grant her permission to travel to the U.S. and gave no recognition of the honor when she returned.” She hasn’t been given a flight mission since early July, due to security risks.

An Afghan Air Force spokesman told the WSJ that all of their pilots, male and female, are threatened by an enemy that “doesn’t distinguish between men and women,” encouraging her to “stand firm against the threats and serve the country bravely.” That doesn’t square with Rahmani’s account of her treatment, and “stand firm against the threats” is a bit less than what an officer should expect from the people who should protect her from those threats.

Unfortunately, Rahmani sounds close to throwing in the towel, despite two more women following in her footsteps and becoming Afghan military pilots. The U.S. military has tried to help by offering her relocation for a training assignment aboard C-130 transports, but that would only be a temporary measure, and it would leave us with the Taliban crowing about how it drove her out of the country and into the arms of those Christianity-spreading Americans. Likewise with the possibility of her pursuing a commercial aviation career outside of Afghanistan, an option she said her family cannot afford in any event.