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The bursting 'Ka-bubble': Taliban extremism is remaking a once-cosmopolitan Kabul

Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

But fearing the Taliban’s wrath, Taj Begum’s owner, Laila Haidari, shut it down.

One afternoon in August, workers propped open the vestibule door and began to cart out what could be salvaged from the furniture. Inside, Rahmatullah, Taj Begum’s manager, and two women from the staff helped organize items — prints of photographs depicting scenes from around Afghanistan, Taj Begum tote bags, various pieces of equipment — into piles on the ground. They seemed like artifacts of a time gone by.

“It’s finished. We can’t believe it,” he said.

“We don’t know what to do. We’re confused.”

“We’re sad,” added one of the women.

A few weeks later, Haidari visited too. She cried as she saw the dismantling of what had been a “sacred place” for her.

 

“It was where women, with all their wounds, could come and speak with us, and speak with each other. It gave people their lives back; it touched so many people,” said Haidari, her voice holding back sobs. “Taj Begum wasn’t just a restaurant or a business to me. It was like a cinema, a theater, a place where men and women could sing together.”

The Taliban, meanwhile, has been vigorously erasing vestiges of the old government. Crews from the Ministry of Information and Culture have been painting over the blast walls that had grown over the last two decades like a crust around the Ka-bubble. Before, they had been a canvas for Art Lords, an artist collective that had thrown up elaborate murals depicting children and international figures. Today, they bear stern slogans, including, “Our unity is the key to success,” “The end of occupation is the beginning of freedom” and “Our nation defeated America with Allah’s assistance.”

For Omaid Sharifi, Art Lords’ co-founder, now in exile in the United Arab Emirates, the redecorating by Taliban officials is proof they “will do everything in their power to silence people and kill our imagination.”

“Our work wasn’t just murals, but to change people’s behavior and attitudes. This was an indigenous solution to our problem with the blast walls, and we wanted to do this together. We asked everybody to paint with us, from street kids to others,” he said. “It was more than just a mural they destroyed. It was also the social transformation behind what we did.”

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