Former Wife of Al-Qaeda Operative Speaks Out on Plight of Afghan Women

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Yasmine Mohammed was born and raised in Canada, but she lived a life that few Western women could fathom.

The daughter of an Egyptian and a Palestinian, she is of Arab descent and was raised Muslim. Forced to wear a hijab and adhere to a strict interpretation of the Islamic faith, Mohammed later escaped a forced, abusive marriage to an al-Qaeda operative.

The atrocities that Muslim women suffer in Afghanistan are “not just an Afghanistan phenomenon,” Mohammed says. “It’s not just a Taliban phenomenon. You can see the exact same things happening clearly in 50 Muslim-majority countries … [and] in the West as well.”

On today’s edition of “Problematic Women,” Mohammed shares her take on the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and what it means for Afghan women. More broadly, she addresses the feminist movement’s turning a blind eye to women who are fighting real oppression.

Mohammed is author of the book “Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam” and the founder and president of the nonprofit Free Hearts Free Minds, which tries to help those living in a country that will persecute them for what they believe or who they love.

Listen to the podcast or read the lightly edited transcript below.

Kelsey Bolar: Today we are joined by Yasmine Mohammed, who is the author of “Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam.” She is also the founder and president of the not-for-profit human rights organization Free Hearts Free Minds. She is of Arab descent and actually escaped a forced and abusive marriage to an al-Qaeda operative, which she’ll share more about with us today. Yasmine, thank you so much for joining us on “Problematic Women.”

Yasmine Mohammed: Thank you so much for having me.

Bolar: For those who are unfamiliar with your story, can you share a bit more about your background and how you became to be an advocate against radical Islam in both Canada and America?

Mohammed: Sure. I was born and raised in Canada, but I lived in a separate kind of parallel society, a little mini Shariah in Canada, where I was forced into hijab at the age of 9.

I wasn’t allowed to have non-Muslim friends. I wasn’t allowed to ride a bicycle. I wasn’t allowed to go swimming. I wasn’t allowed to listen to music. You know, all of the things that people are hearing about recently, you know, the kinds of things that the Taliban are enforcing upon Afghanistan, Islam law things, basically Shariah, like I mentioned.

And I went to Islamic schools and lived in that very sort of fundamentalist bubble, separated from the rest of the society around me.

Like you mentioned, eventually I was forced into a marriage with a man who is now in prison in Egypt. He was a senior member of al-Qaeda. He came to Canada from Afghanistan, where he had been involved in terrorist activity with [Osama] bin Laden for years before coming here. My family chose him for me because they felt that he was “strong enough to control me,” because … I was a problematic woman.

Bolar: Yeah, it sounds like it.

Mohammed: So I’m in the right place. Yeah, so, I asked a lot of questions and that was it, really. Just, I was too much of a critical thinker. I was not subservient enough, compliant enough, and so that was my crime. That was the reason why I needed to be controlled by this person that they forced me into a marriage with.

And not too long after, I became pregnant with my daughter. And I should mention here that in Islam, a woman is not allowed to refuse her husband in bed. It’s a sin. If she does, then the angels will curse her all night until morning. There are edicts put on that teach men and women that women are the property of their husbands, and so he is entitled to her whenever he wants.

So I became pregnant, and when I had my little daughter, I was holding her in my arms—she was not even a month old yet—and he leaned over and said, “When are we going to take her to get her cleaned? When are we going to take her to get her fixed?”

And I didn’t know what he was talking about initially, until my mom said, “Oh, no, no, no, we’ll wait until she’s older. She’s got to be like 5 or 6 years old and then we’ll take her to Egypt and we’ll get it done.”

That’s when I realized they were talking about FGM, female genital mutilation. They wanted to mutilate my beautiful little daughter and that sparked a fire in me that I didn’t know I had given up until then.

I was in, like you mentioned, a very abusive relationship. I was tired of fighting. He succeeded in diminishing me entirely. And when I was put in this position where I felt like my daughter was going to be hacked with a razor, I found the courage to fight back and to try and prevent her from living the life that I’d lived, in fact, worse than what I had lived, because I didn’t go through FGM.

So I was overwhelmed with this need to protect her and through a long series of events, which are detailed in my book, it definitely was not a simple thing, but I was able to get myself and my daughter away from him eventually and go to university, which I never thought I’d be able to do. I got my education and when I was in university, actually, I was taking a history of religions course, and while I was in that course, 9/11 happened.

I was bombarded both intellectually and emotionally in that year. Intellectually because in my history of religions course, I was finally able to ask the questions I was never allowed to question growing up. I was allowed to critically analyze. It was encouraged, in fact.

And so the thread on this sweater started to get pulled and then when 9/11 happened and I saw everybody in my family and my community rejoicing over the deaths of innocent people—it is hard to describe how that makes you feel, like you just are so horrified and disgusted and embarrassed and angry that you are part of this, that you identify with the same group of people who could feel joy over something like this. And so I denounced Islam after that. Again, it wasn’t flipping a switch, but that’s when it happened.

And then I was quiet about it for many, many years to protect myself, to protect my daughter. You know, he’s a member of al-Qaeda. I know he’s in prison, but I didn’t know where his friends were. Al-Qaeda is a vast network. So, we changed our names, we moved cities, we stayed quiet, and I lived like that for a long time, until very recently I started to write my book.

Writing my book was my way of trying to change the narrative out there because there’s so much misunderstanding. And there were so many people swallowing the narrative that had been sold to them by Islamists, and I felt like it was my duty, like I was compelled to speak out because there are so many people all over the world that are unable to speak because they are being controlled by their governments, their societies, their communities, their families. And I felt like, I’m free and I’m in a free country.

And of course it’s dangerous for me. It’s dangerous for anybody, but it’s two different degrees, you know? I’m safer than a woman in Saudi Arabia. I’m safer than a man in Pakistan. So I’m going to use my privileged place in a free society that offers me this gift to speak out, and so I’ll use that gift that is given to me.

Bolar: This is heavy. There’s a lot you just laid out there and I can only imagine the resilience it has taken to land where you are today, publicly speaking out about these issues, in fear of your personal safety. And it just takes a lot of courage. For me, listening in from the outside, it’s hard to imagine this level of oppression happening to women in places like Afghanistan, but then to hear they’re still happening in the Western world, right over the border in Canada, and perhaps even in our own backyards here—

Mohammed: Oh, definitely in your own backyard.

Bolar: How does this happen? To what extent were you exposed to the outside world and how does the brainwashing keep you so isolated from that?

Mohammed: Fear. Fear is how it’s done. You are correct in saying that what is happening in Afghanistan is not just an Afghanistan phenomenon. It’s not just a Taliban phenomenon. You can see the exact same things happening clearly in 50 Muslim-majority countries, but then again, as you mentioned, in the West as well.

It’s happening in France, it’s happening in Sweden, it’s happening in Scotland, it’s happening in America, it’s happening in Canada. I could go on and on. I even got a message from a woman in Iceland.

Like, there’s really nowhere on this planet—these ideas don’t have borders. So when people are indoctrinated with this ideology, it travels with them wherever they go. And once they move from country to country, it doesn’t just disappear. It’s still in them. They still believe these things, regardless of what soil they’re standing on.

So yeah, it’s easy for people to say, “That’s happening over there. It’s none of our business.” But that’s, unfortunately, not the truth at all. It’s happening in everybody’s backyard. And it’s something that we should all be very aware of.

What makes what’s happening in Afghanistan especially critical is that the Taliban—so, they are one of many, many, many, many Islamist groups and jihadis, as well, they are now feeling empowered. They are now combining their forces with Pakistan, with Iran, with other groups that hate Western civilization and that want to spread Shariah. And so that, to me, is terrifying.

Bolar: You recently published a Newsweek column with a powerful opening sentence, “The tragedy of Afghanistan is not America’s fault.” What is your take on how the whole situation played out?

Mohammed: Obviously, the way that [President Joe] Biden handled this whole thing is a complete mess. I am not saying that America is not at fault for all of the people that were left behind and for the horrific way that people were betrayed. That’s a separate issue. What I’m saying is, the way that the Taliban—for example, I just read about a policewoman who was murdered. In fact, she was pregnant and she was murdered in front of her child.

And I say murdered, but they removed her brain from her head with a screwdriver. So she was brutally terrorized in front of her children, a pregnant policewoman.

Women have been forced to stay in their homes because they do not want to comply with the hijab laws. Women who leave their homes without complying with the hijab laws are being killed. Gay people are being killed and cut up.

You know, I don’t need to tell you how horrific the Taliban is, but a lot of the things that they are doing, like I said before, you can see echoes of it in many other Muslim-majority countries. And the reason why you’re seeing echoes of it is because what they are doing follows Shariah.

They call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and just like the Islamic Republic of Iran, or just like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, they’re all following the Islamic laws, the Islamic edicts that support and, in fact, sanction this kind of misogyny and this kind of homophobia and this kind of anti-democratic barbarism that we’re seeing. And so I think it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is just Taliban and it’s just Afghanistan.

While I’m glad that people are paying attention to what’s happening in Afghanistan, I want people to also expand the camera a little bit, pan out, and notice that this is happening in many places around the world, including in your backyard, and it’s not something that we have the luxury of saying, “It’s not my problem anymore.”

You know, I’ve been speaking about this for many years. And in the beginning, people used to think that I was sounding an alarm over nothing, but now they’re starting to see … the blood baths in Paris and all over Europe.

And unfortunately, the subtitle of my book, “How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam,” just keeps on getting proven again, and again, and again, and again. And right now, it could not be proven more clearly than when you see how America and the U.N. are wanting to legitimize a terrorist organization.

They want to reach out to the Taliban as if they can … They talk about the Taliban having an inclusive government and being humanitarian. … I just can’t believe it. I can see it happening in front of me and I just cannot believe what’s going on. Like, you could not possibly empower radical Islam better, you know? It’s like a dream come true for jihadis.

So I don’t know why this is happening, but it is clearly happening. It has been happening for a very long time, and it’s something that we all need to take a step back and say, “What is going on? What is happening? How is this possible? And what can we do about it?”

Bolar: I want to talk more about the reaction we’ve seen from the American left, particularly amongst those who self-identify as feminists. This is a constant theme on the show “Problematic Women,” where we examine the issues that so-called feminists decide to march out on the streets, bring attention to, and advocate on behalf of, we often find that in the face of what I believe is true oppression, true human rights abuses, these same self-identified feminists are silent.

I can name a few instances here. Where is Hillary Clinton speaking out about what just happened in Afghanistan? Where is U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe? Where is Alyssa Milano? None of these so-called feminists are bothering to use their voices and platforms to fight for women and girls in Afghanistan. And in my opinion, the silence is deafening.

What is your response to that? Have you noticed that as well?

Mohammed: I have definitely noticed that as well. And in fact, I wish that they would stay silent because what happens in some cases is that they’re actually supportive of our oppressors. And in one case would be with hijab.

Like I mentioned, women in Afghanistan are being killed over hijab. Women in Iran are being imprisoned over hijab. Women get disfigured in acid attacks over hijab. But you find that people like Miley Cyrus or Alicia Keys and all sorts of so-called feminists and celebrities and politicians actively support the hijab.

For example, Nike will put a swoosh on their hijabs and sell it in stores. Mattel will make little mini hijabs for Barbie. Hijab is on the cover of Vogue magazine. It’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated. How are you all supporting and celebrating this tool of misogyny that gets women killed? I don’t understand it.

So what you said is absolutely true. They not only don’t stand with oppressed women, they actively stand against them.

Bolar: Yeah. I never thought of it to that extent. But the reaction that I constantly get when I speak about this on Twitter and do my small part to name and shame these so-called feminists for their deafening silence on the fate of Afghan women—

For example, the knee-jerk response from them is, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, meaning we can fight for what they call women’s rights here, while also advocating for women in Afghanistan.

First off, that’s not happening, because I have gone through many of these so-called feminist social media accounts and looked for a single message in using their voice to support Afghan women, and there’s nothing there. So they’re not walking and chewing gum at the same time.

But, No. 2, I mean, it’s very sad to me and revealing of the flaws of the feminist movement in the left that we have become so selfish, we can only use our voices when it’s politically convenient, which it’s not right now because this is the president that they voted into office, and when it furthers our own causes.

And it’s so infuriating to me because, as a member of the most privileged country and generation in the entire world, if I’m going to use my voice to fight on behalf of women, it is going to be to address the most inhumane abuses my gender faces.

Mohammed: Thank you, Kelsey. Thank you so much. You do not understand how much I appreciate that. I really, really, really appreciate that. That is something that we are screaming about all the time. It makes us feel so betrayed. It makes us feel so hurt.

In the Arab world and in the Muslim world, women look to the West and specifically to American women, and they think, “Oh my gosh, can you imagine the possibilities? Can you imagine that we could have that kind of freedom?” And to have those same women that we’re looking up to turn around and either ignore us entirely or support our oppressors, I cannot tell you how much that blade in the back stinks. So I really appreciate you saying what you just did.

Bolar: And unfortunately, we’re seeing this play out in real time. You know, we don’t need to get into the issue of abortion, but on Twitter, we’re seeing high-profile figures on the left conflating women’s suffering, actual human rights abuses happening in Afghanistan and other cultures, to the Texas six-week abortion ban.

What would you say to those who are tweeting, for example, “If you’re an Afghan woman and they offer to resettle you in Texas, what do you do?” That’s a real tweet from an MSNBC contributor.

Mohammed: There’s so many things I want to say about this. I don’t even know where to begin, but I’ll just say this: … You couldn’t even have this abortion debate if women didn’t feel empowered.

Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s coming from a place of my body, my choice. Under Shariah, women, like I just described to you earlier in this podcast, we don’t even have control over our own bodies. I don’t get to choose what goes on my head or what goes on my face. … I don’t get to say no to a man who’s raping me. So to even try to conflate these two things is absolutely ludicrous.

Women under Shariah do not have bodily autonomy. They are not considered independent human beings. They are extensions of their fathers or of their husbands.

So, the way that the left is now using Afghanistan and using Afghan women, simply as a bludgeon, simply as a tool, simply as a talking point, is absolutely disgusting. And you see them do the same thing when they’re talking about the Holocaust. They will equate everything and anything to the Holocaust. Nothing, nothing, nothing is equal to the Holocaust. You know, they’ll make these grand vast comparisons, but then at the same time, they will also be the ones who are supporting and facilitating antisemitism.

So you don’t actually care about Afghan women. You just want to use them as a talking point, in the same way that you don’t actually care about Jewish people, you just want to use them as a talking point.

And what could be more privileged than that? What could be more out of touch, spoiled rotten, living in a la la land completely out of reality than that? It’s so demeaning. It’s so disgusting. It’s so hurtful. And it is so, so angering that they could even think to make that comparison.

People were hanging off of airplanes, trying to leave Afghanistan, hoping to make it to America. That is the comparison. When you’re going to talk about comparing Afghanistan to America, that’s the image you need to be thinking about.

Bolar: I couldn’t agree more. It’s appalling and shameful.

One of the things that does give me hope is that Afghanistan is not the country that it was 20 years ago and the women of Afghanistan are not the women of Afghanistan that they were 20 years ago. I hope you cannot undo or erase the freedoms that they were exposed to, but at the same time, of course, they are now being subjected to Taliban law.

What, in your opinion, do their future prospects look like, and what can women in the West do to offer solidarity and support?

Mohammed: Well, I have to tell you, I am absolutely amazed to see the Afghan women in the streets protesting against the Taliban. I’ve seen videos and I’ve seen images of Taliban men holding their guns pointed at these women, at their heads, at their chests, and the women still keep walking.

You just have to think of, really, these women feel like, “I have nothing left to lose,” you know? It’s like, “Live free or die.” That’s your slogan in America. You know, that’s your ethos. But you’re seeing it being played out by some people in Afghanistan right now in real time. They would rather die on their feet than live on their knees.

So you’re right, they’re not the same people that they were 20 years ago, because they have tasted freedom and they’re not willing to give it up.

Now, that is in Kabul and that isn’t in the bigger cities in Afghanistan. Of course, in the rural areas, in the less educated areas, freedom didn’t reach there. The American troops and the ideas that they were bringing didn’t reach the rural areas. So there’s still support for Taliban there. There’s still deep indoctrination in those areas. But there’s a lot of fighting going on right now. There’s a lot of pushback against the Taliban.

This fight is not over. People talk about it as if, “Oh, that’s it.” Taliban, they’ve taken over, and now … 11 days later, we’re all of a sudden pretending that they’re the new government and we have to just move on with things. Well, no. There’s a civil war brewing. There’s a civil war happening. And there’s still hope that the Afghan people can get their country back from the grips of these barbarians. And so that’s what I’m hoping for.

Bolar: There is still hope. And as an American, I feel personally responsible to use my voice to advocate for them and do what I can to support these women. I can’t help but feel our president abandoned them overnight.

Of course, I want to acknowledge that the United States can’t be the human rights police of the world. You know, there’s only so much we can and should do in these types of cases. But to see this chaotic withdrawal and the desperation and the lack of ability for women and families who are in true danger to actually plan for some safe haven is just heartbreaking. It’s unacceptable and it’s embarrassing. It’s not, I believe, who we are as Americans. I think we are better than that.

And I think this is an issue we want to continue talking about, raising awareness [about], and I certainly appreciate hearing your perspective on this. I feel it’s pretty rare that I can get insight from somebody like you. So, thank you for being willing to share your personal story. I think anyone listening to this interview will want to go read your book. Again, that is called “Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam.” They can also check out your nonprofit Free Hearts Free Minds. Yasmine, I want to give you the last word.

Mohammed: I just want to say thank you so much, Kelsey, for having me on. You mentioned my organization, Free Hearts Free Minds. We are absolutely bombarded with messages right now for support from people, obviously, in Afghanistan, but all over the world. So I want my last word to be that there is hope.

There are lots and lots of people who would be saying the exact same thing as me, if they had the opportunity to. And so we have to just continue to support those people and empower those people and allow them the freedom to speak. And I truly do believe that freedom will win at the end of all of this.

Bolar: I certainly hope and am praying for that. Thank you so much for joining. You certainly are a problematic woman, and it was our pleasure to have you.

Mohammed: Thank you so much.

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