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Vice and virtue in Afghan comeback

Afghan women are now being recruited to promote adherence to Islamic law
Afghan women are now being recruited to promote adherence to Islamic law  

From Matthew Chance
CNN Correspondent

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghanistan's department of vice and virtue -- infamous under the Taliban for its repressive behavior -- is back in business.

But unlike their baton-wielding predecessors, the new enforcers are taking a more "softly softly" approach to Islamic law.

They are, they say, going to rely on the power of persuasion only to make Afghans more virtuous.

The threat of severe beatings for sins, such as women not wearing the all-encompassing burqa or men shaving or trimming their beards, is gone, but the message is still the same.

"We are not like the Taliban. We're not focussing too much on specific sins," the new head of the vice and virtue department told CNN.

"But it is the duty of every Muslim, and every government, to direct people in what is right and what is wrong ... we will offer moral guidance. God will punish those who sin."

And, just like in the Taliban days, sinning includes cutting your beard.

CNN's Matthew Chance says a resurrected vice and virtue committee attacks the 'sin' of shaving among Afghans

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But these days there's a new twist to the tale which would be unimaginable a year ago -- women.

In the new Afghanistan, women are now being trained to carry the message of Islamic law and to report whenever it is transgressed.

It is Afghanistan's unique brand of women's liberation.

"A woman has great responsibility in Islamic society," one Afghan woman tells CNN.

"She has to lead her children towards Islam and obey the orders of her husband. She is responsible for the education of her children, but also should not leave the house or talk to strangers without her husband's permission," she says.

"We will encourage that."

It's clear, the emphasis of the new vice and virtue department is on a much softer approach towards enforcing Islamic law.

The new officers will go out into the community, to schools and offices to try and make people, in their eyes, be more virtuous.

But in barber shops across Kabul, men are exercising their right to trim their beards -- while they still can.




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