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Musings on Nihilism, Atheism, Existentialism, Terrorism, and Faith

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Though religious people often say that without their faith life would be meaningless, we know that for some it is faith itself that leads them to the same conclusion. The question arises: what is life compared to Heaven or the next life after this earthly one?

For many religious people life is merely a means to an end with no meaning in itself. Ought we be surprised that those who hold such a view seem not too concerned about the environment or social justice when polls indicate that nearly half of them expect the second coming of Jesus and the glorious end of the world within the next 50 years; when their main concern seems to be “salvation?” It’s as if the inhabitants of Pompeii knew exactly when Vesuvius would violently erupt in 71 AD. In that case we would have found precious few petrified bodies attending to their daily routines 20 centuries later. Life loses its routine daily meaning when a catastrophe ensues.

Since Nietzsche, nihilism is usually conceived as lack of meaning in life to be overcome by the individual’s “will to power” and building up of meaning; existence trumps essence. Yet, despite Nietzsche’s famous quip that “God is dead,” the first step toward nihilism is not disbelief in God. Rather, it is acceptance of the notion that for the existence of the world to be justified it must have some external purpose to guide it. It must be the shadow of some truer world than this one; one that has the power to grant meaning to this world in which we live and have our being, and if no such other world exists then this world ought not to exist because it is meaningless. This is quite similar to what William James describes as “the religious impulse.” It is this impulse rather than atheism itself that produces nihilism.

Nihilism is the outright rejection of at least some aspects of the value of life, and it is attached to the notion that meaning must come from somewhere outside one’s self and in fact outside the world of ordinary experience. It is indeed the religious impulse to seek justification “out there” rather than having doubts about religion that is the first step toward nihilism. One can take this step toward religion and find no convincing externally imposed meaning. On the other hand, if one never goes looking for meaning to come from somewhere “out there,” one never encounters nihilism. Nietzsche was aware of that, not those who consider faith and its practice passé. But some actually do find such an externally imposed meaning and are still nihilistic. In fact, the extreme case of religious nihilism is the suicide bomber who is nihilistic in rejecting the meaning that others find in the value of human life while having a deep conviction in the externally imposed meaning of his own death through martyrdom and divine reward in Heaven.

The suicide bomber is indeed nihilistic. He may be thought of as having placed some value on the lives he takes as fulfilling some religious purpose, but in doing so he is decidedly rejecting many other aspects of the value of individual human life. In Kantian ethical language, he is treating others solely as means to serve his purposes of glorifying God rather than as having worth as ends in themselves. That is a form of nihilism—a radically religious nihilism. One might argue that the suicide bomber is not nihilistic because his death and the deaths of those he murders had profound significance to him in glorifying God. But the question of nihilism is not whether death has meaning but whether living life has meaning. There is no stronger version of nihilism that valuing death above life.

It is not being claimed here that this sort of nihilism is a necessary consequence of all Christian belief, rather, that Christianity gets interpreted by some (such as the murderers of abortion doctors) in very nihilistic ways where aspects of the meaning of life are deemed entirely insignificant next to the enormity of Eternity. Nihilism is not then part of a problem with atheism as it is often claimed. Nihilism is in fact incompatible with a thorough-going atheism that has ceased to seek meaning “out there.” Nihilism is not the inevitable result of anti-religious skepticism but part of the religious impulse which includes the supposition that such an external order is necessary and foundational to all value, meaning, and purpose that the world of our everyday experience can ever have.

Atheists only become nihilists when they take their atheism with a small dose of religion. Atheists inclined toward pessimism sometimes take the fact that the world seems to exist without such external justification as evidence for the absurdity of existence. Some atheists respond to the human condition by saying that we must live life in such a way to make it a worthy protest to the injustice of death. Such a response is one of a very religious sort of atheist.

Miguel de Unamuno, who like almost all writers and philosophers who get labeled existentialists denied being one articulated this view when he said, “If it is nothingness that awaits us, let us make an injustice of it; let us fight against destiny, even though without hope of victory.” This is the sort of atheist existentialism that announces the death of God but seems to be angry and in great despair about that fact. The claim, “God is dead…the bastard!” is trying to have it both ways. Nihilism is a real possibility when one simultaneously rejects the existence of God but retains enough of a religious outlook to insist that something very much like God would be necessary to make life meaningful. In making one’s life a worthy protest one hopes to justify one’s own existence. This sort of nihilism is an unconscious sort of nihilism that Nietzsche himself called “religious nihilism.” In fact, there is no other kind. Nihilism depends on the affirmation of another world as the only possible legitimate source of all value and the denial of this world as able to sustain its own value. Nietzsche called the phenomenon “the trans-valuation of values.” All nihilism is religious in this sense.

In contrast to this pseudo-atheistic pessimistic nihilism, the nihilism of the religious is often not recognized as such because it is often an optimistic sort of nihilism. The promise of the next world is thought to be the assurance of everything that one could ever hope for. But then, we know how that sort of thinking in the suicide bomber works out for the rest of us, so even optimistic nihilism can be something to be concerned about. Religious people who think that believing in God makes them immune to nihilism and the nihilism is part of “the atheism problem” should turn to the Bible and reread Ecclesiastes which has Solomon, son of David renowned for his great wisdom, exclaim: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Clearly even the Bible demonstrates that nihilism is not just a problem for skeptics.

Though the one who never look to other worlds to justify this world is less nihilistic than the one who takes this first step toward nihilism even if she does find meaning “out there,” avowed religious person who take the first step toward nihilism by seeking meaning in the great beyond are unlikely to consider themselves nihilist. The most prominent authority on meaning among Christians today is Rick Warren who sold 30 million copies of The Purpose Driven Life. In that book Rick Warren writes: “If there was no God, we would all be ‘accidents,’ the result of astronomical random chance in the universe. You could stop reading this book, because life would have no purpose or meaning or significance. There would be no right or wrong, and no hope beyond your brief years on earth.” This declaration is not merely one small step but a giant leap toward nihilism. Warren has hung all his hopes upon the need that a single fact turns out to be true.

A believer such as Warren is not likely to recognize the nihilism behind his statement and his belief that without some external source of worth our world would be worthless. Instead he is more likely to mistake those of us who accept this world as sufficient unto itself as nihilists. But doing so is indeed a mistake. The complete lack of nihilism is not to deny the “objective” meaning of life but to stop thinking of the question as one even worth asking—to stop looking for the justification the world to come from somewhere else. The complete opposite of nihilism is not to be able to affirm the objective meaning of life, but to never need to go looking for meaning because meaning abounds.

St. Francis of Assisi found meaning in the beauty of nature and its creatures and via that bridge he got to God. He got to the ultimate via the penultimate: the value of this world and this life in themselves. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but asking bad “philosophical” questions like, ‘what gives one’s life objective meaning?’ if taken too seriously can also make life seem not worth living. We don’t need to be convinced by some philosophical or theological argument that life has meaning or feel at all like something is lacking in not being able to provide a Cartesian foundation that stands outside of time and space upon which meaning in life can rest. Meaning abounds for all those who love so long as they don’t get fooled into thinking that love needs a philosophical foundation—that “why love?” is a question that needs an answer. Only the psychopath needs a reason to love.

It takes a lot of intellectual wheel spinning to even get one’s self to the point in thinking that the love of family and friends and our efforts to make the world better than we found it are not meaningful. This whole question of meaning only becomes a question when one follows the religious impulse to search for meaning “out there.” It comes from the idea that meaning must come from outside one’s own life and even outside the world altogether. How about starting where St. Francis started, with the love of nature and its creatures?

It needs to be emphasized here that nihilism is not an atheistic phenomenon. Both atheists and theists are capable of denying aspects of the meaning of life. Nihilism—the belief that the world in itself is without value, meaning, and purpose as some existentialist philosophers claim—is not the inevitable result of atheism. Atheists only become nihilists when their lack of belief in God is taken together with a half-measure of religion, while the theistic nihilism of the suicide bomber is the result of taking a full measure of the wrong sort of religion.

Note: This article has already appeared in Ovi Magazine on November 16, 2015.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

Why People Run: Motivation Theory Applied to Diverse Migration

Ebad Mobaligh

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According to a United Nations report, 3.2% of world population or 258 million people, live in a country other than their country of birth. Between 1990 and 2017,the number of international immigrants increased by 69% or 105 million, with the majority of immigration taking place between 2005 to 2017. The phenomenon of cross-border immigration is an important aspect of international relations and modern life. People migrate from their country of origin for a variety of reasons: to avoid conflicts or violence, or distressed environmental challenges; to escape poverty, to provide better opportunities for their children, to reunite with families, to obtain a better education and to find employment. They face tough and challenging decisions and take life-threating risks to make a move domestically or across the borders.

Why do people migrate from their home country and what are the motivational factors that lead to such an unforeseeable journey? How do they choose their destination? This paper applies motivational theory to this migration. I investigate the personal, social, economic, and cultural variables that are the critical basis of these motivations. Europe, with 78 million immigrants, holds the 2nd place in the world, and Germany, with the most immigrants, holds the 1st place among European countries. More than 1.6 million new immigrants arrived in Germany in 2014 .I have employed motivation theory to immigrants in Germany in order to determine why people emigrate to other countries.

Motivation Theory

Abraham Maslow believes that a person’s needs are the primary motivators for migration and categorized the need into the following five levels—physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. I have used the typology of motivational theory developed by Tartakovsky and Schwarts, who validated their theory by applying it to a sample of 158 potential Jewish emigrants from Russia to Israel .They investigated three different theoretical motivations:“preservation (physical, social, and psychological security), self-development (personal growth in abilities, knowledge, and skills), and materialism (financial wellbeing, wealth)”2 to validate the theory.

They described preservation as the physical, social, and psychological security for them and their family. The psychological aspect of this theory is the motivation to protect the social identity of the self or family in the face of a threat. Preservation motivation expresses that when people fear that they no longer have appropriate security to protect their social identity in their home country, they are motivated to move somewhere else. Self-development motivation refers to the stimulation of personal growth, learning new skills, and acquiring new knowledge. The authors described “Self-development motivation to emigrate as the higher-order openness to change value type that emphasizes self-direction, creativity, challenge, and adventure in all aspects of life”(Tartakovsky and Schwartz. 2001). When people are faced with economic hardship, eager to advance their career or learn new skills, or want to obtain a higher level of education, they get motivated to move elsewhere to achieve their goals. Materialism motivation theory of emigration deals with financial wellbeing, wealth, and control over material resources. This motivation stimulates one’s self-desire to enhance the economic and/or job situation. The authors stated that “Materialism motivation expresses the higher-order self-enhancement value type in the context of emigration. This value type emphasizes the pursuit of self-interest through attaining socially approved status, achievement, and control over resources.

People give great importance to more than one of the higher-order values expressed by motivation and may get induced by one of these motivations to emigrate. Additionally, millions of immigrants have arrived in Germany in search of a better life and to escape instability, insecurity, terrorism, poverty, and climate change in other European countries, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. They risked their lives, and many spent their savings to reach the borders in Europe and then made their way to Germany.I have utilized motivational theory to determine the needs that drive people to migrate.

Application of Motivational Theory of Preservation

According to a report by the BBC, more than a million emigrants and refugees have crossed European borders either by sea or by land in the last decade from different parts of the world. Conflict and wars were the main drivers of a huge wave into Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iran, and Ukraine (BBC, 2016).I have collected data from immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan to test the theory.

Yazgan, Utku, and Sirkeci in their article “Syrian Crisis and Migration ”defined conflict as “ a very broad sense which includes latent tensions and disagreements on the one end and goes to armed and violent clashes (e.g., wars) on the other”(Yazgan, Utku, and Sirkeci 2015). Their view is that migration takes place when there are discomforts, difficulties, restrictions, clashes, and, finally, violence and wars in the home country. In addition, when people face a threat or an environment of insecurity,  they decide to move elsewhere.

More than 400,000 people have died from the conflict in Syria According to an article in The Washington Post, the Syrian government has launched numerous chemical weapon attacks against its citizens (Loveluck 2019). The security condition remains fragilein Deir ez-Zor region held by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in Syria, and the lack of basic human needs has motivated people to flee. Similarly, the conflict in Afghanistan has cost the lives of more than 32,000 people since 2008 according to the United Nations. Furthermore, 2018 was the deadliest year with 3804 civilians killed in suicide bombings, targeted killings, and other operations. In addition, a weak central government, corrupt police and army, and increased crime rate are responsible for many un-recorded civilian casualties (“Civilian Deaths from Afghan Conflict in 2018 at Highest Recorded Level – UN Report” 2019). The situation in Afghanistan mostly impacts young educated adults, who are unemployed and don’t feel safe in Afghanistan and, thus, are motivated to emigrate abroad.

I have collected data from several interviews with Afghan and Syrian refugees to validate the motivation for leaving their home countries. Of the refugees we spoke to, eight out of 10 fled Syria following an incident that made them fear for their safety. Many described arbitrary arrests by Syrian forces, the death of family or friends and the deteriorating security conditions in their neighborhoods.

•Tareq, a young refugee from Homs, told us he had no trust in the idea that Syria is safe to return to and spoke of his fears about the actions of Syrian military officers.

“I used to work as an undertaker in Syria. My job was to bury the martyrs,” he said.“When I saw what they had done to them, how they were cut up with knives—no way, there is no trust. Even if they secure everything we need, there is no trust,” he added(Yahya 2018).

•Sana and her sisters were forced to live in one room for two weeks, as their home was destroyed around them. She says,“We left Syria one week ago. There were so many explosions…so we had to leave Syria. What do I remember of Syria? I remember two things—our house being bombed and not having any bread. Most of the houses were being hit. We had to stay in one room, all of us. The other rooms were being hit—(…). The bombs were hitting constantly, I was very scared.”

•Yasmine talks of her fear:“I felt so afraid; I knew we could not move from that one room. There were 13 of us in total. We did not leave that room for two weeks. It was always so loud.”All the sisters were gathered at home one day and they witnessed their father’s killing. “My father left the room. I watched as my father was shot outside our home. I started to cry; I was so sad. We were living a normal life. We had enough food, now we depend on others. Everything changed for me that day,” she says., (“Stories of Syrian Refugees” n.d.).

•Farah and Adnan led a comfortable, successful life in Syria. They had a large house overlooking the city, where they lived with their two children, Fathi, 3, and Zeinah, 1. Farah was hoping to return to school to continue her education, which she had put on hold after having her first child, and Adnan, an Arabic teacher, was pursuing a law degree. Their large, tight-knit family—Adnan has 8 sisters and 5 brothers and Farah has a large family as well—all lived nearby.Then, their house was seized by fighters because of its location. Soon after,it was destroyed. They were homeless, and the nearby cities were under attack as well. Before the bombings could start in their city, Farah and Adnan made the choice to leave their home in order to keep their children safe.“My children were born in the city, and my whole family lived there, but we had to flee to Turkey during one of the outbreaks of fighting,” said Farah. “If we hadn’t left when we did, we would have been killed along with so many other people.”

Farah, Adnan, and their children stayed in Turkey for one year before making the short but treacherous journey to Kos, Greece. Farah thought they would die on the boat crossing, and in Greece, hotels mistreated them, and they had to keep moving around. Farah estimates that they spent almost $1,400 on hotel rooms their first week in Kos. However, spending money on hotels is not their only worry. Both their children desperately needed to see a doctor. Save the Children is giving Fathi and Zeinah the emotional and psychical support they need, but their journey is far from over. Farah and Adnan are soon leaving Greece to make their way to Germany, a nearly 2,000 mile trek. Farah craves a place to call home.“I want to believe we can have a secure and peaceful life again,” she says.

The conditions in Syria and Afghanistan and the data collected from the interviews validate motivation theory of preservation, which expresses that when individuals fear that they no longer  can protect themselves, their families, and their social identity in their home country, they are motivated to move to find security for their families.

Application of Motivational Theory of Self-development

Germany introduced a new immigration bill in 2001 with attractive economic elements when other European countries were contemplating to further restrict their immigration policies in the face of increased terrorism. After four years of intense negotiation between the different political parties in Germany, a law was passed that allows legal immigration of exceptionally skilled workers and self-employed people. In addition to attractive economic elements, the law would empower responsible officials to deport hate preachers and terror suspects. The law was mainly focused on addressing the shortage of highly skilled labor requested by many employers in Germany. This opportunity attracted hundreds of thousands of people from countries where economic opportunities were scarce and unemployment rates were high.

As many as 1.2 million people immigrated to Germany in 2013,with 755,000 or 62% of the total immigrants coming from the European Union (EU) itself to find better jobs, master their skills, or get higher education. Most of the 62% of immigrants were from Poland, where safety was not an issue. Poland had an unemployment rate of over 14% between 2010 and 2015, and the Polish considered Germany’s new immigration law as an excellent opportunity to improve their economic situation.

Another immigration trend is the immigration of job seekers coming to Germany from the south of Europe. Due to high unemployment, especially amongst younger people, more and more qualified professionals are entering Germany. The number of Greek, Spanish, and Portuguese immigrants rose, with most having at least a college degree. The security situation in both East and South Europe is stable, and there is no evidence that people are leaving due to security issues. Data collected from the European immigrants in Germany shows that the motivation behind their decision was personal growth, knowledge, and higher skills. The motivation of the immigrants from Poland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal validates motivation theory of self-development. The theory states that self-development motivation to emigrate expresses the higher-order openness to change the value type that emphasizes self-direction, creativity, challenge, and adventure.

Motivation Theory of Materialism

Many European countries have created a special visa for those who would invest a significant amount in the country’s economy. Germany’s investor visa program provides incentives to encourage foreign investors to either start up a new business or invest in established businesses. Their reward would be citizenship as well as a passport that would allow them to travel, work, or live anywhere in Europe. Concerning Chinese investors emigrating to Europe, Wong and Primecz wrote, “We argue that these ‘new migrants’ are active entrepreneurs seeking new market opportunities, and many have served local market needs. It explores the development and nature of newly created Chinese enterprises by examining the opportunities arising from ‘structural holes’ in the economy.”Additionally, they drew on the concept of mixed embeddedness as the crucial connection between social, economic, and cultural contexts, from which migrant enterprises emerge and into which they are embedded(Wong and Primecz 2011).

An estimated 200,000 Chinese immigrants live in Germany. While most of them came to Germany with labor visas, a large number of them are business owners who emigrated to Germany to expand their local businesses based in China. “The small but growing crop of newcomers is nothing like the immigrants who worked in restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s. They wear fine leather shoes, banter in German, shuttle between Europe and China, and hold MBAs and accounting and legal qualifications, said Rainer Gehnen, executive director of the German-Chinese Business Association.” Numerous investments have been coming from China to Germany, and they need locally experienced legal, tax and management consultants and advisers. “Many service providers in Germany hire Chinese professionals to facilitate efficient communication with their Chinese business partners” (“Chinese Professionals Make Their Mark in Germany” 2013).The immigration of Chinese investors in Europe, in particular, Germany, validates the motivational theory of materialism, which deals with financial wellbeing, wealth, and control over material resources.

Conclusion

Data from Syrian, Afghans, Polish, and Chinese immigrants in Germany were critical to the investigation of general motivational theories of migration. I have applied three different theoretical motivations—motivational theory of preservation, motivational theory of self-development, and motivational theory of materialism—to the data and have confirmed the validity of all three theories. It means, moving forward, that ever more attention needs to be paid to motivation theory, across many other cases and diverse global regions, as it seems to have that magical intellectual quality of being both flexible and accurate.

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New Social Compact

Captain Jasmin: Charting a sea change in a man’s world

Capt. Jasmine Labarda

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I never knew anything about life at sea before I started my training. Certainly, where I come from – the Philippines – and also in other countries, being a seafarer is not seen as a job for a woman. In fact, the sea is seen as a man’s world.  It’s their space, it’s their history. There is never a ‘herstory.

I decided to go down this path for financial reasons. I knew it wasn’t the norm but I wanted to be able to get a job at the end of my studies. I could have opted to stay in a very safe place but instead I put myself in a difficult situation and pushed myself to the limits. When I was training there were only four women. There was really no-one to guide me so it was trial and error.

When I began working on ships I would encounter negativity. The thought in people’s minds is ‘you can’t do the job’. They say it’s too physical, that women can’t do it, but I’ve seen men who aren’t strong and there are some tasks that men can’t do. But they only have to see your name and the thought is always there, that you can’t do the job. So you have to work ten times harder than the men.  Even when you are land-based you find the same attitudes and discrimination.

There have been many times when I have been the only woman on board. One time, I remember, I was working on a ship for a seven-month stretch, the only woman among 20 men. Working in this kind of environment can be stressful psychologically so you have to stay strong, alert and protect yourself. It’s 2019 and I’m still having to share toilets with men but for me these inconveniences are very small things.  I don’t actually notice them.  What’s more important to me is to work and stay determined to do what I have to do.

Despite these challenges I would encourage women to go into seafaring because it’s a great opportunity for professional growth. Besides, we are squandering 50 per cent of our resources if seafaring is restricted to men. People may think it’s a man’s world but it’s everybody’s world.

I’ve been all around the world – Africa, China, Japan, Korea, Sweden, South America, Thailand – so many places. At the moment I’m working in the North Sea on a ship with a crew of more than 100, laying oil and gas pipelines.  I’m second-in-command so I’m on the Bridge, driving the vessel. I’ve really had to work hard to work my way up. They say there’s diversity but there’s still a glass ceiling. Yet we’re getting there.

There’ll always be pressures and problems but the key is to be yourself in difficult situations and stay determined.  You just have to have the right attitude and habits and encourage people to embrace difference.

It’s still not the norm that women work at sea but I am hopeful that there is a future for women in seafaring. I have a responsibility to make sure that happens.

ILO

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New Social Compact

Herat, the fire’s bride

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The olive eyes of Shaista peep between the bandages covering her burnt body, for she, like so many other Afghan women from the city of Herat, decided to escape her life by way of fire.

Shaista arrived at the hospital burning between wisps of hair and fabric, and her 19-year-old body is now a landscape of lava.

Tears seep between the gauze and the passageways of her blistered skin. Compassion is the closest thing to love that she will experience, and the hands of the man who changed her bandages are amongst the few that didn’t strike her.

She set herself on fire for a crime she didn’t commit, one that doesn’t exist, or one that everyone else appears to see except her. Her crime was being born a woman.

According to Oxfam, 8 out of every 10 Afghan women suffer either physical, sexual or psychological violence.

In 2015, the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights registered 5,132 gender crimes and between April and June 2016 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 600, but many go unreported.

The women who go to the police are at risk of being raped before being returned to their families. Those who escape for more than 48 hours face accusations of adultery, the punishment for which is either facial mutilation or death. Passed between relatives, offered to others to pay debts or settle disputes, raped and subjected to acid attacks in the streets; these women lose their mental stability and take their own lives in the most brutal way.

They usually come from lower social groups and as they don’t have access to guns or money to buy barbiturates, they drink rat poison, hang themselves, jump into rivers or set themselves on fire.

Although the families declare a ‘domestic accident’, it is easy to identify a suicide, as the majority are aged between 14-21 years old and are soaked in kerosene, when in fact most people use firewood or gas to do the cooking at home.

85% of Afghan women are unable to read or write and thus out of ignorance believe that they will die quickly. But instead they suffer for days before dying. Many pour boiling oil over themselves or drizzle it over their abdomen in order to raise attention to their plight, but sometimes the flames envelop them.

One of the most influential thinkers and leading Afghan practitioners in the field, Dr. Djawed Sangdel says: “Education is a key. This country needs a thorough horizontalisation of education for all.”

80% of those who arrive in hospital perish because of a lack of means to treat them, and if they do survive, they suffer lifelong consequences, for it is difficult to follow a course of treatment whilst carrying water and looking after numerous children.

Almost 40 years of war brought with it misery, poor health and lack of governance, under which the patriarchal system flourished; a system which made Afghanistan an open-air prison for women, causing them irreparable psychological damage.

The country’s laws tolerate tribal codes and 60% of girls under the age of 15 are forced to marry men double their age, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.

Studies from the UN Fund for the Development of Women reveal that the majority of widows sell their bodies or turn to begging in order to survive, and 65% of them see suicide as the only solution to their misery.

Herat, once known as the Pearl of Khorasan, is today a ghost town, with a horizon dotted with adobe houses, obsolete war munitions and faces hidden from the world behind the grille of a burka.

After a week in hospital, Shaista’s mother-in-law escaped with her to hide her at home, as her son simply didn’t deserve the shame of a suicidal wife.

Almost a month after the fire, she returned with wounds all over her body and without any feeling in her arms due to large necrotic areas. She did, however, survive – one of life’s cruel jokes.

Now with the same fears as before, scars from the fire on her skin and with only one arm to carry her daughter, Shaista is back in the place that she so wanted to flee.

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