His life in danger, how the former model fled the Taliban and came to Iowa

When the Afghan government fell to the Taliban on August 15, 2021, Laila Naseri knew her life was going to be turned upside down. Life for most Afghans was different, but the threats against it were immediate.

As a single woman in her early 20s, she would be forced to submit to the restrictions of the brutally misogynistic Taliban regime, which is determined to impose a radical form of Islamic fundamentalism on women. As a result, the 23-year-old was relegated to the house and the hijab, the headgear imposed on women by the ruling party. In recent months, this has evolved into mandatory head-to-toe coverings in public, including face coverings.

Wherever she goes, a woman must now be accompanied by a male relative. There are no exceptions, even if she is fleeing domestic violence. Only older women and young girls are exempt from wearing the burqa in public. Violations can result in jail time for the father or closest male relative, who can also be fired from government jobs.

The dress decree was described by Afghanistan’s Supreme Leader and Taliban leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, as “traditional and respectful”. His aim, he said, was “to avoid any provocation when meeting men who are not mahram [adult close male relatives]In other words, if men cannot control themselves in the presence of a woman, it behooves women to dress provocatively.

Laila Naseri |

So imagine what the Taliban think of female models, strutting down the catwalks, sometimes dressed in Western clothes, sometimes striking sultry poses for TV commercials, or even flirting.

It had been Laila Naseri’s job for three years when the Taliban took power.

“If the Taliban know about the models, they will kill them,” the 23-year-old told me through an interpreter in Des Moines. “I couldn’t leave the house.”

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