Op-Ed Columnist: Meet Sultana, a Taliban’s Worst Fear

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Sultana followed an preparation from inside her home in Afghanistan after a Taliban threatened to lard her with poison if she went behind to school. Because of a risk to her and a photographer if she was visited there, her design was taken around Skype.

Andrew Quilty for The New York Times

OF all a students scheming to go to college this fall, maybe nothing have faced a some-more dangerous tour than a immature lady named Sultana. One magnitude of a jeopardy is that I’m not disclosing her final name or hometown for fear that she competence be shot.

Sultana lives in a Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, and when she was in a fifth class a commission visited her home to advise her father to lift her out of school, or else she would have poison flung in her face. Ever since, she has been mostly cramped to her high-walled family devalue — in that she has secretly, and perilously, prepared herself.

“I’m unstoppable,” Sultana laughs, and it’s true: She taught herself English from occasional newspapers or magazines that her brothers brought home, in and with a Pashto-English compendium that she flattering many inhaled. When her businessman father connected a residence to a internet, she was means to safe over her devalue walls.

“I surrounded myself with English, all day,” she told me by Skype. Today her English is fluent, as good as that of some Afghan interpreters I’ve used.

Once she had mastered English, Sultana says, she tackled algebra, afterwards geometry and trigonometry, and finally calculus BC. She rises about 5 a.m. and deduction to assimilate calculus videos from Khan Academy, work out equations, and even review about fibre theory.

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Sultana, now 20, says she leaves her home usually about 5 times a year — any time, she contingency wear a burqa and be escorted by a tighten masculine relations — though online she has been reading books on production and holding courses on edX and Coursera. we can’t exclusively determine all Sultana says, though her story generally checks out. After reading a book on astrophysics by Lawrence M. Krauss, a fanciful physicist during Arizona State University, she reached him by Skype, and he says he was blown divided when this Afghan facile propagandize castaway began seeking him perspicacious questions about astrophysics.

“It was a surreal conversation,” Krauss said. “She asked really intelligent questions about dim matter.”

Krauss has turn one of Sultana’s advocates, along with Emily Roberts, an undergraduate during a University of Iowa who sealed adult for a denunciation module called Conversation Exchange and connected with Sultana.

Sultana during her table in a print taken by her family.

By Skype, Emily and Sultana became quick friends, and shortly they were chatting daily. Moved by Sultana’s clearly unattainable dream of apropos a production professor, Emily began exploring what it would take for Sultana to investigate in a United States.

With Emily’s help, Sultana has been supposed by a village college in Iowa, with a joining by Arizona State University to take her as a send tyro a year later. Emily started a website to lift income for Sultana’s university education.

Sultana reminds us that a biggest untapped apparatus around a creation isn’t bullion or oil, though a womanlike half of a population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally gifted sister, she never would have been means to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also transparent that internet connectors can infrequently be a diversion changer.

Sultana’s family is heedful of her passion for preparation though surrenders to her determination. “My mom pronounced a lot of mouths will be open, a singular lady going to a Christian world,” she said. “But we will die if they stop me.”

Unfortunately, a United States isn’t helping. Last month, a U.S. Embassy in Kabul deserted her focus for a tyro visa. That happens all a time: Brilliant immature group and women are supposed by American universities and afterwards denied visas because, underneath U.S. law, they are seen as immigration risks.

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(As a Muslim, Sultana would also be barred by Donald Trump’s due anathema on Muslims. we asked her what she suspicion of Trump, and all she would say, with still dignity, was: “He thinks all Muslims are bad. It’s painful.”)

Michelle Obama has pushed an considerable debate called Let Girls Learn, nonetheless her husband’s administration has never seemed as enthusiastic, and America customarily denies visas that would indeed let girls learn. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting terrorism by floating things up; we wish we accepted that infrequently a many effective arms opposite terrorists isn’t a worker though a lady with a book.

The Taliban know this: That’s because their fighters shot Malala Yousafzai in a head. If usually we were as cleareyed as a Taliban about a energy of girls’ preparation to renovate societies.

Sultana now spends her days operative on calculus equations, listening to Bon Jovi and doing domicile chores while listening to a BBC or self-help audiobooks. It also turns out that she is a longtime Times reader and gets my email newsletter. She’s now operative her approach by some-more critical reading: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”

Sultana has set adult another appointment for a visa, for Jun 13. It won’t be Sultana who is tested though American process itself. I’ll let we know what happens.

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