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Tattoos embody Afghan social revolution, but critics push back

Exposure to Western culture since 2001 has transformed Afghanistan’s previously isolated society, and a love of tattoos has taken hold – despite inking parlours being illegal.

Under the Taliban’s tough 1996-2001 regime, personal fashion statements were outlawed and police squads patrolled the streets looking for men who had beards that were too short or hair that was too long.

Now, 13 years after the Taliban were ousted, young men in Kabul, Herat and other cities wear skinny jeans and embroidered jackets, and take pride in elaborate hairstyles sculpted with thick gel.

Tattoos have also become popular, influenced by international music stars, sports heroes — and US soldiers — who often display elaborate body art.

The practice is one unexpected legacy of the US-led NATO intervention in Afghanistan, which ends its fighting role against the Taliban on December 31.

Many Muslims consider tattoos to be forbidden under Islamic law, and some mullahs in Afghanistan are fiercely critical, describing it as a mutilation of the human body.

Faced with such opposition, getting a tattoo requires determination, ingenuity and inside knowledge.

“It is illegal to have a tattoo shop. I do it in secret and if the government finds out about me they might come and arrest me,” Reza Yousifi, 19, an underground tattoo artist in Kabul, told AFP.

“My friends who are tattoo artists previously had shops but they were arrested and their shops were closed.”

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