Holocaust Center president likens the Taliban to Nazis

Calling for "vocal, worldwide opposition to this chilling conduct," the head of the Holocaust Center of Northern California riled against the plan by Afghanistan's Taliban regime demanding distinctive dress for non-Muslims.

"Like the Nazis before them," Mark Schickman, the S.F.-based center's president said in a statement, "the Taliban are systematically destroying religious and cultural foundations of minority culture, and then publicly stigmatizing that population."

Schickman's statement also lambasted the "barbarism" of the Taliban's ruling that may be "a prelude to even more horrific practices."

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted the head of the Taliban's religious police as saying the movement had sought a ruling from scholars, after which a law would be drawn up.

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, also urged the international community to speak out and condemn the Taliban, calling it "reminiscent of the Holocaust."

"It is a reminder of ancient and recent history and for us to witness again people being marked because of who they are, by symbols and clothing and color," said Foxman. "Unless the world speaks out, the consequences will be very dangerous."

Jews were first ordered to wear separate clothing to distinguish them from the rest of the population during the Middle Ages, said Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, and less than 60 years ago, Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David during the Nazi era.

The leader of the social justice arm of the Reform movement noted others that had been subjected to similar forced symbols.

"Later homosexuals were forced to wear pink triangles, and Gypsies, Catholics and others were required to wear their own identifying badges," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism."

Said Foxman: "In the years since the Holocaust," Saperstein continued, "these badges have evolved into symbols of intolerance and tyranny."

"I didn't think we would see anything like this again in our lifetime."

On Monday, Maulawi Abdul Wali, chief of the Taliban's powerful military police, reiterated the ruling: "Non-Muslims should have a distinctive mark in their dress so that they can be identified. We have asked for a fatwa (religious decree) from ulema (Islamic scholars) for full implementation of this. When a fatwa comes, a complete law will be made."

Wali, whose department answers directly to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, said that a year ago Hindus in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar had been required to wear yellow clothing or a yellow cord around their waists. It was not clear whether that order was still effective.

United News of India said it had obtained a copy of a decree ordering Hindus, estimated to number about 1,000, to identify themselves by wearing their religion's traditional color, saffron.

It said Hindu families would be required to put a 2-meter yellow cloth on their houses, Hindus and Muslims would not be allowed to live together, and Hindus would be barred from building new places of worship.

"Hindu men have been prohibited from wearing turbans, while Hindu women have been told to wrap their body with a big yellow chador with two small holes near the eyes," it said.

An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters in New Delhi: "We absolutely deplore such orders, which patently discriminate against minorities.

"It is further evidence of the backward and unacceptable ideological underpinnings of the Taliban, and justifies the action the international community has taken in imposing sanctions on the Taliban."

Afghanistan's population of Indian Hindus and Sikhs has shrunk from tens of thousands since the Taliban swept to power and began to implement its austere vision of Islam in 1996, although no exact figures are available.

Wali said the order would only apply to Hindus because there are no Jews or Christians in Afghanistan. However, according to the Washington Post, at least one Jew is known to live in the capital, Kabul, and there may be some Christians.