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Updated 3 June 2007

In forcing the Russians to withdraw in 1989, the Afghans became the heroes of many in Islam. The subsequent civil war saw the fundamentalist Taliban emerge and take power. They viewed their victory as a triumph of fundamentalism and Allah's will. For about five years, they enforced a strict Islamic code on the nation. Women, in particular, were disadvantaged under the Taliban interpretation of the Qur'an.

After 9/11, the collapse of the Taliban in a matter of weeks contrasts sharply with their fundamentalist vision and all-conquering image. How could this happen if Allah is all powerful and on their side?

Perhaps Mr. Karzai and his government can survive the bullets. Much depends on that, for the present generation of terrorists knows well how to destabilize Afghanistan.

Karzai wanted to put the war lords away, but the US refused. As things evolved, the war lords are now being wooed by the likes of the Taliban and Iran. Violence is increasing and the countryside is sliding back toward pre-war conditions. It seems Mr. Bush missed a golden opportunity to showcase democracy in the heart of Islam. He does have an excuse: There is no oil in Afghanistan -- just a lot of poor people who cannot contribute to American interests. And the American psyche is still all about Manifest Destiny, an idea whose time has passed. Dogma, of whatever ilk, dies hard it seems. Manifest Destiny was self-serving and immoral in the first place. That the rich and powerful can have their way is infectuous; they may come to believe they are special, so special they can in effect take on the mantle of God as far as other tribes, nations, or people are concerned. We hear that very declaration daily in our times. That propensity has its flip side.

Middle Eastern states find basis in the Qur'an for an Islamic rule that transcends secular management of daily affairs. Such a governance has support from many Muslims even as Islamic sects fight each other over interpretations. This Qur'an-based hope sustains many Muslims, Middle Eastern States, and numerous terrorists in the face of what appear to be hopeless odds of ever matching the West in economic power and innovation. Bin Laden had it right when he declared this to be a holy war. Mr. Bush took the bait on bin Laden's terms instead of addressing the real causes of terrorism in our time.

Islamic governance is quite complex; Hijab (code of dress and behavior) is one prominent issue that gives rise to tension.

For further understanding of the Taliban brand of fundamentalism see:

Aisha Geissinger writes:

"To most Muslims, the Afghans are the heroic people who defeated the former Soviet Union despite overwhelming odds. The subsequent civil war in Afghanistan deeply disappointed most people and has led them to turn their faces from the ongoing conflict as much as possible. The majority of Muslims worldwide cherish visions of a just Islamic state emerging somewhere, if not in their own country. This hope sustains many people in the face of what appears to be hopeless odds. To see the dream become a nightmare, and the phrase "Islamic justice" used as a synonym for tyranny, is painful."

"The Islamic movement needs to look honestly at the situation in Afghanistan (and places such as northern Iraq and Pakistan, where Taliban-style ideas have following), consider the origins and consequences of such groups, and develop responses which will solve the problems that they create within an Islamic framework. Averting our faces from painful realities is an option we cannot afford, both because it betrays the suffering of many Afghan men and women and because of the long-term consequences for the Ummah [the Muslim community] as a whole."

The Taliban, of course, are Islamic extremists for whom every issue has only two colors, right or wrong, depending on how one interprets the Qur'an. Geissinger again:

"This focus on rules also ignores the prerequisites for establishing an Islamic system in the modern world. Since the 1975 drafting of CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), the UN and various NGOs have been trying to discourage single-sex education and medical care when possible. [NGOs are non-governmental organizations associated with the United Nations]. Muslims by and large have ignored this, with some communities quibbling over whether and to what degree women should be educated. As a result, there is still a marked shortage of women physicians, nurses, other medical personnel, and educators in most Muslim communities, including Afghanistan."
--By Ali Abunimah; Electronic Iraq

Geissinger has written for Islam Awareness and See also: Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought.

There is more: women in the Middle East suffer greatly, just because of their gender. Doubtless that arises from their second-class status in the Qur'an. It is true that Mohammed improved the status of women in his day. It is also true that the Qur'an, written by others, remains frozen in that status rather than Mohammed's style of liberation.

We appeal to the moderates in Islam to heed what Aisha Geissinger has to say. Here is a person who sees things for what they are-Islam needs her vision. And so do we.

From Ramallah Online

"Women's rights, championed by liberal supporters of the Afghan war are in a dreadful state. Back in November 2001, a New York Times editorial gushed: "America did not go to war in Afghanistan so that women there could once again feel the sun on their faces, but the reclaimed freedom of Afghan women is a collateral benefit that Americans can celebrate. After five years of Taliban rule, women in Afghanistan are uncovering their faces, looking for jobs, walking happily with female friends on the street and even hosting a news show on Afghan television.

"The changes in women's status were -- forgive the pun -- largely cosmetic. While the Taliban's worst anti-women decrees were formally lifted nationwide, they have been re-imposed by individual warlords. In Herat, for example, repressive new decrees restrict women's movement and participation in civil society, and women's NGOs are systematically intimidated and harassed. Throughout the country, Amnesty says, "violence against women by both state and non-state actors continued. The violence took the form of rape, forced marriages, kidnappings and traditional practices discriminatory toward women in settling tribal disputes." Women found no redress through the inadequate, biased and in many places nonexistent judicial system. Overall, Amnesty concludes, "fears for their personal safety" prevented Afghan women from "participating fully in civil society and denied them the opportunity to exercise their basic rights."

"On top of these problems, almost 2 million Afghan refugees have returned home to a country in chaos with collapsed health and education systems, continued drought and insufficient international aid.

"Tony Blair, one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Afghan war, promised that, "this time we will not walk away from Afghanistan." Yet, he and the world have done precisely that. This is the same Blair, by the way, who affirmed at that time that he would oppose any military action against Iraq unless strong evidence emerged linking the regime to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"The situation in Afghanistan is an enormous, ongoing tragedy, but as we watch chaos, disease and insecurity spread in the "liberated" Iraq, the Afghan experience has a depressing resonance. With the UN giving its belated blessing to the US occupation of Iraq, there does not seem to be an international mechanism to hold Washington accountable for the smoldering wrecks its wars leave behind. The most frightening prospect is that new and ever more ruthless anti-US groups will emerge to try to fill that gap, fueling forever this endless global "war."

Update 15 July 2006. NATO has picked up some of the responsibility for Afghanistan. It is feeling the heat from increased violence. Rearmed and reorganized, the Taliban now practice a classical insurgency. We quote from an earlier story no longer available from from Reuters

    "Guerrillas sneak into a village at night, kill a few police, others run away, or even strip off their uniforms and switch sides. Government or coalition troops arrive and retake the village, often without a fight.

    "Afghan security forces are too thinly spread and ill-equipped to provide continuous protection.

    "A Western security source told Reuters the Taliban, armed with AK-47s, walk around villages fearlessly.

    "'They have handshake-deals with the police. It's progressively getting worse,' he said, asking not to be named.

    "In some places, irregular militias have been used, controversially, to protect the areas the government cannot.

    "Even if they are pushed back, the Taliban have shown that they can regroup in Pakistan and mount guerrilla-style raids on villages for years to come, said Wadir Safi, a law professor and ex-cabinet minister.

    "Apart from the Taliban, drug gangs also pose a serious challenge to NATO in the south, the main poppy-producing region of Afghanistan. The country is the world's leading producer of opium, from which heroin is derived.

    "Drug money not only fuels the insurgency, it also provides livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

    "Disillusionment in the towns presents another danger."

What would Afghanistan be like today if we had poured in the resources sunk in Iraq?

Was this a missed opportunity or what?

These questions remain valid today as this page is updated. The update will be brief, but possibly significant. According to Jason Burke, The Guardian Weekly, (01.06.07) NATO forces are at long last adopting the strategy followed by the British in India to eliminate the Thugs, a centuries-old guild of land-based pirate-killers. The British did that by playing one group off against another, offering the hangman's noose for the guilty after trials on the evidence or life in prison for information that led to the capture of other Thugs. Large numbers of Thugs took the option of life, implicating compatriots, sometimes by the dozen. The guild became exctinct in ten years--the work of only a handful of men. To an extent, that strategy has begun to work in Afghanistan. We think it may be the only one with any chance of working. Burke quotes, Rahimullah Yusefzai, a senior Pakistani journalist: "..suspicion is now falling even on trusted men and is creating tension in Taliban ranks."

The Punishment of Virtue by Sarah Chayes provides a recount of the history on the ground.


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