Julio Pino jpino at SPAMkent.edu
Sat Aug 5 12:44:10 MDT 2000

Comrades: I wanted to share this insightful article on the Taliban. The
full piece can be accessed at:

May 1-15, 2000

Understanding the Taliban phenomenon – a crucial
task for the Islamic movement

By Aisha Geissinger

News from Afghanistan in the ‘international’ media revolves around reported
bans on marbles, kite-flying and toilet paper, and
the forcible imposition of the beard and burqa. It seems that the
vocabulary of the average Talib has shrunk to two words:
haram (forbidden) and fardh (obligatory). Reports of draconian restrictions
on women take centre stage, because of western
audiences’ fascination with what lies ‘behind the veil’. Men responsible
for enforcing public decency are said to beat women in
the street who show their faces or ankles. Most women are ‘not allowed to
work’. They are forbidden to see male doctors, yet
there are few female doctors available. Most girls’ schools have been
closed, and the only education available is religious
instruction for girls who have not reached puberty.

What are we to make of all this? Some Muslims agree with these policies and
publicly support the Taliban. Others violently
disagree, advocate shaving the beard in order to demonstrate their
disagreement, and are willing to appear on television along
with secular human rights and feminist groups in order to denounce these
policies. But most Muslims maintain an embarrassed
silence, taking refuge behind the excuse that "we don’t really know what’s
going on there." It might be more honest to say that
we don’t want to know what is happening, much less deal with it.

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 on-going
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 appear to be hopeless odds. To see the dream
become a nightmare, and the phrase "Islamic justice" used as a synonym for
tyranny, is painful.

Finally, criticism of the Taliban, whether it comes from non-Muslims or
Muslims, is often heavily overlaid with prejudices or
political interests. Muslims often show their partisan, class, ethnic and
madhhabi interests in their criticism, deriding the Taliban
as "peasants", "ignorant Pakhtun", or "Wahhabis". Muslim criticisms tell at
best a partial tale: who does the ban on toilet paper
primarily affect? Pity the poor foreign correspondents who are forced to
use a lota (water jug)! If any non-Muslim country
banned toilet paper, environmental groups would be applauding it for its
ecologically progressive decision.

Western complicity in and responsibility for the Taliban’s excesses is
usually ignored; if the economy is based on opium, what
can anyone expect after 22 years of war and upheaval, to say nothing of the
recent imposition of economic sanctions? These
criticisms of the Taliban are clearly a way of attacking Islamic movements
in general and ‘proving’ that any attempt to actualise
Islam’s socio-political dimensions in this age is doomed to failure—in
fact, that nothing could be worse than a society based on
Islam. Other Afghan factions have been making political mileage out of such
western media attacks, but in the long term all
Muslims, in and outside of Afghanistan, will pay a high price for such
coverage in years to come. It is being used as a weapon
against any Muslim self-assertion anywhere, even of the most peaceable and
innocuous sort.

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