João Antônio Gomes
Let's Talk About Afghanistan
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Kabul has the world looking at it. Shaken, we watch the desperate crowds of civilians attempting to get into the capital’s international airport Hamid Karzai with a sheer panic of the Taliban in their eyes. Some hopelessly try to hold onto the outside of departing planes, inevitably falling to almost certain death. Embassies evacuate their personnel in helicopters, creating images only comparable to the infamous events of Saigon in 1975 when the US ultimately left Vietnam upon the fall of the Southern government. This rush cannot help but make us, lays of the Western world, wonder: what makes the Taliban so feared? Who are they?
American helicopter evacuates the US embassy in Kabul.
To answer those questions, many will invoke terms as vague as ‘radical Islam’, when the reality is immeasurably more complex. Let’s start from the beginning. As contradicting as it may seem (and is), Taliban means ‘student'. The group that burns down history, that denies science, that shot Malala for wanting to learn, call themselves ‘students’. Naturally, one could argue that the name is merely a reference to the origins of the group within students of religious seminars in Northern Afghanistan. While valid, the continuity in the use of the name makes it undeniable that they have ressignified it in an act of double thinking. Usually, at this point, Western media will stick to tautologies about how these insurgents follow a conservative interpretation of Sunni Islamism with grounds on a strict Sharia law, Islam’s judiciary system. In some cases, they will ring the alarm that Muslims will conquer the world by installing the ‘Great Caliphate’ or some nonsense along those lines. Truth is, the Quran is not a full statement of the Taliban’s values. To affirm that would be comparable to saying that the Bible supports the atrocities and bloodshed of the Crusades and the Inquisition. Therefore, we must think twice before saying that the problem is Islam itself as it may fuel agendas based on religious intolerance and culturalisms, as seen in Macron’s France.
Moreover, when it comes to the Sharia law part, there is some demonization of the term, as we immediately picture women wearing hijabs against their will and all other sorts of despicable rules to our standards. The judiciary set provided by the Quran is far more dependent on interpretation than the plethora of beliefs involved in religious extremism. As a matter of fact, some academics would even go as far as to suggest that English ‘common law’ - the unwritten laws based on legal precedents established by the courts - was influenced by Islamic lawmakers via Normands. Of course, this is not a well-rounded theory, but it exemplifies that West and East may not be as distant as they seem. For starters, Afghanistan was many times caught in the crossfire between Western powers, constituting a battlefield for foreign nations. First, there were Russians and the English Empires in the 19th and early 20th century and then the Soviets and the Americans (though indirectly) during the Cold War. In their experience, Afghans hardly ever surrendered, fighting fiercely for their sovereignty. The same applies to the Taliban, which was financed and trained by the CIA in the late 90s to fight off the soviet-backed government.
The reason why Afghanistan has always been strategic geopolitically is its geographical location. This represents the fact that the country is at the crossroads between the world’s most powerful and productive civilizations. Nowadays, namely China, Russia, Iran, and India. For the first two, there’s an interest in making a counterpoint to the American influence in the region by expanding their geopolitical ‘backyard’. For China, however, that has officially recognized the Taliban government, the concerns go beyond the geopolitical situation of the region as the development of hostile relations with the new government could culminate in the growth of terrorism in the province of Xinjiang, a border to the country and home to the Uighurs - an ethnic minority in China mostly made of Muslims.
Women protest in favor of the Taliban.
In conclusion, the current situation in Afghanistan should be observed critically. While the Taliban constitutes an outdated and vile government that blemishes Islam, the implications of approaching the situation with fierce and blind condemnations, omitting quintessential information, could have catastrophic consequences in Western societies, such as the institutionalization of religious intolerance, xenophobia, and violence. Either way, it is for certain that the greater burden will be taken by the country’s population. As they stand between the Taliban, the newly-formed resistance, and the Islamic State Khorasan - which took the lives of 170 in a suicidal bombing near Kabul’s international airport - we are led to expect bloodshed and violations of human rights in the near future.