I was going to make my next Substack about the BC Trans Care website, however, the events unfolding in Afghanistan occupied much of my intellectual attention today and cause me to see many things in a different light—it is as though Afghanistan has provided a new lens for me to look through. It feels like getting a new and stronger pair of glasses. As I continue my research on the BC Trans Care website, I thought I would write an essay about what I’ve observed vis à vis Afghanistan and American Foreign Policy and Western Imperial thinking regarding the Muslim world. I think it’s important for westerners to come to terms with the way the foreign policy wielded by our leaders has contributed to unnecessary human suffering, and I am really writing this to reconcile with my own conscience as much as to shed light on some things for my readers that rarely get airplay in the MSM.
I think that ultimate responsibility for the current state of affairs stretches much further back in time to at least the Bonn Conference held shortly after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. Many people have blamed the United States for trying to create a modern democracy in Afghanistan. But the problem lay in the prior decision to create an Afghan state in the first place—that is, a Weberian state that aspired to a monopoly of legitimate force over a defined territory. There was another available alternative, which was to stabilize the country under a coalition of local warlords and tribal militias. This would have built out from the Tajik Northern Alliance that was the key U.S. ally against the Taliban, and would have entailed Afghanistan’s ethnic groups organizing to defend themselves.
A warlord alliance would not have looked pretty from a Western normative perspective. But it may have been more resilient than the centralized state the United States tried to create.
We can’t negotiate peace unless we start treating the Taliban as predominantly Afghan movement.
Taliban are actual humans -many with families who are either desperately poor or have been killed .. before we can talk about which ones are Afghan we have to at least admit they're humans.
I really feel sorry for those who actually believed all that crap about how the US is a force for democracy and that there's such a thing as a global human rights order.
Something tells me the Taliban themselves are shocked by what happened and did not have immediate plans as to how to run the entire country because they didn't expect to get there so suddenly. It'll be weeks, maybe months, before the dust settles and we can get a read.
Something also tells me that one of the main dynamics to watch out for is tension within the Taliban itself between (1) upper leadership who want to be pragmatic; (2) its heavily indoctrinated base & foot soldiers; (3) others who joined the Taliban for some sorta material gain
This week many of us awoke to the eerily familiar site of America hastily and callously pulling out of war it had no business waging, choosing to prevent all civilian flight departures, blocking the travel of Afghans who had paid flights out of the country—in order to prioritise it’s own American evacuation. This is not Saigon, it’s much worse. We listened incredulously to the stories about American-backed president Ghani booking it and his administration pulling out. We watched as a power vacuum formed, and a bewildered Afghan people essentially left behind to fend for themselves. We saw the awful scene at the American-occupied airport. Majid Nawaz made sense for once— when he wrote that, if it was humble enough, the west could take a lesson from the way the Taliban basically took over Afghanistan with hardly a shot fired. Never underestimate your opponent, make certain you want to achieve your goal more than your enemy does, and that you have more drive and less distraction.
I was in a Zoom call on Sunday morning, listening to Mike Ghouse and Safi Kaskas talk about accountability from a Muslim perspective, when we received the news that the Taliban had taken the presidential palace. The man claiming power had spent 8 years in Gitmo before being released. The west scratched it’s head, having been handed its own ass on a plate. Those of us old enough remember Dubya’s claim’s that the war was won, the Taliban defeated. Smoke ‘em out, the neocon American Foreign Policy Strategy, seems to have failed. Who will account for this failure? I believe we must hold accountable the neocons who created this situation and who have time and again shown an abject failure to centre human beings and a lust to decimate Levantine countries and keep the MENA region destabilised to preserve western hegemony.
Let’s remember how the Taliban came to be—in the political environment of the 80s when America was waging it’s ongoing battle against the Soviets. Who backed the mujahideen? Who created a war on terror? Who decimated entire countries and created massive human displacement? Can we stop pretending America ever cared about human freedom and peace? Can we stop pretending that the military industrial complex has not essentially become its own cult, bent on beastly and destructive ways? After 20 years, who is the net beneficiary of this endeavour? Military contractors are looking fairly comfy. Let’s not even talk about how many boys were sent off to a war where they died or had their legs blown off or suffered other severe sequelae from being pawns in a fat cat neocon war game. What did all this enormous suffering on every side accomplish in the end?
Who decided to run away, occupied the airport, prevented all civilian flights leaving, essentially abandoning those who had been allies and helped the Americans when Americans asked? Who is left behind to make sense of what just happened and fight against a return to the dark times of the 90s Taliban, that one led by a chap who (has since died and) had no idea who Jinnah was? Dude, every South Asian knows who Jinnah is, his image is unmistakable and those who know their history know that he was among the modernist/liberal/pluralistic Muslims of that time, and therefore is much loved by Muslims. The west perhaps does not consider the fact that the Taliban may be as surprised as anyone, did not expect to take power so soon, they expected to have time to form a government and develop legislation and policies for governance. Pompeo has tweeted in the past day or so that GOP did not want a situation where a power vacuum was created giving a space for terror to take root. Well, here we are.
What will happen to women? What will happen to all those Afghans the Americans callously left behind, those who worked with and supported the west? Will reprisal killings take place? Will young women be forced into marrying Taliban fighters? Will girls and women be able to continue their education? What about journos remaining in the region? Will Shia minorities receive protection? What will their Shariah look like? (Note contrary to western belief Islamists do not agree amongst themselves on what is Shariah and many Muslims do not either.) Islamic jurisprudence is vast and diverse and contains differing and conflicting opinions and has shifted and changed over time.
Despite the hyperbolic fear-based narrative the western media is trying very hard to forge, the Taliban appear calm and reasonable and polite. In his mobile phone interview with Yalda Hakim, Suhail Shaheen sounded like a PR spokesperson, he could easily work for the White House, he sounded that smooth. Yalda skillfully pressed him, reminding me that there still are gifted journalists around, that not all of them are tools of the propaganda machine—some are still seeking the truth, whatever it looks like. Aida Sanjush, an Afghan now living in Canada, gave an interview in which she stated that her intelligence gathering indicates many women are fearful and in hiding, worried about being targets of the kind brutalities waged against women by the Taliban of the 90s.
These are early days and it remains to be seen how events will unfold. The western media certainly wants to promote a narrative. Few seem capable of humanising the Taliban and instead prefer to remain stuck in the neocon mindset that got us here. To be clear, the Taliban has a history of brutality and oppression. We all know this. To an extent reticence and fear remain prudent and understandable. However, I think those of us living in the West forget that Afghanis want peace and freedom however it comes to them. Westerners have such an arrogance when it comes to the developing world, and in particular the Muslim world, Muslims remain imprisoned in a dystopian triangle of tyrants, invaders, fanatics.
I have spent that past few days pouring over thoughts and opinions and analyses of modernist/pluralist Muslim thinkers from the MENA region and from South Asia, intellects, scholars, of journalists working in the region, of Afghans themselves on the ground. I have reviewed the history of the region in an attempt to gain a geopolitical understanding of Afghanistan. And then I have considered the western media narrative. I find a disconnect, an intellectual gap. I cannot help but feel I’m being manipulated by the MSM, just the same as I am when I read that Brooke Taylor level bullsh1t on how women’s rights are blaspheming trans people. I remind myself that the same people bullsh1ting me about my constitutional rights and my right to set sexual boundaries being bigotry are trying to feed me that hyperbolic narrative about Afghanistan.
Mike Ghouse wrote a post in which he suggested continued dialogue with the Taliban leadership. Safi Kaskas posted a video clip about the need to balance justice with freedom and hoped the Taliban would take heart. When I asked Safi could we be on a cusp of change, he answered be patient and wait, we need to observe what’s happening to really know. Today Marc Garneau remarked that Canada will not be making any decisions just yet about recognising the Taliban government, and naturally the CPC just had to counter that with a virtue signalling press release about how the Taliban is bad and they would never recognise it. Interesting response, considering the cons seemed quite cozy with Modi who is a Hindutva fascist and whose government promotes ugly human rights violations against Muslims and women. Also interesting because we all are watching the west normalise the brutality and derangement of the Sauds and pretend that Ibn Salman is a genuine reformer (despite ordering the brutal assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and the brutal incarceration of Loujain al-Hathloul), as opposed to a self serving malignant and sociopathic narcissist. Maybe the west has the taste of butt-hurt in its mouth at a humiliating geopolitical failure and this is driving the emotional reactivity we’re seeing that’s obscuring rational thought.
So the answer is, IDK and it’s complicated. It seems to me we aren’t going to serve the human interests of the Afghan people by isolating the country and putting the Taliban on the defensive and refusing to even admit they are human beings. The west has a primitive grasp of the varying strains of extremism among Islamists and also of societies that differ from its own. Taliban differs from Wahhabism, and so the counter approach must differ. Taliban has deep vast roots in Deobandi thought, as opposed to Wahhabism. It is a grass roots movement funded by people on the ground as opposed to the Wahhabs’ oil-based funding.
Now is the time to listen to liberal/revivalist Muslims who promote pluralism and freedom and who are working diligently to combat fundamentalist thinking within the Muslim community/world. We don’t want Islamic regimes, or any religious regime or state, that is not freedom. We tried the colonial neocon way, that failed. We are done letting America pretend to be the leading force of freedom and democracy and human rights. American simply DGAF, it engages foreign policy to play geopolitical chess, to promote and protect it’s ideologic and financial interests at all cost, even if that is massive human cost. How do the savage brown man trope and the Rapunzel damsel in distress trope play into American geopolitical games? How does the continued existence of Muslim fundamentalism and extremism serve the west by preserving its hegemony? How do we hold accountable America neocons who wrote this screenplay? What does this new chapter hold for Afghanistan? How can each of us promote peace and balance in human society? I have a lot of questions. We all do. Uncertainty means possibility. Can we strike a path of balance to navigate the challenges? Can we let Afghans build their society and economy up, and take back their lives and country? I hope so.
Image credit: wanttocreate via Unsplash