Dec 14, 2009 | The good things about the Afghan Taliban? | By Barry Rubin
Britain’s top military chaplain says we must recognize the good things about the Afghan Taliban
We’re getting used to it by now, the bizarre inability to recognize evil, the cultural relativism that excuses real political and war crimes, and the lack of faith by Westerners in their own civilization and religion. Yet each strange juxtapositions never fail to shock those who still remember the way things are supposed to be, and must be if the forces of dictatorship and repression are going to be beaten.
Sound too strong? Consider this new development. The Anglican Church’s chief chaplain with the British army is praising the Afghani Taliban. The UK foreign minister just wants to make a deal with some of these collaborators with al-Qaida who enabled the September 11 attack and are among the world’s leading totalitarians.
The Right Reverend Stephen Venner, recently appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams– who himself favors Muslims in the UK living under Islamic Sharia law–said that while some of the Taliban’s methods are unacceptable, it is unhelpful to paint them as too evil in what is really
a very complex situation.
It isn’t helpful to demonize Venner by exaggerating what he meant. Venner is not being an apologist for everything the Taliban has done nor does he want them to take over Afghanistan. Nevertheless, his misunderstanding reflects the dangerous incomprehension all too common in the West. What he really wants to do is to win over elements in the Taliban by being nice to them, then getting them to participate in creating a stable, moderate Afghanistan. That’s just about the same thing as British government policy and perhaps U.S. government policy.
But here’s where the problems begin. Of course, in the Taliban as in other radical movements – including fascism and Communism – there are people who get caught up for personal or local reasons who might well break away under such conditions.
Yet those conditions are not the movement’s enemies being nice to it. There are two ways such a
break away can happen. First, they can realize that the movement to which they have dedicated and even risked their lives is bad. Or they can conclude that it is being defeated and it’s time to change sides. This principle applies as well to al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhoods, Hamas, Hizballah, the Iranian and Syrian regimes, as well as many other such ideologies and movements.
The problem with the Venner approach is by spreading a veneer of respectability about vicious tyrannical terrorists, it flatters rather than exposes and breaks their ideology. At the same time, making generous offers of forgiveness and participation assures them that they aren’t going to be defeated. In other words, the venerable Venners of the world ensure that the Taliban’s supporters will stick with the group or, even worse, help them get into power.
Regarding the flattery aspect, Venner quickly starts talking about the
good side of the Taliban:
There’s a large number of things that the Taliban say and stand for which none of us in the West could approve, but simply to say therefore that everything they do is bad is not helping the situation because it’s not honest really. The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.
But a group like the Taliban isn’t just a mix of nice and nasty things but rather a holistic ideology about the will of the deity, the nature of life, and the proper direction for society. People like Venner—quite numerous among Western clergy, academics, journalists, and politicians—simply cannot understand such an approach because they no longer believe in a coherent doctrine of their own.
sense of loyalty are not abstractions. In a bad cause, we call this fanaticism. But people like Venner–and they are legion in the West today – simply don’t understand that people with strong (bad) convictions kill millions of people. There’s nothing admirable in that. Nothing at all. (And I won’t even bring up the Nazis here.)
Let’s put it bluntly: They want to kill you. If possible they would destroy your liberties and way of life but more likely they will just settle for bloody oppression of their own people. They ran the most repressive regime of our time. Admiration is out of the question.
The UK government’s line, which the U.S. government is hinting at accepting, is that the Taliban or at least what are called
moderate elements in it must be brought into Afghanistan’s government. Foreign Minister David Miliband wants to buy them off with the promise that they will sit in the Afghan parliament in future.
Let me explain it to you: Do you think of Taliban types went into the government they would be transformed into nice moderate guys who just want to have peace and get along with everyone?
Again, if someone were to defect and turn against the Taliban then of course they could change sides. But the idea of bringing radical Islamists into government and then expect stability or moderation is quite foolish as they will still be compelled to seize state power, transform their societies into something even worse, and make war on the West.
Colonel Richard Kemp, who served in Afghanistan and retains a sense of reality, explained things that should be too obvious to need explanation, regarding this naiveté:
Their central creed and ethos is about violent oppression which comes from a politics of extreme religion that has very little to commend it in terms that we would recognize or appreciate. In many ways it is a mistake to compare their faith of extreme holy war with the kind of religion of peace and understanding that the bishop follows. They certainly wouldn’t show understanding of his faith.
In fact, they’d call him a Crusader and cut off his head.
One might add to that massacres; amputations; terrorism; a genocidal hatred toward the West, Christians, and Jews; and the reduction of women to slavery.
People used to make fun of those fooled by Communism or the Nazis but in many circles such lessons have been forgotten. Ironically the apologists for the world’s most reactionary and tyrannical forces are usually found among people who consider themselves progressives. The same people are often notoriously less empathetic when it comes to the United States or Israel, in whom they often appear to see far less good than in Islamist extremists.
Yet the West’s problem today is not that it is too unsympathetic to its enemies and too assertive about its own beliefs. Quite the contrary.
Update: Bishop Venner later apologized for his comment, saying it was
one small phrase in quite a long interview intended to suggest that not all members of the Taliban were
equally evil. Actually, in some ways that’s formulation is even worse since if they were less evil this presumably means they didn’t actually go around killing and oppressing people. But for that to be true they’d have to be pretty low-level and inactive, meaning they wouldn’t be very important. But Venner envisions these people participating in the Afghan government. So I suppose that would apply if they signed the membership list at the meeting, didn’t actually do anything, but are somehow important enough to be leaders of Afghanistan.
About the author:
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).