KNOW YOUR ENEMY? Q & A on Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the CIA (J. Sakai & Butch Lee)
Q. I heard President Bush say that after the World Trade Towers massacre, America must support a new “crusade” to wipe out Islamic terrorism worldwide.
A. Millions of people in the Muslim world were stunned at his choice of words. Since the original “crusades” were the mass invasions of the Middle East by feudal European armies bent on looting, slaughter and colonial conquest (all in god’s name, of course). It would be like the Mayor of New York City announcing that to fight drugs New Yorkers had to support a new “lynching”. Maybe Bush was truthful there, for once.
Q. But isn’t this a war of modern Western democracies vs. Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, one that’s so backward it’s oppressing women and generally trying to force everyone to live in some tribal or feudal society?
A. That’s what the corporate media, the politicians and the Pentagon all say. What’s remarkable about the picture they draw is that none of it is true.
This is a war between Western multinational capitalism, led by the u.s.a., against a pan-Islamic fascist movement that is not only capitalist itself but is as modern as the cell phone. The key word here isn’t “islamic”, it’s “fascist”. The wonderful u.s. multinational alliance includes almost all the brutal dictatorships in the world–and is generating new waves of racism right here–so we can bet this war isn’t about democracy. On either side.
Q. How can the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden be modern? Don’t they want everyone to go back to some like tribal life ruled by religion?
A. The Taliban rule over a very poor, isolated, war-torn country, and their religious officials and soldiers are certainly uneducated in Western terms. But that doesn’t keep them as an organization from being modern. Afghanistan as a society is backward, but the Taliban as a political operation is modern. They were created out of the Pakistan refugee camps by the c.i.a.during the 1980s, for the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. And you can’t get too much more modern than that. The Taliban’s class politics and social program are completely alien to traditional Afghan society.
Take the single most notorious part of their government—the forced removal of women from jobs, education and public life. Where women are not even supposed to move about the streets or go to public events, even when wearing the all-enveloping clothing to hide their face and body. Many women were beaten, terrorized and even in some cases killed by the Taliban’s roving men’s patrols in order to convince them to stay in what amounts to mass house arrest.
There is no precedent for this in traditional Afghan culture, sexist as it was and is. In the traditional rural village life (and 80% of the population was rural) women were not supposed to show themselves barefaced to men outside their family. But in isolated agricultural communities, where everyone was often part of the same extended clan, women worked side by side with men outside daily and could go for months without seeing a stranger. In the cities, as a practical matter, this rule was largely ignored. Nothing like what’s going down now for women under fascist rule. And that’s an oppression “Made in the USA”.
Q. Wait a minute, you’re saying that the c.i.a. and the u.s. government is responsible for the Taliban?
A. That’s actually very well known. We have to go back a moment to the Afghan civil war, since that’s where all the players here—the c.i.a. & u.s. government, the Islamic right-wing, and Osama Bin Laden himself—got together. We also have to make the distinction between the Islamic political right and the fascist movements that come out of it.
Just like ultra-orthodox Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity, in early Islam there was a unity of religious and civil authority (much of Islam’s religious teachings, again like Judaism’s, concern how to live daily life—marital relations, business dealings, law & order, public health, etc). The Roamin’ Catholic Church, we should recall, once had armies, ships, vast plantations and slaves, and still has the unique international diplomatic status of a nation-state (and befriends abortion clinic bombers, speaking of terrorism).
What we often call “Islamic fundamentalism” has been around at least since 1928, when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was founded. A belief in the strict teachings of the Koran has existed within Islam since the desert tribes of the Arabian peninsula in the 7th century A.D., of course. But the modern political movement to answer the social ills of a Muslim world under Western colonial domination by going back to a society organized according to conservative religious teachings began as an middle-class anti-colonial movement. Led by conservative clerics, educated young men and local merchants, it was opposed to British capitalism’s control over the Egyptian royal government and economy. As well as the corruption of Muslim society that they blamed on Western cultural influence.
Their answer was to return society to the original laws & governing of the Koran. The Prophet Mohammed’s immediate successors ruled the larger Muslim world using the title of Caliph. Right-wing Islamic movements often call for a return to a united Muslim world ruled by a supreme religious leader as Caliph (one Turkish right-wing organization even is called “The Caliphate State”). This right- wing internationalism gets considerably diluted once these capitalistic men get close to power, of course. The Taliban, which owes much to the fellow Islamic state of Pakistan, promptly refused a request to sign a border treaty once they took state power. In fact, the Taliban have taken up former Afghan royal government claims to a slice of territory also claimed by Pakistan.
The Muslim Brotherhood in the 1930s and 1940s founded its own religious ideological schools, organized cells, and started harassing and demonstrating against the British occupation with the quiet consent of the monarchy. Taking the logical next step by dealing with those Muslims who were judged to be collaborators, they started assassinating Egyptian officials, including the police chief (killed by a thrown bomb while policing a student demonstration) and the prime minister. Under the later nationalist anti-colonial military regime of Gen. Gamel Nasser, the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed and hunted down during the 1950-60s. Thousands of rightists were imprisoned, killed or forced into an exile where they helped spark new groups in other countries.
Now the Islamic right has a mass following throughout the world, since it feeds on the neocolonial poverty, corruption, and hopelessness of pro- Western regimes. Organized into hundreds of different parties, organizations, religious schools, aid societies, charitable funds and armed groups, the Islamic right has also had the advantage of being supported at critical moments by capitalist governments wanting to divert mass sympathy for anti-capitalism.
When Egyptian ruler Gen. Anwar Sadat was preparing to make detente with Israel and the West, he emptied the prisons of rightists and revived the Muslim Brotherhood as a more moderate organization, still popular but one which had agreed to divert its more directly revolutionary activities abroad ( it’s office near the Afghan border was a center for Osama Bin Laden and the streams of other Muslim men coming to join the c.i.a.’s jihad ). And during their long anti-guerrilla war with the leftist P.L.O., the Israeli security forces covertly encouraged the growth of right- wing alternatives like Hamas ( which popularized the suicide car bombers in the early 1980s) in order to undermine the more politically dangerous left.
Just as we have seen armed neo-fascists grow out of the fertile soil of the Christian Right and the anti-abortion movement here in the u.s., the larger Islamic Right has been the recruiting ground for a new pan-Islamic fascist movement. There are many different organizations in addition to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda ( “the Military Base” )—such as Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group, which has been conducting a bloody terrorist war with the ruling military junta since the army overruled the 1992 election victory of the conservative Islamic opposition party.
It was in Afghanistan, however, that “the largest covert operation” in c.i.a. history implemented the bold strategy of making pan-Islamic fascism into a world force. From April 1978, when the pro-Russian Peoples Democratic Party took over the central government in Kabul in a military coup, the NATO powers began to arm and train the conservative rebels, criminal groups and warlords who were waging a traditional guerrilla war against the government ( armed clashes, coups and rebellions are the normal medium of Afghan politics). In December 1979 the first units of Russian troops began arriving.
By February 1980, when a Washington Post report noted the buildup of u.s. involvement, the c.i.a. was pouring funds and weapons into a new shadow army of tens of thousands of full-time soldiers that would be largely recruited out of the swelling refugee camps, ideologically trained in the hundreds of new c.i.a.-financed right-wing madrassa (live-in religious schools for boys, that were the only source of education for children of the camps and most poor Pakistani familes) and managed by their allies, the Pakistan military’s ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence).
But in an important secret policy decision, the u.s.government decided to internationalize the conflict: the new goal would be to create a new global Islamic jihad that would invade not only Afghanistan but the Islamic regions of the former U.S.S.R. and break up America’s main Communist enemy into chaos. And that is where Osama Bin Laden comes in.
Q. I’ve read in the newspapers how he was a volunteer and joined the mujaheddin. Was there something more, like was he a c.i.a. agent?
A. Not surprisingly, Bin Laden has explicitly denied ever being involved with the c.i.a. Or directly receiving military training from them or any Americans (not too meaningful, since the military training was largely done by the Pakistani military and mercenaries). This may well be true, but he was not a simple rich kid volunteer but rather someone who was selected and approved to play a major leadership role in this covert operation by the c.i.a. and its Muslim allies. This may be why the Saudi government is rumored to have been pressuring the Taliban for years to not turn over Bin Laden for u.s. trial, but to either execute him or keep him isolated in Afghanistan.
Ahmed Rashid of Pakistan is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (a project of the Center for Public Integrity). For many years he has been the Afghanistan correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph of London. As he wrote in his book on the Taliban:
In 1986, CIA chief William Casey had stepped up the war against the Soviet Union by taking three significant, but at that time highly secret, measures.
He had persuaded the US Congress to provide the Mujaheddin with American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down Soviet planes and provide US advisers to train the guerrillas. Until then, no US-made weapons or personnel had been used directly in the war effort.
The CIA, Britain’s MI6 and the ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence] also agreed on a provocative plan to launch guerrilla attacks into the Soviet Socialist Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the soft Muslim underbelly of the Soviet state from where Soviet troops in Afghanistan received their supplies. The task was given to the ISI’s favourite Mujaheddin leader, Gulbuddin Hikmetyar. In March 1987, small units crossed the Amu Darya river from bases in northern Afghanistan and launched their first rocket attacks against villages in Tajikistan. Casey was delighted with the news, and on his next secret trip to Pakistan he crossed the border into Afghanistan with [the late Pakistani] President Zia [ul- Haq] to review the Mujaheddin groups.
Thirdly, Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI initiative to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan Mujaheddin. The ISI had encouraged this since 1982, and by now all the other players had their reasons for supporting the idea….
. . . Between 1982 and 1992, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Islamic countries in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central Asia and the Far East would pass their baptism under fire with the Afghan Mujaheddin. Tens of thousands more foreign Muslim radicals came to study in the hundreds of new madrassas that Zia’s military government began to fund in Pakistan and along the Afghan border. Eventually more than 100,000 Muslim radicals were to have direct contact with Pakistan and Afghanistan and be influenced by the jihad.
In camps near Peshawar and in Afghanistan, these radicals met each other for the first time and studied, trained and fought together. It was the first opportunity for most of them to learn about Islamic movements in other countries, and they forged tactical and ideological links that would serve them well in the future. The camps became virtual universities for future Islamic radicalism. None of the intelligence agencies involved wanted to consider the consequences of bringing together thousands of Islamic radicals from all over the world.
‘What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?’ said Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US National Security Adviser. American citizens woke up to the consequences only when Afghanistan-trained islamic militants blew up the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, killing six people and injuring 1,000…
Among these thousands of foreign recruits was a young Saudi student, Osama Bin Laden, the son of a Yemeni construction magnate, Mohammed Bin Laden, who was a close friend of the late King Faisal and whose company had become fabulously wealthy on the contracts to renovate and expand the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. The ISI had long wanted Prince Turki Bin Faisal, the head of Istakhbarat, the Saudi Intelligence Service, to provide a Royal Prince to lead the Saudi contingent in order to show Muslims the commitment of the Royal Family to the jihad. Only poorer Saudis, students, taxi drivers and Bedouin tribesmen had so far arrived to fight. But no pampered Saudi prince was ready to rough it out in the Afghan mountains. Bin Laden, although not a royal, was close enough to the royals and certainly wealthy enough to lead the Saudi contingent. Bin Laden, Prince Turki… were to become firm friends and allies in a common cause…
He first traveled to Peshawar in 1980 and met the Mujaheddin leaders, returning frequently with Saudi donations for the cause until 1982, when he decided to settle in Peshawar. He brought in his company engineers and heavy construction equipment to help build roads and depots for the Mujaheddin. In 1986, he helped build the Khost tunnel complex, which the CIA was funding as a major arms storage depot, training facility and medical center for the Mujaheddin, deep under the mountains close to the Pakistan border. For the first time in Khost he set up his own training camp for Arab Afghans, who now increasingly saw this lanky, wealthy and charismatic Saudi as their leader.
To bottom line this: Osama Bin Laden went to Afghanistan as a government designated leader in Saudi efforts within the c.i.a. jihad, where his important role soon made him a highly visible figure to other Muslim militants. In 1989 he set up his organization, al-Qaeda ( “the Military Base”), as a help center for Muslims who had fought with the mujaheddin and their families. After he broke with the Saudi royal family in 1992 and “went rogue” he began enlisting veterans and other recruits in a new jihad against the u.s.
In August 1996, from his new home in Afghanistan where he had moved his three wives and 13 children, he issued his first declaration of war against America, whom he accused of subverting the Saudi royal government and profaning the especially sacred land of the Arabian peninsula with the continued occupation by infidel u.s. soldiers : “The walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets.” You know the rest.
Q. But even if the c.i.a. was involved, why do you call the Taliban or Bin Laden “fascist”? Isn’t it obviously more of a religious movement?
A. It’s in character for fascist movements, which are vicious cutting edge products of modern capitalism, to clothe themselves in some imagined glorious past. The first fascist state, that of Italy’s Mussolini, called itself a nationalist recreation of the ancient Roman Empire. Germany’s Nazi movement called itself the rebirth of the warrior Aryan race (which never had existed in real life). Of course, Italian and Germany fascists believed all that, just as the Taliban’s clergy and soldier cadre believe in their cooked- up religious ideology. By “fascist” we don’t just mean repressive or undemocratic, although they’re obviously that (Note: this discussion has been influenced by a new theoretical paper, Don Hamerquist’s Fascism & Anti-Fascism, which we urge everyone interested in this subject to check out). Fascism is a very specific type of political rule. When normal capitalist society goes into severe crisis, one where the oppressed are in rebellion or there is unmanageable class conflicts and the state is unable to function, there is both a need and a vacuum for new mass forces to enter the political arena.
One thing we should remember is that there are other people than just the wealthiest capitalists who have an interest in saving capitalism. Fascism organizes masses of such lower-middle class and declassed men to seize the state power and violently reorganize society. This revolution from the radical Right happens with the consent and help of world capitalism even though they may have state power ripped from their own hands. That is, the big corporate capitalism benefits from fascism but it does not rule during this interlude.
This isn’t hard to picture. In the struggle to prevent liberation from below, new masses of men enter to take up arms for restabilizing basic capitalism. The old discredited state, thick with corruption and ineptitude, is overthrown. The old failed order is destroyed and many are killed as a chilling example. “Peace” is restored by overwhelming violence, and society is forcibly reorganized to remove dissident or alien elements who are blamed for past injustices. And a new capitalist economy is cobbled together that seems to reward the new society (as German fascism seemed for years to bring new successes to their newly Aryanized nation).
This fascism has definite characteristics, whether in Nazi Germany or the Taliban’s Afghanistan or the u.s. Aryan Brotherhood: It taps into and is filled with genuine anti-bourgeois anger and sentiments in distorted form. There is a supreme leader over a sharply hierarchical state. It exults in the violent military experience that is said to be “natural” for men, while scorning the soft cowardly life of the bourgeois intellectuals and officials and moneylenders. Along with that it restricts women to the margins of an essentially male society. While usual classes even under capitalism are engaged in economic production and distribution, fascism develops a criminal economy more focused on war, looting and enslavement.
Looking at the Taliban’s actual record reveals much in unity with this fascist pattern, but little that is spiritual. Like their fellow Serbian fascists, the Taliban have conducted ethnic cleansing campaigns, terrorizing thousands of Afghans from the minority Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and other peoples. Their apparent goal is to minimize all other peoples besides the Pashtun in Afghanistan, making for a monoethnic society. Even those who seem to pose no threat aren’t safe. Sikhs, who were a small number of traders and craftsmen whose families had emigrated from India, were singled out for harassment somewhat like Jews in Europe. Ajit Singh, a refugee from Jalalabad, recounted: “They told us what to do, they forced us to wear yellow turbans, they made nasty remarks at our families, our children. Life there was unsupportable.”
Q. So what do you mean about the Taliban, for instance, their economy being different?
A. The Taliban state is fairly uninterested in normal production and distribution, the growing of grain, getting medicine to sick children, making shoes and fixing of sewers type of thing. The Taliban actually lives in the trance state of a different economy.
First off, they really fit the stripped down old left definition of what a state is—“a special body of armed men”. A significant part of their income has come from taxing or even taking part in the drug trade that the mujaheddin first started in the 1980s under c.i.a. supervision (even though the Taliban, in an effort to win international support, banned poppy growing last year, due to their large stockpiles opium traffic across the border has never faltered). Afghan “freedom fighters” raised Afghanistan’s share of the world heroin supply from zero in 1979 to 60- 75% now by u.s. government and UN statistics. In mujaheddin controlled areas peasants were ordered at gunpoint to shift to poppy cultivation. This is actually only part of their major economic preoccupation.
The Taliban has always been financially supported by—and is interlocked with classwise—the large Pakistani transport companies and smuggling mafias. That is, the Taliban leaders are local bourgeoisie themselves, but of a special kind. Because of its central location and long borders in rough terrain, Afghanistan has always been a hub where commercial traffic goes from Pakistan and its ports across the borders into Iran and up into the former U.S.S.R. ( via Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan ). And back. We’re talking about many hundreds of trucks a day loaded with televisions, computers, silk clothing, food, diesel fuel, rifles, drugs. All smuggled, and usually on stolen trucks. Again, a corrosive trade worth billions of dollars a year.
The transporters are certainly businessmen, but what we’d call small local capitalists. They don’t care too much for the multinational corporations and the WTO, for obvious reasons. What they do care about is having a stable corrupt police over Afghanistan’s highways. During the free-for-all period right after the pro-Russian Kabul government fell in 1992 and before the Taliban took over in 1995-96, each local warlord and his gunmen set up roadblocks. A long truck convoy might be “taxed” dozens of times. After the Russian military occupation collapsed in 1989, the various mujaheddin warlord armies continued tearing the country up in intensified warfare against each other and the besieged Kabul regime. The c.i.a.’s (and Osama Bin Laden’s) favorite commander, the notorious Gulbuddin Hikmetyar (respected as very pious for having had acid thrown into the faces of women who didn’t wear veils) led the “brotherly” attack against the first mujaheddin coalition government in Kabul in 1992, killing some 10,000 civilians in over a year of internecine shelling. Violent chaos is bad for real crime.
So the Pakistani smuggling mafias started not only backing the Taliban financially and politically, but giving them shares in the syndicates and helping the various leaders buy trucks for their families and followers to join the business. The Taliban (Òthe StudentsÓ ), a new movement of Pushtun nationalist supremacy of students out of the right-wing madrassas in Pakistan (many as young as 14 or 15), led thousands of fresh but inexperienced fighters in a new jihad to unify all the armies and end the fighting. Like a miracle, the Taliban marched on the capital and beyond, sweeping armies before them by the simple expedient of buying the loyalty of warlord commanders with cash supplied by their backers. Their forces swelled as they incorporated old warlord forces into their new army of Pushtun unity, as well as being joined by some 20,000 enthusiastic new recruits from the refugee camps in Pakistan. This is the clerical fascist regime that came to rule Afghanistan.
Ahmed Rashid comments: “After taking the capital, the Taliban levied an average of 6000 rupees (US$150) for a truck traveling from Peshawar to Kabel, compared to the 30,000-50,000 rupees, which truckers paid before.” The Pakistan Central Board of Revenue estimated that this illegal smuggling trade cost the poor country at least US$600 million in 1997/98 just in lost customs duties alone. Entire local industries went into depression because of the sales of smuggled “brand name” products from Japan and the West.
In class terms the Taliban maintain a ruthlessly thriving capitalism, but as a fascist niche ruling class that doesn’t feel that it needs NATO or the World Bank and cares nothing for their fate. There is wide-spread class antagonism towards Western imperialism among Muslim local capitalists and mafias in many countries, who see no advantage to their own class in having the big multinational corporations take over even the small corners of the Third World. And modern society in the Muslim world keeps turning out large numbers of declassed, educated young men who have no prospects in their poverty-stricken countries. The c.i.a. was surprised at the World Trade attack, since their “terrorist suicide bomber” profile predicted 19 year old men who were illiterate and poor while the actual hijackers were educated, multilingual and older. But two days before the attack, Egypt’s president Mubarek warned of “an explosion outside the region” if the u.s. did not change its Middle East policies. Not everybody was surprised.
Q. So what do these Islamic fascists want? Would a better u.s. foreign policy prevent more mass terrorist attacks here in America?
A. In your dreams! All of a sudden, we are hearing this “be nice” foreign policy line being urged. In a nationwide address recently on the crisis, Minister Louis Farrakhan advised America: “A better foreign policy would defeat terrorism forever in the world…Ó (perhaps Farrakhan was referring to his own little foreign policy, where he got paid for publicly supporting the Sudanese islamic dictatorshipÕs genocidal war against Black Afrikan Sudanese).
Many voices are playing into this self-pitying American self-absorption about their own safety, sometimes to the point of the delusional. Respected academic Noam Chomsky has written that the Trade was a “horrendous crime…The primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries, firemen…” No, the primarily victims were stockbrokers and executives and computer softwear designers —an analysis of the first 2100 victims showed that they were 80% male, average age of forty, mostly white-collar professionals and executives from the banking, stock market, and computer industries ( it was the World Trade Center, not an ordinary office building, you know). And mostly white (as were the firemen from the overwhelming white apartheid FDNY, since elite blue-collar jobs are usually reserved for white men). It doesn’t make the pure human tragedy any less, but these are the very people who could care less then or now about the suffering and tragedy of the women of Afghanistan. As the Sixties saying said, “What goes around comes around.” That’s why more than a few people in the world have conflicted feelings about what happened. The World Trade Center, the tallest buildings in America, was built to be the active nerve center and symbol of White America’s financial power over the human race. The builders even said something like that. A financial equivalent to the military’s Pentagon. If this stands for a supercapitalism that has guided and arranged the impoverishment, mass killings, bombings, torture and repression all over the world (with complaisant u.s. public approval and indifference), is it so surprising that many said “It’s time they got some of what they inflict on others!”?
Perhaps the conflicted feelings are most sharply evident in the Black community. Eyebrows were raised at a recent Gallop poll where 71% of Black people polled favored special more intense security checks for Arab Americans at airports. At the grassroots, the Black Nation is very pro law & order (most are for the death penalty, stop-and-frisk, harsher sentencing, the whole nine yards). Understandable for people who bear the brunt of the mass violent crime and addiction that capitalism creates. At the same time, more than a few felt that what happened was an inevitable lesson for White America. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell recently repeated what a caller told her. This Black woman said that “while she felt compassion for the suffering families, she didn’t feel that the attack had anything to do with her.
“It was like I wanted to say, ‘I told you so'”, she said. “Now they want us to unite, but so many things happened to me growing up in the South. I can’t seem to feel like it is my problem. I think a lot of us feel like that.’ ” Complex feelings for a complex situation, because it’s not the simple tragedy that the capitalist media has been promoting.
And as for what the Islamic fascists want, it’s very simple—they want Western imperialism out of the Muslim world so that they can take over. No troops in Saudi bases, no F-16s for Israel, no air raids on Arab capitols, no Hollywood movies or “Coca-Colonization”. They want the corrupt neo- colonial Arab regimes abandoned by the West, just like the Russian army had to abandon the dictatorial Najibullah regime in Afghanistan, so that the Islamic fascists can stage lumpen-capitalist revolutions and take state power themselves. Of course, that’s something multinational capitalism could live with here and there, eventually making peace just like it’s gradually doing with Iran.
As for not having terrorist attacks in the u.s., the genie is way out of the bottle. Who would have thought some years ago that a Jewish day care center for four year-olds in Los Angeles would get shot up? Nope, the decaying capitalist world has gone postal. We all know it, too. The question is what will replace the old world?
Q. What do you think of this coming war?
A. Obviously, there’s lots we ordinary people don’t know and lots that will surprise us. I don’t think this war is inevitably going to be what people fear or expect. The Wall Street Journal has already reported only a few weeks after 911 that the u.s. military expects a short, non-Vietnam type war in Afghanistan. Since they believe that the Taliban can be toppled by simply buying the allegince of many warlords just as the Taliban did to get in. Sure the u.s. government will go after al-Qaeda, try to make an example of them. Which may work or not. But this fight with pan-Islamic fascism is a family feud within capitalism, after all. Western imperialism is more accustomed to covertly allying with or tolerating these terrorist groups (like the c.i.a. and it’s u.s. proteges “Omega 7” and “Jewish Defense League”, who were killing people in bombings while being protected by Washington). Don’t be surprised to find out later that Washington has made secret deals with various Islamic fascisms.
One thing is really important. The clash between these conflicting capitalistic forces—each of whom has a track record of slaughtering people like you’d light up a cigarette—underlines how essential it is that we fight for liberated space for everyone, mentally and physically.
I say this because there’s a lot of hypocrisy going around about the women of Afghanistan. Everyone’s pretending to be oh so sympathetic,and even the u.s. State department has a web site opposing sexism by the Taliban. But Western imperialism did the deed, knowingly. It was a cold fuck. Right after the pro-Russian takeover in 1978, the new government tried to enact a modernizing program to win popular support. It ended debt slavery and usury by the big landowners, which angered the conservative mullahs (some of whom were rich landlords). It started building hundreds of schools and clinics in the rural areas. But then, trying to follow the Russian formula for somehow manufacturing “East Germany in the desert”, the Kabul military regime started passing laws in 1978 freeing women. They banned child marriage as well as the practice of selling girl-children. Girls were to be admitted to schools as well as boys. Women would have the right of deciding whom to marry, and perhaps even the right of divorce.
Tactically speaking, from their point of view, that was a fatal error. That was the sparking point for the large-scale guerrilla rebellion against the Kabul regime. The mullahs and landlords now had an issue that even the poorest man could be swayed by—his power to own women was being taken away! And the c.i.a. and the Western capitalist powers jumped right in on the bandwagon, knowing and not caring that millions of Afghan women would pay the heavy price.
Robert Fisk, a journalist who was in Afghanistan with the London Times, remarks on this covert policy against Afghan women: “I was working for The Times in 1980, and just south of Kabul I picked up a very disturbing story. A group of religious mujahedin fighters had attacked a school because the communist regime had forced girls to be educated alongside boys. So they had bombed the school, murdered the head teacher’s wife and cut off her husband’s head. It was all true. But when The Times ran the story, the Foreign Office complained to the foreign desk that my report gave support to the Russians. Of course. Because the Afghan fighters were the good guys. Because Osama bin Laden was a good guy. Charles Douglas-Home, then editor of The Times would always insist that Afghan guerrillas were called “freedom fighters” in the headline. There was nothing you couldn’t do with words. ”
More than a few liberals and radicals in the u.s.supported the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan in the 1980s, not stopping for a minute to find out why the rebellion started and what Afghan women thought of it. Women’s lives are so unimportant that they are less than the most distant star, after all. Right now there are women in Afghanistan stubbornly conducting illegal underground schools for girl-children, just as there have been Afghan women health workers running illegal underground clinics for women although they have almost no medicines or access to medical equipment. There are freedom fighters in the world, more than we sometimes think. They’re who I want to think about.
This text originally appeared in the ARA Research Bulletin #2
More by Butch Lee
[do_widget id=listcategorypostswidget-3 title=false]
More by J. Sakai
[do_widget id=listcategorypostswidget-2 title=false]
Leave a Reply