Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Taliban revisionism, historical amnesia

Jerry Stratton, October 11, 2009

A friend of mine sent me the link to rethinkafghanistan.com yesterday. “Demand Civilian Solutions for Afghanistan… Watch the documentary”. Sounds interesting. You can go through the Mimsy archives all you want and you’ll never see me defending the Afghanistan invasion. The basic hope—a free Afghanistan—is sound, but Afghanistan is a mountainous hell that has defeated several empires. It will take a strong national will for us and them to maintain a free society there. A non-military solution would be awesome. So what is this Civilian Solution we’re to demand? Let’s glance through the six parts of their documentary. Which one will we need to watch to learn about this solution?

  1. The evils of military escalation.
  2. The destabilizing effects of war.
  3. The staggering costs of war.
  4. The civilian costs of war.
  5. Are women really better off going to school than staying home under the Taliban?
  6. The war can’t be won anyway.
  7. Make money now! Sell our DVD on your site!

A lot about war, but where is the promised solution? Other than the DVD Tupperware scheme?1

A friend of mine who watched it says that the message of the DVD is that the Taliban weren’t really so bad. They were just passive Melanie Griffith landlords with Al Qaeda tenants played by Michael Keaton. And everyone who’s seen Pacific Heights knows how hard it is to get rid of Michael Keaton. It wasn’t their fault!

If there’s one thing that pisses me off on a gut, reactionary level, it’s this sort of enemy-of-my-enemy revisionist historical amnesia. Just because you don’t like United States military intervention in a country, you don’t have to whitewash the crimes of the groups fighting us.

You want to argue that we should leave Afghanistan to the Taliban, fine, argue that. But don’t pretend to a deadly figleaf of “civilian solutions” or that a bunch of pre-genocidal murderers are really nice guys when you get to know them. Not when what you really mean is “just let the Taliban oppress Afghans and keep us out of it.”

You don’t need to pretend that the Taliban are good to argue that war is bad. You can argue that it isn’t right to use war to keep a people free, without arguing that their oppression is noble.

Of course, even that’s not the real purpose of this historical revisionism. This argument is solely to provide cover to people who for years have argued that we should leave Iraq because Afghanistan is the good fight. If the parties were reversed—if the Taliban had left Afghanistan and Al Qaeda remained, they’d be arguing that Al Qaeda were just a bunch of misguided priests, unwittingly used by the Taliban. Like most historical revisionism, the argument doesn’t matter; all that matters is the pre-drawn conclusion.

But the Taliban isn’t something we just discovered after September 11, 2001. It was obvious they were going to erupt in some bloody way all the way back to the Clinton years. They were never a passive “landlord” sitting back helplessly watching Al Qaeda kill. Theirs was a murderous, repressive regime that destroyed ancient religious icons of religions they disagreed with, that viciously beat “criminals” whose crime was owning a television set, or a satellite dish, or a stereo. Women were locked in their homes under threat of being dragged into the street and beaten. Women were forbidden employment, education, and health care2, and were forbidden any voice in public society, from appearing on radio and TV, to being visible on the balconies of their homes. Even places with “women” in their names were renamed.

The Taliban were well on their way to a Rwanda- or Khmer Rouge-style mass murder program. I’d like to know what these “civilian solutions” are before handing the Afghan people back to those “landlords”. And if we are going to just leave (and there certainly are arguments for that) then we should argue it honestly without pretending that we’re implementing a non-existent “civilian solution”.

If the Taliban gets back in we’ll be right back where we were in 1998-2001, watching helplessly while women are stoned to death in public stadiums, ancient wonders are wantonly destroyed, and knowing that one morning we’ll wake up to the news that the Taliban have found their internal enemy. Then, as in Rwanda, as in Darfur, as in Iran, we’ll watch as millions of women or students or intellectuals or Hazara or whatever enemy they choose are offered as a sacrifice to our indifference. We’ll sigh as we read editorials lamenting the international community’s inability to form a coalition to stop the slaughter. And we’ll sign petitions in English that no one in Afghanistan will read.

Sometimes I think the best solution in mires like Afghanistan is just to make sure everyone who wants to emigrate can. Unfortunately, this would still require a major military presence to ensure that people who want to emigrate are allowed to; and what kind of a solution is “leave home forever”?

  1. Seriously: “Sign-up for our DVD referral program and earn $5 dollars for each Rethink Afghanistan DVD sold through your blog or web site. It’s very simple to get started, so take a minute and sign up now!” Operators are standing by! It’s one of the few jobs available to women under the Taliban, because they can do it in their homes, at least until their phones are confiscated.

  2. Women were forbidden from receiving any health care without a close male relative as chaperone.

  1. <- News believed clueless
  2. Pigeon managers ->