Cyrus Tahir is a graduate of the distinguished Lahore University of Management Studies in Lahore, Pakistan, and of the University of Warwick, U.K. He now lives in London.
The oppression brings a reaction: Indiscriminate bombing of people who’ve never had the chance to equip themselves with the academic tools of the modern-world and to understand the intricacies of political, social and economic games that are played in the realm of world politics.
They live and have always lived by a system of tribal allegiances which has supplied them justice, social harmony, support and a life that they have enjoyed for centuries. When the need occurred, the world in general, and the US in particular, conveniently decided to support the war-lords and tribes, facilitating the importation of warriors from different parts of the globe into Afghanistan. Whilst these were men and children from a wide spectrum of Islamic schools of thought, one particular brand was keenly supported owing to their views about waging holy war and the concept of Jihad.
The pragmatic-realist US government discerned the need of the hour: as an expedient, it allowed the training of millions of individuals for warfare against the communist threat. The scale of the training can be imagined by the fact that a late Pakistani army officer, who worked in close proximity with the CIA, Sen. Charlie Wilson and was even trained in the US, single-handedly trained 95,000 people for waging America’s own holy war.
What wasn’t done was to equip these ‘units’ as he called them, with education, and the knowledge and skill to live their lives and earn their livings once the war was over.
Thanks to the training given to them, these people of local Afghan origin, Pakistanis, Africans, Arabs and others from the Balkans knew how to make incendiary bombs from items of daily usage but did not know the Pythagorean theorem or history, beyond their own, or literature–a gap in education that haunts all and sundry across the globe today.
The Taliban (literally ‘the students’) were merely a part of these warring forces who supported the US cause and were left to their own devices once the Soviets retreated. With ample ammunition, a culture of tribalism and war, plenty of stinger missiles to play with and no sign of any of the GOD’s enemy (the US had first invoked term to describe the USSR), what any warring nation or people would do is no hard task to imagine.
Someone tells a person that the entire system you have believed in all your life is going to be taken away from you and you are the only one who can save it. Without fail, the instinct to be a saviour arises – such is the fragility of human-kind. Not to forget the often quoted phrase, ‘Give a man a bullet & he’ll want a gun. Give the man a gun and he’ll be giving away bullets.’
The Terry Jones Affair
There is ample room for pointing fingers and blaming the Revd. Terry Jones or the Afghan mullahs for the cold-hearted murder of UN workers and the desecration of the Holy Quran. What needs to be looked at is the underlying reasons for the occurrence of these events.
The oppression and wave of terror faced by even the most peaceful of citizens in the Northern tribal belt of Pakistan and bordering areas of Afghanistan is the worst imaginable. Un-manned drone attacks, indiscriminate carpet bombing and the total lack of value for life by the US forces has become the daily norm. Whilst the pastor was operating fully within his constitutional guarantee of free speech and did not violate American law by burning the Holy Quran, what the security forces and their operatives have been doing in South Asia is not acceptable under any law, local or foreign.
What does one expect of a population that has been marred by war, grossly mistrusts the US, has always been a proud nation that detests invaders and wants to live by their own laws which are a mixture of tribal custom and laws emanating from religion.
In the same way that any liberal would defend Mr. Jones’s right to burn the Quran under the provisions of the American Constitution, an Afghan could perhaps demand his death under the laws which he is governed by. A simple case of quid pro quo. The issue with the US government, from the standpoint of the Islamic states, has not been its democratic values but its hypocrisy. Dictated by political expediency, the same Islamic law, which might find Mr. Terry Jones guilty and subject to the death penalty, was invoked in getting Mr. Raymond Davis free after he murdered two young men in broad-daylight.
There are two things that deserve comment, in my capacity as a Pakistani citizen viewing these events and knowing something about the historical context where they unfolded. I cannot and will not be party to any causes which condone the murder of any individual, be it a UN worker, a soldier or a civilian caught in the midst of a fight.
However, we must accept the fact that whereas the US constitution lays down rights and liberties for everyone, so does every constitution in the world in relation to its own people. I am not an expert in constitutional law but I think that the claim to have a right to burn a book revered and held as a Holy book must be weighed in the balance against the existence of a law that bars anyone from committing acts against another citizen’s set of beliefs and values. That said, Mr. Jones is allowed under the US constitution to desecrate the Quran, yet the effects of this act materialize in a country whose constitutional law forbids desecration of the Quran and in certain case specifies the death penalty.
If put into context, these laws propose a “will of the people and citizens” put into writing and effect by elected members of the government and accepted as laws that the citizens of the country regard as correct. This does not necessarily mean that there is no recourse if the laws are mis-used or abused for the good of one or with mala-fide intention.
Essentially, while the American law may not require respect for any religion, I think it does not necessarily indicate that the actions of any individual towards religion must be disregarded. Thus Mullah Kashaf’s demands–though they may be out of context in the US society and law–seem to hint at the outburst of reaction that may occur across the globe.
The US government is not seen as a saviour by all even in Afghanistan and the perception that the Afghans want the same values and lifestyle as the citizens of the US is perhaps the incorrect of generalizations.
It is extremely wrong to believe that the United States has sent its soldiers in Afghanistan to provide the Afghan people with a better future, for a multiplicity of reasons. Primarily, there was never a call from Afghanistan itself or the people to invite the US forces into Afghanistan. It had a great deal to do with the US’s obsession of Osama Bin Laden and not much to do with the more recently developed rationale of granting liberties to the Afghan people.
The incidents that have come out through the news and other sources tell a different story than that of providing liberty and peace to the Afghan populace. Now Terry Jones is part of this larger story.
What must also be noted is the fact that during the early 90’s when Mullah Omar and his regime reigned in parts of Afghanistan, the women felt so safe that they did not bother covering themselves in the presence of unknown males, if these males belonged to the Taliban. There are hard-liners and moderates in every stream of life. Cases of domestic violence are aplenty in the US, the UK and the Arab world. Women are not allowed to drive cars or leave homes without their male relatives in many parts of the world, yet the US continues to support the regimes; for obvious vested interests. Therefore, the logic of helping build a better Afghanistan does not hold much weight. Perhaps, the US forces would be better off with their young men and women confined to the boundaries of the US whilst the religious zealots of Afghanistan fight amongst themselves from the remains of what the US left behind.
I could not agree more with the principle that there is no moral equivalency of the Mr. Jones’ actions and the actions committed in Afghanistan. But once we take into context the fact that hundreds of Afghan citizens are indiscriminately killed in the search for a group of men, these are citizens who have never had the chance to actually receive education and were left in the lurch with guns, weapons and training, training in how to build bombs once the USA’s purpose of defeating the USSR was achieved.
What they are left with is hatred for a country and anything to do with it and the idea of violent opposition to anything that comes their way with violence. The murder of the UN workers may seem only a small part of their daily life.
Thank you Cyrus for a very important article. Thank you for hightlighting significant things such as lack of education and deceptive motives and corruption of other nations. However… although ‘liberal’ is a sticky sort of label, politically I’m a fairly left wing greeny humanist, and I don’t think Jones had a ‘right’ to burn the Quran. He’d find he’d breached the limits of free expression in other Western countries. I am an advocate for social responsibility and consideration for human lives. But that is no reflection on your article which I am very grateful to you for.
Coincidentally I just heard on BBC radio 4 6pm news that a man was today sentenced to 70 days prison for burning the Quran in the centre of Carlisle. The judge said in sentencing, ‘he used theatrical bigotry to cause distress’.