The Golden Line
By Syed Iqbal Zaheer, Young Muslim Digest, January 2002
THE quick debacle of the Taleban in Afghanistan has taken many by surprise. The best predictions failed. Why? For a simple reason: at the start it was perceived as a war between Afghanistan and USA. But the war turned out to be both against an external enemy as well as an internal one. It was not at all a Jihad between Muslims and infidels, but rather, with an ugly dimension of an internal struggle for dominance added to it. And, whenever there is an internal power struggle between Muslim groups, the applicable Divine laws are different from those applicable when the struggle is between Islam and un-Islam. Allah does not enforce His religion on a people unwilling. Especially, the unexpected division of the Pashtun into a smaller religious group and a larger secular body, had its devastating effects.

Also, there was a vast difference between now and then, when the Soviets invaded the country. Then there was one enemy, many friends at the international level, massive monetary help, friendly borders on two sides and logistical support. This time the Taleban had several enemies (Jews, Christians, polytheists, atheists, and a vast number of hypocrites at every level, local and international). They had no monetary help, were trapped within unfriendly borders, and commanded no logistical support. They only had the heart-felt Prayers of the Muslim masses from Makkah to Philippine to USA to Morocco. Rarely have the masses shown such unity.

Further, most people did not realise at the start the tactics USA would employ. They thought, including many of the Taleban, that the Americans will send in their ground forces, resulting in field clashes. They had forgotten the Iraq experience. The Americans well took the advice of the Russians and stayed in the air most of the time in B-52 bomber air-conditioned cockpits. If they pitched their camps, it was in plain lands near the Pakistani borders, far away from Afghan mountains. Whenever they ventured in, they remained at the rear, the Northern Alliance hired soldiers being at the front. The first fodder fed, they withdrew from the rear.

The high altitude bombing message was precise and unmistakable. Leave the government or we will kill the civilians. Bisard and Guillaume Dasquie state in "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth" that the Americans had warned an Afghan delegation in Washington - much before the twin tower destruction - that either they spread carpets welcoming American oil and gas exploration teams, or "we will bury you under a carpet of bombs."

Independent Western journalists in Afghanistan, Iranian and Pakistani news media, and Internet sites gave us some glimpse of what was going on. Having wiped out heavy war equipment, down to anything of jeep size, and confident of a victorious walk in (how they would have loved to flash pictures of brave Americans liberating Afghanistan all by themselves?!), whenever the Americans sent in their ground forces, they were routed. But the Taleban could not see their people pulverised from the air, and therefore quit, city after city. The Northern Alliance victories were no more than a cakewalk.

The Taleban experience brought to clear light a few sobering realities. Such realities that many scholars have time and again warned of, and have advised the Islamic activists to recognise them, acknowledge them and take them into account before going into action. It is about the Ummah. It wishes for Islamic system of life. But what Islam is it? It is not the Islam of the Khilafah al-Rashidah. It is not the Islam of sacrifices. It is the liberal Islam, an Islam that looks away when faced with evils within its borders. It is an Islam that learns to live with un-Islam. They coexist within the same body politic. It is a liberal Islam, which the secularist leadership refers to as the moderate Islam. It is a "take it easy" Islam, the soft Islam, the "not too serious" Islam. It should be the Islam of the mosques, of dhikr, of devotions, of admonition, Hajj and 'Umrah. But not an Islam that submits itself to the will of Allah, wholly, unreservedly, in all matters, big and small. As for the Islam of the Khilafah al-Rashidah times, that's the ideal. But it is for others. That is, every Muslim community agrees to its enforcement - but on others, not on them. For them, it is the comfortable kind. The Taleban went entirely against the public wishes about the "kind of Islam" that was to be enforced. But, not only that, what after the purest kind of Islam was enforced on Afghanistan? What were the Taleban's other accomplishments? Where were the rivers of milk and honey that the preachers promise in the mosques that will sprout forth if Islam is enforced? Just the opposite: There was grinding poverty, closure of schools, scarcity of jobs, migration to avoid hunger, and an uncertain future. What the Taleban gave was intangible: peace, law and order, dignity to the nation through an example set before the eyes after a millennium and a half. But what they took away was tangible: banks, jobs, music, wine, gambling, television. Their ministers could go around the houses in the evenings and collect leftovers for their dinner. But, the good example was for themselves. The masses were not impressed. Examples sound good when the repercussions do not come on you.

Closing down the TV station for example, was an unforgivable crime. Today's Muslims, all over the world, are absolutely sure about what they want of this life. Islam comes next. Anyone who experimented will discover that not the masses, but the so-called committed Muslims, are at heart opposed to austere Islam, not because it is unpopular among the masses (a reason they give), but because it is against the Islam of their understanding. And the Islam of their understanding is West influenced, West oriented. What kind of reactionary Islam it is that cannot widen the roads and raise building heights?

This is a reality that the Taleban should have known before they began to implement a purist Islam. And, if they hadn't known earlier, they should have learnt when they heard criticism from Muslims all over the world when they closed down mixed schools, banned women from working with men (although they paid them their salaries), and closed down the TV station. And, if they hadn't learnt anything even after the criticism that came from "committed Muslims", they should have learnt when some Muslim "scholars" denounced them for destroying the Bamiyan statues. Surely, they should have known that the Islam of total and unconditional submission is not on the shopping list of the modern Muslims, however vociferous they might be about assigning Islam an active role in modern life. Those good "stories of the past", are, once again, for storytelling, preaching and admonition. For living, it is a much modified Islam: one without its steam, if one might say.

The Taleban did something else that won them disapproval of powerful men in powerful places. They axed at a business that involves hundreds of thousands of people: from cultivation to the final delivery in major cities of the West: opium. They thought they were pleasing the governments. In public, yes. But in private, no? In their simplicity they did not realise that stage politics is one thing and kickback politics another. In USA alone it is a multibillion-dollar industry and men in police, secret services, law-enforcement authorities, and several others in high and low places have huge stakes in it. The Taleban had religious reasons for banning the cultivation, but was there anyone in the West truly pleased about it? We are not saying they shouldn't have done it. We are saying, let us not be naïve with our enemies.

But not only the Taleban, Muslims all over evinced the same simplistic attitudes when they withheld their material support during the six-year rule of the Taleban. They were aware that the world aid agencies were deliberately sending in women, clad in typical Western dress, to distribute food among the starving Afghan. They were aware that the stand-off over Bamiyan statues was because a cultural organisation had gone there with a couple of millions to renovate the statues while the Taleban were insisting that dying children needed the money more. So, what were the Muslim aid agencies doing? When the Taleban closed down mixed schools, they applied for help to open segregated institutions for girls. World bodies refused. What about Muslim charity organisations? In fact, much of the Arab mass sympathy was only won when the Taleban took a principled stand over Mujhaideen of Arab origin. While the Afghans were going through one of the most serious drought period of the time, the Da`wah workers were discussing about the nature of their Islam: was it Ikhwani Islam, Salafi Islam, Deobandi Islam, or some other? - blind to their immediate needs. Another issue: apart from the strategic mountainous terrain, what was holding the Taleban from settling their dispute with the Northern Alliance? Money. A couple of millions would have been enough to buy off those wild tribes led by thugs. But, was there a donor? Indeed, just about everyone, including the champions of Islam, was one with the rest of the world over a complete blockage of aid in order to pull down the Taleban government. Indeed, even if the Americans hadn't attacked them, one wonders how long the Taleban would have lasted. Indeed again, if the Americans hadn't attacked them, how long would their friends down south have tolerated them and not goaded them on to action?

So, all said, what is the moral we learn from the Taleban episode? The answer is, if you are not ready to die, you do not have the right to live an honourable life. The Taleban rule was one bright patch on the face of a dark contemporary history. It was a truly Islamic government that gave the hopes to the Islamists that the Ummah is still capable of feats considered impossible.

Did the Taleban fail? This is another question that reveals simplistic minds. Militarily: do wars end in victory in three months time? Indeed, did a war start at all? Politically: When was a government of their sort established last? And how long did it last? Why should we first raise our expectations to mountainous heights and then despair when the Ummah can't climb that high on one foot? In a way, the Taleban were a grand success. They lasted six to seven years under the most trying conditions. On average, what government lasts more than five? The Prophet has said in a hadith of Ahmad, "Nubuwwah will remain among you for as long as Allah wills. He will take it back when He wills. It will be followed by Khilafah on the pattern of Nubuwwah until Allah wills that it should remain. Then He will take it away. Then it will be an iron hand monarchy and remain as long as He wills. He will take it back when He wills. Then it will be a ruthless monarchy. That will be followed by Khilafah on the pattern of Nubuwwah." Now, the question is, is it conceived that the promised Khilafah on the pattern of Nubuwwah will be established in one go, in one try? Wasn't the Taleban experiment one successful step in the right direction?

The Taleban came on principles and left defending a principle. How many governments come and go on principles? Let us unfold our fingers as we count? Ah, we can't unfold a finger. Twice, from two directions, east and west, came the choice between billions and principles. "These are our brothers," they replied, "how can we hand them over without evidence against them?" These are words that history will write in gold - if it is not written - as usual - by skilled yarn spinners. If someone rummaged through records of historical statements, he will have to travel back 250 years to find a sentence of equal noble stature. The words of another Muslim, Tipu Sultan of Mysore, who said while fighting the British: "A single day of a tiger's life is better than a hundred years of a jackal's."

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