Denis MacEoin
Denis MacEoin

Is Afghanistan a harbinger of craziness to come?

That did not take long, did it? Most of us are familiar with long protracted struggles that never seem to end. You don’t have to explain that to Israelis. Where I started life in Northern Ireland did well to end its long Troubles, but beneath the surface old hatreds still linger. But Afghanistan’s civil and international war came to an abrupt end after twenty years in a matter of weeks, and Kabul was captured in days. Now reports are coming in of the torture and executions being inflicted by the Taliban on other Afghans, groups such as the Hazara and individuals who have worked for the Americans or the British during their long stays in the country.

Afghanistan is a lost cause. War with the Taliban was never a solution, not after 20 years, not even when it was conducted the powerful forces of several armies, the presence of many intelligence services, and the expenditure of billions of dollars. Going back to the war would be politically hard, a move that most politicians would fear to urge on their electorates.

But doing nothing could be just as difficult. If it were the Taliban alone, most Western publics would be content to leave them in their hills and mountain crags while we could pass on, blithely unaware of everything but technological progress, the accumulation of ever-growing wealth, and finding rational solutions to the problem of climate change. However, the Taliban once fully in charge of an entire again would pose a real threat to the Western world. In themselves, the individual students who make up the Taliban are easily divided between different factions, leaders and warlords opposed to one another in various parts of the country, on difficult terrain. Physically, Afghanistan defies simple rule and cohesive government.

But it has been well anticipated that other bodies dedicated to a hard-line form of Islam, from al-Qa’ida and Islamic State to Hizbullah and even Hamas will take advantage of entering and working within a state whose values so closely match their own. Such combinations will prove explosive, and they will be much harder to deal with than merely fighting the Taliban themselves. The war on terror will open again in many places and many dimensions.

Are we powerless to stop this happening? It will certainly be an uphill struggle, but we should not give in to the inevitability of a struggle against extremist I>slam. For one thing, the democracies have the support of moderate Muslims everywhere. It is a fallacy to imagine there is only one form of Islam in the world and that we are all condemned to give way to the extremists. Ordinary Muslims outnumber the men of violence greatly, for they suffer from jihadi activities as much as Christians, Jews, atheists and agnostics do. Moderate Muslims form the majority of believers in North Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia. Those in the West, whether newly arrived as immigrants or the descendants of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, or Indians who arrived in Europe (mainly the UK) all need to show themselves to be good and safe neighbours in their communities, workplaces, schools, colleges and sports clubs.

In Britain, numerous incomers have proved themselves loyal members of the public majority, as politicians, policemen and women, teachers, businessmen and women. Rather than expend all our energy fighting the extremists, we should take advantage of Muslim allies, whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by their militant counterparts on a daily basis given how far the public are alienated by the speech and violence of the latter.

Israelis know as much as anyone how far Muslim intransigence places barriers between them. But they also recognise how far different ideologies widen gulfs in society. If only Afghans could embrace such a recognition.

Denis MacEoin

About the Author
Retired Middle East historian, author of books, articles, and encyclopedia entries on Islam and related topics. Member of UK Liberal Democratic Party.
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