Maybe the U.S. bears some responsibility for intolerance in Afghanistan

A week or so back Time Magazine ran that sensational cover of the Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off by her Taliban husband. The cover line was "What happens if we leave Afghanistan." Today in the Times there is a piece out of Afghanistan with the same message. It says that women’s rights have collapsed wherever the Taliban holds sway, and lately a provincial couple who fell in love and eloped, at 25 and 19, were lured back to their home town and stoned to death, some of the stones delivered by family members.

I hate these stories as much as any neocon. And yes they give me a certain discomfort with fundamentalist Islam. But I would like to point out an inconvenient fact and an inconvenient possibility:

–the woman was disfigured (last year) and the couple were stoned to death (earlier this week) while the United States was occupying Afghanistan. I don’t hear anyone arguing that we should have more troops than we do already in Afghanistan. And yet with all the troops we do have there, we could do nothing about either atrocity. 

–it is a fair possibility that our occupation in Afghanistan has contributed to this oppression. Robert Pape has shown that suicide bombings occur when there is a military occupation in which a religious difference exists between the occupied and the occupier; and maybe a similar principle holds for the destruction of women’s and civil rights, occupation has a role. Occupation breeds desperate resistance, and resistance in these societies is necessarily rooted in the most traditional anti-western elements of the society, not in the great democracy that we are selling, with all those collateral civilian deaths from drones.

I have been to Gaza and I can tell you that the most intolerant elements in Palestinian society were empowered by occupation and western opposition to Hamas. Virtually every Palestinian is opposed to occupation, and in opposing occupation, and working against their western foe, people turn to what is theirs, their traditional culture. You would too. Believe me they’re not watching Sex in the City when Americans are killing Muslims right and left.

The Time cover was shallow and manipulative. If we really thought we could stop honor killings, we’d be occupying countless countries in the Third World. But there is a further argument to be made that our presence is consolidating the worst elements in Afghanistan, and the way to stop young women from being disfigured and young couples from being stoned to death is to get out of the way of these people’s self-determination and seek to influence them by other means.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Middle East, US Policy in the Middle East, War on Terror

{ 27 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Certainly one should study the history of the conduct of the Taliban before the US invasion before speculating about the role the US presence is playing in the Taliban’s conduct. It is true that Afghanistan has been the subject of two occupiers (at least) over the last 31 years and this does not help a normal development. Also true: In the aftermath of 9/11 the US post Vietnam policy of never invading a country without an exit strategy went out the window and now, almost nine years later this lack is glaring. But Islam in Afghanistan was not an innocent force before 9/11 and comparisons with Gaza and suicide bombing are superficial. Gaza is on the coast of the Mediterranean and its development would be positively influenced by its proximity to relatively modern Lebanon if not for the negative history of the last 62 years, whereas Afghanistan is rocky terrain nowhere near anywhere modern and its isolation would only serve to enhance the most backward of the tendencies of Islam. Generalizing from Robert Pape’s study of suicide bombings to the situation in Afghanistan is unscientific and without intellectual merit.

    • Avi says:

      Therein lies the problem. The lack of historical knowledge is filled with assumptions.

      First off, Afghanistan was quite the modern and developed country in the 1960s. That was well before the invasions of several empires that bombed it back to the stone age, quite literally, too.

      The Taliban got their boost when the US needed a proxy to fight the Soviets.

      A quick look at the following photo gallery tells the story of an Afghanistan that was:
      Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan

      Similarly,

      Coastal cities in Palestine were the jewels of the region. Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, were all bustling cities of trade, art and academia.

      What happened in Lebanon in 2006, namely Israel’s bombing the southern region “back to the stone age” — as one Israeli general said — took place throughout the Middle East and throughout the 20th century.

      The problem was that the Middle East wasn’t privileged enough to have a Marshall Plan courtesy of Uncle Sam.

      But, western narrative with its ignorance and arrogance, coupled with a pinch of bigotry, continues to instill the belief that the west is the cradle of civilization while those Middle Easterners are “primitive and backward”.

    • Keith says:

      WONDERING JEW- One hardly needs to conduct a “scientific” study prior to discussing a situation and offering reasonable conclusions. First of all, the US assault on the people of Afghanistan has logically contributed significantly to the brutalization of Afghan society. Mutilation and stoning are barbaric, but how do they compare to the casual murder of entire wedding parties? The ongoing warfare and terrorism creates widespread psychological trauma which frequently leads to a surge in fundamentalism. Would Afghan society, particularly the women, be worse off if the US left? RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (I’m relying on memory alone for the acronym), vehemently opposed the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, and continues to oppose the occupation. The logic is simple. If left alone they might be able to solve their own problems. But with a US war raging involving fundamentalist groups supported by the US, there is nothing they can do. I might add that your emphasis on Islam seems a tad disingenuous. The culprit here is US imperialism and geo-strategy, not Islam. As for the Taliban, they became a force in Afghanistan in response to the murder and terror of the US supported mujahadeen.

    • Citizen says:

      “Starting in 1978 a progressive government came to power in Kabul. It championed women’s rights, spread education and tried to replace feudal backwardness with enlightenment.
      The U.S. financed a bloody counter-revolutionary war against this progressive government. The war killed and displaced millions and brought the Taliban to power.” Details: link to hartford-hwp.com

    • Shingo says:

      “Generalizing from Robert Pape’s study of suicide bombings to the situation in Afghanistan is unscientific and without intellectual merit.”

      Onb the contrary, it is entirely scientific and intellectually based. Pape’s DOD funded study spanned a period of over a decade and took an objective study of all suicide attacks. It found that 90-95% were related to military occupation and territorial disputes.

      Gaza’s proximity to Lebanon has done nothig to alleviate it’s circumstances, so it’s a mystery why that should be on any relevance to the debate. Comparison of suicide bombings is anythign but superficial. Pape concluded that the key contributors to suicide attacks was the exietne ceo f a foreing military occupation who’s religion had no connection to the local religion.

      You should try reading the book before discussing topics you know so little about.

  2. It was Savaranola who offered salvation and God’s kingdom on earth to the florentine. They allowed childrens to snoop on nonabiding citizens,banned gambling,dancing,music,painting ( they burnt Bottichelli’s painings) and books other than bible. They curtailed freedom on kinds of clothes that could be worn.They demonized Medicci family and Pope sametime and claimed to have direct contact with God. Florence which has seen Renaissance for 3 centuries prior to this religious fanaticism came to accecpt him as God’s messenger and Florence as the “new Jerusalem”. This change happened following Turkish invasion of Venice,increasing economic collapse, and from military occupation by France and ever present threat from Spain.

    Does it have any relevance for Afghanistan or even for US?
    We can understand the Islamic fanaticsm enevloping Afghanistan ( does not mean we support it) but are we ready that we wont fall prey to a Savaranolla in future?

  3. Saleema says:

    WJ wrote: “Afghanistan is rocky terrain nowhere near anywhere modern and its isolation would only serve to enhance the most backward of the tendencies of Islam.”

    Your analysis of Afghanistan society is wrong. Culturally and linguistically NWFP in Pakistan is very similar to Afghanistan. And terrains wise, it is very different from the rest of Pakistan. In fact it is not developed as much and roads are scarce. And most probably are gone now because of the flood.

    Many people in NWFP have strong feelings for Afghanistan. The line that divided them from Afghanistan and made them a part of Pakistan was artificial. People there are VERY conservative, most of them anyway. Yet, most of them do not commit atrocities like cutting off someones ears and nose for whatever reason.

    There were recently two cases in my family’s hometown, in which the wives were having extra marital affairs. One resulted in a divorce and the other asked for a second chance and all is forgotten. She doesn’t get daily beatings for it from her husband or her family members. Islam emphasizes forgiveness over punishment.

    While there are honor killings that have been reported in the media in Pakistan, it is not a norm, nor are the killings in alarmingly high numbers. Which does not excuse the crime or downplay the horrors of it. All life is precious. If the Justice system in Pakistan was not corrupt, especially at the local level, and if the police actually upheld the laws, instead of being bought off, then I strongly believe that those who murder in the name of so called “honor” would get the punishment they deserve. And those type of killings would become even more rare in Pakistan.

    Corruption in Pakistan exists because there is lack of education, poverty and high unemployment rates.

    Afghanistan, which has seen far more devastation than Pakistan, surely has all these problem at a much higher scale. So while crimes aren’t excusable and the Taliban philosophy is not a just one, we have to put things in that perspective. People are like people everywhere. Even if they look different and backward to us. They love, they hate, the cheat and the forgive. And I really believe that even in Afghanistan human compassion and love that family members have for each other exists at a much larger scale than the war and honor killings that we see on our media.

  4. robin says:

    Intelligent thoughts.

    Ann Jones has a related piece in the Nation with some clarifications of the first woman’s story. link to thenation.com

  5. Berthe says:

    In my lifetime, Jim Crow segregation and lynchings went on in the US. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment went on all the way up to 1972. I’m glad no other country bombed and invaded the US and killed Americans to stop those horrible, evil practices.

  6. Avi says:

    Three points:

    1. Afghanistan was quite the modern and developed country in the 1960s. That was well before the invasions of several empires that bombed it back to the stone age, quite literally, too.

    The Taliban got their boost when the US needed a proxy to fight the Soviets.

    A quick look at the following photo gallery tells the story of an Afghanistan that was: Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan

    Similarly,

    Coastal cities in Palestine were the jewels of the region. Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, were all bustling cities of commerce, art and academia.

    What happened in Lebanon in 2006, namely Israel’s bombing the southern region “back to the stone age” — as one Israeli general put it — took place throughout the Middle East and throughout the 20th century.

    The problem was that the Middle East wasn’t privileged enough to have a Marshall Plan courtesy of Uncle Sam.

    And so, western narrative continues to instill the belief that the west is the cradle of civilization while those Middle Easterners are “primitive and backward”.

    2.

    it is a fair possibility that our occupation in Afghanistan has contributed to this oppression.

    Not only is it a possibility, but within the context of US involvement in Afghanistan over the last few decades, the oppression to which you point is actually the DIRECT result of US interference. To isolate the current occupation of Afghanistan from decades past is the same as claiming that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a result of Hamas capturing an Israeli soldier in 2006.

    I have been to Gaza and I can tell you that the most intolerant elements in Palestinian society were empowered by occupation and western opposition to Hamas.

    Hamas didn’t emerge out of an inherently conservative and radical society. Hamas was merely the lesser-of-two-evils at the time. In this interview, professor Chomsky provides a quick overview of how US foreign policy in the region has facilitated the rise of radical Islam and the suffocation of nationalism and democracy. And no, it’s not what you think; it’s not the war-on-terror-is-fueling-radicalism argument. The current state of affairs in both the Middle East and in central Asia has been several decades in the making.

    Virtually every Palestinian is opposed to occupation, and in opposing occupation, and working against their western foe, people turn to what is theirs, their traditional culture.

    That’s a possibility, but it’s not the main factor. There are other social and psychological factors at play that should not be discounted. One such factor has to do with survival, specifically hope. Humans often cling to religion and get closer to god — as it were — in an effort to find hope and strength. Similarly, high unemployment due to the occupation contributes to domestic disagreements and arguments so religion acts as a refuge, among other factors.

  7. “I have been to Gaza and I can tell you that the most intolerant elements in Palestinian society were empowered by occupation and western opposition to Hamas. ”

    Opportunists definitely use the status of occupation and of instability. It is how Hamas came to power.

    The assertion of this blog has also made unintended consequences. Every action does. Does that make action wrong?

    • Chaos4700 says:

      It is how Hamas came to power.

      Wrong. Hamas came to power because they won elections versus Fatah because all of the negotiations between Fatah and Israel failed — ostensibly, because Israel never stopped its ethnic cleansing and colonization activities no matter what Fatah did for them.

    • Citizen says:

      And by the same token, Witty, lack of assertion, inaction, also has unintended consequences. Does that make doing nothing wrong?
      First they came for…. you know the routine.

  8. Observation: When starting a war, all those Rumsfelds and Rices talked about the violence being necessary “birth pangs” of democracy and “messy” but ultimately positive situations.

    Why don’t they (or their successors) try to put the cost of stopping a war in similar perspective, by calling situations like this woman’s disfiguring the “necessary birth pangs of a free and self-determined Afghan society, free from foreign and illegal occupation”?

  9. Edward Q says:

    I read a collection of essays by Nehru once where he made the point that colonialism will promote the most regressive tendencies in the occupied population. He illustrated this point with examples from Britain’s occupation of India.

  10. Great post, Phil
    Jeremy Scahill, Robert Dreyfus and others have written about the Time cover which attempts to hijack our sympathies for abused women, enlisting them to prop up public support for the occupation. They know which heart strings to tug on in order to play the tune. I’d call this a perfect example of what Max Ajl calls selective “White Liberalism”. It’s a tricky issue. In the CIA “Red Cell Special Memorandum” prescribed a propaganda campaign :

    Interestingly enough the report cites that “Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory.”

    That outreach initiatives that “create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French/German and other European women could help overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission. Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionate female audiences, would be useful in affecting public opinion”, the report says.

    file.wikileaks.org/file/cia-afghanistan.pdf

  11. Oscar says:

    The Time magazine cover was haunting and shocking, sure, and Phil nails it. Nine years of occupation and Taliban atrocities are increasing. The main reaction to the cover could have been: what the hell are we still doing occupying this godforsaken country?

    Also, the cover demonstrates what a spectacular failure the MSM has been in communicating the price Americans have paid for neo-con fantasies of world domination. Why didn’t Time have the balls to run a cover photo of a disabled American soldier with the same title? What happens when an entire generation of disabled young Americans return to this country, and not to a hero’s welcome . . .

    This is the most thought-provoking, stunning magazine cover I’ve ever seen on the topic. Did it come from Time, Newsweek, the NYT, WaPo or WSJ? No . . . It was Esquire magazine. And it it unforgettable.
    link to trulyequal.wordpress.com

  12. Sumud says:

    Phil ~ rewind 60 or so years and imagine a Middle East where the US had actually been a responsible and honest ambassador for democracy – instead of overthrowing governments, funding and arming fundamentalists, propping up dictators, and so on. Think about how toxic the relationship to the US has been for many ME countries. Is it any wonder there is hostility to the US in the region, when “democracy” often translates as “our imperial will imposed on you”.

    Look at one country: Iran. Would there be an Islamic Republic in Iran today if Mossadegh hadn’t been overthrown in ’53? How about if the CIA hadn’t trained the SAVAK? What would Iran and Iraq be like today if the US hadn’t backed Saddam (while selling weapons to Iran) during the 1980s?

    What about Afghanistan, if the CIA hadn’t backed the proto-Taliban?

    Pakistan, if the CIA and ISI were a little less friendly?

    How about if the US had not continuously abused it’s veto power for Israel at the UN SC? If Johnson had made a fuss about the USS LIberty? If Nixon called Golda Meir on her nuclear bluff in 1973?

    So these are not small issues, and well beyond realpolitik, but there was a time when the US was respected and admired, and countries clamoured to adopt American ways, even in the Middle East. That changed, for a reason.

    You might be interested in this article on Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s, great pics:

    ‘Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…’
    link to e-ariana.com

    It’s centred on urban Afghanistan, so of course life in the rural and mountain (border) areas would have been more traditional. But it’s obvious, during this period western development was regarded as highly desirable, and strived for. Afghanistan has not just stalled development-wise, it’s gone backwards.

    Islamic fundamentalism is reactionary.

    —–

    I agree the TIME cover was manipulative, even warmongering. If TIME gave a fvck (excuse me) about women’s rights they’d be asking why the US is utterly silent on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

    • Sumud says:

      I forgot to post something. Yesterday I was listening to Kennedy’s commencement address at American University, where he announces the Test Ban Treaty. You can listen/download the mp3 here:

      link to jfklibrary.org

      Even bearing in mind the ‘occasional’ disparity between Kennedy’s rhetoric and the policies of his government, I was struck by the enormous distance between America now and then. Kennedy speaks about Russian reports on ‘American imperialists’ planning preventative [pre-emptive] with incredulity. 40 years later, Afghanistan and Iraq. And possibly Iran. Kennedy’s speech is a long way from Obama eve, let alone Bush II.

  13. Jim Haygood says:

    In a form of implicit bias documented by Noam Chomsky a couple of decades ago, the NYT provides extensive personal details of the couple who were stoned to death, which of course evokes empathy with their brutal plight.

    But the dozens of civilian ‘drone deaths’ inflicted by Nobel laureate Barack O’Bomber are reported only with statistics, never personal details. Providing the wrenching personal details behind these tragedies is ‘not done’ by the MSM — it wouldn’t be viewed favorably by the political establishment in a ‘time of war.’

    An important aspect of the womens rights revolution in the West was access to employment. This never happened in Afghanistan, and now is delayed even further by the destruction of the Afghan economy, and the West’s attempt to saddle it with an large army that it can’t possibly afford.

    As such, the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan is a canard. It is calculated to appeal to Americans as a superior cultural value. The mirroring, inferior Western value — the presumptuous, imperialistic, anachronistic notion of imposing our culture at gunpoint on ‘backward’ people — is never considered.

    No matter — under the economic burden of empire, the US economy is crumbling. A century hence, we’ll be the ‘backward’ ones. Defunct media outlets such as Newsweek and the NYT will provide endless entertainment for historians, marveling at the mass delusions of earlier generations which accompanied headlong cultural decline.

    NYT ‘journalists’ are mere stenographers for the martial-law militarists who are destroying America from the inside.

  14. Koshiro says:

    I gotta disagree here. By invading the place, the West assumed a responsibility that it can’t just get rid of by leaving. If the US and NATO were to retreat now, after smashing up the place for a few years and then getting all whiny about their comparably minor losses and their beautiful money spent on the conflict, it would have the distinctive smell of cowardice and irresponsibility.

  15. Mooser says:

    Thank God Jews and Christians never abuse, torture or murder wives and children. And if they do, it’s over important things like property division or custody.
    And yes they give me a certain discomfort with fundamentalist Islam.”
    Good thing you know right where to place the blame, Phil. Of course you are sure that “fundamentalist Islam” is to blame for it.
    At least the Muslims don’t tell in their blogs how incapable their wives are of appreciating Kurosawa films!
    Hey BTW, you wanna have some fun? Go research what happened to the American family during the Depression.

    • Avi says:

      Mooser,

      It seems that Phil is still exploring this field. Just a few days ago he lamented in a post about his 2005 experience in Syria and how at first he felt uneasy (to put it mildly) as a traveling Jew in an Arab country with news headlines about Zionism and what not. Only later, after actually having that experience, did he realize that his fears were misplaced.

      So, in that context, and considering that only 5 years ago Phil had his eyes opened to the realities of the Middle East — at least as far as we the readers can tell — then it’s an understandable …ummm oversight (Is this the word we want here?)

      Speaking of films, have you seen any of the following: Ajami, The
      Band’s Visit, Children of Heaven, Le Grand Voyage, Lemon Tree, Paradise Now, The Syrian Bride or Turtles Can Fly?

  16. Bandolero says:

    What I wonder is, how anyone can assume that the NYT is telling some truth in any of it’s artices. The only thing I found in NYT so far were lies, falsehoods and more lies. Does anyone remember Judy Miller?

    So let’s have a look into what NYT says in the linked article about the three incdents:

    1st incident: Bibi Aishas nose and ears were cut off 2009 (western media decided to report this in August 2010)

    NYT writes:

    “Time magazine focused widespread indignation on Afghanistan recently by putting on its cover a picture of an 18-year-old woman from Oruzgan Province whose nose and ears were cut off by her Taliban husband after she had fled her child marriage to him.”

    So, according to NYT taliban are guillty of this crime. Let’s see what the Taliban say about this incident. Here an excerpt from a statement on their website regarding this incident:

    “… Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan rejects this fabrication by the Americans, who are publishing these lies to divert attention of the people from their clear and disgraceful defeat. … As far as the story of Aisha is concerned, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has condemned this barbaric, inhumane and unislamic act and declares that this case has never been forwarded to any court or persons of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. … We sympathize with our sister Aisha and call this atrocious act a crime against humanity and against Shariate law. …

    Google, if you want to find the source. So who is lying? NYT or taliban? See Ann Jones article ” Afghan Women Have Already Been Abandoned” in The Nation:

    “I know Bibi Aisha, the young Afghan woman pictured on the August 9 cover of Time, and I rejoice that her mutilated nose and ears are going to be surgically repaired. … I heard Aisha’s story from her a few weeks before the image of her face was displayed all over the world. She told me that her father-in-law caught up with her after she ran away, and took a knife to her on his own; village elders later approved, but the Taliban didn’t figure at all in this account.”

    So it seems, NYT was lying. Nothing new. Everyone is used to it, that most of the articles published in a trashy paper like NYT are just deliberate lies, no more trustworthy than a Disney comic. Those who are interested in some more details on what’s behind the story of Bibi Aisha in TIME may want to read John Gorenfeld’s articles in “The Observer” about this flat and deliberate lie.

    2nd incident: A pregnant widow was supposedly lashed 200 times and then shot.

    The NYT writes:

    “In northwestern Badghis Province on Aug. 8, a 41-year-old widow, who was made pregnant by a man she said promised to marry her, was convicted of fornication by a Taliban court. She was given 200 lashes with a whip and then shot to death, according to Col. Abdul Jabar, a provincial police official, who said the killing was ordered by the local Taliban commander, Mullah Yousef, in Qadis district.”

    So, according to NYT taliban are guillty of this crime. Let’s see what the Taliban say about this incident. Here an excerpt from a statement on their website regarding this incident:

    “According to some media reports, saying that a 40-year-old pregnant widow was lashed and later shot dead in public is an unusual and preposterous event of its kind, a novelty in the history of the Islamic law which has never been heard of. If, according to some news reports, she was a widow, then she was married who should have been stoned not lashed and shot, in accordance with Islamic Sharia. Let say, she was unmarried, according to Islamic law, she should have only been lashed 100 times rather than 200 times and shooting with a gun. That is to say, she must have never been lashed more than 100 times, let alone shot. To put it bluntly, such courts as previously ordered to cut off Aisha’s nose and ears in Uruzgan province and this time decided that a 40-yea-old woman should be flogged and shot instead of stoning in Badghis province are rarity and can only be created and operated by the US and the mainstream media which is an intrinsic aspect of American imperialism and is being utilized to defame the Mujahideen.”

    So who is lying? Guess yourself. Why would Taliban do this to show their strength and then deny it?

    3rd incident: alledged stoning of a young couple – to find in about 1000 diffrent versions in various diffrent western papers.

    That is the main story of this times article. The sources of NYT:

    1. Nadir Khan, 40, a local farmer and Taliban sympathizer, who was interviewed by telephone – great source, just like Joe Smith, a local farmer republican sympathizer
    2. Mahbubullah Sayedi, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor’s office – great source, after the Kundus massacre 04th Sep 2009, where scores of civilians – chilldren and women included – were killed, the Kunduz governor’s office has reported that all killed were Taliban and asked for more bombings
    3. Mohammed Ayub, the governor of nearby Imam Sahib district – great source, a subordinate of the Kunduz governor
    4. “A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, praised the action.” – the greatest NYT source of all. Zabiullah Mujahid is a generic religious alias just like Santa Claus in christianity. What would you think of an afghan newspaper which writes. Santa Claus, the spokesman for the US army, confirmed our reports? NYT is spreading such funny things. Do you believe in Santa Claus as a reliable source? I don’t. And neither I believe in Zabiullah Mujahid.

    On their website, the taliban have not yet commented on the alleged stoning.

    OK, enough this crap. I think it’s just fairy tales from NYT.