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

Middle East
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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.

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