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IUK: Fisk - Repressive regime destined to end in oblivion
By Robert Fisk
11/12/2001 11:29 pm Tue
Repressive regime destined to end in oblivion
By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent
08 December 2001
There was always something distinctly odd, as well as frightening,
about the Taliban. Take the young immigration officer who stamped
my passport at Jalalabad airport in 1997. Why hadn't I obtained an
exit visa, he asked. He must have been 14 years old and was
wearing a kind of mascara beneath his eyes, eye make-up just as
he imagined the Prophet had once worn it.
When I protested that there was no one in his 8th-century statelet
to give me an exit visa, he raised his head and tut- tutted at me.
"Tut-tut-tut-tut,'' he went. On and on, shaking his head from side
to side. I was an errant schoolboy and he, the child, was the
Islamic elder, admonishing the untutored Westerner.
Admonishment, in a sense, was what the Taliban were about. The
prevention of joy and pleasure fitted perfectly with their literalist
view of Islam. The minister of justice spent much of his time touring
Afghanistan to check the length of beards: each had to be "two
fists'' in length. The darker side of this tomfoolery, of course, was
performed in the Kabul sports stadium: the public execution of men
and women, the amputation of hands. If God was merciful, the
Taliban's interpretation of mercy was more than strained.
And yet - and here there must be an "and yet" - they were a
perfect product of the rapine and pillage of the Northern Alliance's
years of terror. Yes, the Taliban were in many ways the creation of
our very own friends in the Northern Alliance. After 50,000 men
and women had been slaughtered in Kabul between 1992 and
1996, accompanied by the creation of a drugs and prostitution
mafia, Afghans of every ethnic group sought peace at any price.
And when the Taliban arrived, they were welcomed in a dark,
fearful kind of way. Thieves may have their hands cut off but at
least there were no more thieves. You could drive from Jalalabad
to Kandahar in the certainty that you would arrive safely and
untouched. As journalists know all too well now, you cannot do
And the drug production was erased. The UN praised the Taliban's
prohibition of hashish and heroin production - it was left to the
Northern Alliance boys to keep the reefers smoking in the West -
and Mullah Omar toured Kandahar, warning the Pashtun tribes of
the consequences if they disobeyed his orders.
The rules were those of the refugee camps in Pakistan in which
many of the Taliban had grown up. No drugs. Knowledge of the
Koran by rote. Women in the tent, unseen, uneducated, serving
their men. This was what life was in those camps and this is what
the Taliban reproduced inside Afghanistan in 1996: they turned the
whole country into one refugee camp, complete with the rules of
penury that they learnt in exile during the Afghan-Russian war.
But they were rules that had about them a kind of obscenity. A
Scandinavian friend of mine, a diplomat visiting Kabul, was
telephoned in his hotel room by a Taliban official. "We are going to
execute a murderer by firing squad. Do you want to witness this?''
he was asked. The diplomat carefully explained that his country
opposed capital punishment for any crime. Hours later the man
rang back. The Taliban would no longer execute the condemned
man by firing squad, he said. Instead, they would kill him by
pushing down a wall on top of him. And in any case, he added,
the punishment had been postponed for several days.
And so it went on. No music, no kites, no pigeons, no television,
no films, no education for women, no jobs for women. The Taliban
said they respected women but, as with so many obscurantists,
there was always a suspicion that they feared them.
And so the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of
Virtue would use its canes on women who left home without a male
relative or dressed without appropriate modesty in full burqa. We in
the West clucked our liberal teeth at this with the same disapproval
shown to me by that immigration officer at Jalalabad airport.
We chose, naturally enough, to ignore the Wahabi obscurantists in
Saudi Arabia whose rules were almost as vicious and equally
insensitive to the outside world. Our allies in Saudi can cloak their
women in black, prevent them from driving and chop off heads
outside mosques in front of baying crowds every Friday. And they
got away with it; scarcely a whimper from the West. And thus the
Americans, while crowing at the Taliban's overthrow, have
carefully avoided any reference to the Taliban's tutors in Saudi
Arabia, whose theology is equally literalist and whose mutawa
religious police were the very inspiration for the Vice and Virtue
men in the Taliban. Certainly, we are free to forget that most of the
pilot-murderers of 11 September were Saudis. None of them was a
Taliban, though you might be forgiven for thinking, given the
venom we express, that it was the other way round.
For we did not go to war in Afghanistan to make the world free for
kite flyers or cinema lovers or women in veils. We went after the
Taliban because of their protection for Osama bin Laden. Does this
mean the end of militant Islam? Will the Americans now turn on
Hamas and Islamic Jihad - via their Israeli friends - and the
Hizbollah in Lebanon and just about any man with a beard who
objects to the United States? I rather suspect that Muslim
"extremism'' has more tenacity than that, indeed more tenacity than
the Taliban. For they were always an unworldly version of their
co-religionists in the rest of the Islamic world, more interested in
applying sharia law than in resisting the more obvious
manifestations of Western oppression.
The Taliban never volunteered to fight for Iraq or for the
Palestinians or for the Lebanese. They did not even have a military
strategy to fight anybody, just a theological strategy. They ruled
Afghan-istan in the way they did because it was all they knew.
And so they forgot the principle of power: that you must at least
pretend to protect and nurture and show compassion towards your
own people. The Taliban disappeared because they cared about
morality but not about life, about absolutism rather than human
dignity, about rules rather than logic, a world in which challenge
was always treachery.
In their territory a few days ago, another boy immigration officer
studied my latest entry visa to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -
the last the Taliban was to issue, stamped into my passport by their
officials in Islamabad after their embassy had been officially
closed. The teenager brought down his immigration stamp on my
entry visa. It said "Exit''. Wrong stamp. But it pretty much
symbolised the Taliban.