Almost two months after the US began its bombing of Afghanistan, the Taliban remain defiant in substantial parts of the country. As we go to press, the Northern Alliance and the US are claiming to be about to capture the northern town of Kunduz, where Taliban forces have put up a strong resistance in the face of a ground siege and intense air attack by US aircraft. The Taliban also remain entrenched in the south of the country, in their capital Qandahar in particular; how long they will be able to hold out remains to be seen.
Most Muslims disagree with the Taliban’s limited, sectarian understanding of Islam and their simplistic interpretation of Islamic principles. Many have despaired of the errors they have made, the suffering they have caused and the harm they have done. Nonetheless, now they must be respected for their response to the US’s arrogant threats and ultimatums, and for the resistance they are putting up against the US’s brutal military onslaught. If some of those Muslims and Islamic movements in the world whose understanding is more sophisticated than the Taliban’s had shown the same commitment and steadfastness, perhaps the Ummah would be in a stronger position that it now is.
Two decades ago Russia invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of supporting those parties who supposedly represented progress and modernity, and the whole Ummah rallied to the support of those who resisted them, hailing them as mujahideen. America’s support for the mujahideen was self-interested and did their struggle more harm than good; the publishers of Crescent International were among the few Islamic movement commentators at the time to warn of the dangers of the US’s involvement. Today, ironically, many of those mujahideen are in the Northern Alliance, supported by the Russians and working for the US. Now the US is in the process of occupying Afghanistan for its own purposes, through locals who it says will promote democracy and good government. It took the Russians years to do the damage to Afghanistan that the US has done in a few weeks. If the Ummah could support the mujahideen then, the least we can do now is recognise that the Taliban today are in precisely the same position and to recognise and honour them as mujahideen fighting for Islam — as they understand it — against a power that has proved itself a far greater enemy to Islam than the old Soviet Union.
Much is now being made of the West’s crackdown on Muslims in western countries. That was only to be expected; nobody believed their line about democracy, freedom of speech and human rights, surely? The mujahideen’s resistance to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan — and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, at the same time — created a massive anti-Russian backlash in Soviet-ruled Muslim Central Asia, despite the intensely repressive regimes in those countries. A few years later the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Muslims in the West are indeed going to face many problems in speaking up for Islamic movements, but they will be nothing compared to problems Muslims elsewhere have survived in the past and still face now. The West’s bark is all most of us will have to put up with; what we must not do is be cowed, or fail to support those feeling the West’s bite.
At the moment the worst difficulties are being faced by the non-Afghani mujahideen in Afghanistan. In the West they are portrayed as mercenaries and terrorists. Donald Rumsden, the US defence secretary, has demanded that none should be allowed to escape, telling the Northern Alliance that they should be killed or, failing that, captured and imprisoned. As this issue of Crescent goes to press, news is emerging that the US has bombed a camp near Mazar-e Shareef where foreign mujahideen were being held prisoners. Clearly, for many, shahadah — martyrdom — is their only option.
Let us be clear that these people are not the ones involved in any ‘terrorist’ attacks, even if Bin Ladin is responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and WTC. We are talking about idealists who travelled to support the Taliban, just as many Muslims went to support the Afghan mujahideen against the Russians, the Bosnians against the Serbs, and so on. These are among the bravest and most committed Muslims in the Ummah — the ones with the courage to do what others only talk about. By insisting that they be summarily killed, the US is yet again revealing its true nature. This is the reality that Muslims must never forget.