If they are not pre-occupied with the length of people’s beards, the Taliban are busy thinking up exotic names for their war-ravaged country. Their latest gem was changing the country’s name from the ‘Islamic State’ to the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.’
But who should tell these village pumpkins from Qandahar that a country does not become Islamic or Emirate simply by changing its name? If the Taliban were in tune with reality, they would have renamed their country, the ‘Gharib (poor) Republic of Afghanistan.’ After all, there is much poverty and suffering in that unfortunate land.
After more than a year in Kabul, perhaps the only favourable comment one can make about them is that they have restored some degree of security in the city. The previous occupiers were notorious for molesting residents. Every street corner was a fiefdom unto itself, controlled by a thug of different hue who exacted his own toll from passers-by. While putting an end to this banditry, the Taliban have gone to the other extreme: worrying about the length of people’s beards and the colour of women’s shoes, if they are allowed to venture outside at all.
There is, however, no consistency in their approach. Their criterion for judging a person’s Islam on the basis of his beard’s length would create the ludicrous situation in which a non-Muslim Sikh, for instance, would pass the test, but a clean-shaven Muslim would not. Numerous clean-shaven Pakistani visitors have been lashed upon arrival in Kabul by the zealots.
One is constrained to ask, however, what did the Taliban representatives say when they met Saudi king Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz in Riyadh last July? Surely, Fahd’s beard does not pass muster! In fact, his tiny stub, tainted with the latest chemicals produced by the infidels, would automatically disqualify him on numerous counts. Did Mullah Muhammad Rabbani tell Fahd to lengthen his beard?
Highly unlikely. Rabbani (no relation of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who at least would pass the Taliban’s beard test, even if not their political test!) was not in the kingdom to talk about Islam. He was seeking bakhshish and bowing to a client of the Americans. Clearly, money talks louder than principles.
Rabbani went further. He also assured his thinly-bearded hosts that Osama bin Laden would not be allowed to make any more political statements while in Afghanistan. Nor would the Arabian mujahid be allowed to give interviews to western television networks.
Why have the Taliban taken such umbrage at Osama’s statements? He has called for the expulsion of US troops from the Arabian Peninsula, which is considered sacred territory by all Muslims. Do the Taliban disagree with this?
The Taliban’s statements and behaviour clearly reflect much confusion. In Kabul, taking photographs of women is forbidden but last August, a Taliban representative went to the British high commission in Islamabad to sign a condolence book for princess Diana. Her framed picture, naturally without hijab, was on the table. Did the Taliban representative close his eyes upon seeing Diana’s picture? And why the Taliban’s soft corner for Diana whose lifestyle was hardly an example to western, much less Muslim women to emulate?
Their attitude towards the Saudi monarchy confirms their close collaboration with one of the most unpopular regimes in the Muslim world. And their lack of concern about the presence of American troops on the sacred soil of the Arabian Peninsula points toward their US links.
The Taliban are clearly projecting what Syed Qutb Shaheed called ‘American Islam.’ The only tragedy of Afghanistan, and indeed of its people, is that those opposing the Taliban are not much better. The opposition northern alliance suffers from deep divisions. They are, therefore, unable to put up a credible challenge to people from the backwaters of Afghanistan.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1997