Monday, October 6, 2008
One of the most difficult hurdles for someone to overcome in understanding the meaning behind the many stories that they hear bandied about the airwaves and internet is basic definitions: who are we talking about, what exactly are they doing, why are they doing it, and how does it affect me? The stories, people, cultures, and issues are usually not easily definable in the few short sentences or paragraphs that a blog or column allows in order to really educate someone. When discussing the issues of radical Islam here, I usually try to be as simplistic as possible, because that is all that space allows, and it is enough to paint a picture that gives someone a basic education on the issue. Anyone who has paid attention to the news over the past decade or more has heard of both the terms 'mujahideen' and 'taliban', but few know who or what these terms represent. The most that many know is that they might have something to do with Afghanistan, and something to do with the war. Let's try to give you a basic primer. First, in our modern terminology a 'mujahideen' is generally one who struggles as a fighter for a radical Islamic cause and is inspired by religion and idealogy. Picture yourself in the Afghanistan of the late 1970's. The government of your country is aligned with the Soviet Union, and you don't like that, so you join a group which actively fights your own government to free itself from that influence. Your government asks the Soviets to come in and directly join the fight against your group, which is joined by other anti-Soviet and anti-government groups in this struggle, which you perceive to be largely about defending your Muslim faith. These groups joined in this struggle are the beginning of what we know today as the 'Mujahideen' forces. They fight in and around Afghanistan throughout the 1980's against the Soviet troops and their influence. You are largely supported with funds and weapons from the outside by forces that wish to see the Soviets fail, including the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran. Finally in the late '80's, the Soviets pull their troops out, and you are seen in your country as victorious defenders and heroes. Ronald Reagan himself calls you "freedom fighters", and you are portrayed positively in a number of western films. A key leader in those battles was a Saudi national named Osama bin Laden, who not only used his vast monetary fortune to help support the war effort, but also personally fought himself. In the aftermath of the Soviet pullout, various mujahideen groups fight one another for control in a devastating civil war that lasted for years. In an attempt to bring some order, a new group known as 'The Taliban', literally meaning 'students', was formed from among some of the students from the most restrictive Muslims schools. They wrestled control at the capital of Kabul around 1996, and then ruled over Afghanistan through 2001. During their rule they instituted the most strict and severe form of Sharia (Islamic law), including the mistreatment of women, that the Muslim world had ever seen. The Taliban had a very strict interpretation of Islam, and refused to allow other strains of the faith to gain a voice. They began an attempt to spread their views and their power into neighboring Pakistan as well. Mullah Mohammed Omar (pictured above) was considered the Taliban leader during this time, and he went into hiding at the start of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, when the United States and others went into the country to begin addressing radical Islam by driving out the Taliban. After gaining control of the country, the U.S. and NATO powers began to assemble and help support a new, democratic Afghani government. Omar continues in hiding as a wanted man for supporting and hiding Osama bin Laden, who had gone on from his heroic mujahideen days to become the leader of a world-wide Islamic terrorist organization known as al Qaeda, which perpetrated those 9/11 attacks. After being driven from Afghanistan, The Taliban eventually gathered its remaining forces and adherents in the tribal areas of Pakistan and began to reconstitute itself, and now has begun fighting back in an attempt to overthrow the U.S.-backed Afghani government and regain control. The bottom line: the Mujahideen who fought the Soviets and the Taliban who fought America are both radical Islamic groups wishing to gain territorial and political power to back and strengthen their radical religious beliefs. These are exactly the types of groups, and both Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden the kinds of people, the we desperately need to eliminate in order to crush the oppression of Islamism and help the freedoms of democracy spread throughout the world.