By James A. Haught
The Taliban seizure of Afghanistan underscores an ugly 21st century fact: Religion-based warfare remains the world’s worst type of armed conflict, and the “holy warriors” display barbaric cruelty.
After the CIA under President Reagan helped Muslim tribal warlords drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, the victorious warlords fell into conflict with each other. That’s when the Taliban, a movement of armed Islamic students, swept through the mountainous nation.
The Puritanical Taliban, like most Muslim extremists, were notorious for their hatred of sex. They ordered all women to wear shroud-like burkas outdoors because “the face of a woman is a source of corruption” for men. Women couldn’t be educated beyond age eight, and before that could study only the Qur’an. Those who secretly attended underground schools were executed, along with their teachers. Girls’ schools were burned. Women weren’t allowed to work or go outdoors without a family male escort. They couldn’t wear high heels under their burkas because clicking heels might excite lustful men. Apartment windows were painted over. Wearing form-fitting clothes was a capital offense. Public stonings or other executions of women occurred. Eighty percent of brides were forced into marriage.
The Taliban allowed the al-Qaeda terror network to operate from Afghanistan in the 1990s. After the historic 9/11 attack of 2001, America invaded and drove out the fanatics. But two decades of costly American effort to create an Afghan democracy failed, and now the Taliban rule again. Most of the world is holding its breath, waiting to see if sexual savagery returns.
Actually, the Taliban are merely one of many armed Islamist militias that wage warfare. Some survive and some fade. There’s Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, Hamas in Palestinian territory, ISIS in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, al-Qaeda hidden somewhere, Hizbollah spread internationally, and a dozen Muslim militias which have been fighting India’s Hindu army in Kashmir for seventy years.
Back in 2017, when the Taliban seemed rather dormant, a book by an Arabic scholar said: “Boko Haram is now the deadliest terrorist organization operational in the world, by virtue of the sheer number of people the group have killed.” The Sunni group is notorious for raiding villages and cities, massacring civilians (including Shi’ite Muslims), raping and abducting girls, and seizing boys to become soldiers.
I wonder if Boko Haram someday may seize Nigeria, as the Taliban did Afghanistan.
Most of these groups employ a tactic not available to other militaries – suicide bombing. Only religious operations can find volunteer “martyrs.” And some other attacks are committed by lone wolves, such as those who massacred the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris and bombed the Boston Marathon.
Around the globe, warfare has faded enormously in the 21st century. It’s ironic that the world might become war-free, if not for religion.
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine.)