Insight into some preconceived ideas about the Taliban

Balanced and truthful reporting can be the first casualty of war as Media Lens pointed out a few days ago.

In Abolish War, the well-presented newsletter of the Movement for the Abolition of War, the editor, Lesley Docksey, reviewed James Fergusson’s book, “Taliban: the true story of the world’s most feared guerrilla fighters.” She writes: 

A much needed book from someone who is not prepared to simply repeat the unthinking rhetoric about the Taliban. He has met and interviewed many past and current members of the Taliban and he counters the West’s assumptions with facts. For instance, he makes the point that while we condemned them for their misogynistic views on women, we would not recognise that Afghan society as a whole has always been that way. 

He sets out the real history behind the formation of the Taliban, looks at some of their surprising successes while they were in government and their aims for the future. He looks at the endemic corruption that the Taliban had started to deal with. He revisits Abdullah, the Taliban leader he met when writing his previous book, now in effect the district’s chief administrator. As such Abdullah took the woman’s side against a judge who was refusing the divorce she sought from an abusive husband. Knowing that a divorced woman would likely face a life of destitution, ‘ . . . The deciding factor for him was that he knew there was a suitor waiting in the wings. . .’ Does this sound like the religious bigots we have been led to expect?

One thing Fergusson is adamant about – Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans, among them the Taliban. ‘While the West remains there they will fight us, but they have no interest in doing any more than freeing their country from invaders. It is more than time that we sat down and talked with them. And then got out.#


This was intriguing and led to a search. In the Observer, Emma Duncan says Fergusson’s argument has two parts.

Following the Soviet withdrawal, competing groups of mujahideen blew Kabul to pieces, warlords sliced the countryside up into fiefdoms and bandits set up roadblocks to extort money from travellers. Initially, the Taliban improved life for Afghans and were welcomed by their fellow Pashtuns.

He argues that the Taliban say they are not against educating girls, so long as they are not taught alongside boys. When they were in power they did not have enough money to set up girls’ schools, so the girls were excluded but could be taught at home.

Sören Franson (Malmö, Sweden) wrote: “One reviewer on the U.S. Amazon site thought that Fergusson was excusing the Taliban’s punishment of violations against the sharia laws, and I think that is incorrect. Fergusson was trying to supply context and when possible, the Taliban’s reasons (however absurd they may seem to a western reader) for enacting the ban on TV and kite flying etc – he was not making excuses. Providing context and explanation is not the same thing as excusing”. 

Emma Duncan noted that the Taliban have regrouped, supported by Pakistanis and by Afghans alienated by the West’s use of air power and disgusted by the Afghan government’s corruption; in 2010 she recorded a growing consensus that America will start talking to the Taliban.


Yesterday, Australia’s Herald Sun reports: Mr Obama said in his primetime speech yesterday on the Afghan war that there was “reason to believe that progress can be made” in talks with the Taliban . . .


One Response to Insight into some preconceived ideas about the Taliban

  1. It bothers me a lot that in the effort to highlight governmental misinformation that leads us into wars, some critics end up bending over backwards to show “another side” to a repressive and violent regime. I have encountered people who, annoyed at the hypocrisy of allowing nuclear arms to some, end up being pro-Ahmedinajad. What? Huh? LET’S BE CLEAR ABOUT THIS. The Taliban are vicious, misogynistic, religious fanatics. They have no role in a democratic future. Whether they were created by the CIA or not does not matter at this point in time. These are the people who blew up ancient Buddha statues because they had nothing better to do. Do NOT let your disgust at what your elected government is doing lead you down the wrong road of rooting for these truly maniacal and yes, backwards, individuals. It is a very dumb intellectual error to make. Please don’t do it.

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