AFGHANISTAN TEACH-IN : LUSENET : Exposing Rightwing Corruption : One Thread

CliffsNotes From the Popular U.W. Lecture Series
by Josh Feit and Pat Kearney

Last Thursday at 7:30 p.m., close to 2,000 people showed up at the University of Washington for a lecture about Islam, the Taliban, Afghanistan, and what the hell it all means. The UW was caught completely off guard, and had to turn 1,000 people away. For those of you who missed the lecture or won't be able to get into the next one this Thursday, The Stranger interviewed Jere Bacharach on Monday, October 8, during the second day of U.S. bombing over Afghanistan. Bacharach, 62, is director of the UW Jackson School of International Studies. He is leading the popular lecture series.--PAT KEARNEY

How is this war similar to or different from other recent U.S. wars, like the Gulf War, Bosnia, or Vietnam?

It is different in numerous ways. It is not a clear territorial war. Unlike the Gulf War or Kosovo, this war has far greater international dimensions and enemies. The theoretical goal is to destroy the al Qaeda network all over the world--which can't be done, but we can disrupt it. Secondly, this war has many more domestic ramifications than others. Because these tragic events took place on American soil, this has personalized this development in a way that previous wars and military engagements, like Kosovo and Kuwait, didn't. Today, before a single bomb was dropped, before a single public action was taken, Americans have been searching to try to understand domestically and internationally what is going on. That's a good sign.

How is the Northern Alliance different from the Taliban?

First, Afghanistan is a nation on paper, but [it] really is composed of numerous competing factions who differ by culture--primarily linguistic/ethnic identity, and in one case, even subgroups and sects of Islam. The Northern Alliance is just that, an alliance. An alliance held together to a certain degree by a common enemy--the Taliban. It's composed of groups of individuals whose ethnic and linguistic origins are different from the dominant Taliban, who represent the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. In the North, the primary groups are the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, and the Shiites. The Taliban is primarily [composed of] Pashtuns. Pashtuns are linguistically closer to Pakistanis. [Members of] the Taliban were initially united by a common vision of an Islamic-type state. They found allies in the people who were tired of civil war, in local warlords of other ethnic groups willing to join them, and [in those who shared] the common interest of getting rid of the Soviets during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, through 1979 to 1989. The Taliban have a vision and armaments from Pakistan, while most of the others are local warlords. The Northern Alliance has different religious policies than the Taliban, and do not like being excluded from power and controlled by Pashtuns.

There has been a lot in the media about the Taliban's treatment of women. Their education is restricted, they can't watch TV, they have to be fully covered up, etc. What is the reasoning behind this?

The religious and political leadership of the Taliban believe in a very specific, particular vision of Islam represented by a tiny, tiny minority, which feels that the world of the time of the prophet Mohammed, in the seventh century, was the most perfect of all times. If one can recreate a society close to that, where external corrupting influences are curtailed, removed, or controlled, then a better, more moral, more religious society will be recreated. If you believe in a conservative, highly moral society, then television, for example--and shows like Baywatch--is not something you are fond of. If you are a conservative Christian, if you are an Orthodox Jew, or if you are a Taliban, Baywatch doesn't represent what you want your population to practice. Consequences are lashings, fine, jail, or death. The Taliban, like Bob Jones University, for example, believe that the world has become very corrupted, and it's the responsibility of those who can do so to impose proper moral behavior. I may not like it, and you may not like it, but there are people who truly believe it. When Jerry Falwell says on Pat Robertson's program something like, "God has lifted his mantle of protection because of the ACLU, abortionists, and homosexuals, and what we need in the United States is a Christian state," some of that vocabulary has parallels to the Taliban.

In your opinion, will the recent attacks lend credibility to bin Laden's message?

For those who are frustrated with their own governments, who have lived under dictatorships that they blame the U.S. for maintaining, for those who feel they are the losers in globalization and those who feel their sacred sites have been illegally polluted by direct or indirect occupation, bin Laden symbolizes all that frustration. Among these groups he has great prestige. There are many parts in the world--Africa, Latin America, Europe, not just in the Middle East--that find bin Laden attractive because he's "giving it to the U.S." They feel they are victims of American global imperialism, and though they might not have cheered publicly when the World Trade Center blew up, in private... maybe.

Give us a quick analysis of Afghanistan's relationship with its neighbors.

Afghanistan is an isolated country. The Taliban only have official relationships with Saudi Arabia. [That relationship] is now broken. The United Arab Emirates, now broken, and Pakistan, who is their primary supporter. They have very tense relations with Iran, where there are over a million Afghan refugees. They have tense relations with the Central Asian republics, who fear Taliban-supported movements will overthrow their governments.

Why did Pakistan recognize the Taliban?

There are multiple reasons. Pakistan wants a state that they can work with and influence, that won't be a threat, that will cooperate. They want stability and an end to the refugee problem. There are also certain members of Pakistani society, including government circles, who ideologically favor and support Taliban goals.

Is the current bombing a good thing?

I'm trying to grapple with what is the best policy, like anyone else. I don't have an answer for that yet. I think the U.S. attempt to have focused bombings, and the humanitarian aid, and we have forgiven some debts that very poor nations owe us--I don't know how long this will go on or when it will end, but it will not be a Kosovo or Kuwait, and definitely will not be a Vietnam. There won't be a half-million Americans on the ground in Afghanistan, because they will lose, and the military knows that. I personally don't like George W. Bush, but I'll give him credit for assembling the one of the best international coalitions I've ever seen.

-- Cherri (, October 22, 2001

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