Women in Afghanistan – Journal Article

13 11 2012

The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) journal has published my article, “Women in Afghanistan: A Human Rights Tragedy a Decade after September 11” –


Also published by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), thank you RAWA:


Book Recommendation: Inside Al-Qaeda & the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden & 9/11

7 10 2012

If you haven’t read Syed Saleem Shahzad’s book, Inside Al-Qaeda & the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden & 9/11, then you don’t know the intricate details and nuances of the AQ network and their goals and missions, and real leadership!

Syed Saleem Shahzad was an independent journalist who knew too much.  He was abducted and murdered in 2011, but his book was published regardless.

This is one of the most profound books on the topic.  Shahzad’s understanding of the inside dynamics of AQ and the Taliban is unsurpassed.

“Innocence of Muslims” – Taking the Bait and Having a Field Day

14 09 2012

Writing on flags say: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”

No one has learned anything from past lessons.  The senseless violence snowballing throughout the Muslim world, supposedly in reaction to an amateurish 14-minute YouTube trailer for a film that no one can find in full length, is a stain on the 21st century.  The news media are presenting the cause of the violence as solely stemming from the anti-Islamic film, entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” which ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.  However, there is much more behind the causal factors of this epidemic violence than the simplistic headlines convey.  Here are some variables, based on my assessment, pertaining to this outbreak of violence, and all of them are interrelated:

  • Genuine emotions
  • Extremists Pulling Strings and Having a Field Day
  • 9/11 Timing
  • Grievances against People’s Governments
  • Taking the Bait

No doubt, many Muslims are expressing genuine hurt feelings and passionate emotions in reaction to insults and offenses targeting Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam, in the film trailer.  If we look back at the Salman Rushdie affair in the 1980s, we see that such sensitivities have not changed, and on the part of more orthodox and conservative Muslims, they have only intensified.  In addition, this film comes in a long series of anti-Islam expressions, like the Danish cartoons, the threat of Quran burning by Terry Jones, the accidental Qurans burned in Afghanistan, etc.  These recent incidents have only reinforced the narrative among many Muslims that the West is against Islam and permits such offenses with impunity.  That’s the perception fueling the anger and hatred.  Yet, there is no condemnation of killings in response to these perceived offenses, like the murder of Theo Van Gogh, for example.  Objective parity is not part of the narrative in this case.

Such hurt feelings and anger never justify the violence and vandalism that the recent protests have generated.  In the big picture, so many films, TV shows, art exhibits, and popular culture programs and performances have insulted Christianity and other religions.  Consider “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “South Park,” and “Monty Python,” to name a few, which are film producers and programs that have repeatedly ridiculed Christianity and other faiths with the sharpest irreverence and mockery, yet we never see violent reactions to them.

Among Islam’s ultra-orthodox and extremist elements, resorting to violence and calling for the death of the offenders are all too quick to the draw.  No one seems to pause and consider the consequences and damage to Islam’s image as a whole, as they become so consumed by their emotions and hatred.  There have been calls for peaceful protests by some, but mob mentality is hard to control especially once it gets out of hand.

This brings me to extremists pulling strings behind the scenes and having a field day.  Undoubtedly, extremist leaders at local levels see an opportunity in manipulating and exploiting the emotions and passions of the masses, especially those who embrace common extremist ideologies.  It is no coincidence that the attacks on the US consulate in Libya and the US embassy in Egypt fell on September 11th, which reinforces the theory that there is more to this violent fervor than just emotive reactions to the offensive film, which most protesters have not even seen (and for the record, the trailer is not worth one’s precious time).  Some analysts are also pointing to the revenge factor, especially in the case of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and his security detail.  In June Al Qaeda’s number two leader in Yemen was killed, and he happened to be Libyan.

Furthermore, the extremist Islamists are dismayed at being sidelined and even delegitimized upon the 2011 uprisings and revolutions that toppled decades-long secular dictatorships.  For just as long, these extremist groups spread throughout the region, although small in numbers, were forced to operate underground.  Once the revolutions took place last year through mostly nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, the extremists had the rug pulled from under them.  Even the Islamist parties that have come to power following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have to balance their respective Islamism with moderate secular and liberal ideals and policies.  This also angers the extremists, who feel that these Islamist governments are “too soft” in their Islamism.  Particularly in the case of Egypt and Sudan, Islamist hardliners are pressuring the governments to capitulate on some of their demands to implement stricter Shariah rules and policies.  These Islamists constitute major political constituents in some cases, and so the governments cannot be seen as leaning too much toward secularism and liberalism.

Similarly, the protesters, especially the young men, continue to hold grievances against their own governments for failing to meet their needs, especially providing jobs and a better future for the next generation.  Thus, woven into this discontent about the anti-Islam film are the underlying grievances against respective governments, especially for socioeconomic reasons.  Change is not occurring fast enough for many, and this has been an opportunity to express their multi-layered anger.

Anti-Western and especially anti-American sentiments are also being exploited by various elements.  Many people in the region, but certainly not all, see Western values, especially freedom of expression, as “boundary-less,” meaning that these freedoms and rights have no limits.  This is not exactly true, because we have laws against “hate speech” and of course the exception to the First Amendment right to free speech and expression exists for the sake of public order and safety, prohibiting incitement of violence.  The “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” phrase aptly describes this exception.

But, most people in the region are not aware of these provisions and exceptions.  They simply see that an American national has funded and produced this vile film, and that the US government should take action against such offenses, and place boundaries or “reasonable limits” on free speech and expression.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have unequivocally condemned this film, as well as the violence in the Muslim world.  But, they have no authority to undo the constitutional laws that grant all Americans First Amendment rights and freedoms.  The First Amendment embodies the fabric of American values, and, by the way, it also grants everyone the freedom of religion.  We should never compromise on that.

The last few days have been extremely sad, tragic, and disheartening.  Too many breaches have occurred, including the murder of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues.  Also, the loss of life of protesters is, in my opinion, such a waste.

According to a Reuters article (9/14/2012), entitled “Anti-American fury sweeps Middle East over Film” –

“At least seven people were killed as local police struggled to repel assaults after weekly Muslim prayers in Tunisia and Sudan, while there was new violence in Egypt and Yemen and across the Muslim world, driven by emotions ranging from piety to anger at Western power to frustrations with local leaders and poverty.”

The article also explains the balancing act that Egypt’s President Mursi must play regarding the Cairo protests and US relations (Egypt is the second highest recipient of US foreign aid):

“Mursi must tread a line between appealing to an electorate receptive to the appeal of more hardline Islamists and maintaining ties with Washington, which long funded the ousted military dictatorship.”

The Salafists are involved in most if not all of these violent protests.  I have repeatedly written about the dangers of Salafists, even in Tunisia, as the Reuters article describes:

“Further west along the Mediterranean, a Reuters reporter saw police open fire to try to quell an assault in which protesters forced their way past police into the U.S. embassy in Tunis. Some smashed windows, others hurled petrol bombs and stones at police from inside the embassy and started fires. One threw a computer from a window, others looted computers and telephones.

A Tunisian security officer near the compound said the embassy had not been staffed on Friday, and calls to the embassy went unanswered. Two armed Americans in uniform stood on a roof.

The protesters, many of whom were followers of hardline Salafist Islamist leaders, also set fire to the nearby American School, which was closed at the time, and took away laptops. The protests began after Friday prayers and followed a rallying call on Facebook by Islamist activists and endorsed by militants.”

This is shameful, disgusting, and criminal behavior, not much different in measure than the film producer, and in fact is even worse because lives have been lost.

This behavior also exhibits extreme immaturity at so many levels.  Islam is the youngest of the Judeo-Christian faiths, and its internal ideologies and diverse compositions and manifestations are still evolving.  As one student put it, Christianity used to be very puritanical, with the Inquisition, the Crusades, witch-burnings, and the like.  Islam is going through its phases and evolutions as well, some aspects of which are still very medieval in their outlook.  It’s imperative for the world’s Muslims to reconcile the internal conflicts and facilitate enlightenment and stamp out the extremist ideologies that are so harmful.  Puritanism serves no purpose, especially in the modern era.  It is extremely counterproductive and threatens regional and global peace and security.

Another point for the Muslim world to ponder is this:  given all the anti-Americanism and knee-jerk emotional and violent reactions that we’ve been witnessing throughout the Muslim world, Western powers will think twice before helping Muslims again, and that might include the opposition in Syria.

Finally, why people continue to take the bait is beyond comprehension.  Clearly, this film was intended to provoke anger and emotions.  Yet, it seems that repeatedly Muslims fail to transcend the temptations to react, especially so destructively.  Consider that the Prophet Muhammad’s own reputation and character should speak for himself.  Does he really need people to defend his name violently?  Isn’t something wrong with this picture?  It only gives perpetual license to the world’s provocateurs, who are probably rolling on the ground laughing, at the expense of global peace.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views

Understanding Afghanistan

8 01 2012

There’s a circle of journalists and scholars who has been following and writing about Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion days.  One of them is Edward Girardet, whose current book, Killing the Cranes:  A Reporter’s Journey through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan, offers personal accounts and commentaries about his encounters with Ahmed Shah Massoud, Gulbuddin Hekmetyar, and even Osama bin Laden.  Ed was a co-panelist with me at a 9/11 tenth anniversary talk we participated in at the University of Maine School of Law last year.  His talk was absolutely captivating, and I have a hard time putting down his book.

I like to consider myself as part of this circle, as I have also closely followed Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion.  Since 9/11 and the US campaign that toppled the Taliban regime, the US and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) have come face-to-face with the complexities of the region.  If only the book Charlie Wilson’s War (2004) had been published sooner!  But, still, I doubt zealous policy makers on all sides would really appreciate or comprehend the complicatedness of the situation in Afghanistan, since diverse factors of the equations pertaining to each and every aspect of the situational factors are rarely considered, not to mention the often imprecise metrics in measuring the effectiveness of policies and strategies help put a more positive spin on the efforts and achievements of the coalition forces.  This is not to say that there are absolutely no positive results at all, but in light of a 2014 drawdown, this political analyst cannot help but be cynical.

For instance, much of Afghanistan’s economy relies on drug production and trafficking, as well as an intricate network of organized criminal activities involving warlords, gangsters, and a variety of opportunists, black marketers, and middlemen.  Check out this November 3, 2010 Time Magazine article (excerpts) describing only one aspect of Afghanistan’s black market economy:

“Popularly known as the ‘Bush Market’ and, increasingly, the ‘Obama Market’ the warren of small shops is the largest of several commercial centers named after U.S. Presidents that have sprung up since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Indeed, the presence of foreign armies in the country has for many years spawned a supply and demand for their homegrown products. Three decades ago, during the Soviet occupation, its forerunner was called the ‘Brezhnev Market’ after the former head of the Communist Party, and its stalls were packed with basic Russian commodities. Now, 10 years into an American-led war, hard-to-find Western items are the top draw. ‘I come here all the time for new clothes,’ says Ajmal, 27, as he browses a selection of North Face trekking shoes. ‘The styles are good, the prices are low. It’s great’ …


At the Bagram market, bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets are known to turn up. U.S. Army and Marine digital-camouflage fatigues are widely available for about $40 a set. And at another market near the capital’s largest mosque, Afghan police, army and even presidential guard uniforms sell for even less. (It’s not unheard of for Taliban suicide bombers disguised as Afghan security forces to infiltrate and attack large gatherings.) Yet shopkeeper Khwaja Muhammad, 23, concedes that although many of the customers are state military employees who go to buy a second uniform or have alterations done, ‘We sell to anybody with cash’.”


This is just one small glimpse into a spider-web network of the underground economy in Afghanistan, often linked to counterparts in Pakistan.  Ed’s book drives home the point:  if only we paid attention to certain caveats.

I contend that in order for a viable, legitimate economy to flourish, Afghanistan needs to empower an independent and impartial judiciary, which would presumably prosecute the lawbreakers, including those in the organized crime networks.  Some people argue with me that a viable Afghan judiciary is simply not possible, and even that it’s not the answer to Afghanistan’s problems.  It might not be the answer, but it better be part of the equation.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.

Legitimizing the Taliban

3 01 2012

“American officials have said in recent months that the opening of a Taliban mission would be the single biggest step forward for peace efforts that have been plagued by false starts.”  This is a quote in today’s New York Times in an article entitled, “Taliban to Open Qatar Office in Step to Formal Talks.”  Pundits are viewing this as a prime opportunity and venue to hold “peace talks” with the Afghan Taliban.  However, I see something different:  (1) the post-9/11 war effort that toppled the Taliban from power, ten years later, only seems to revert back to negotiations with the very same enemy to share power after the US / ISAF pull-out in 2014; and (2) this “mission” is a means for backdoor legitimacy for the Taliban (although we know that they are not one monolithic entity – the top echelons under Mullah Omar will likely benefit most).

This is a very dangerous precedent, because it symbolizes what I call the calcification of the mind.  The Taliban are the enemies of knowledge.  Their empowerment, or return to empowerment, even if it’s limited, does not bode well for the future of Afghanistan, which, in my view, will fall back to square one.  No doubt, some Taliban are already congratulating themselves for their “victory” in gaining even an ounce of legitimacy, just by virtue of being recognized as an entity with which presumably peace talks can happen.  Once again, no one is thinking about the ideological and developmental disaster this portends for the Af-Pak region.

Consider this:  In Quil Lawrence’s NPR report (September 8, 2011), he interviewed a member of the Afghan Parliament who was also in the Northern Alliance, now a school principal.  Here is what Jaleb Mubin Zarifi, an ethnic Tajik, said in the interview:  “Democracy is un-Islamic,” and he praised the laws of the Taliban, saying, “The laws that they [Taliban] implemented – a good example, for instance, is about women – they asked all women to wear hijab (headscarf), and that’s a good thing.  And we know now that the women are not wearing hijab, and look what’s happening:  there’s cancer and AIDS everywhere now in Afghanistan.”  This was a Northern Alliance guy, not even Taliban.  Add the Taliban into the mix, and brace for the 21st century Inquisition.  Militant ideologies will have a field day.

This is not to say that a viable resolution should not be pursued in Afghanistan.  However, this rush to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, and even opening a mission office for them in Qatar smacks of desperation to plug all the holes before pulling out of Afghanistan, out of fear that President Karzai’s house of cards might collapse, perhaps from the force of Taliban laughter in the wind.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.