What motivates the Taliban?

I couldn’t help but reproduce this post from Glenn Greenwald – you know how sometimes you have somethingo n your mind, and then you read someone else’s thoughts and you think “Yes, what HE said”? Well, what he said.


David Rohde’s insights into what motivates the Taliban

(updated below)

The New York Times‘ David Rohde writes about the seven months he was held hostage by a group of extremist Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and conveys this observation about what motivates them:

My captors harbored many delusions about Westerners. But I also saw how some of the consequences of Washington’s antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban. Commanders fixated on the deaths of Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian civilians in military airstrikes, as well as the American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charged.

Apparently, when we drop bombs on Muslim countries — or when Israel attacks Palestinians — that fuels anti-American hatred and militarism among Muslims.  The same outcomes occur when we imprison Muslims without charges in places like Guantanamo and Bagram.  Imagine that.  Recall, according to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, what prompted 9/11 “ringleader” Mohammed Atta to devote himself to a suicide mission, as recounted by Juan Cole during the Israel/Gaza war:

In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation–with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center. (Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 307: “On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque.  It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged, and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response“).

On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660.

You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.

One could — and should — ask that question every time the U.S. or Israel engages in another military strike that kills Muslim civilians, or for that matter, every day that goes by when we continue to wage war inside Muslim countries.  Rohde adds this about what motivates these Taliban:

America, Europe and Israel preached democracy, human rights and impartial justice to the Muslim world, they said, but failed to follow those principles themselves.

One of the taboo topics in the American media is how the U.S. Government routinely violates the principles we espouse for, and try to impose on, the rest of the world.  We systematically torture Muslims and then cover it up and protect our torturers while preaching accountability and the rule of law; we condemn deprivations of due process while maintaining and expanding lawless prison systems for Muslims; we demand adherence to U.N. dictates and international law while blocking investigations into U.N. reports of war crimes and possible “crimes against humanity” by our allies; we righteously oppose aggression while invading and simultaneously occupying numerous countries, while threatening to attack still more, and arming countries like Israel to the teeth to wage still other attacks, etc. etc.

As a result of the media avoidance of such topics, many Americans don’t ever think much about the huge gap between what we claim about ourselves and what we do.  But much of the rest of the world — certainly including the Muslim world — sees that discrepancy quite clearly, often up-close.  That’s what accounts for the radically different, even irreconcilable, perceptions that Americans and so many people in the rest of the world have about who we are and what we do (“why do the hate us?”).  Is it really surprising that young Taliban fighters, surrounded by a foreign occupying army and lawless prison system for the last eight years, are “fixated” on such things and are radicalized by it?  Shouldn’t that, by itself, make us think about not doing those things any longer, since they only exacerbate the problem we claim we are trying to solve?

Finally, Rohde describes his treatment at the hands of the Taliban during his seven months of captivity as follows:

They vowed to follow the tenets of Islam that mandate the good treatment of prisoners. In my case, they unquestionably did. They gave me bottled water, let me walk in a small yard each day and never beat me.

Rohde explains that the Taliban automatically believe that journalists — especially American journalists — are spies.  Despite that belief, the Taliban never waterboarded him, never hung him naked in a cold room to induce hypothermia, never stuffed him in a coffin-like box as punishment, never deprived him of sleep to the point of severe disorientation, and instead adhered to their commitment regarding “the good treatment of prisoners.”  We might want to think about what that means about us.  That many of the Taliban are inhumane, brutal and barbaric extremists only underscores that point further.

* * * * *

Two other items, one related and the other not:

(1) An Iranian dissident group staged two suicide bombing attacks today which killed some Revolutionary Guard commanders as well as “dozens of others.”  At least according to an ABC News report from 2007 (from the unreliable Brian Ross), the group which claimed responsibility for these attacks (and which has staged similar attacks in the past) — Jundallah — “has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005.”  If that’s true, would that make the U.S. a so-called “state sponsor of terrorism”?

(2) Following up on the Goldman Sachs issues I wrote about on Friday, The New York Times‘ Frank Rich today has a scathing column condemning Goldman.  Their behavior is becoming so transparent that it cannot help but enter mainstream discourse (that even prompted David Axelrod to condemn Goldman’s bonuses and other practices as “offensive,” while claiming the White House was powerless to stop it).

UPDATE:  From Bryan Bender, The Boston Globe, October 9, 2009 (h/t CarolynC):

Nearly all of the insurgents battling US and NATO troops in Afghanistan are not religiously motivated Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors, but a new generation of tribal fighters vying for control of territory, mineral wealth, and smuggling routes, according to summaries of new US intelligence reports.

Some of the major insurgent groups, including one responsible for a spate of recent American casualties, actually opposed the Taliban’s harsh Islamic government in Afghanistan during the 1990s, according to the reports, described by US officials under the condition they not be identified.

“Ninety percent is a tribal, localized insurgency,’’ said one US intelligence official in Washington who helped draft the assessments. “Ten percent are hardcore ideologues fighting for the Taliban.’’

US commanders and politicians often loosely refer to the enemy as the Taliban or Al Qaeda, giving rise to the image of holy warriors seeking to spread a fundamentalist form of Islam. But the mostly ethnic Pashtun fighters are often deeply connected by family and social ties to the valleys and mountains where they are fighting, and they see themselves as opposing the United States because it is an occupying power, the officials and analysts said.

One of the most astounding feats in propaganda is how we’ve managed to take people who live in a country which we invade, bomb and occupy — and who fight against us because we’re doing that — and call them “Terrorists,” thereby “justifying” continuing to bomb and occupy their country further (“We have to stay in order to fight the Terrorists:  meaning the people who are fighting us because we stay”).

40 Replies to “What motivates the Taliban?”

  1. Whilst admittedly its hard to justify the “Bush wars” its harder to justify the Taliban doctrine. I’m lost in the irony of treating a hostage to bottles of water and “freedom of movement” meanwhile restricting all known human freedoms of the 21st century every citizen in those countries should enjoy.And not forgetting the occasional suicide bomb against the citizens of freer society.

  2. LOL, aren’t you also lost in the irony of preaching human freedoms whilst actively destroying those freedoms all over the world, whilst eroding them at home.

    The occasional suicide bomb against “freer” society can never atone for the untold numbers blown to pieces from the air.

  3. I assume you mean America?? In which the irony is not lost.
    Its only men of vile disposition who enter a war of ideology by engaging in the most barbaric of acts. The irony is not the ideology, the irony is in the means in which the ideology is defended!!

    As to what i preach, in a world that is 99% socialist, i dare say i have a lot of enemies to bomb, or water board!!

  4. Western governments are evil idiots.
    Only two things will make them see reason;

    1. Every single ‘Muslim’ and ‘Communist’ state has long range nuclear missiles.

    2. Africa, Latin America and Asia kick out all their ‘multinationals’ (read our-corporations-in-your-country) and tell them to take their globalisation and shove it up their arses.

  5. Mos Native: with that reasoning i suspect you suffer from an illness induced by lack of an organ to discern.

  6. My only point is:- you can’t complain that a few guys flew two planes into New York and killed 3,000 people, when you have been hacking a swathe through South America and Africa for decades, then subsequently destroy two Middle-Eastern nations whilst MURDERING countless innocents in a crusade of retribution.

    It doesn’t work like that.

  7. Mos Native:

    Inhumane- in whose judgment? is it in those countries where at least the voters have a say or where self-proclaimed prophets cum kleptomaniacs disallow any dissent in their countries? or simply alternative thoughts, way of life…try living under Shara law when you are a Christian then discern what inhumanity is.

    Profiteering: Without profits the world is an uncivilized place. profits equal progress/development. discern that!

    Self Righteous arseholes: Too much sugar in your tea this morning??

    Governments i admire: There is only one type of government i admire…NO government. Discern that.

    You have simply confirmed what i suspected. it might well worth noting that the organ for discernment is the same one used for thinking.

  8. A-C M, here’s how it works, according to me:

    If you subjugate and dehumanise people according to their religion, slaughter innocents by the scores, support the rape of nations by their (imposed) neighbours, engage in wars of aggression (public and clandestine), support brutal dictators (eg Pervez) and humiliate entire peoples …

    … don’t be surprised if someone gets on a bus with a bomb in his briefcase. And don’t expect the world to like you, let alone the Muslims you so crusade against.

    So how does it work according to you, cos this seems like common fucking sense to me.


  9. JB you have a perfectly reasoned argument on why a war would ensue. What is perhaps not so common is the realisation that no good reason is ever needed to go to war…from time immemorial man has fought man at times forgetting the reason why he is fighting. A useful account of war by Thucydides reveals the intricate matter of war and the psychology embedded.

    what does this mean? As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, wars shall be fought. What is instructive is the collectivist and socialist dogma that promotes illusory concept of heaven here on earth. Thus a state called Pakistan was constructed on the most idealistic and unrealistic assumptions- one is left wondering where the common sense was! The Taliban promote their concept of utopia based on purist theory no different from hitler’s germany. The West in their own warped heaven here on earth devise concepts like pre-emtive strike…akin to get rid of those you dont like.

    So where to. There is a concept of society that most are not willing to allow, primarily because if offers more choices and responsibility to individuals rather than to the collective conscience. When Bush declared war he bound 200m people, would the world not be a better place if he could only bind himself? Mugabe’s thuggism could have been subdued if only he was not acting on behalf of the majority but rather himself?

    One only needs to observe crowd mentality in any society. often one assumes positions or acts according to the crowd mentality when as an individual they would have been more reasoned.

    Once a gentleman by the name JP SAY introduced a concept of Laissez affair as a socio-economic construct. Napoleon got to hear of this idea, which was quite contrary to his war mongering ambitions. Suffice to say Say was banished from French society and his idea banned from any discussion. Say, exiled in Britain finally received an ear to his idea, perhaps the idea that started the industrial revolution.

  10. “The Taliban promote their concept of utopia based on purist theory no different from hitler’s germany.” – Disingenuous.

    From what I understand, Talibs are trying to establish maintain a state under *their* holy law, as a bastion against Western corruption and ungodliness.

    Firstly, to argue that Hitler’s Germany was based on purist theory is blinkered … the Third Reich was an animal born of (and beholden to) wealth and power. It was a multi-faceted beast, and arian purity was but one of the main doctrines manufactured to give it populist relevance, but let’s not forget Hitler’s campaign was one of history’s greatest wealth-grabs.

  11. I am afraid you understand wrongly. Or rather you understand my assertions wrongly. How is a racial purist doctrine different from “holy law” purist doctrine?

    I am tempted to ignore your last paragraph, but intellectual touts should not be ignored lest they carry on to become mass murderers of truth.

    Did it ever occur to you that the third reich was bankrupt and effectively emasculated by the allies under the treaty of Versailles? Or at least understand that long before Hitler, the Prussian empire was supported and aided by intellectual spendthrifts like Hegel who argued and called for the supreme race domination. This probably laid the foundation in German society of Socialist pretensions and call for a Utopian racist society. This embedded tone in german society is what Hitler capitalized on. As for hitler and his ambitions, firstly it was to re-assert the German supreme race that had been humiliated after ww1, and secondly to feed his ego as a military strategist.

    So where was the wealth issue? as for Power- hitler never administered the nations he took over, he simply wanted to show the world the German warfare prowess.

  12. “We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.”
    (Cecil John Rhodes)

    Mark Twain on Rhodes;

    “I admire him, I frankly confess it; and when his time comes I shall buy a piece of the rope for a keepsake”

    How times change …

    Ditto MT, and likewise I shall be keeping fragments of US embassies, London subway stations, Israeli cafes and US & British military vehicles while our Western crusaders are saving the world from itself.

  13. I notice that you appear to make some arguments purely for argument’s sake. To say that Hitler “simply” wanted to show the world the German military prowess?

    As for Hitler never administering nations he took over, who controlled Germany’s share of Poland? Who controlled the Slovaks? Denmark? Norway? All of Sweden’s iron ore?

    Anyway, I think we’re going off topic. The rhetoric about escalation in Afghanistan sounds like the noise before the Iraq invasion. Scare-mongering.

  14. JB, that is why i wanted to ignore your last paragraph initially. suffice to say, don’t underestimate man’s ego.

    Back to the matter at hand. As long as the collectivist voices control the governments of today, there is little hope war mongering will end. My proposal, totally nothing new, as enunciated by Jean B Say will not end wars, but will ensure only fools will be mudded in tom foolery whilst progressives build better societies for themselves.

    Mos Native. I will have you know Cecil John Rhodes is a personal hero of mine, and i have spent a great deal of time and become poorer in the process trying to accumulate as much material as i can on this man and his ideas. it is only sufficient to say today’s topic does not afford us the pure “JOYS” of exploring this legend…..If such a moment presents itself at that junction i will happily accept a discussion.

  15. Well Anonymous, refusal would be predicated upon some of us actually seeking entry into the US in the first place.

    Rhodes? Hmmmm … as an African “cunt” would be my initial reaction, maybe I’ll read a little before I make noise.

    Unlike Gandhi, the racist bastard.

  16. Its really a shame when people form an opinion based on hearsay and in africa after years of propaganda are left with little else but parrot nonsense that is meant to sound intelligent. Its much easier to call someone a racist then claim the high moral ground than debate the issues and ideas. Similar to Chanakira and AAG charlatans calling Moxon a racist as a convenient cover to take over his company.

    anal retentive – a stage in psychosexual development when the child’s interest is concentrated on the anal region; fixation at this stage is said to result in orderliness, meanness, stubbornness, compulsiveness, etc.

    Mos_Native are you masquerading as a psychologist? Its similar to saying my opinion of Vimbayi is a Self absorbed GIRL for brevity sake. SO??

  17. @JB – 🙂

    @ACM – I am as much a psychologist when describing Rhodes as I am a mechanic when servicing my car and an economist when discussing economics. If you prefer I dumb down my analyses to fit the stereotype that you insist on – sorry, not happening.

    Dude really? Hearsay, African propaganda, sounding intelligent. Got problems with natives with natives whose opinions differ from yours?


  18. My problem is with natives who are quick to point a figure at me, and find exception to my views since a) they are deemed to be western and therefore sympathetic to western views and b)thinking in colour codes of white and black to justify how native one is.

    the hypocrites are unveiled when you tell them that the socialist dogma and communist preachings they espouse are as native to the African soil as the english language they use. the Architect’s of socialism had no thoughts of African natives or African sympathies.

    GET IT

  19. @JB have you done a bit of research, enough to engage in a conversation.Its easy for one to get lost, but dare i say find elation in being lost in the woods of the Rhodes experience. And going by Mos_Native logic you will come out a Rhodesian….

  20. @ACM – while trying to convince us natives to explore and be in awe of Rhodes, you may want to ask some random Jews to do the same for Hitler. For effect, try recruiting at a temple … wont really matter that he may have caused them a bit of discomfort a while back, they must at least marvel at his rhetoric and charisma.

  21. @Mos_Native

    Hitler’s crime was not for being racist. His opponents were equally racist.- Churchill was a known racist and imperialist. Its well worth noting that when Hitler invaded Austria and Poland, infact were Germain speaking people lived the Allies were willing to appease….after all these regions had been wrongfully annexed from Germany.

    Hitler’s crime was primarily genocide he perpetrated against 6m jews, And acts of aggression against the rest of europe beyond the regions were Germain people lived.

    So if you are equating Rhodes to Hitler, i ask for evidence of the genocide perpetrated by Rhodes.

    Its well worth noting that the bedrock of all socialist pretensions comes from a Racist Germany in the 17th century. Furthermore communist poster boy was Russia, the same Russia that is racist.

  22. ACM – I am tempted to believe that you do not actually exist and are instead a program which throws literary phrases and quotes related to some predetermined list of tags. Your humourlessness and callousness are quite striking to the point of being awkward. Seriously.

    This Rhodes issue is one were you need to apply some reason, not data. The point is not who was more evil, on what scale, in what manner or to what extent.

    The point is that Rhodes, for the evil he visited on the blacks on this continent, regardless of whatever else he achieved in his life, but primarily for HOW he achieved what he did, particularly because it was at the expense of the black African’s livelihood and dignity, is a bloody cunt, from the perspective of any self-respecting black person.

    In a similar manner, and as I was trying to get through to you; No self-respecting Jewish person, regardless of their current persuasion, will ever be able to extricate and coldy evaluate Adolf Hitler’s stirring rhetoric, overwhelming charisma, striking presence, dumbfounding ambition and clinical execution of human persecution, for the simple reason that this visited evil on them as a people.

    That you my friend do not grasp this simple concept, and rather unwittingly attempt to refer literature which you believe will “win” me, or any black person over, is not testament to poor intelligence on your part, but rather to lack of empathy, poor social understanding and to a poor understanding of the limits of logic in human interraction.

  23. Now this is interesting. Mos Native OR is it Mos_Native OR is it Anonymous 1 OR is it the second Anonymous?? In your drivel you managed to not only confuse me but confuse yourself and perhaps your own computer as well. And you accuse me of being a software program??

    I must have really ticked you off for you to respond in the manner you have. It is at this point i realise you are not keen on ideas. You build your superficial ( OR is it artificial) knowledge and its hard wired as the Truth and no one is have an opposing view of YOUR Truth.

    “This Rhodes issue is one were you need to apply some reason, not data.” Such an Oxymoron leaves one gasping for a new anti-virus because if this is supposed to pass as intellect then indeed the MORONS have taken over.
    (e anal retentive comment is not lost on us either, nor is the borrowing from Freud makes me a psychologist :-0)

  24. Ah, finally you speak from the heart 🙂
    That literary/intellectual facade was really getting worn out.

    Dude, ideas are all good, but at some point you need to be human,
    Think of it as the quantum physics of philosophy;

    similar to the dilemma of that guy who took his photography so seriously he took a award-winning photo of that scrawny child being stalked by a vulture, yet left her to her fate – he later committed suicide;
    Or the Tuskegee Experiment doctors so engrossed in their scientific pursuits that they used unknowing blacks to test the long term effects of untreated syphilis;
    Or another fictitional – if six men were to lay the perfect ambush and bugger you up the ass then vanish without a trace, the fact that you may be a criminologist will not allow you to marvel at the execution of the perfect rape while disregarding the little matter of the buggering.

    You may revel in Rhodes anal accomplishments, I do not.

  25. I must admit you have managed to read me well. My knowledge and indeed excitement over FICTION oscillates between non-existent and trivial.

    the only reason intellectual debates would wear you off, boils down to tolerance level. Some are capable of stringing an intelligent sentence without a dossier of “six men” hyperbole.

    Alas the intellect is the only tool we have to discern the truth. But its not my prized possession. I would like to think of myself as a man of action. a doer. That old fellow should hold me in high regard.

  26. A-C M, that little rant may not be on of your most shining moments on this site, LOL. Besides being rather emotional, it appears to be mostly gibberish, especially the last paragraph.

    Gasping for a new anti-virus, hahaha sounds like Charamba.

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