This is something we have to think about with respect to other countries -- Liberia, for example, sounds like it’s going through a similar thing. It‘s now a stateless society, a society atomized down to its suffering individuals.
I worry about that. In the long run, that’s the big threat -- for us. Any response that says “We‘re going to smash that place” only creates another and larger zone of people who threaten us. It’s a little late to be talking about it now. But maybe not. There has to be reconstruction and rebuilding. You can‘t walk away from these places that are so devastated. You can’t be global and isolationist at the same time.
What about our country‘s involvement with the Taliban? The U.S. government was the Taliban’s ally against the Soviets.
There‘s a great book about the Taliban by a Pakistani journalist named Ahmed Rashid called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. It has the details on all of this. According to what Rashid writes, there was some pretty direct involvement between the U.S. and the creating of the Taliban, and it had to do with the American impression that the Taliban had what it took to secure the country for an oil pipeline that was supposed to run through Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf. I’m sure the Americans had no idea what was going to happen. They were careless.
There‘s also a great connection between the Pakistanis and the Taliban. What the details are I don’t know. I do know that many Afghans feel the Taliban is a faction of Pakistan that‘s taken over Afghanistan.
Because of various things that I’ve read, including Rashid‘s book, it dawned on me, probably a year ago, that the Taliban potentially have a great deal of power, but not because of any weaponry or anything like that. They potentially have a lot of power because they wield an ideological club. There are a lot of rootless people looking for a way to make sense of their lives in the world. There are devastated people in Islamic countries, living in absolute poverty, and they flock to the people who have an uncompromising ideal. The Taliban has that. It gives them hope.
Pakistan brought the Taliban into being, but I don’t think it‘s in control anymore, because Pakistan itself has a huge, dissatisfied, restless mass of poor people who are Islamic. Fundamentalist Islam has the government of Pakistan afraid of its own people, certainly. So if the U.S. makes a deal with Pakistan about controlling terrorism, it may not amount to much.
Do you think people in this country are capable of grasping the complexity of this situation -- that the people of Afghanistan are held hostage by their government?
I’m hoping the decision makers are capable of grasping the complexity, and I‘m hoping they can educate the people a little about what they have to face. But we private citizens are not going to be in a position to decide what to do here. We have to rely on the sophistication and nuanced wisdom of our leaders.
Do you have any fears for your personal safety with your e-mail having gone out to so many people?
I certainly do. But let’s not go there. Let‘s not stir that pot.