I looked down the Thanksgiving table at the gathering of family and friends-the colors, the aromas, the abundance of it all. Outside there was the beginning of a wonderful sunset reflecting off the ocean and I felt good. It was one of those moments when it felt good to be alive, to be an American, and living in a place as beautiful and bountiful as Malibu.
It was in sharp contrast to what I had seen earlier in the day while watching a news program about Afghanistan. What struck me most was not the fighting, but mostly how bleak it all was; in every respect their world is the opposite of abundance. You seldom saw any grass, or flowers, or a tree. The bareness was more than just winter approaching. It appeared to be the bareness of a country and a people who had forgotten life could actually be pleasant. Perhaps there is nothing left in their world that pleasant.
The Taliban had banished everything from their lives. There was no color in anything. Not in their clothing, nor in their faces, nor in their homes. There was neither music nor dancing. There were no distractions, no TV, no videos, no Internet. Anything joyous was suspect, and there was the ever present Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or vice versa, to make sure that no one enjoyed anything. Everything was brown and black, and bleak.
The Taliban apparently took a strange, twisted religious pride in banishing everything that gives life pleasure including banishing their women to something approaching serfdom.
We’ve known about the abuse of Afghan women for a while, but the personal stories are just beginning to come out now. About women deprived of food, health care, being tortured, beaten in the streets for trivialities. In a nation where there are, by some estimates, one million widows, the women are forbidden to work, and yet there is no public social service or support. The Taliban declared war on half of its population-their women.
It’s difficult to understand, because even Taliban have mothers, sisters and wives. So where does this all come from-this almost psychopathic cruelty toward women? It baffles me, because even after making these women dreadfully unhappy, they still had to live with them, which couldn’t have been much fun.
That wasn’t the only baffling thing. As harsh as they were in some ways, they all appear to have an enormous sense of hospitality. A guest is treasured and protected. They have a warrior culture; killing each other seems to be the primary occupation of the country, but a guest is protected.
On a whole, they appear to be courageous and committed warriors, but once a battle is lost they are perfectly willing to negotiate for days, arrange surrender, and then change sides. It’s no shame to switch sides, and they’re often greeted warmly, and, I think, genuinely so by their former enemies who are now their new allies. I’m sure they’ll fight as hard for their new side.
Their world appears to be the world of the early Middle Ages. There is definitely a code of honor; it’s just not our code. At first I thought of it as being a very primitive code. But the more I thought about it, in some ways it’s also very civilized. No one dies unnecessarily. Only modern men fight each other to total annihilation; the concept of massive systematic warfare against a civilian population is really very contemporary.
And here is the rub. We’re in a coalition with the Northern Alliance, which is pretty much living in the same Middle Ages mentality as the Taliban. And we don’t want them to accept their enemy’s surrender. We need them to destroy the Al-Qaeda because, if not, those same Al-Qaeda are going to come back at us. I imagine that’s why we’re landing marines around Kandahar.
I think the Northern Alliance figures they’ve done their job and they’re going home with their booty. It’s all very real, but it feels like a scene out of “Lawrence of Arabia.” The only way we’re going to keep them there is by supplying them with guns and money, and we’ll tire of that soon enough. In the meantime, we have to stop thinking as Americans and get into their mindset. Just because they’re our allies today doesn’t mean they will be our allies tomorrow. We must reserve the right to take our troops, our equipment and our money and go home whenever it suits our national purpose. Much as we’d like to, we can’t remake their culture or their country, nor should we. That’s their call.
We have to keep reminding ourselves the only reason we’re there is to make sure that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are destroyed, or at least crippled enough to make it difficult to launch further attacks on us. Once we accomplish that, we ought to pack up and come home.