Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The American Taliban

The Taliban first came to my notice, and that of most Westerners I suspect, when they were doing their best to destroy the culture of Afghanistan, particularly as it allowed any freedom and independence at all for women. Then, of course, there was the episode of them destroying the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan because they could not tolerate such a concrete expression of another faith or way of thinking. Later, much later, I read Khaled Hosseini's novels about that period in his homeland and shed tears for the stupidity and injustice that ruled that society and especially that made women's lives as hard as possible.

In recent years, I've been appalled as I've watched the growth of the radical right in my own country and have recognized in them much the same attitudes as observed and read about from afar in Afganistan. And now, Markos Moulitsas, the proprietor of the political website, Daily Kos, has written a book which details some of the similarities between the two movements. He calls his book American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power bind Jihadists and the Radical Right. The title just about says it all.

I admit that I haven't read the book, but I have seen some commentary about it and I think I have the flavor of it. Markos makes comparisons of the two Taliban movements in seven broad categories.

1. Fetishization of violence
. The violence of the Afghani Taliban has been well-documented on television and the media for the last 20 years or so. The violence of the American Taliban has been seen most notably in the attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, but also in the countless attacks on abortion clinics and the occasional murders of abortion providers, in the open carrying of guns to political events, in the speech of some of their candidates for office advocating what one called "Second Amendment solutions", even in the signs with violent imagery and words that are carried at political rallies. It's also evident in their every day political speech in which they constantly refer to Democrats "ramming things down the throats" of Republicans and right-thinkers. There's zero acknowledgement that the Democrats won the election and that they were chosen by the people to lead the country.

2. Theocratic tendencies. The tendencies of the Afghani Taliban are well-known, but they are matched by the religious right in this country, who would if they could throw out the Constitution and institute Biblical law as the law of the land. Some of them will even publically acknowledge that. Tell me, how is that different from the institution of Sharia?

3. Disrespect for women. The Taliban of both countries do not believe that women should be allowed to control their own bodies or their own lives. They see the only role of women to be "barefoot and pregnant" and to cater to the needs and desires of their lords and masters. There are actually women in this country who are a part of the Taliban movement here and would acquiesce in this. The women of Afghanistan who have actually experienced it would not.

4. Hatred of gays. Both movements believe that homosexuality is a choice and that homosexuals should be indoctrinated into being heterosexual in the most benevolent applications of their philosophy or tortured and killed in their most extreme expressions. What makes this particularly sad is that, in many cases, this is an expression of self-hatred.

5. Fear of the "other". In our country, this is seen in the angry rhetoric and political actions against immigrants and people from other religions. There is no recognition of the fact that the greatest strength of this country is that we are a land of immigrants, many voices, many languages, many religions, many cultures. Those who come here, both legally and illegally, overwhelmingly come to work and contribute and to make better lives for themselves and their families. They have no wish and no time to do us or the country harm.

6. Defiance of scientific progress and education. Anti-evolutionists, deniers of global warming, if you name almost any scientific discovery or advance in recent human history, you will find the American Taliban standing with their fingers in their ears yelling, "La, la, la, la, la!" Just like the Afghani Taliban.

7. Attempts to hijack popular culture. This may be seen in our country in popular media which shamelessly promote the American Taliban point of view and in actions which attempt to silence any contrary point of view. The book banners, film boycotters, and those who would remove any works of art from view if they don't coincide with their idea of art are among those who are a danger to our country. More dangerous than any jihadist.

As I read the news of the day, I am often in despair that the American Taliban seems to be gaining in strength and that even in my lifetime I might see a government composed of their supporters in power. It is easy to give way to such thoughts in the heat of summer. Let us hope that autumn cools things down and returns the nation to its senses once again.

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