In the August 15th Sunday Observer (U.K.), James Fergusson writes "Should British soldiers be dying for the rights of Afghan women? No.":
[W]e are wasting our time trying to change their society. . .Earlier this month, Cambridge post-colonial studies prof Priyamvada Gopal made a similar point in the same paper, claiming that "the US and allied regimes do not have anything substantial to offer Afghanistan beyond feeding the gargantuan war machine they have unleashed." Just last week, Senator Kerry (D-Ma) said we were quietly negotiating with the Taliban.
This does not mean the west should stand by in silence. On the contrary, it is our duty to go on arguing the case for gender equality and to keep Afghans engaged in that old debate. But we have no right to be shrill and it will do no good to dictate. If social change is to come, it must come from within, which, eventually, it will.
It might help if we understood the Taliban better. The harshness of the punishments they sometimes mete out only seems incomprehensible to the west. The strict sexual propriety the Taliban insist upon is rooted in ancient Pashtun tribal custom, the over-riding purpose of which is to protect the integrity of the tribe, and nothing threatens the gene pool like extramarital relations.
As a reminder, the Taliban recently flogged a pregnant woman to death and sliced-off an 18 year old woman's nose and ears. They have a history of discouraging female education via drive-by acid spraying and burning food aid bound for pregnant women. So what to think?
First, I think I understand the Taliban well enough to know that they routinely murder and maim (including minors), commit war crimes (including using and against minors), not to mention snuffing-out human rights, including closing schools that dare to teach girls. Contrary to Fergusson, this is perfectly comprehensible--and morally and legally wrong (see Afghan Constitution, Articles 5, 8, 17, 22-31). And contrary to Fergusson's implication, the Afghan people oppose the Taliban and its terroristic view of justice (see pages 10-13, 17-20). Such behavior toward unarmed innocents is inhumane--and should be stopped.
Second, it "is altogether fitting and proper" that we should help. Mere opposition and protest isn't enough--it's effectively equal to silence. The Afghan people risk life and liberty in defying the Taliban and the West and even the U.N. assist against the terrorists. Change can't always come solely from within--the slave trade was stopped in the 19th century by Britain's Royal Navy acting unilaterally.
Besides, the "we" in Afghanistan is NATO's International Security Assistance Force. The ISAF is in country at the request of and by agreement with the sovereign government of Afghanistan. So it's not even unilateral--just that Fergusson's forces "within" want our help.
Third, such pacifism is a push toward bizzaro-world. As Norm Geras says, the progressive opposition to NATO's role in Afghanistan is "double-talk":
'The west', Fergusson says, 'views gender equality as an absolute human right and so we should'; at the same time, 'is it not presumptuous to insist that a proud, patriarchal society that has survived for 3,000 years should now instantly mirror us?' So much for the absoluteness of the right. Indeed, so much for the right, period.Professor Gopal insists that:
My friends, do you not remember those articles in the liberal press of 30 years ago, saying it might help if we understood the supporters and beneficiaries of apartheid better, and asking if it wasn't presumptuous to insist that a proud racist society should now instantly mirror us? Hang on... I'm suddenly confused.
In the affluent west itself, modernity is now about dismantling welfare systems, increasing inequality (disproportionately disenfranchising women in the process), and subsidising corporate profits. . . A radical people's modernity is called for -- and not only for the embattled denizens of Afghanistan.But as David Thompson accurately responds:
Yes, of course. That’s all modernity is about. We are insufficiently socialist, so who are we to judge barbarism? . . . Ms Gopal doesn’t pause to define "social justice" or "economic fairness," even in contrast with the values of the Taliban, for whom "peace" means submission. Nor does she hint at how one might encourage such things without the influence of those "allied regimes" that "do not have anything substantial to offer."Gopal literally would tolerate cutting off a woman's nose to spite the face of corporate profits. And liberals claim conservatives are indifferent to human suffering. . .
Fourth, lefties are ignorant of history. Just 50 years ago, President Kennedy vowed to
"pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Kennedy's hapless successors wouldn't cross the street for freedom.Today's anti-war left is quick to imagine systemic human rights abuses in Western democracies while "seeing no evil" abroad. This is navel gazing raised to political philosophy.
In setting forth reasons for invading Afghanistan, President Bush sided with what liberals once cherished:
The leadership of al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan we see al Qaeda's vision for the world. Afghanistan's people have been brutalized, many are starving and many have fled.Blogger Chris Dillow forgets that part of Bush's syllogism, but correctly condemns the "leave-Afghanistan-now" crowd's faulty logic:
Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough. The United States respects the people of Afghanistan -- after all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid -- but we condemn the Taliban regime.
Unless you’re a pacifist, such a judgment [on desirability of the war] is a cost-benefit calculation, and the improvement in the condition of Afghan women surely counts as a benefit of defeating the Taliban. Afghan women may be collateral, unintended, beneficiaries of the invasion -- but collateral benefits must be included in the cost-benefit analysis, just as collateral damage must be.Well said, but Dillow gives the left too much credit. Fergusson and Gopal and similar multi-cultis make doctrinal consistency passe, replaced by a bottomless deconstruction that's indistinguishable from nihilism. They're uninterested in weighing costs and benefits -- only in inveighing against economics and elections that serve Western citizens so well.
Finally, even an honest "not my problem" policy could be a jump-off for debate--but such progressives won't admit it, instead evoking high principles. Don't buy it; they're actually intellectually and spiritually lazy. Inaction is easier, but not always appropriate.
And if inaction permits the killing, maiming and suppression of women in Afghanistan, that's simply wrong. No retreat to "respect for other cultures" can render this sort of horror justified. Civilization evolved, and endures, precisely to suppress such barbarism.
Conclusion: I'm not certain we can eliminate Taliban terrorism. But I'm not convinced we can't. Nor am I convinced that it's not in our interest to do so. Besides, we're already there--the issue is not whether to intervene but whether to quit.
Like Joe Biden eight years ago, I say let's "stay the course in Afghanistan--the whole world is watching." And Afghan women are waiting for the cultural relativists to recognize their plight.
From the August 22nd New York Times:
"There is no way to say how many stonings took place, but it was widespread" when the Taliban ruled, said Nader Nadery, a senior commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. "Often the man escaped, and the woman only was punished, especially if he had connections or was a member of the Taliban." Other sexual crimes were accorded similarly grotesque penalties: homosexuals, for instance, had a brick wall collapsed onto them.