Intellectually mistreating the Afghan way of life

Rigid politics results in discontentment, public frustration, failure, siege, invasion and end of such politics

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan September 12, 2021
The writer is Dean Social Sciences at Garrison University Lahore and tweets @Dr M Ali Ehsan

Social and intellectual factors are the leading ones contributing to loss of faith; and since intellect and societies have most changed in West, the loss of faith there is more distinct and pronounced. Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and the Fall of the Roman Empire and David Hume’s Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion are two books that are considered to be the intellectual work that has done more harm than any other work in undermining faith.

Even great literates like Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and his concept that “God, soul and immortality can never be proved” drew widespread following at that time. Intellectuals undermined the growth of faith but the leading social factors that in the 17th and 18th centuries contributed to the loss of faith are considered to be the mentality of working class, the concept of liberalism and Karl Marx’s dictated ‘anticlericalism’. What about today’s Afghanistan?

Afghanistan and Afghan people are all absolute conformists and true believers in their faith. About Afghanistan we have to keep these two things in mind — one, strong faith in God unites the Afghan nation; and two, the clerics in that society are respected and liberalism has never guided and directed their way of life.

They haven’t gone through the period of the European emotional conversion to become like them — nonconformist of one stripe or another. They abhor western democracy, not because they have read John Stuart Mill’s famous essay ‘On Liberty’ (published in 1859) in which he speaks of the tyranny of majority over minority with the use of ‘intellectual coercion’ but only because they want to live and defend their own way of life. Mill claimed in this essay that “people come to power and like the mob of past ages deny others the right to a difference of opinion”. One hundred and sixty-two years later the western world is denying this right of difference of opinion to the Afghan people. The western world accuses them of living in a medieval world in the 21st Century but that is their choice and their preference of molding their society the way they want. America tried humanitarian intervention, it tried democracy promotion, it tried nation building, and above all it tried the military strategies of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan — all these American preferences failed. Americans failed to build a modern culture or impose their kind of order, a democratic order in Afghanistan through military means. What is it that suggests to them that they can do that now by utilising non-military means?

Afghans must be allowed to make their own choice on how they want to remain deeply religious, have sound belief in their traditions and customs, and formulate an Afghan society and devise women’s role in it. These are matters to be decided by the Afghan people. To the critics who don’t view Taliban as true representatives of Afghans, my question is: if democracy implies one man one vote, then how many Afghans would vote for manufacturing a BBC and CNN-dictated way of life in Afghanistan in case a free and fair referendum is held to determine this?

Are the BBCs and CNNs of this world equally worried about what women are doing in Papua New Guinea and how they are being treated in Solomon Islands or in some far-off country in Africa? Afghanistan had enough of military treatment from the western world and it has no further appetite for a ‘coercive intellectual mistreatment’ by the western world whose media continues to make no sense about what it takes to be an Afghan or living an Afghan life.

Americans would do well to understand that their ‘transformational agenda’ of the world has failed. It has absolutely failed in Afghanistan and the Middle East and this has enhanced the strategic regional and global posture of America’s great-power competitors, the revisionist powers — China and Russia. These ascendant rival powers of America don’t want any transnational threats to pose any dangers to their neighbouring province or their former Soviet Republics. Given this Sino-Russian concern, the world should rest assured that along with their allies and partners both these powers will be able to construct a regional security policy that will guard against such a danger emanating from Afghanistan.

The transformation of human beings into political beings takes place when they become informed. The battle of polarisation of ideas in the 17th and 18th centuries and its informational influence turned almost all Europeans into political beings. In the information age in which we live today, the Afghans are also exposed to the similar secularising influences to which the European society was exposed in the past. Afghanistan and its people need peace, opportunity of self-governance, and time to evolve and modernise — and the world must afford it that time.

There is no industrialisation, no urbanisation, little education. So the people of Afghanistan need time to evolve as a society. For now, they want to shape and not adapt as a society. We must not forget that the view we now have about enlightenment — that it was a good thing, a step forward, a necessary stage in the evolution of the modern world — was not the 19th century view. It is not very long ago that this age ended in the guillotine and terror not only during the Napoleonic period but well into Queen Victoria’s rein

By the time this piece is published, the interim government of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan would have taken oath of office. For this occasion, I would like to quote two Islamic thinkers. Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838- 1897) who spoke about the need of reformation in Islam. He addressed the ulema and religious scholars of his time and asked how they could call themselves advisers if they could read the religious text but did not know the causes of electricity or the principles that drove the steam engine. He described them as a candle with narrow wick “which neither lights its surrounding nor gives light to others”. The other Muslim scholar was Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) who served on the governing body of the al-Azhar mosque, one of the most influential bodies of learning in the Arab world. He actively campaigned for girls’ education and for secular laws beyond Shariah.

A golden age of Islam (8th to 14th century) ended with the collapse of Abbasid caliphate due to the Mongol invasion. For another golden age to start, Muslims leaders not only in Afghanistan but all around the world will have to realise that good politics is the one that bends and adjusts to the demand of the regional and global circumstances. Rigid politics, unsuitable to the need of the time, results in discontentment, public frustration, failure, siege, invasion and end of such politics.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2021.

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