David Rohde's Insights Into What Motivates the Taliban

The New York Times' David Rohde writes about
the seven months he was held hostage by a group of extremist Taliban in
Afghanistan and Pakistan and conveys this observation about what
motivates them:

The New York Times' David Rohde writes about
the seven months he was held hostage by a group of extremist Taliban in
Afghanistan and Pakistan and conveys this observation about what
motivates them:

My captors harbored many
delusions about Westerners. But I also saw how some of the consequences
of Washington's antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban.
Commanders fixated on the deaths of Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian civilians in military airstrikes, as well as the American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charged.

when we drop bombs on Muslim countries -- or when Israel attacks
Palestinians -- that fuels anti-American hatred and militarism among
Muslims. The same outcomes occur
when we imprison Muslims without charges in places like Guantanamo and
Bagram. Imagine that. Recall, according to Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, what prompted 9/11 "ringleader" Mohammed Atta to devote himself to a suicide mission, as recounted by Juan Cole during the Israel/Gaza war:

1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken
refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the
place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs
wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque
port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional
architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news
[graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As
soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had
written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die
avenging the victims, killed in that operation--with airplanes and
bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was
Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into
the World Trade Center. (Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 307: "On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque. It
was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation grapes of Wrath.
According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged, and by filling out
his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in

On Tuesday, the Israeli military
shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for
refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of
them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll
rose to 660.

You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.

could -- and should -- ask that question every time the U.S. or Israel
engages in another military strike that kills Muslim civilians, or for
that matter, every day that goes by when we continue to wage war inside
Muslim countries. Rohde adds this about what motivates these Taliban:

Europe and Israel preached democracy, human rights and impartial
justice to the Muslim world, they said, but failed to follow those
principles themselves.

One of the taboo topics in
the American media is how the U.S. Government routinely violates the
principles we espouse for, and try to impose on, the rest of the
world. We systematically torture Muslims and then cover it up
and protect our torturers while preaching accountability and the rule
of law; we condemn deprivations of due process while maintaining and
expanding lawless prison systems for Muslims; we demand adherence to U.N. dictates and international law while blocking investigations into U.N. reports of war crimes and possible "crimes against humanity" by our allies;
we righteously oppose aggression while invading and simultaneously
occupying numerous countries, while threatening to attack still more,
and arming countries like Israel to the teeth to wage still other
attacks, etc. etc.

As a result of the media avoidance of such
topics, many Americans don't ever think much about the huge gap between
what we claim about ourselves and what we do. But much of the rest of
the world -- certainly including the Muslim world -- sees that
discrepancy quite clearly, often up-close. That's what accounts for
the radically different, even irreconcilable, perceptions that
Americans and so many people in the rest of the world have about who we
are and what we do ("why do the hate us?"). Is it really surprising
that young Taliban fighters, surrounded by a foreign occupying army and
lawless prison system for the last eight years, are "fixated" on such
things and are radicalized by it? Shouldn't that, by itself, make us
think about not doing those things any longer, since they only
exacerbate the problem we claim we are trying to solve?

Finally, Rohde describes his treatment at the hands of the Taliban during his seven months of captivity as follows:

They vowed to follow the tenets of Islam that mandate the good treatment of prisoners. In my case, they unquestionably did. They gave me bottled water, let me walk in a small yard each day and never beat me.

explains that the Taliban automatically believe that journalists --
especially American journalists -- are spies. Despite that belief, the
Taliban never waterboarded him, never hung him naked in a cold room to
induce hypothermia, never stuffed him in a coffin-like box as
punishment, never deprived him of sleep to the point of severe
disorientation, and instead adhered to their commitment regarding "the
good treatment of prisoners." We might want to think about what that
means about us. That many of the Taliban are inhumane, brutal and barbaric extremists only underscores that point further.

* * * * *

Two other item, one related and the other not:

(1) An Iranian dissident group staged two suicide bombing attacks today which killed some Revolutionary Guard commanders as well as "dozens of others." At least according to an ABC News report from 2007
(from the unreliable Brian Ross), the group which claimed
responsibility for these attacks (and which has staged similar attacks
in the past) -- Jundallah -- "has been secretly encouraged and advised
by American officials since 2005." If that's true, would that make
the U.S. a so-called "state sponsor of terrorism"?

(2) Following up on the Goldman Sachs issues I wrote about on Friday, The New York Times' Frank Rich today has a scathing column condemning Goldman. Their behavior is becoming so transparent that it cannot help but enter mainstream discourse (that even prompted David Axelrod to condemn Goldman's bonuses and other practices as "offensive," while claiming the White House was powerless to stop it).

UPDATE: From Bryan Bender, The Boston Globe, October 9, 2009 (h/t CarolynC):

all of the insurgents battling US and NATO troops in Afghanistan are
not religiously motivated Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors, but a new
generation of tribal fighters vying for control of territory, mineral
wealth, and smuggling routes
, according to summaries of new US intelligence reports.

of the major insurgent groups, including one responsible for a spate of
recent American casualties, actually opposed the Taliban's harsh
Islamic government in Afghanistan during the 1990s, according to the
reports, described by US officials under the condition they not be

"Ninety percent is a tribal, localized insurgency,''
said one US intelligence official in Washington who helped draft the
assessments. "Ten percent are hardcore ideologues fighting for the

US commanders and politicians often loosely refer
to the enemy as the Taliban or Al Qaeda, giving rise to the image of
holy warriors seeking to spread a fundamentalist form of Islam. But the
mostly ethnic Pashtun fighters are often deeply connected by family and
social ties to the valleys and mountains where they are fighting, and they see themselves as opposing the United States because it is an occupying power, the officials and analysts said.

of the most astounding feats in propaganda is how we've managed to take
people who live in a country which we invade, bomb and occupy -- and
who fight against us because we're doing that -- and call them
"Terrorists," thereby "justifying" continuing to bomb and occupy their
country further ("We have to stay in order to fight the Terrorists:
meaning the people who are fighting us because we stay").

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