The Islamophobic ‘Terror’ Narrative Still Distorts the Truth about Afghanistan
Faisal Hanif argues that islamophobia is still a default fallback position for Western media, and the Taliban provide cover for the misapprehensions to continue
In the twenty years of drone attacks and bombing and the widespread suffering which the Afghan population has had to endure, Western media has continued to view Afghanistan through the same Islamophobic lens it sold during the invasion 20 years ago – ‘the War on Terror’.
It is noticeable how quickly the Islamic credentials of the Taliban’s Emirate have been accepted. Just a week ago, and for the past twenty years, the country has been an Islamic Republic. Why then is the Taliban’s Islam more authentic to the Islam by which Afghanistan’s people lived by and were governed by previously?
For the media, Islam is equated with Burkas, Kalashnikovs and chopped limbs – images that give picture desks and broadcasters the evidence to demonstrate just why the West invades these countries and why they need us to stay. Shouts of Allah hu-Akbar are mistranslated as “death to America.” It leaves room for performative journalism, with CNN reporter Clarissa Ward engaging in what some may see as a cosplay on women’s subjugation by reporting from Kabul wearing more traditional Afghan clothing, despite no edicts on dress having been issued and this being the norm for Afghan women anchors.
The media is not wrong to analyse the Taliban, nor to question the group’s real aims, but questions should be asked of any regime or government that strips women of their human rights be it in Afghanistan or France. And explaining the conflict as one of liberal progress versus backwards Islam allows not only the war on terror narrative to be maintained but the complexities of tribal affiliation, customs, corruption and networks to be ignored.
Islamophobia is a default fallback position for Western media, and the Taliban will continue to provide adequate cover for it. In the UK, left-wing broadsheets have imitated their right-wing tabloid counterparts with ill-informed and simplistic comparisons between the Taliban and ISIS, codified under the sectarian bracket as ‘Sunnis’. They also reduce an entire personal and legal system (shariah law) to a set of brutal punishments which James. E. Baldwin (an expert in Ottoman history) explains that have hardly ever been administered in almost one and half millennia of Muslim societies.
The Daily Mirror, a left-leaning tabloid, bought home the war on terror narrative by front paging an alleged ‘Afghanistan Terror Threat’ with a “Clear and Present Danger to the UK” headline, based on the testimony of Richard Kemp, a retired British Army officer who was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan. Kemp has been accused of promoting conspiracy theories about Islam, claiming it “Christianity has become a relic” and that Islam is set to become the future religion of the UK.
Meanwhile, Muslim academics and personalities are being asked to give their take on the Taliban’s Islamic credentials, a replay of the ‘good Muslim bad Muslim’ game. Anjem Choudhury, the extremist activist who was jailed five years ago for supporting the Islamic State terror group, has been brought out of the wilderness and handed the same klaxon by which the media made him the face of British Islam for the best part of two decades (to the annoyance of almost every British Muslim). Those who experienced the brutality of Guantanamo and had direct contact with the Taliban have been shunned lest they offer another point of view.
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Plucking Defeat out of the Jaws of Victory
Given that the US war in Afghanistan was all but won by 2002 when they faced no resistance in the Taliban’s stronghold of Kandahar what have Western forces been doing there for the last 19 years?
In his 2014 book about the war, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, Anand Gopal explains that Afghan warlords “would create enemies where there were none, exploiting the perverse incentive mechanism that the Americans—without even realizing it—had put in place.”
Part of the story of the Western occupation of Afghanistan was a swift victory followed by phantom raids on an enemy which no longer existed. The effect was to turn people who largely welcomed a new American-led order into those hellbent on ridding themselves of foreigners who were being used by favoured warlords to settle old scores and rivalries.
As recently as 2019 the US dropped more bombs in Afghanistan than in any other year. The country is littered with people young and old, male and female, who have been maimed by these weapons and saw family members – sometimes entire families of three to four generations – wiped out. The voices of these Afghans outside the confines of Kabul airport who have given the Taliban a cautious welcome are most conspicuous in all of this.
Instead, the winners of the invasion are invited onto TV and Radio without ever facing a question about how their financial fortunes are likely to be affected. Perhaps Defence Minister Ben Wallace, once the overseas director of arms company QinetiQ, could have been scrutinised in this context.
Whilst those charged with bringing security to Afghanistan fled the country, the Taliban exploited the corrupt structure they had erected. The people who were responsible for bringing this about should, as the American based British journalist Mehdi Hasan has said, begin “with an apology first then an explanation.”
The same goes for the West’s media.
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