Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Reflection on the Taliban: Our Muslim Monster

In a December 2010 CNN documentary, “Life among U.S. enemies: Embedded with the Taliban,” Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal risked his life while embedded with the Afghan Taliban. The film reveals a human side of the Taliban, and their regional commander, Dawran, as a father at home playing with his children after a day at war. In the film, the Taliban sing, pray, and play games during long hours of downtime between ambushes. The documentary also films Dawran directing an attack against U.S. forces, commanding them to "Attack, attack, with the help of God!”

James Carroll writes in his article for TomDispatch, The Disappearance of the Nightmare Arab: How a Revolution of Hope Is Changing the Way Americans Look at Islam, “Americans have been living with a nightmare Arab, a Muslim monster threatening us to the core, chilling our souls with the cry, ‘God is great!’”

But, above all else, what Americans remember of the Taliban’s brand of Islamic law is the indelible image of Zarmina, an Afghan woman shrouded in a blue burqa, brought to a soccer stadium and publicly executed with a shot to the back of her head for the steel hammer murder of her abusive husband as he slept. Witnesses say that thirty thousand Afghans viewed that execution, with several people shouting, following the execution, "God is great."

For a Muslim to praise or plea passionately for “Allah’s” help does more than chill the American soul: it infuriates us to the point that we are blinded to “what this religion actually looks like”; and instead of inquisitiveness, "God is great" drives our “human temptation to drown fear with blood.”

Many Americans perceive the Quran, considered by Muslims to contain revelations by God to Muhammad, as Satan’s Bible. The Taliban claim that their version of Islam is a pure one that follows a literal interpretation.

Christians and Jews, too, claim the Holy Bible is pure, that it contains revelations by God to Man, and that its interpretation must be literal.

Americans, too, praise God, plea for His help, and claim He is on our side. Our claim is that we are one Nation under God, a Christian nation. And, it was General George S. Patton who famously said, “God of our fathers, who by land and sea have ever lead us to victory, please continue your inspiring guidance in this the greatest of all conflicts. Strengthen my soul … If it be my lot to die, let me do so with courage and honor in a manner which will bring the greatest harm to the enemy, and please, oh Lord, protect and guide those I shall leave behind. Give us the victory, Lord.”

The European Union “strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.” But as in Afghanistan, the United States does not, although we are more lenient with the types of offenses that are worthy of death. As of January 1, 2010, there were 61 women on death row, and there have been 51 women executed in the United States since 1900. Our methods of killing another human being may vary in that we don’t behead or allow public executions; nevertheless, we do kill prisoners convicted of capital offences by firing squad, hanging, electrocution, gas chamber, and lethal injection.

In war, each side claims the other to be evil. We perceive Taliban actions as brutal, gruesome and evil. Yet America’s wars are just as evil: what could be more brutal, gruesome, and cowardly for that matter, than maiming and killing men, women, children, babies, and the unborn in horrific ways from airstrikes against an enemy that does not even own an airplane. In those strikes we decapitate and incinerate, bone and flesh are blown into many pieces, and bodies and faces are disfigured forever.

The only real differences between the Taliban and us lie in our religious and political extremes. But, we all breathe the same air; we all want a better future for our families and especially our children; we all need life’s requirements of nourishment, safety, and health; and we all bleed.

The obstacles that prevent the full expression of our collective humanity are politics, religion, and money. The one that stands out above all others is clashing religious perceptions of God.

The late Joseph Campbell, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and author on comparative mythology, had it right when he said, “Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble; God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It's as simple as that.”

If there ever is going to be a lasting peace, all of us must decide to embrace human values over religious values. We must disregard literal interpretations of the Bible and the Quran, and abandon the notion that there is a God and Heaven external to us.

Collectively, we are the embodiment of that which we call God.

Related Video:

FRONTLINE, Behind Taliban Lines: 10 days living and filming with an insurgent cell allied with Al Qaeda