American (re)construction of Afghanistan government should require secularism,
December 19, 2001 11:24 AM   Subscribe

American (re)construction of Afghanistan government should require secularism, according to this op-ed piece by Robert Scheer in the LA Times. I've been advocating this from the beginning, but this is the first media piece I've seen that argues the point.
posted by yesster (10 comments total)
Yeah, right. Maybe after we reconstruct our own government in a way that requires secularism. :)
posted by webmutant at 11:50 AM on December 19, 2001

as we did with the moujahedeen two decades ago.

Yes, the US picking the leaders for another country worked oh so well last time we tried it.
posted by swell at 11:59 AM on December 19, 2001

It’s sad how the GBA (God Bless America) crowd and Fox News are so quick to remind us that the US was founded on "Christian values" – whatever that means. All the while ignoring Aristotle's theory of natural law. I wonder though – has anyone bothered to translate the US constitution into Arabic? Maybe if they only got a look at… naaa… it’d never work.
posted by wfrgms at 12:03 PM on December 19, 2001

The one thing which can guarantee the failure of this effort is for us to try to make them "just like us." Not to mention the fact that the Afghan people are intensely xenophobic and will resist any outside interference just because it's outside.

Government there has to be grown from within. (And despite what Scheer says, we didn't "hand-pick" this government.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:06 PM on December 19, 2001

the Afghans should be aided and encouraged in developing a constiutional government that flows with their own cultural traditions, which would include Islam. While I think separation of church and state is necessary for fair government, it is unrealistic to suppose that people won't bring their own religiously inspired opinions and biases to bear when participating in government.

Scheer mentions Turkey as a good example of strictly secular government. I visited Istanbul in 2000 for several weeks, and it's a very tenuous situation from what I could tell, people i talked to, etc. Ataturk charged the military with maintaining secularism, which means that the military effectively can overrule the people if the military feels that religion is encroaching too much.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:26 PM on December 19, 2001

And in fact the Turkish military has often intervened to "protect the constitution" etc. They're just one of many secular Islamic states who are worried deeply about Islamism, i.e. political movements with the explicit aim of installing an Islamic republic that operates under sharia law. They may not all be as out there as the Taliban or SA's Wahabbi, but they definitely aren't going to be happy with a secular fiat from a sponsor state. That's pretty much what sparked the first revolution -- state secularism, imposed on behalf of the overseeing superpower -- which Scheer ignores, so I wonder how well he researched this piece.

I think Turkey is a real best-case scenario for Afghanistan; more likely they'll be way down further toward the Saudi or Iranian models, with ostensible freedom but religious authorities given wide rein over public life. Some of the new government are moderates, but even in the early days of the mujahedin there was a split between moderate and hard-liner Islamists that made a working alliance nigh impossible. (And those were the Islamists; in those days the only secularists were the Marxists, and they were working with the Soviet-backed Afghan government.) Note also that Scheer vastly overstates the role of the US in "picking and choosing" the mujahedin; Pakistan's commander of the jihad effort in those days, Mohammad Yousaf, basically had a ragtag army thrust at him, and he picked and chose until he had seven groups that a) could work with him and b) could work together. The US involvement was all funnelled through ISI in those days; direct CIA support came much later, after the effort became as bogged down as the Soviets were.

I do think Scheer's burying his lede here: his real point in waving the secularist flag here is -- I suspect -- to get us to lay off Saddam Hussein, by belatedly dropping a note that he's also secularist. Woo woo, I guess that gets him off the hook for spreading terror, building the odd WMD, and oppressing his own people.
posted by dhartung at 2:00 PM on December 19, 2001

Interestingly enough, everything I have read that quotes honest-to-Allah Afghans says more or less "Yes, thank you for helping us get rid of Taliban. Now kindly get lost and let us figure out how to run our own country. Thanks in advance for leaving."
posted by ilsa at 4:28 PM on December 19, 2001

ok, americans agree to separate church & state in afghanistan, but not in the usa ... there's something weird here, like "do what i say no what i do" - don't you think so ?
posted by aureliano buendia at 4:20 AM on December 20, 2001

Culture Shock: "We say we honor differences. But can we accept Pushtun ways?" by Charles Lindholm, professor of anthropology at Boston University and author of "The Islamic Middle East: An Historical Anthropology."

"Despite the usual American claim that difference is to be embraced, we aren't actually very comfortable with those who are different. We don't like to look too closely, preferring soothing images of picturesque people in charming costumes inhabiting photogenic landscapes and practicing exotic but nonthreatening rituals. When another culture's practices challenge our notions of the way the world should work, we either moralize or turn away. This very natural response prevents us from really engaging with people whose lives and beliefs are at odds with our own; even worse, it allows us to retain our own mistaken, if comforting, belief that people in other cultures differ from us only in superficial aspects of clothing, color and custom, but not in their hearts and minds."
posted by Carol Anne at 8:07 AM on December 20, 2001

Excellent quotation, Carol Anne.

Interesting times, these are.
posted by yesster at 2:55 PM on December 20, 2001

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