Monday, November 19, 2001

Week of 11/19/2001

On Teaching Freedom
- by David Matthews 2

"A man's worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes."
- Thomas Henry Huxley

It’s a new day for most of Afghanistan.

For five years, the people of Afghanistan were under the control of the Taliban, an evil theocratic force that ruled at the barrel of a gun. A theocratic force that forced men to grow long bears, forced women to wear head-to-toe coverings called burquas, and outlawed almost everything made in modern civilization. Pictures, statues, television, radio… anything that the Taliban believed "distracted" people from their strict interpretations of Islam was considered immoral, and therefore illegal.

Religious police scoured the countryside making sure their interpretations of Islam were enforced to the letter. Women who were accused of violating the laws of the Taliban were taken to a stadium and slaughtered. Religious police, often nothing more than eighteen-year old boys, would storm into people’s homes and whip or shoot suspected violators. And if women were accused, the men would sometimes be punished as well. The acts of atrocities that are the trademark of the Taliban are seconded in their violence only by the genocides of Germany in the 1940’s and of Bosnia in the 1990’s. And all of it done in the name of religion.

But now those days are over. The Taliban have been deposed, thanks in no small part to a combined and prolonged assault by US and British forces and with the aid of the Northern Alliance. Their control over the various cities is crumbling with every sortie of fighters and bombers in the air. The fear-mongers have become fearful of the commando strikes by US and British Special Forces.

And with the collapse of each Taliban-held city in Afghanistan, the brutal bullies that are left behind have become the victims of their own brutality. Dead bodies of Taliban supporters dot the streets like so much roadkill. They hang from the trees like demented Charles Manson Christmas ornaments. They’re found in the drainage ditches and sewers for people to spit upon, urinate, and otherwise show their utter disgust for their brutal theocratic regime.

So now cities like Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif are free. And the people there are tasting what that freedom allows them to do. Women no longer have to hide in their homes, or wear those ugly body-concealing burquas. Instead, they can show their face to the world, and even put on makeup. Men are free to shave their beards. Indeed, the busiest place in Kabul once it was liberated was the local barber shop. Men lined up to shave their faces and display their satisfaction of life without the Taliban watching over them. Radios, television sets, and video recorders were pulled out of hiding and put back into use. Children played in the streets. Gyms and boxing studios once again reopened to the public.

So now comes the hard part… what to do now that these parts of Afghanistan are free.

The people are enjoying life without the Taliban for now. But that may not last. Even now, old tribal forces are once again resuming their bitter rivalries, trying to divide up the cities as spoils of their victory.

Oh, sure, everyone agrees to the principle of a new united government in Afghanistan. But each group feels that THEY have to be the unity.

It is almost as if these various tribes have forgotten the five years of Taliban control that they all unanimously despised. As if they forgot that the real reason why the Taliban managed to take over more than ninety percent of the country was BECAUSE of the infighting between the various tribes. While they bickered and argued, the theocrats took over. As old as the tribal leaders are, you would think that they would also be wise enough to learn the lessons of history instead of constantly repeating them. Sadly, age is no substitute for wisdom.

So what needs to be done?

Well, first things first. The US needs to have a hand in helping the Afghan people get their act together. We’ve been supplying them with food and aid and weapons since the 1980’s. It’s high time we start putting a price tag on that charity, starting with rebuilding their government.

But we need to do more than just that. We need to do something that we have had a hard time doing of late… and that is teaching people about freedom.

It’s easy to teach people about democracy, and that’s what we’ve been doing. But democracy does not equate into freedom. Heck, even the Soviet Union had what they called "democratic" elections! Any two-bit tyrant can have a voting system set up and call that a democracy. That doesn’t mean that freedom reigns in that area. That just means that they too can be members of the Florida Election Commission.

We need to get the message out to the people of Afghanistan that if they truly enjoy the freedom they are tasting right now… if they love seeing women out and about and not covered up… if they enjoy hearing music and watching television… if they enjoy having a clean-shaven face… then they must be more than just bumps on a log. They have to FIGHT for that freedom! They shouldn’t have to wait for some other force to come by to liberate them, because odds are, if the Taliban didn’t protect Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qua’ada terrorist network they way they did, they would still be in control of that country for years to come!

Oh yes, we ringed our hands in frustration over what the Taliban did for five years. We watched in anger as their tanks destroyed centuries-old Buddhist statues. We saw the atrocities being carried out, and reported on them. But we wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. It wasn’t our place to do that. It was up to the people of Afghanistan to put a stop to what the Taliban were doing, and they didn’t lift a finger. So why should we?

Let’s get brutally honest here… freedom does not come FROM government, it comes IN SPITE OF government. It comes from people standing up and taking control of their own government instead of letting the government take control of them. Outside forces like the United States can help provide the opportunity for freedom, especially by helping to overthrow a tyrannical government. But they cannot provide that freedom itself. That only comes when the people WANT it badly enough to fight for it themselves.

Of course, it’s hard for us in the US to teach freedom when we really don’t practice it ourselves. We have universities preaching free speech, yet exercising censorship in the name of "tolerance". We’ve got our own Christian version of the Taliban who are frantically weaseling their influence into government in the name of patriotism. We’ve got politicians who pledge to support and defend the US Constitution, especially after the 9-11 attacks, and then quietly violate that pledge in the name of added security. It would seem somewhat hypocritical for us to serve as teachers for that which we do not fully understand ourselves.

And yet, if we won’t, who will be able to? Socialist France? God help us all if that is the case!

The only alternative to showing the people of Afghanistan the benefits of freedom would be condemning them to endless conflicts between the various tribes, waiting for the next batch of tyrants to step in and take over. Is that what we want? To have to repeat this whole matter five or ten years down the road?

We have at this moment a golden opportunity to help provide the Middle East with an alternative to the struggles they have endured. For countless centuries, these countries have known only two things: theocracy and monarchy. If a king isn’t running them, then some religious leader who claims to have a direct line to God is running them. Neither are healthy options. Both lead to the same end… an elite group with power, and the rest of the huddled masses just trying to get on with their lives without getting killed, and everyone else thoroughly pissed off. And that is the lesson that is taught in such countries to the great unwashed masses… a lesson of envy and hatred for those civilized nations. We have a chance to show these countries that the prosperity we enjoy is not just because of circumstance or providence, but also because of the individual freedom that we enjoy.

We have that chance to be the teachers of freedom, but that time is not infinite. The longer we wait, the greater the chance that the Afghan people will choose to go back to the same chaos that gave rise to the Taliban. And if that is the case, then everything we have done, and everything we have sacrificed for, will be for nothing.

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