From the people who brought you John Molyneux there is another long, tedious and self-regarding article in the International Socialism journal, this time about Afghanistan. You can guess what it will say, these people have been using the same arguments for so long they can do them in their sleep, but here’s a summary by the author Jonathan Neale:
In every country in Europe majorities in opinion polls are against participation in the Afghan war. Yet the media still present it as a good war. Iraq, they now admit, was a crime or wrong or maybe just a mistake. But Afghanistan is a war on terrorists, we are told; on fanatics, jihadis, sexists, savages; on people who are not ‘modern’ and therefore deserve to die.
Yes, it’s those evil Western imperialists forcing secular democracy upon the noble, untutored tribesmen. Indeed the first part of Neale’s article consists of nostalgic reminisciences of his time in Afghanistan doing ‘two years of fieldwork as an anthropologist from 1971 to 1973’.
[T]he people I knew best were poor pastoralists who had lost their flocks and now made yoghurt. Their lives were not unrepresentative. Most of them got two sets of adult clothes in their lives—one when they first grew up and one when they married. A bicycle was a sign of moderate wealth. Out of 30 households in the camp, three were wealthy enough to afford to offer me a fried egg in hospitality. And they reminded me of it: ‘You ate his egg,’ they said to me. Out of 30 households, 29 ate meat once a year. An average household had one teapot and one cup.
How absolutely darling. I shall certainly make Shah-era Afghanistan the choice for my next gap year.
There’s also this bizarre bit of nostalgia:
When I lived in rural Afghanistan in the 1970s I had a short, trimmed beard. Every other man with a beard was either a white haired elder or a mullah, and all of them trimmed their beards neat and short. I was regularly ridiculed in public for my beard, which was immodest and un-Islamic, and it would have been quite unacceptable to grow it long.
Which proves… er… what exactly?
As you’d expect from this journal Neale concludes that ‘there are no easy outcomes for Afghans in this situation, but the best one is a victory for the resistance.’ That ‘resistance’ being the Taliban, this means that Neale’s main task here is to make the Taliban look good, or at least find diverting explanations for its behaviour.
So we’re told that the Taliban ‘came into being in 1994 under the patronage of the ISI in Pakistan, and with the quiet support of the US’ – so it’s all the fault of the West anyway. The word Taliban just means ‘the students’ and its leadership consists of ‘men with limited formal education’ who ‘had never attended university and did not come from big landowning families’ – good old working class lads, like you.
‘Crucially,’ Neale tells us, ‘the Taliban promised that their leaders and soldiers would not molest boys and girls as the mujahedin commanders had often done.’ Which was nice of them. And while the public executions in football stadia were ‘barbaric’ they were also ‘welcome to many Afghans’. Well, the death penalty may be acceptable to much of the UK public, although I doubt that Neale wants to introduce it over here.
During the 2004 elections the Taliban ‘had the sense not to attack any of the voters at polling stations—people would have been furious.’ Except that they killed election workers, threatened all eighteen presidential candidates with assassination and launched a massive intimidation campaign against potential voters.
Yet for Neale one of the Taliban’s ‘great strengths’ is that ‘they do not engage in bomb attacks against Afghan civilians’ – but they don’t mind shooting them, as in Khandahar two months ago when Taliban killers gunned down twenty-five Afghan civilians, including a child. Still, ‘on the rare occasions when these happen the Taliban issue a public statement denying involvement.’ So that’s alright then.
Indeed, the Taliban have ‘learned, changed their strategy and displayed considerable political intelligence.’ While they banned music and videos when they were in power, now they ‘produce propaganda videos and cassettes of Taliban music.’ Big changes, eh? It’s like Scrooge after the spirits had finished with him.
Next Neale deals with the quislings: regrettably, ‘almost all the feminists have collaborated with the occupation, or the NGOs or Karzai’s government. So have most former Communists, the returned Afghan-Americans, the ‘modernisers’ and the ‘secular’ liberals.’ I wonder why. Could it be because they want a fledgeling democracy over fascist theocracy? What sellouts!
Edmund Standing has already had a go at this and he makes this point:
Yet again, the SWP cannot understand that Islamists are not just resisting the presence of foreign troops; they are resisting democracy, human rights, and, specifically and with most venom, the rights of women and children.
Only today I was talking to a teenage Afghan immigrant whose father was murdered by the Taliban. Try telling him that you want ‘victory for the resistance’, when you mean the same bastards who killed his dad.
To which Ophelia Benson adds:
Well it’s physically impossible for them not to understand that, because it’s physically impossible for them to be unaware of all the myriad news reports of the Taliban burning down schools that admit girls, throwing acid on schoolgirls (that was just last week), murdering teachers in front of their students, etc etc etc. They do understand it, the shits, they just don’t object.
Neale’s piece of propaganda for a fascist movement is something that would have been shocking six or seven years back, but wouldn’t raise an eyebrow now. Yet in light of recent debates as to whether the SWP can be considered a totalitarian party I think that Jonathan Neale has done a real service in reminding us exactly what kind of scum they are and how far they have gone from anything that could be considered remotely left wing.