The most complete book on Afghanistan politics in existence.
A problem like few other in the world.
A compelling proposal of a solution to the conflict.
Taliban was written and published before the
events of September
11, 2001, yet it is essential reading. It includes details on how and why
the Taliban came to power, the government's oppression of ordinary citizens
(especially women), the heroin trade, oil intrigue, and--in a vitally relevant
chapter--bin Laden's sinister rise to power.
Rashid notes "The Taliban were right, their interpretation of
Islam was right, and everything else was wrong and an expression of human
weakness and a lack of piety,"
A veteran journalist
relates the full horror -- brutality, oppression of women and genocide -- of
the new Afghanistan.
The Taliban, which springs from the Sunni branch of Islam, began a
genocidal campaign designed to wipe out Shiite Muslims from much of
Afghanistan. It openly countenanced international terrorism, harboring the
criminal mastermind Osama bin Laden
and giving him virtually free rein to plan bombings and assassinations. And
it imposed a disturbing and deeply fundamentalist form of Muslim culture on
the nation. Under the Taliban regime, girls' schools were closed and women
were forced to quit their jobs (at one time, 40 percent of Afghan doctors
were female) and to wear a head-to-toe garment known as the burkha. Movies,
television, videos, music and dance -- all were banned.
The tale is even more complicated, though. There's also the matter of oil
-- specifically the desire of international oil companies to build a
pipeline from the Caspian oil-producing region (home to Kazakhstan,
Turkmenistan and several other small nations) to serve potentially massive
markets in South Asia. The route goes directly through Afghanistan, and the
result has been what Rashid refers to as "romancing the Taliban":
For years, he reports, U.S. economic interests, driven by oil, took
precedence over human-rights concerns; only very recently did pressure from
American women concerned about the repression of Afghan women finally lead
to a reversal in policy. Rashid was on the scene all along, covering what he
calls the new "Great Game" in Central Asia, a late 20th century
version of the late 19th century colonial struggle for hegemony.
"Policy was not being driven by politicians and diplomats," he
writes, "but by the secretive oil companies and intelligence services
of the regional states."
The Taliban are poorly tutored in Islamic and Afghan history, knowledge of
the Sharia [Islamic law] and the Koran and the political and theoretical
developments in the Muslim world during the twentieth century. While
Islamic radicalism in the twentieth century has a long history of
scholarly writing and debate, the Taliban have no such historical
perspective or tradition ... Their exposure to the radical Islamic debate
around the world is minimal, their sense of their own history is even
In Rashid's view, the members of the Taliban "divest Islam of all
its legacies except theology -- Islamic philosophy, science, arts,
aesthetics and mysticism are ignored." Even the theology is ignored
when it's politically expedient: The organization has permitted opium,
prohibited under Muslim law, to thrive as one of the disintegrating nation's
few cash crops. The Taliban also seems unconcerned with the day-to-day
issues of governing, "Allah will provide." The result is an
Afghanistan that is rapidly falling back into the Middle Ages, a country
where life expectancy is only about 44 years and 1.7 of every 100 mothers
die in childbirth.
Book Excerpt: 'Thy Kingdom Come'
by Randall Balmer
The story of the formation of the Religious Right
In the 1980s, in order to solidify
their shift from divorce to abortion, the Religious Right constructed an
abortion myth, one accepted by most Americans as true. Simply put, the
abortion myth is this: Leaders of the Religious Right would have us believe
that their movement began in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court's
1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Politically conservative evangelical
leaders were so morally outraged by the ruling that they instantly shed
their apolitical stupor in order to mobilize politically in defense of the
sanctity of life. Most of these leaders did so reluctantly and at great
personal sacrifice, risking the obloquy of their congregants and the
contempt of liberals and "secular humanists," who were trying their best to
ruin America. But these selfless, courageous leaders of the Religious Right,
inspired by the opponents of slavery in the nineteenth century, trudged
dutifully into battle in order to defend those innocent unborn children,
newly endangered by the Supreme Court's misguided Roe decision.
It's a compelling story, no question about it. Except for one thing: It
Although various Roman Catholic groups denounced the ruling, and
Christianity Today complained that the Roe decision "runs counter
to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages but also to the
moral sense of the American people," the vast majority of evangelical
leaders said virtually nothing about it; many of those who did comment
actually applauded the decision. W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press
wrote, "Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the
Supreme Court abortion decision." Indeed, even before the Roe
decision, the messengers (delegates) to the 1971 Southern Baptist Convention
gathering in St. Louis, Missouri, adopted a resolution that stated, "we call
upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the
possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear
evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of
the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of
the mother." W.A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist
Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, expressed
his satisfaction with the Roe v. Wade ruling. "I have always felt
that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its
mother that it became an individual person," the redoubtable fundamentalist
declared, "and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for
the mother and for the future should be allowed."
The Religious Right's self-portrayal as mobilizing in response to the Roe
decision was so pervasive among evangelicals that few questioned it. But my
attendance at an unusual gathering in Washington, D.C., finally alerted me
to the abortion myth. In November
1990, for reasons that I still don't entirely understand, I was invited to
attend a conference in Washington sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy
Center, a Religious Right organization (though I didn't realize it at the
time). I soon found myself in a conference room with a couple of dozen
people, including Ralph Reed, then head of the Christian Coalition; Carl F.
H. Henry, an evangelical theologian; Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family;
Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association; Richard Land of the
Southern Baptist Convention; and Edward G. Dobson, pastor of an evangelical
church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and formerly one of Jerry Falwell's
acolytes at Moral Majority. Paul M. Weyrich, a longtime conservative
activist, head of what is now called the Free Congress Foundation, and one
of the architects of the Religious Right in the late 1970s, was also there.
In the course of one of the sessions, Weyrich tried to make a point to his
Religious Right brethren (no women attended the conference, as I recall).
Let's remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come
together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what
got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones
University because of its racially discriminatory policies.
Bob Jones University was one target of a broader attempt by the federal
government to enforce the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Several agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had
sought to penalize schools for failure to abide by antisegregation
provisions. A court case in 1972, Green v. Connally, produced a
ruling that any institution that practiced segregation was not, by
definition, a charitable institution and, therefore, no longer qualified for
The IRS sought to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in
1975 because the school's regulations forbade interracial dating; African
Americans, in fact, had been denied admission altogether until 1971, and it
took another four years before unmarried African Americans were allowed to
enroll. The university filed suit to retain its tax-exempt status, although
that suit would not reach the Supreme Court until 1983 (at which time, the
Reagan administration argued in favor of Bob Jones University).
Initially, I found Weyrich's admission jarring. He declared, in effect, that
the origins of the Religious Right lay in Green v. Connally rather
than Roe v. Wade. I quickly concluded, however, that his story made a
great deal of sense. When I was growing up within the evangelical
subculture, there was an unmistakably defensive cast to evangelicalism. I
recall many presidents of colleges or Bible institutes coming through our
churches to recruit students and to raise money. One of their recurrent
themes was,We don't accept federal money, so the government can't tell us
how to run our shop—whom to hire or fire or what kind of rules to live by.
The IRS attempt to deny tax-exempt status to segregated private schools,
then, represented an assault on the evangelical subculture, something that
raised an alarm among many evangelical leaders, who mobilized against it.
For his part, Weyrich saw the evangelical discontent over the Bob Jones case
as the opening he was looking for to start a new conservative movement using
evangelicals as foot soldiers. Although both the Green decision of
1972 and the IRS action against Bob Jones University in 1975 predated Jimmy
Carter's presidency, Weyrich succeeded in blaming Carter for efforts to
revoke the taxexempt status of segregated Christian schools. He recruited
James Dobson and Jerry Falwell to the cause, the latter of whom complained,
"In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a
Weyrich, whose conservative activism dates at least as far back as the Barry
Goldwater campaign in 1964, had been trying for years to energize
evangelical voters over school prayer, abortion, or the proposed equal
rights amendment to the Constitution. "I was
trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,"
he recalled in an interview in the early 1990s. "What changed their mind was
Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny
them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation."
During the meeting in Washington, D.C., Weyrich went on to characterize the
leaders of the Religious Right as reluctant to take up the abortion cause
even close to a decade after the Roe ruling. "I had discussions with
all the leading lights of the movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s,
post–Roe v. Wade," he said, "and they were all arguing that that
decision was one more reason why Christians had to isolate themselves from
the rest of the world."
"What caused the movement to surface," Weyrich reiterated,"was the federal
government's moves against Christian schools." The IRS threat against
segregated schools, he said, "enraged the Christian community." That, not
abortion, according to Weyrich, was what galvanized politically conservative
evangelicals into the Religious Right and goaded them into action. "It was
not the other things," he said.
Ed Dobson, Falwell's erstwhile associate, corroborated Weyrich's account
during the ensuing discussion. "The Religious New Right did not start
because of a concern about abortion," Dobson said. "I sat in the
non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not
remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do
During the following break in the conference proceedings, I cornered Weyrich
to make sure I had heard him correctly. He was adamant that, yes, the 1975
action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the
genesis of the Religious Right in
the late 1970s. What about abortion? After mobilizing to defend Bob Jones
University and its racially discriminatory policies, Weyrich said, these
evangelical leaders held a conference call to discuss strategy. He recalled
that someone suggested that they had
the makings of a broader political movement—something that Weyrich had been
pushing for all along—and asked what other issues they might address.
Several callers made suggestions, and then, according to Weyrich, a voice on
the end of one of the lines said, "How about abortion?" And that is how
abortion was cobbled into the political agenda of the Religious Right.
The abortion myth serves as a convenient fiction because it suggests noble
and altruistic motives behind the formation of the Religious Right. But it
is highly disingenuous and renders absurd the argument of the leaders of
Religious Right that, in defending the rights of the unborn, they are the
"new abolitionists." The Religious Right arose as a political movement for
the purpose, effectively, of defending racial discrimination at Bob Jones
University and at other segregated schools. Whereas evangelical
abolitionists of the nineteenth century sought freedom for African
Americans, the Religious Right of the late twentieth century organized to
perpetuate racial discrimination. Sadly, the Religious Right has no
legitimate claim to the mantle of the abolitionist crusaders of the
nineteenth century. White evangelicals were conspicuous by their absence in
the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Where were Pat Robertson
and Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham on August 28, 1963, during the March on
Washington or on Sunday, March 7, 1965, when Martin Luther King Jr. and
religious leaders from other traditions linked arms on the march from Selma
to Montgomery, Alabama, to stare down the ugly face of racism?
Falwell and others who eventually became leaders of the Religious Right, in
fact, explicitly condemned the civil rights movement. "Believing the Bible
as I do," Falwell proclaimed in 1965, "I would find it impossible to stop
preaching the pure saving gospel
of Jesus Christ, and begin doing anything else—including fighting Communism,
or participating in civil-rights reforms." This makes all the more
outrageous the occasional attempts by leaders of the Religious Right to
portray themselves as the "new abolitionists" in an effort to link their
campaign against abortion to the nineteenth century crusade against slavery.
Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and
Threatens America Copyright © 2006 by Randall Balmer.