The Taliban and those with similar views may see events in Afghanistan as a vindication of their beliefs, but that only proves how foolish they truly are.
Reports coming out of Afghanistan regarding the Taliban’s celebrations are extremely confusing.
The end of any war always causes for joy because it brings hope for peace. But anyone who thinks the Taliban’s “victory” is worth celebrating as a triumph of Muslim military prowess is a fool with extremely low standards. Glorifying events in Afghanistan is an implicit acceptance of the Muslim world’s unbelievably weak military abilities.
America conquered Afghanistan with such ease that one could almost forgive its leaders for underestimating the Taliban’s ability to re-group. It only needed a few special forces troops and air power to conquer a nation that is over 650,000 square kilometers in the span of a few weeks.
The Taliban were completely outmatched and ran away almost immediately. Its conquest was so easy that it never even bothered to station more than 20,300 troops there during the first five years of its occupation.
America withdrew from Afghanistan because, as explained here, it shot itself in the foot in a variety of ways, leading to the Taliban’s resurgence. It then realized it did not care enough to stay and clean up its mess. So, it left.
It decided long ago that Afghanistan was not worth the effort but only stayed for so long due to its stubborn pride and corporate interests. And yet it still took the Taliban twenty years, an estimated 50,000 dead soldiers, and 40,000 dead civilians to convince them to leave. That is not a victory worth celebrating.
Afghanistan was easily conquered and occupied by both Russia and America because it has never been able to build an industrial base capable of generating the military capacity to deter these invasions. It has been unable to do so because a significant number of Afghans are philosophically opposed to the type of reforms needed to modernize.
The Taliban’s views are not an aberration within Afghan society or the Muslim world either. They are just an extreme manifestation of the authoritarian tendencies that have prevented Muslims from instituting the changes necessary to thrive in the modern world. As such, the debacle in Afghanistan is an indictment of Afghan society and a reflection of the weakness that has consumed the entire Muslim world.
While it was occupying Afghanistan, the US decided to invade Iraq too. Using fabricated evidence, it concocted a tale to justify an invasion that led to the slaughter of between 200,000 – 1,000,000 innocent Iraqis. No one is sure how many Iraqis died because no one bothered to count all the bodies.
It was able to violently maintain control over both nations simultaneously for many years, and only left after it grew tired of wasting resources on countries that were not part of its core national security interests.
America’s embarrassingly easy conquests and overlapping occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the inability of the entire Muslim world to prevent these attacks are just one piece of the puzzle.
The tiny nation of Israel has established complete military control over the Eastern Mediterranean and bombs its Arab neighbors with impunity when it is so inclined. It also launches clandestine and aerial attacks against Iran, which can only respond with threats and impotent, asymmetric gestures.
Pakistan has tried and failed to take Kashmir from India three times. The string of military defeats suffered by Muslims is too long to list in its entirety. But they are all related to the same root causes.
The simple fact is that Muslim societies would not be so prone to conquest if their institutions had not already rotted from within, making them such inviting targets.
There are still too many Muslim nations living under the tyranny of dictatorship. The violent authoritarian control exercised by the region’s military and/or religious elite has crippled the ability of Muslims to build effective governments and social institutions capable of nurturing the economic and technological development necessary to end their appallingly weak military abilities.
Until Muslim societies wholeheartedly implement serious reforms to their political, legal, educational, social, and economic systems to free themselves from the shackles of dictatorship, they will continue to be subject to the same pattern of conquest they have endured these past five centuries.
Instead of blaming outsiders, Muslims must accept responsibility for their failures. The simple fact is that Muslim societies would not be so prone to conquest if their institutions had not already rotted from within, making them such inviting targets.
America’s occupations were but the latest in a long line that all prove a simple point. It is time for change. The military incompetence of Muslim nations represents an existential threat that can no longer be ignored.
Imagine what would have happened if Afghanistan and Iraq were actually important to the US. It has already proven it will do anything to win a fight, even if that means dropping atomic bombs on an island full of emaciated women and children. America may not care about the Muslim world today, but the world is volatile, and things change. If it decided to come back, no one could stop it.
America is not the only country Muslims should worry about either. Any Muslim welcoming China, given its treatment of the Uyghurs, is a hypocrite and an even bigger fool. In some respects, Russia has been an even more brutal conqueror of Muslims than the West. The Czars conquered vast Muslim populations who have repeatedly tried and failed to throw off the yoke of Russian occupation.
This is not meant to argue that Muslims are blameless victims but to highlight a glaring pattern of weakness prevalent across nearly the entirety of the Muslim world. The Taliban and those with similar views may see events in Afghanistan as a vindication of their beliefs, but that only proves how foolish they truly are.
Afghanistan’s new rulers appear to have learned how to deal with Western media. One can only hope they have also studied the deeper causes of the Western world’s military dominance, which is the result of its democratic forms of government, inclusive political and social institutions, secure property rights, and free speech protections.
These have allowed the West to create governments, schools, and private companies capable of stimulating the economic and technological development necessary to develop advanced military capabilities. Until the Muslim world implements reforms that can lead to similar capabilities, it will continue to be a victim of conquest.
Instead of celebrating, the Taliban should ask themselves why their nation was so easily conquered and why it took so long to evict Russia and America. Doing so requires deciphering why it has been unable to modernize or develop a system of government that allows its diverse people to work together.
Until they solve these riddles, they will be unable to develop policies that can ensure they are never conquered again. By extension, the rest of the Muslim world should be asking, to varying degrees, why it has been so weak for so long.
If Afghanistan was a victory for Muslim arms, I shudder to think about what a defeat would look like.
This article was originally published on the author’s blog here, and republished on TMV with the author’s permission.
Kuru Ahmet, “Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment,” (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 3-6.