August 15 marked the second anniversary of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. Fighters and supporters of the Mujahedeen, including children waving flags, paraded in the streets celebrating the fall of Kabul and the establishment of their vision of an Islamic system. To them, today’s Afghanistan features much more security, less corruption, and more morality. There is more. The Taliban feel so entitled that they really believe the world will recognize their good actions and eventually release the $7 billion frozen in the US Federal Reserve Bank.
All in all, why shouldn’t they think so? From afar, everything appears great, but, on closer inspection, things seem to be going even better.
To begin with, the Taliban kicked out Western forces after 20 years, dispensing, they claim, universal security. Who cares if dozens of deadly attacks by ISIS-K have become the norm, along with the imprisonment, torture, and stoning of innocent people? The Taliban have singlehandedly restored public pudor by outlawing God-forbidden sins reeking of democracy and equal opportunity for everyone, including women. After all, why on Earth would we aspire for societies where every person is given the chance to belong? And, besides, what have women ever done for us men, with the exception of being wives and mothers, of course?
Why would one of the poorest countries on the planet need female doctors, nurses, and managers? The Taliban severed women’s journalism too – well, there is nothing more annoying than a woman criticizing bearded men in power, ain’t that right?
If that weren’t enough, the Taliban have proudly destroyed monuments and burned books labeled immoral – no worries, we’ve tried this sort of cancel culture in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and everything turned out amazing.
But seriously, the Taliban did manage to achieve something extraordinary. After trillions spent, the destruction of a society, and a 20-year war culminating in an epically disastrous Western retreat, it seems that nobody gives a damn anymore. It seems that we forgot about Afghanistan and the Afghan people, especially the women.
And while woke culture has been fiercely waging war on free speech in US and British campuses, it is striking how one of the most totalitarian, violent, and repressive patriarchal systems has been causing far less outrage than, say, transgender athletes dominating in women’s sports – thank you very much Piers Morgan and Bill Maher.
One of my former students, an Afghan officer now unemployed in London, put it quite elegantly: “Why don’t people care about us anymore? Because we are you. When you, as a society, look at yourself in the mirror, you see us. We are your worst dream, your broken promises, your hypocrisy. We are too painful to look at; it’s much easier to pretend that this – this most selfish, racist, supremacist, sexist, and patriarchal place on God’s Earth engaged in an apocalyptic battle for inclusive toilets, is reality. That perfectly sums up the future in the West: reality hurts.”
The West abandoned people it vowed to protect
That’s right. Reality bites. Not because of delusional “big-boy” Taliban strutting around convincing themselves everything is awesome. It hurts because we turned our back on the people, including women and children, whom we said we were going to protect, turning our back on their rights. Because, ultimately, we turned our back on what we claim our values to be – well, are they really our values anymore? Because, with all due respect, closing one’s eyes to modern enemies of free speech is exactly what extremists do.
By the way, just two days ago, an Imam in Birmingham, not Kabul, instructed us how to properly stone women – and, yet, the story did not make it onto the BBC or into The Guardian. What does this reveal about our societies?
Back to reality, our loss is twofold. Abroad, frolicking in a sea of Western embarrassment and hypocrisy, the Taliban have magically turned time backward and purchased one-way tickets for the Dark Ages.
At home, with hordes of supposedly sympathetic feminists and woke activists mysteriously gone missing, not only have we stopped caring – we appear incapable of publicly confronting even the most ridiculously grotesque forms of extremism.
But it’s okay; we are progressives and, as such, we do not really need constructive debate, for we know it all already.
Dr Michele Groppi is a lecturer at King’s College London, and John Devine heads the Middle East Team at ITSS Verona.