Lecture Explores Sacrifice in Afghanistan


– Good evening. Welcome everyone. It is such a great honor
for me to introduce our speaker this evening,
Professor David Edwards, James Lambert Professor of Anthropology from Williams College. So it is an honor to welcome you to Doha. David Edwards has been
conducting research on and writing about Afghanistan
for more than 30 years. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Michigan, he’s the author of three
books on Afghanistan; Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide
Bombing in Afghanistan, on which he will be
talking about this evening, Before Taliban: Genealogies
of the Afghan Jihad, and Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier, along with numerous articles on Afghan history, religion, and culture. David Edwards is also the co-director and producer of the film Kabul Transit, which we have to see, which has been an official
selection at many film festivals, including the Los Angeles Film Festival, the International Documentary
Festival in Amsterdam, and the Independent Night Film Series at Lincoln Center in New York City. Edwards has received research fellowships from the National Endowment
for the Humanities, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. In 2002, Edwards was
named a Carnegie Scholar at the Carnegie Corporation of New York and taught at Charles University in Prague as a Fulbright Fellow in 2012-2013. He comes to us from Prague,
the beautiful city of Prague, and we do look forward to, what I will confirm to be,
a fantastic presentation. (audience applauding) – Thank you very much for
that generous introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here and it’s my first time in Doha, so this is a new experience for me and I’ve enjoyed it greatly. I’m talking today about a subject that is the subject of a book
that I just published in the spring in the
University of California Press with the title that you see there. And it was inspired by a long
familiarity with Afghanistan. I went to Afghanistan for
the first time in 1975, which I’m dating myself. I just graduated from college and I went there as an English teacher. It’s an experience I’ve
always been grateful for, because I had the
opportunity to visit and live in that country for two years
before the war tore it apart. So I have kind of a baseline
perspective of Afghan culture that few other people,
outsiders at least, have. And I think it has
informed what I care about and also my great affection
for the country and the people. But it also fuels my
disappointment, my frustration, at what’s happened to the country. On an intellectual level, on an emotional level,
you have to deal with the disappointments and
the anger that you feel over all the misery and tragedy that’s happened to a
place like Afghanistan. You have to deal with it emotionally. But intellectually, I’ve
tried to deal with it, in part, with this book and some aspects of which
I’ll talk about this evening. And my goal in writing the
book was to try to understand how something, a phenomenon
like suicide bombing, which would have been
absolutely unimaginable when I first went to Afghanistan and, indeed, would have been unimaginable for the first 20 years that I was there, how something like this
could come into existence, where it came from. I’m an anthropologist by training and so my perspective
on it is both cultural, trying to understand the cultural
roots of this phenomenon, as well as historical,
because of the time span that I’ve had the opportunity
to be in the country and get to know Afghans. So, in looking at it
culturally and historically, at suicide bombing, where it came from and how it relates to other
aspects of Afghan culture, I sort of set myself apart from most of the people who’ve
looked at this subject, which has been primarily
from a point of view of political science, trying to
understand suicide bombing as part of a political
agenda and political practice or psychological, many
psychologists have tried to understand the psychology
of suicide bombers. But there has been, in my
reading of this literature, a kind of disappointment at the absence of any kind of attempt to contextualize this phenomenon within
the particular cultures, the societies in which it’s taken place, in which it’s arisen. So that was my own background
on where I come from, both in terms of my
perspective and how I see, the way in which I approach
this subject differently and you’ll have a chance to judge it for yourself as we go along. I also was, in looking for
a way to focus my book, my study of this phenomenon
and how it’s evolved, one of the things that
struck me as central was trying to understand
the idea of sacrifice. A sacrifice is a subject
that has had long, a long interest in anthropology and, indeed, it’s a central
concept in world religions, it’s a central concept, for example, as you all know, in terms of Islam, both in the Eid Al-Adha celebration, the ritual that takes place
each year at the time of Hajj, which involves the sacrificial ritual, the sacrifice of a sheep in commemoration of the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son. It’s also, perhaps, even more centrally
important in Shia Islam, given the importance of
the story of Karbala, the sacrifice of Husayn
and his family at Karbala. It’s obviously important
as well in Christian faith. It’s the central fact
of the Christian faith, as its practice, as its believed in by Christians around the world that Christ sacrificed
himself to save humanity. It’s also, you’ll see in the slide here on the right hand side,
that’s an image from Masada, which was the home of, for several years, of Jewish Zealots in the Roman Period who held out against the Roman government in Palestine and Judea and Sumeria. And they, the population of Masada, was ultimately sacrificed, ultimately died by
suicide by their own hand, rather than submitting to the
rule of the Roman governors. So sacrifice is a central motif in the monotheistic religions. It’s also central, here you’ll see images of the Buddhist monk, who
in 1962, I believe, ’61, immolated himself in a street in Saigon as a protest against the regime that was then running
the government in Saigon. You’ll see an image from Amritsar in India of the Sikh religion,
it’s also a central motif. If you ever go to Amritsar, you’ll see the motifs of
martyrdom and sacrifice surround, are omnipresent in that city. And the third image I’ve
show is of a kamikaze pilot preparing to take off during World War II. So I mention these and
bring up these images to talk, in part, about how important sacrifice is on a religious level. It’s also important at a national
level, a political level. Here are two images from
American, the American context. The one on the upper part of the screen is of the American patriot, the sort of the oorah patriot Nathan Hale, who asked to be hung
rather than to submit to, to give up to the British government that was controlling the
provinces, the American colonies, and immortalized the line that I, “My only regret,” I’m
gonna get this wrong, “My only regret is that I have “but one life to give for my country.” The bottom image is of Abraham
Lincoln on his deathbed. You’ll see the caption at
the bottom of the image is of the martyr President Abraham Lincoln and there was a great cult of martyrdom that arose around Lincoln
after his death as well. So you have both a political
context and a religious context in which sacrifice has a sort of central, a central role to play. To bring it up to date,
I mean really up to date, up to the very moment
that we are in right now, one of the points that President Trump in the United States
has been criticized for has been his failure to understand or to take seriously or
to offer proper reverence for the sacrifices of American military. Here are three headlines, three headlines from recent,
within the last year, one of which talks about the criticism that has been leveled at President Trump for declaring that John
McCain, Senator John McCain, who was imprisoned and tortured for years in a Vietnamese prison when
he was an Air Force pilot flying for the American military. That he, Trump, was
criticized for saying that John McCain, Senator McCain was no hero, that he was a loser
because he was captured and President Trump didn’t
like people who were captured. Last summer, during the
Democratic Convention, a Pakistan native, an American
citizen, native of Pakistan, Khizr Khan and his wife spoke
to the Democratic Convention after, to criticize President
Trump for his ban on Muslims and this was in response to statements, anti-Muslim statements that
President Trump had made and they themselves were
the parents of Humayun, who was a Marine who had
joined the US military and had been killed in Iraq. And finally, just yesterday,
this headline on the bottom, Congresswoman says Trump
told widow of fallen soldier, “He knew what he signed up for.” Which was, if you have
seen the news today, this is the current, the latest scandal/controversy
involving President Trump involving his failure to communicate with and offer proper
condolences to the families of four soldiers who were killed in Niger and that he then subsequently
tried to trivialize the signs of respect that President, ex-President Obama had made. So my reason for bringing these up is to show how volatile and
how much emotional punch the issues of sacrifice hold and the contexts I’ve given you
are primarily American ones, but I think it’s indicative of the way in which sacrifice has a, the idea of sacrifice,
the notion that someone is willing to give up something
important, something vital for a cause, a state, a
nation that they believe in. My own particular, now
moving on to Afghanistan, my own particular interest is in how the ritual of sacrifice mutated, how it changed over time. And I begin in the book by talking, by relaying two stories that I collected, I tape-recorded while I did research in Peshawar, Pakistan with
Afghan refugees in the 1980s. The two stories involved, one, a feud between two rival
tribes that had went on for several generations on the
eastern border of Afghanistan and the second story was about an uprising by one of these tribes along the border against the Afghan
government in the late-1940s. So these, why were
these stories important? The feud story was important to me because one of the things, a motif of that story that
popped up again and again was that when one of the
sides sued for peace, wanted to make peace with
the other side in the feud, the ritual first step
in initiating that peace was bringing a sheep, the petitioning side that
wanted to sue for peace would bring a sheep to a
jirga, to a tribal assembly, sacrifice the sheep, and
thereby indicate, essentially, that the register of interaction
between the two tribes was moving from violence, from
young men shooting each other, to talking, older men
talking to each other. So in that context, sacrifice
is actually a mechanism, an important kind of machine,
by which tribes initiated the process of making
peace with one another. Exactly the opposite, of course, of what it would become later on, where sacrifice would be used to, to initiate and perpetuate violence. The second story that
seemed important to me that I bring up in the
beginning of the book has to do with this tribal uprising that took place in the late-1940s, in which one tribe, the Safi
tribe of eastern Afghanistan, rose up against the central government and the issues that they rose up about were primarily the
efforts of the government to conscript young men to the army and also to tax them by a different system than they taxed them in the past. And one of the interesting elements of the story that I heard, this long account of this uprising against the central government, was that a central concern of the people who rose up against the government was whether or not the people
who died in the uprising would be considered martyrs, shahid. Would they be considered shahid? Would they have the blessing? Would they have the promise of paradise? And this became a source
of considerable controversy and, ultimately, helped
to unravel the uprising, to undermine the uprising
against the central government. So here you have first case
where sacrifice is used to undermine the state of feud
or to change a state of feud into conditions for potential peace. The second brings up the whole issue of what is a proper sacrifice? What counts as a sacrifice? And can we talk about young men who have died in an uprising
against the government as mujahideen and as martyrs? So that’s the kind of beginning. In the course of my investigation, I went on to look at how
this changed over time, how this ritual of animal sacrifice, the ritual of peacemaking, was changed into a ritual or
a condition for martyrdom, for a different kind of sacrifice. So the first stage that
I look at in my book, or the second stage after
this initial consideration of the pre-war uses of sacrifice, involves the jihad against
the Soviet occupation that began in 1979 and
continued until 1989. This was a war that began
almost immediately after the Marxist government
took power in Kabul in 1978 with very little popular support. Initially, it was not considered,
nor was it called a jihad. It was a national uprising,
it was an effort to overcome a regime that was considered
to be illegitimate, that had overthrown the government through illegitimate means. But over time, the resistance became, the uprising against the Marxist
government in Afghanistan, became increasingly
controlled by Islamic leaders and there were a variety
of reasons for that. The Pakistan government
played an important role in supporting Islamic political parties and they funneled more
weapons to these groups than to non-religious parties. But one of the key elements of it, that I focus on in most depth, is the role of Islamist parties that were run by young students or people who were, young men
who were in their 20s and 30s, people who had been to Kabul University, who had had a university education, and who had no traditional roots in Islamic learning or in Sufism. The traditional routes by
which people gained status, Islamic status in Afghanistan,
were first as clerics, as people who had gone to madrasas, who had had an elevated understanding of the Quran and Hadith literature. That was one avenue of political
and social advancement. The second one was through Sufism. There were several, a number
of hereditary Sufi families, Sufi peers, Sufi leaders
who joined the jihad. Their offspring, the
leaders of the Sufi tariqas, joined the jihad and they
were important figures in the jihad in the early years. But these two traditional sources became less important over
time and the Islamists, the young Islamists became more important, both because they were
tactically and logistically better able to mount
offenses against the Soviets, they were more suited to learning how to fight a guerrilla war. But one of the critical
elements of the success of these young, of these parties, and here I’m talking about
one party named Hezbi Islami, it was run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and a second party called Jamiat-e Islami, which was run by Burhanuddin Rabbani, whose most famous guerilla
commander was Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed in 2001. But one of the things that these Islamist parties succeeded at was an understanding the
importance of martyrdom and the political salience and political potential of martyrdom for harnessing political
legitimacy and political power. Now to understand this, you
have to take into account the fact that in the course
of the first half dozen years of the war, of the jihad
against the Soviet Union, people were killed indiscriminately. Tens of thousands of people
were killed by bombing, by antipersonnel mines,
by artillery shelling. And the kind of heroic combat that Afghans initially expected, in which young men would go into battle, was supplanted by a reality of warfare in which civilians were
as likely to be killed as the soldiers themselves, the guerilla fighters themselves. Children were killed, women and old men, old women were killed,
villages were leveled. And in that context of
so much destruction, so much kind of random violence, they understood that
martyrdom was a way in which they could interject themselves and interject their own political programs and essentially harness it. And one of the vehicles that
they did, that they used, to make this, to advance
their own political prospects, was through publications. And it wasn’t just publications,
it was also audiotapes, it was other forms of
preaching and propagandizing. But they essentially created what could be called a cult of martyrs. Such a thing had never existed before and, indeed, martyrdom as
a concept in Afghanistan was not well developed until this time. And it was something that kind of, initially people referred to
their relatives as martyrs, people who had died. But these political parties
understood that they could actually take control of this phenomenon and they could decide and tell people, they could announce who was
and who was not a martyr, who was and who was not entitled to the benefits of martyrdom. They basically kind of
appropriated for themselves this right of announcing and declaring who was and who was not a martyr. Now there’s several, one of the
interesting aspects of this, this retrospective conferral
of status on the dead was that it was also hierarchical. There was a way in which they decided, not only who and who was not a martyr, but who also was entitled to the conferral of greater status. And I have put on the screen a slide. On the back in the black and white are the back pages of one of the, the martyr magazines
that was published by, in this case, Hezbi Islami. In the back of the
magazine, the obituaries, the commemorative statements are brief, they usually involve the publication of the identity photograph of
the person who had died. But as you move from the
back toward the front and finally to the front
cover of the magazine, you see that the people who
are given pride of place, who are given the greatest status and the greatest space in the publications were not jihad commanders, not the commanders who’d
spent years on the front, but rather they were
students, people your age, who, back in say late-1960s
or the early-1970s, had been arrested by
the government in Kabul, perhaps, for handing out pamphlets
or leaflets on the street or who were accused of
being members of one of the secret cells of the Student
Islamist Political Party at Kabul University. They were arrested and, in many cases, they were held in prison and then when the Marxists took power, these men, these young
men, mostly were young men, were executed by the government. It’s these men, because these
young men, these students, because they were the first
to join the political party, they were given the place of preeminence in the hierarchy, in the
pyramid of power and status that was defined by Hezbi
Islami and Jamiat-e Islami. So that’s one aspect, this
development of a cult of martyrs, which was really important
in changing the dynamic, the status, the hierarchy,
the structure of the jihad in Afghanistan during the
1980s, during the Soviet period. Now another aspect of it,
this equally important and, perhaps, even more important
globally, internationally, was the role of a group of men who became known as Afghan Arabs. Arabs who joined the jihad,
who went to Afghanistan to participate in the jihad,
beginning in about 1984. And there were two men in
particular who were important. The one I’m sure you recognize on the lower part of the
screen is Osama bin Laden, but maybe even more important,
in terms, at least initially, was a Palestinian religious
scholar named Abdullah Azzam, who went to Afghanistan, who
was one of the first to go and who organized a bureau, an
office in Peshawar, Pakistan and began to recruit and
propagandize in the Arab world, especially, but also in other
parts of the world as well, with Filipinos, Chechens, Uzbeks. A variety of people were
brought to Afghanistan, at Abdullah Azzam’s urging,
to join the Afghan jihad. And Azzam is important
for a couple of reasons. One is that he was the
person, more than any other, who declared that jihad was
obligatory from Muslims, regardless of where they lived. Prior to this, this
was largely considered, the Afghan jihad was largely considered an Afghan problem, an Afghan matter. But Azzam said, “No, jihad is obligatory, “is an obligation for Muslims, “no matter where you
are around the world.” Equally important is another
element of Azzam’s ideology and of his contribution or
his influence in Afghanistan, was that he published a number of books that were translated into
a variety of languages. And some of the books, the
ones that are most well-known, are books that were about
ideology, about jihad, about martyrdom as an ideological concern, looking at the Quran,
looking at Hadith literature, about the role of jihad. But there were also two other books that were really important and maybe in someways even more important. One of them was, essentially,
a book of stories about Arabs who had gone to
Afghanistan and who died there. It was what is known
in scholarly literature as hagiographies, stories
of saints, stories of people who had lived exemplary
lives and who had died. And in each of these stories,
there are vivid accounts of the circumstances
of the martyrs’ deaths and also of the miracles
that surrounded their deaths. And the second book that
he published was a book that specifically dealt with
the miracle stories themselves. Stories about how, after the death of Arab
mujahideen in Afghanistan, how, when they were buried, how a light, a shaft of light emanated from
the sky down to their graves or stories about how a fragrant perfume emanated from the graves. So there were a variety of these different stories about miracles and these stories were
tremendously influential, in terms of attracting the
attention of the young men who became, who would leave their homes, in many cases, prosperous
homes, leave universities, leave the opportunities
that they had in places like the Eremites or in Saudi
Arabia or in other places and they would come to Afghanistan to live a very different kind of life. And so Azzam, I think,
was extremely important in kind of recruiting, not
just at an intellectual level, not just through ideology,
ideological pronouncements, but through attracting young men with a romantic vision
of jihad and martyrdom. The second person, of course, who matters is Osama bin Laden, who was the protege of Azzam
and was initially his ally. Bin Laden also romanticized jihad, especially through his poetry,
which gave a kind of a, and one of the interesting
things about that poetry, and I’m not a scholar of Arabic poetry by any stretch of the imagination, but talking to the people who are, one of the things I find
interesting and they tell me is that bin Laden managed to evoke aspects of pre-Islamic poetry, the
poetry of the Jahiliyyah, the poetry of kind of tribal Arabic honor and to harness that
early Jahiliyyah poetry to the cause of jihad. That definite break
between the Jahiliyyah, the time of Jahiliyyah
and the time of Islam, kind of broke down as
he used the Jahiliyyah, the marshal spirit, that kind
of heroic spirit of Arabs to the purposes of jihad. That was one of bin Laden’s contributions. A second, obviously, was his expansion of the territory in which
jihad could take place. It wasn’t just within the Dar al-Islam, it could also be abroad, as we ultimately, that resulted in the attacks against the World Trade Center and
Pentagon in the United States. A third contribution to this whole process that bin Laden made, was he also changed the whole nature of
recruitment of young Muslims from around the world who
would go to Afghanistan. He did it through his own personal visits all over the world, in which he recruited young
students to the cause of jihad, but he probably also, more
than anyone else at the time, understood the value of technology, the technology, initially,
of audiocassettes, later of VHS cassettes and DVDs that could expand the reach
of his propagandizing. And, as a matter of fact, these two images that I have on the screen
here of Azzam and bin Laden were both screen grabs
that I took from a video that Al-Qaeda produced in 2001 on the bombing of the USS Cole. This was in the spring of
2001 that they produced this. The bombing of the USS
Cole in Aden Harbor. So bin Laden recognized
the media potential, both in terms of recruitment, but also, ultimately, the spectacle itself of the World Trade Center,
of the bombings that he, and he was able to use
the Western media itself as a way of amplifying
the impact of violence. I want to take a quick detour backwards, ’cause we’ve gone up to 2001 and the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and I want to talk a little
bit about the Taliban as well and how the Taliban also contributed to the development of sacrifice or the transformation of
the idea of sacrifice, the practice of sacrifice in Afghanistan. When the Taliban took power in 1995, Afghanistan was in the
midst of a civil war. And to even call it a civil war would be a little bit inaccurate, it was more of kind of a state of anarchy in which a lot of the mujahideen parties that had fought against the Soviets and had defeated the Soviets in 1989 when the Soviets withdrew
from Afghanistan, they became, essentially, entrepreneurial predators
within Afghanistan. They had previously been paid
for and they’d been financed. They got their weapons
from the United States, from Pakistan, from
Kuwait, from Saudi Arabia, and other states in the region. That pipeline of resource was cutoff and they, essentially, began
the practice of predation against their own people. So into this environment the Taliban came and during one of the
results of this period, this extended period of five or six years in which the mujahideen parties were fighting against each other, is that they lost their
political legitimacy. And the importance of martyrdom itself, which had been so central
a feature of their ideology and of their efforts at
political legitimization, martyrdom itself lost meaning, it lost its value, its political value. And one thing that the Taliban did, that I think was of central importance, was they began a campaign to kind of, a public moral policing that had never existed
in Afghanistan before. It involved the punishment of women who were improperly veiled, of taxi drivers who were listening to Bollywood music in their taxicabs, young men who wore their hair too long. One of the styles at the
time was an imitation of Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Titanic. Afghan men started wearing their hair in what was called a Titanic style. All of these things became sort of subject to the Taliban policing. But even more telling and important was the Taliban began a, the
practice of executing, punishing offenders against
public morality in large venues. In the central squares of cities, in the soccer stadium in Kabul, and mandating that people
would come to these events, these public spectacles. And I think why this is important and how this fits into my
own particular trajectory into the scenario that
I’m presenting to you is that this is a different
kind of sacrifice. This is a sacrifice of collective
violence, of scapegoating, of implicating the entire population in these acts of violence, of making people complicit
in the violence of the state. And this was an extremely
important part of the Taliban’s attempt to create political
legitimacy for themselves. So I want to now talk about what happened after the Taliban was, after Afghanistan was
attacked by the United States, after they lost power, and the advent of suicide bombing itself. The first suicide bombing
that happened in Afghanistan happened two days before
the attacks on 9/11, when the anti-Taliban
leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was killed by agents of Al-Qaeda members who had said that they
were from a news bureau, Arab news bureau and
wanted to interview him and the camera that they were using was packed with explosives
and killed Massoud, just prior to the 9/11 attacks themselves. In the process, thereby
killing the person, who more than any other,
was probably likely to lead the anti-Taliban
efforts in Afghanistan. So that was the first suicide bombing. But there weren’t very many. There were only a handful
of suicide bombings that took place after 2001. Until 2006, and that’s
when the numbers spiked. There were 105 suicide attacks and one of the the the spurs to this upsurge of suicide attacks was a video produced by bin Laden that basically called
on the Afghan people, and Pakistanis and Afghans, to follow the model of what Palestinians had been doing for some time, which was of using this
suicide bombing as a tool, as a political tool, in this
case, against the Americans. So in 2006, the number
expanded importantly and while the Palestinian model,
I think, wasn’t important, it provided a kind of understanding of the technology of how to do it. I mean, literally, how to
make, manufacture suicide vests and how to organize these campaigns. The way in which Afghans went about the suicide attacks
themselves was quite different and it was culturally
integrated in Afghan society very different than it was
in Palestinian society. Now one aspect of suicide bombing, an important element of it,
which made the campaign, made it possible for 105 suicide attacks that happened in 2006, was the the existence
of independent madrasas, religious schools in Pakistan. A large number of the people
who were recruited, trained, indoctrinated in to become suicide bombers had some, at some point in their lives, were at these madrasas. And these madrases operated
outside the control of the Pakistan government. The Pakistan government
knew what was going on, but they didn’t intervene. They were, these madrasas were also an important source of manpower during, for the Taliban themselves, back in 1995, when they managed to take
power in Afghanistan. But the madrasa system was
was an important element, and that I go in some
length of talking about, what happened in those madrasas and how that training took place and why it was that the
madrasas function in this way. One element though, I think,
that’s really important is to understand how the
people, the young boys, who went to the madrasas often
went at a very young age, they were sent there by
their parents who didn’t, and in large part because they couldn’t afford to take care of
the children themselves, they were put into this environment, really that was separate from the domestic context in which they, which other boys had grown up, and they became isolated
in these environments, they became subject to indoctrination without the intervening or
modifying, mollifying effects of mothers, grandmothers,
sisters, other people, a father, brothers, other people, so they became extremely
vulnerable to indoctrination. So the total number,
between 2001 and 2016, there were, by one estimate, roughly 1,200 suicide bombing
attacks in Afghanistan. The total deaths from
those, from those attacks, was upwards of 5,000,
between 5,000 and 6,000, by one estimate, one clearinghouse of
information on suicide bombings. 5,000 deaths is a lot, but it’s also, in a
context like Afghanistan, it’s not, where so many thousands, hundreds of thousands of people died, 5,000 doesn’t seem a lot, but I think it’s important not to, to look at the effect of these bombings solely in terms of the deaths themselves, the deaths and casualties,
the immediate casualties. More important, or at least as important, was the way in which it
devastated public space, civil society, the
efforts of the government to create confidence and
legitimacy for itself, confidence in itself as, and able to provide
security for the people and as well as political
legitimacy for its efforts. In Afghanistan, so much
of trying to redevelop, redevelop the society after 2001, depended upon a willingness of the people to believe that there was a future, that the efforts that they made to rebuild their agriculture, rebuild their homes or
communities, had some future. And one of the effects, I
think, of suicide bombing is to essentially, to
limit the temporal horizons within which people live. They have to deal only with the present. The future becomes an abstraction and in that kind of context, it becomes impossible,
really, to mobilize people to engage over a long period of time in the efforts of rebuilding the country. I think another important factor in understanding the
rise of suicide bombing was the role of the United States and the way in which the United States failed to understand what
was happening in Afghanistan, the way in which they
imposed their own rule. I already mentioned how the the arrival of the Soviets in Afghanistan was the condition of this
kind of random violence, this massive destruction and loss of life that was an important precondition for the rise of a cult of
martyrdom in Afghanistan. The Americans were more just, were more discriminating
in how they use violence. They didn’t carpet bomb
villages or use poison gas the way that the Soviets had done, however, in some ways, I think the influence of the Americans was even more pernicious, more dangerous. And it had to do it with three things, in particular, that I would mention. One has to do with the way in which they isolated themselves from
the Afghan population. Building these blast protection walls, these compounds behind huge barriers, making it impossible
for Afghans to get in, even for legitimate reasons
to get in to see them, to have any kind of
communication, any connection, any kind of social humanizing
between the Americans and other coalition forces and Afghans. There were obviously legitimate reasons for their worry over their own security, why those blast protection
walls were put in place, but one of the effects of it was to essentially make the Afghans, and the foreigners who were
nominally there to help them, to live in different universes and to have very little
empathy or understanding of the mindset of the others. So the second point I would make is that where the Soviets were
often indiscriminate in their use of violence,
the use of munitions, of artillery, of bombing, Americans were more careful
about their uses of violence, although there were numerous cases of, for one reason or another, of bombing, of killing people who were not, who were, in fact, not hostile
to the occupation forces, either because they got bad intelligence or one reason or another. So there were those cases where
lots of people were killed inadvertently or because
of bad intelligence, but more important, I think, in terms of how the
American role mattered, was their tendency to search
homes, to go into homes, to violate the sanctity, the privacy of the domestic compounds
in which Afghans lived. And these stories about
these home searches in the middle of night,
in which American soldiers dressed in their full battle gear, wearing helmets and night goggles, these stories became ubiquitous
throughout the country and became sort of symptomatic of how the Americans were not helping, but invading the country, they
were occupying the country, and this became the
symbol of that occupation. Now a third factor which began to matter more around 2008-2009
was the use of drones, which continues to this day, and which is obviously
becoming such an important part of the conduct of contemporary warfare. Drones, besides the fact
that drones have the ability to unleash a lethal
strike against targets, they also have the
ability to stay in the air for long periods of time. And over the, particularly in the area along the eastern Afghan border, drones in South Waziristan,
North Waziristan, where the Haqqani network and the Taliban are most influential, these drones would be
kind of constantly flying, and to this day are
constantly flying over. And the psychological effect, one of the things that
the people who have gone to North Waziristan, South
Waziristan, and these areas say is that the constant buzzing, the constant whirring of these drones has a psychological, a
tremendous psychological impact on the civilian population. One Taliban commander said
that before they started, before the Americans started using drones, he couldn’t recruit more than a few, a handful of people to
become suicide bombers. After the Americans initiated drone surveillance over the villages, he said we had to turn people away, because we couldn’t manage
the number of people who wanted to become suicide bombers. And I think part of it has
to do with the psychological, kind of the constant surveillance, the constant presence of these
drones over people’s homes, the way in which it disrupts social life. People stopped going to the mosque, people stopped going to any
places of public assembly out of fear that these
would become targets, that they would be surveilled
and they would be recognized at potential places where
Taliban were meeting. So it had this fragmentation,
this quality of fragmentation, on civil society, civil
life, in areas that became one of the main sources of
recruitment for suicide bombers. Finally, just a couple of last slides. The last part of the book, I talk about one of the ways in which the
suicide bombing has moved into, and martyrdom have moved into social media and the way in which
the Taliban, who it’s, ironically the Taliban were famous back and when they first took
power in the late-1990s for their total disavowal and rejection of Western technology, the rejection of photographs, a rejection of media in general and if you look at early Taliban
magazines and newspapers, there were no photographs,
except pictures of buildings. No images of people were allowed. Well, the Taliban have
become very sophisticated and very knowledgeable
about how to use technology and both the Taliban themselves
and their official organs, but also people who are sympathetic to the Taliban and to
the ideology of jihad, against the current
government in Afghanistan, and Facebook, Instagram,
and other popular apps are one of the ways in which
this is being manifest. And it’s interesting, there’s several, there are several ways in which, I think, there there will be social repercussions for the migration of jihadist
ideology onto social media that haven’t been entirely recognized yet. One of one of those is that the
ideology, back in the 1980s, the ideology of jihad came
from these political parties, from these few sources
who were propagandizing, using their journals, their newspapers, their magazines, their audio cassettes, and they were controlling
the flow of information. With social media, jihadist ideology is coming from a wide variety of sources. Some of them are institutional sources, alternative political parties, but some of them are also individuals, the majority of them
are in our individuals. So there’s a decentralization of jihadist and sort of this cult of martyrdom that’s happened in the last few years. Another interesting development is the way in which
social media has allowed women to participate in
this rhetoric as well. And one of the people, one of the posters on
Facebook that I followed, was a woman, who I call in the book Abida, who was a frequent poster and who participated
in this jihad dialogue, along with a company
and in response to men. And one of the things
that struck me was that if you look at the place where it says the number of friends that this woman had, and again I assume that she was a woman, all of her posts indicated
that she was woman, we don’t really know who
anyone is on Facebook, but if you look at the number of friends, this woman had something
like 1,000 friends and most that were men. I thought, now in Afghanistan, a woman does not have male friends, not outside of her family members and people who are somehow connected. That idea of having male friends and of having that dialogue with them was something that would
would not have taken place. Now it’s taking place. Women are engaging in this
impersonal medium with men in ways that they haven’t before. And one of the things that Abida, the person that I
referred to by that name, she posted pictures, for example, this woman holding a Kalashnikov. And so there was a way
in which she was also, perhaps, at least maybe
in her imagination, but expanding the actual practical role that women would play, that woman might play
in the conduct of jihad. And, indeed, in actual suicide bombing, one of the things that’s
happened in the last few years is increasing number of women who themselves become suicide bombers, as well as men who dress up as women, because the burka allows them to hide the suicide vest more effectively then the male clothing does. At any rate, this is
speculative on my part, because I was limited
to the extent to which I could interact with
the people on Facebook and ultimately, I got shut down altogether and was unable to access these the posts and the people who I was tracking, but clearly social media is a new domain, within which, as we all know, ISIS in particular use
this very effectively in their recruitment efforts, use social media in ways
that the Western governments haven’t yet entirely
learned how to to control, but there are aspects
of this that I think are going to be determinative
in the coming years. So that’s the end of my presentation. This is the cover of the
book that I just published and I’d be happy to take any questions. (audience applauding) – [Woman] Thank you so much, Professor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *