Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Real Situation In Kabul

On my other blog I frequently comment on the real situation in Kabul, Afghanistan. My comments are typically at odds with what the media is reporting. I’m a professional soldier. Though I’m retired from active duty, I continue to train soldiers, ours and our allies. I’ve been in the war zone in Iraq and here for a good part of the last six years. I’m not the kind who gets nervous in this environment. Those who know that much about me may be inclined to take some of my war zone reporting with a grain block of salt as a result.

The real threats in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan are corruption and good old-fashioned crime, albeit at a high level in both categories. It is crime and corruption (rampant in the police) that are hurting reconstruction efforts. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not a threat; they are despised and have no popular support. What support they may generate is through fear and intimidation in those areas where security is lacking. Given a choice and guarantee of security, the people reject the Taliban.

The article below was written by a woman who has been living here in Kabul for the last three years with her family. Like me, her take is that the media are reporting from a Kabul in a parallel universe. I post her comments here in their entirety.

The real situation in Kabul
United Press International
By Marilyn Angelucci, Kabul

Kabul — I have been living in Kabul for the past three years, and the news reports still never cease to amaze me. This week, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) reported that the Taliban have control of almost 75% of Afghanistan and that they will soon walk through the door of Kabul.

According to my experience living here with my family, I can’t believe that the country they are describing is the same country that I live in. According to reports by NATO, the Afghan government and a great number of our Afghan friends, I hear a different story.

The Taliban are losing any support they may have had in the past. A few months ago, they attacked a bus of Afghans headed for Iran to seek work. The travelers were from Laghman, and the attack happened in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban beheaded most of the travelers, sparing a few of the younger ones. They claimed that those executed were Afghan military.

The local people of Laghman were so angered by the attack that they united against the Taliban. According to the words of one of the survivors, local leaders have declared a “war” against any Taliban in their area. They have stated that if there are any Taliban or Taliban supporters found in their area, they will execute them and burn their homes. This was declared by the leaders of 15 districts in the province of Laghman, an ethnically Pashtun area.

The local people are fed up with the Taliban's tactics. Even those that may have supported the Taliban in the past have become disgusted by the killing and torturing of innocent civilians. They have lost hope that the Taliban can bring about anything better than what the Karzai government can.

It’s true that security is worse than last year, while the Taliban claim that they are responsible for the attacks. But this is not the case. Most of the kidnappings and criminal activities are done by local gangsters that are taking advantage of the corruption of the police and the Ministry of the Interior.

Take the case of Gail Williams, a British national killed last month on the streets of western Kabul. According to news reports, the Taliban were responsible and claimed that her NGO was converting Muslims to Christianity, and that the killing was therefore a warning. The NGO denies this claim.

One local who witnessed the attack said men on a motorcycle first tried to steal Williams' pocketbook and, when she fought off the attack, they shot her first in the legs, then in the head and left her to die. This is not a tactic of the Taliban. This is the work of local criminals taking advantage of the poor policing seen all over Kabul. Some even claim that these criminal acts are the work of the local police themselves, but this has not been proven at this point.

So, corruption is high. Not only are the Taliban losing support, but so is Karzai. People are ready for a new government and are looking for someone who can get a grip on Afghanistan’s security and development issues.

So much has been done toward development by the international community, and this can be seen everywhere. But the leadership is still weak, and this leads to many other concerns. We are all hoping, with the additional troops coming in January and in the summer, that security can improve and the presidential elections can take place as planned.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comments on the Comments about Mumbai

In the aftermath of the Mumbai massacre, a number of Western pundits, both liberal and conservative, have offered some pretty irrational commentary. Most of them get off the main issue of the specific event and turn their commentary to a general condemnation of Islam and Muslims.

This is a counter-productive and flat wrong-headed approach. Have any of these writers bothered to tally up the Muslim victims of terrorist violence? In the Mumbai attacks, for example, there were also Muslim victims. These murderers, who claim they are killing for God, are no respecters of one’s religion. They gleefully kill anyone. Look at who is primarily dying in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the hands of these murderous thugs. It isn’t coalition troops or foreign aid workers; it is the local inhabitants – Muslims – who are dying in the tens of thousands.

Another argument that seems common is to claim that Muslims do not condemn these attacks – that the voice of Muslims is silent. Well, it only seems silent because the West’s ever-vigilant professional journalists are as intellectually lazy as their readers and viewers. Muslims are speaking out. Many have been murdered for doing so. In order to find this out, one must make the effort to read Muslim media. It’s out there.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, an association of 56 Islamic states, condemned the terror attacks in Mumbai stating that: “…these acts of violence contradict all human values and can be justified by nothing” (emphasis added).

A businessman from Dubai writes:

It is not enough for moderate Muslims to be revolted by the attacks in Mumbai as we have been revolted by the attacks on the New York office towers, Amman wedding, London transport system, Madrid trains, Beslan school, Jerusalem pizzeria, Baghdad markets and numerous other places. It is time to take a serious stand against these perpetrators and reclaim our religion.

Muslims must be more vocal in their sentiments regarding such criminals and Islamic states must counter this behaviour proactively. To borrow from an unpopular phrase, the Islamic states must launch a psychological pre-emptive strike against these terrorists and more importantly those who encourage them. Muslim preachers who fail to condemn terror must either be re-educated or discredited completely, and those who excuse terror using certain conflicts as a pretext must be silenced because the poison that they spread today will come back to haunt us all tomorrow.

Some media outlets can also act as a conduit for the terrorists’ propaganda. The stories of reformed radicals such as Sayed Imam, also known as Dr Fadl, must be highlighted to the ignorant minority. Our message must be clear: “These acts of violence contradict all human values and can be justified by nothing.”


Sultan Al Qassemi

These are just samples of the outpouring of anger and frustration I read in Muslim media. Muslims are not unaware of the hatred and anger their co-religionists are generating with these senseless crimes and they are just as perplexed at how to stop it as we are, even more so given that they ostensibly share the same religion as the murderers.

Then there are those who say the Qur’an tells Muslims to spread their religion by the sword. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact the Qur’an is full of statements showing that belief in any religion is an individual’s own concern and is a matter between the individual and God. Here are a few.

(2:256) “There is no compulsion in religion.” This is the clearest statement in the Qur’an against spreading religion by the sword.

(76:3) “We have truly shown him the way; he may be thankful or unthankful.”

(18:29) “The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe and let him who please disbelieve.”

6:104) “Clear proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord; so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever is blind, it is to his own harm.”

(17:7) “If you do good, you do good for your own souls. And if you do evil, it is for them.” (for your own souls)

It seems to me that the two predominant views portrayed in Western media about Muslims are either the condemnatory pieces that tar brush all Muslims with the Islamo-facist label, or those that help propagate their insane justifications for murder (Bush’s policies, Israeli policies, grinding poverty). Both are wrong.

The most common shared trait among all these writers is that they have not lived in a Muslim society – certainly not for any significant length of time. I’ve spent the greater part of the last six years living among Muslims in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve known Muslims who I’ve felt confident would lay down their life to protect me, just as I would do for them. I’ve seen Iraqi soldiers weep when their American counterparts were killed or wounded. I’ve seen the anger of Afghans when a foreign aid worker is killed or kidnapped. An unarmed Afghan bystander was killed in Kabul several weeks ago trying to thwart the kidnapping at gun-point of a French aid worker.

The vast majority of Muslims throughout the world are good, civilized human beings with whom we share many, if not most, values. This is, I believe, a fact. Yes, there are differences between Western societies and Islamic societies, but for the most part these differences are no bigger than a line drawn in the sand.