Suddenly, the news is full of talk about Afghanistan, the fate of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and I cannot help but think about how the world responds to the way that news is weaponized to focus our attention on issues and, at other times, to distract our attention from other issues. For years, ex-military have been writing books warning about defeat that actually transpired in Afghanistan. My library is full of books published all the way back in 2005, published during the Obama administration and the Trump administration, and when I think about all these books, what strikes me the most is that the majority of these books warned about the egregious failures in Afghanistan that would inevitably lead to the results that we have now witnessed.
But what made me decide to talk about Afghanistan again in this khutbah is an article that was published in the New Yorker. The article by Anand Gopal is titled, "The Other Afghan Women", and the subtitle is, "In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claim to be helping them." It is a striking article, not because it says anything new, but because it was published in the moment that it was published, and because the journalist anchored herself, living among Afghan women in the countryside outside of Kabul.
In the Sangin Valley, the Helmand province, and other areas where these women experienced the communist era in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen era, the Taliban era and what these women called the American war, Gopal asked these women what they thought about the American war, and Afghanistan being ruled once again by the Taliban. The article was striking in so many ways, and because I know Muslims unfortunately will not read this, I will summarize it because it has something to teach all of us.
The most striking thing is that, for 20 years, we were in Afghanistan. We were supposedly in a war for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, but the books that I have read, written by ex-military and confirmed by this article, describe that the way that we existed in Afghanistan was in a typically racist, colonial, prejudiced fashion. In Kabul, all those who were willing to work with the American occupation were part of the Westernized elite that lived a lifestyle that privileged a small minority in Afghanistan. But the vast majority of the Afghan population does not live in cities; the vast majority lives in rural areas, and in these rural areas, the data and the reality is shocking.
After the communists and the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, the former Mujahideen fell into factionalism and infighting until the Taliban organized themselves and eventually, re-conquered most of Afghanistan. The problem was many of the Mujahideen, the pre-Taliban, in that period between the Soviet Union invasion and the Taliban era, were warlords and mercenaries, and what they did with the Afghani women was horrendous and shocking. They killed, pillaged, extorted and abused the population.
Eventually, the warlords were ousted by the forces of the Taliban, and the Taliban, with their extremist, uncompromising, fanatical, religious ideology, excluded women and forced women to live within the confines of their homes. But at least these women were no longer exposed to pillaging, extortion and the abuse of the warlords. When the American forces occupied Afghanistan, and even in Iraq, the sad reality is that those who present themselves first to an occupying force, volunteering to help an occupying force are usually the most unsavory characters in society. This is precisely what happened in Afghanistan.
The ex-warlords that were ousted by the Taliban became American allies. As the article discusses in detail, there was a notorious force known as the 93rd division. Pre-Taliban, the 93rd division committed horrendous human rights abuses against Afghani civilians. When the Americans invaded, the 93rd division became an American ally armed with American weapons. Similarly, another warlord known as Dado, who committed horrendous abuses and was ousted by the Taliban, not only became an American ally, but became the chief intelligence officer for the Helmand province in Afghanistan. With warlords who have long records of human rights abuses against the Afghan people now as American allies, these warlords began again abusing the Afghan people, but now with American power behind them.
The warlord named Dado, the chief intelligence officer for the Helmand province, organized an attack against American forces. In order to send a message to American forces that they need him, and after executing the attack, he framed a man known as Mullah Jalil, who was then promptly dispatched to Guantanamo. The remarkable thing is, according to this article, and consistent with much of the literature that I have read, unclassified documents reveal that the Americans knew that Dado was behind the attack against American forces and knew that Mullah Jalil was framed for the attack. Despite this, Mullah Jalil was sent to Guantanamo and the Americans continued to work with Dado because he was seen to be too valuable an asset in the war against terrorists.
But the 93rd division and people like Dado continued to frame innocent Afghans who were sent to Guantanamo one after the other for the 20 years of occupation. Muhammad Nasim was arrested by US forces and sent to Guantanamo because, according to a classified assessment, his name was similar to that of a Taliban commander. A Karzai government official named Ehsanullah visited an American base to inform on two Taliban members, no translator was present and in the confusion he himself was arrested and shipped off to Guantanamo. Nasrullah, a government tax collector, was sent to Guantanamo after being randomly pulled off a bus following a skirmish between US special forces and local tribesmen.
Nasrullah ultimately returned home, but some detainees like Abdul Wahid of Gereshk were arrested by the 93rd division and beaten severely. He was delivered to US custody and left in a cage where he died. US military personnel noted burns on his chest and stomach, and bruising to his hips and groin. According to a declassified investigation, special forces soldiers reported that Wahid's wounds were consistent with a normal interview interrogation method used by the 93rd division. The Sergeant stated that he could provide photographs of prior detainees with similar injuries. Nonetheless, the US continued to support the 93rd division, a violation of Leahy Law, which bars American personnel from knowingly backing units that commit flagrant human rights abuses.
But it does not stop there. For those who keep asking me about the Taliban and what happened, the reality is presented only if we would bother to read, because it is already published in a huge record, often by US ex-military. This journalist documents how many relatives of one woman in Afghanistan, who was not a part of the Taliban and not part of the American forces, lost. During one battle, Abdul Salam, an uncle of this woman, named Shakira, took refuge in a friend's home. After the fighting ended, he visited a mosque to pray. A few Taliban prayed in this mosque as well, and a coalition airstrike killed almost everyone inside the mosque.
The next day, mourners gathered for a funeral. A second strike killed a dozen more people. Among the bodies returned were those of Abdul Salam, his cousin and his three nephews, aged 6 to 15. But it does not stop there. Here is a partial record of the relatives of this one woman, Shakira, that were killed and how they were killed. Muhammad, her 15-year-old cousin, was killed by a drone while riding his motorcycle through the village with a friend. Muhammad Wali, an adult cousin, was killed after villagers were instructed by American forces to stay indoors for three days as they conducted an operation. After the second day, drinking water was depleted and so Wali was forced to venture out, where he was shot by American forces. Khan Muhammad, her 7-year-old cousin, was killed when his family was fleeing a clash by car when they mistakenly neared a coalition position and the car was strafed, killing him. Bor Agha, her 12-year-old cousin, was taking an evening walk when he was killed by fire from an Afghan National Police base. The next morning, his father visited the base in shock and, looking for answers, was told that the boy had been warned before not to stray near the installation. Their commander gave the order to target him and kill this 12-year-old boy. Amanullah, her 16-year-old cousin, was working the land when he was targeted by an Afghan army sniper. No one provided an explanation and the family was too afraid to approach the Army base to ask questions.
Ahmed, her adult cousin, after a long day in the fields was headed home carrying a hot plate when he was struck down by coalition forces. The family believes the foreigners mistook the hot plate for an IED. Niamatullah, Ahmed's brother, was harvesting opium when a firefight broke out nearby. He tried to flee but was gunned down by a drone. Gul Ahmed, an uncle of Shakira's husband, wanted to get a head start on his day, so he asked his sons to bring him breakfast to the field. When they arrived, they found him dead. Witnesses said he encountered a coalition patrol and the soldiers left him dead like an animal.
It is the ceaseless killing of civilians for 20 years that forced so many Afghans to join the Taliban, not because they like the Taliban or because they agreed with the Taliban, but simply because the American forces and their allies proved to be so cruel and uncaring, they killed without account and without regard. In fact, in 2019 when the US was holding talks with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar, Ahmed Noor owned a payphone business. He was told to evacuate his village by Americans, but he could not because two of his sons were ill, so he remained. His family went to bed to the sound of distant artillery. That night, an American bomb slammed into the room where the twin boys were sleeping, killing them both. The second bomb hit an adjacent room, killing Mohammed's father and many others, eight of them children.
The next day at the funeral, another American airstrike killed six mourners. In a nearby village, a gun ship struck down three children. The following day, four more children were shot dead. Elsewhere in Sangin, an airstrike hit an Islamic school, killing a child. A week later, 12 guests at a wedding were killed in an air raid. After the bombing, Muhammad's brother traveled to Kandahar to report the massacre of civilians to the Afghan government and to the United Nations, but when Mohammed's brother realized that no justice was forthcoming, he joined the Taliban.
The record was horrific, not just because of who we murdered, but because of who we aligned ourselves with. A commander named Sami Sadat headed one of the seven corps of the Afghan army. At the same time, he was also CEO of Blue Sea logistics, a Kabul-based corporation that supplied anti-Taliban forces with everything from helicopter parts to armored tactical vehicles. Sadat was provided by the US with Black Hawk helicopters. What Sadat did was every time the Taliban would conquer a province, he would massacre civilians in response. After one such battle against an Afghan army post, Afghan villagers showed up to collect scrap metal left behind, which was commonly done after battles. They are so poor that they make a living from selling scrap metal. As they showed up, Sadat sent Black Hawk helicopters and mowed down 50 more civilians.
Next, 12 Afghans were murdered while scavenging scrap metal at a former base outside Sangin, and 40 others were killed in an almost identical incident in the army's abandoned camp at Walid. Twenty people, most of them men and children, were killed by airstrikes on the Gereshk bazaar. Now, after murdering hundreds of Afghans with Black Hawk helicopters that we supply with no accountability, Sadat escaped to the UK where he currently lives in peace.
There is no mystery. The ideology that poisoned our minds as we went into Iraq and Afghanistan was the toxic ideology of Islamophobia. Every American soldier and every American officer viewed Muslims from an Islamophobic prism. American intelligence did not hire real scholars or academics to train the American army and special forces. Look at the contracts given to prominent Islamophobes like Steven Emerson, Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes. Look at the millions of dollars they made from advising American law enforcement and advising American military. Personally, I can tell you whatever contracts I had were terminated, because I was deemed too pro-Islamic. Every contract that I know of was given to Islamophobes like Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes. When we killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, we did not kill human beings, we killed “potential terrorists”. After all, all Muslims are “potential terrorists”. After all, even a Muslim child is a “potential terrorist”.
There is no accountability. How many actual human rights documentations are there of the atrocities we have committed in Afghanistan and Iraq? How many people know that the British government pleaded with the Americans not to rely so much on their special forces, because their special forces were committing egregious massacres against civilians in Afghanistan? How many people know that we told the British to mind their own business? This is why the Taliban prevailed. This is why people join terrorist organizations, because the lesson they learned is very clear. You can be massacred by the Israelis, you could be massacred by the Americans, you can be massacred by the British, the Canadians, the Danish or the Swiss. As long as you are Muslim, you do not count. Then we say, "How can you make sense of this? Why is it that these Muslims are joining the Taliban and Hamas?" It is because we Americans have never rid ourselves of our deeply embedded racism towards Islam and Muslims.
Among the most striking things that I have read in the diaries of ex-military is that under the Obama administration, special forces went in with instructions to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans. But instead, they would break down front doors, destroy windows and live in the house of Afghan villagers for a few days, passing these days in boredom hoping that they would not be targeted by the Taliban. After a few days, they would depart. At most, they might give sweets to Afghan children, with many of these children later being blown to pieces by coalition air forces.
This is a lesson. Iranians who are waiting for Americans to liberate you, you are waiting for a mirage. The deeply embedded racism in American consciousness will never see you as human. The same goes for all Muslims who think that a superpower like the United States would come to actually spread democracy and human rights. No one can achieve democracy and human rights at gunpoint.
The American military has never been a vehicle for democracy and human rights. Look at history. Regardless of the ideals that some politicians hold, when the military receives its marching orders, the military is trained to fight - not to teach democracy and human rights. The military's priority is to protect its own personnel at all costs, to avoid injury to a single American soldier. That means yes, they can bomb weddings, they can bomb funerals, they can blow up mosques. In Kabul, there is an elite that benefited from the American invasion. That elite is the same in almost all countries. It is a western-educated elite that physically looks like the natives, but their conscience and intellect is often torn, conflicted and confused.
Linguistically and racially, they are Afghan, but in terms of how they see their own, they adopt the same arrogant attitude of the colonizers and occupiers. They learn not to care about how many of their fellow countrymen and countrywomen are killed or destroyed, because they adopt the intellect of the occupier. That westernized elite often helps by becoming the native informant that affirms the biases, ignorances, racism and bigotry of the foreign occupier.
Theologically, jurisprudentially, I look at what Taliban theologians say, and what Taliban fuqaha say, and I feel like I want to vomit. The reality is that what keeps me truly ill, is what made the Taliban what it is in the first place. With the endless flow of Muslim blood since colonialism, we have communicated to the Muslim world time and time again that they are barely human in our policies and our attitudes. Despite the numerous massacres committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and despite the fact that Guantanamo became a torture mill for so many Muslims who were sent there for reasons that they do not even understand, very few American officers or soldiers were held even slightly accountable for the massacres that they have committed.
The UN, thanks to American power, is largely silent about our horrible human rights record in the countries we occupy and in the countries where we fought. As a Muslim, as an American, I dream of a better America. I dream of a moral America. I am shocked that even the Obama administration was racist, bigoted, prejudiced and ultimately immoral when it came to Muslims, leave alone the Trump administration. And the Biden administration, after all this bloodshed says, "You know what? It is time to admit that we failed." But no one, not even Sadat, who escaped the UK, is going to be held accountable for the numerous war crimes and human rights violations committed against the Afghan and Iraqi people. In all of this is a lesson to those who reflect.’