Skip to comments.The Taliban reign of terror - parallels with the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary fanatics
Posted on 10/07/2001 4:54:58 PM PDT by AM2000
|Mullah Omar and Robespierre - brothers in spirit|
|The Taliban regime is seen as a symbol of mediaeval barbarism. The truth is Taliban has more in common with the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks, says Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr|
|The Taliban have lasted for about five years, and they have succeeded in setting up a veritable reign of terror. Most of us have no hesitation in attributing the Taliban's cruelty to their mediaeval Islamic beliefs. We believe that the Taliban do not belong to the modern era, and that their rightful place belongs to the "dark ages" of a mediaeval era. These assumptions are taken to be axiomatic, and no one even seems to pause and ask whether they are true.
And as we look back, we realise that revolutionary fanaticism is a modern phenomenon, and it can be seen first in the 17th century English Revolution, where the Puritans had tried to impose the rule of saints. Such was the dour impact of their tyranny, that when Oliver Cromwell, the republican dictator died, the English promptly restored monarchy, and also enjoyed during this period "a moral holiday" - the quaint phrase used by the Romantic critic Charles Lamb to describe the mood of the post-Puritanical phase.
We come across the classical instance of a reign of terror during the French Revolution of the 18th century, which had erupted in the face of Europe towards the end of what European historians have ironically called "The Age of Enlightenment". The frenzy, the fury and the murderous rage that marked these years negates what the thinkers of the Enlightenment, almost all of them French intellectuals of the time, had believed in: reason with a capital R.
Every revolution that followed the French seemed to relive many of the phases of the 1789 French Revolution, and the Reign of Terror became a necessary act of the historical drama. There was terror after the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and it was played out in a longer phase during Stalin's stage-managed purges and trials of the late 1930s.
The other classic revolution was that of the Chinese in 1949, and we find that the reigns of terror recurred periodically, the longest of them during the Cultural Revolution of the '6os and the '70s.
The Khomeini Revolution of 1979 in Iran had its share of terror, and it lasted through much of the 1980s. And it is after this that analysts and commentators began to spread the idea that it is "mediaeval Islamism" that is at the root of the terror in Iran. And the same explanation has been bandied about after the puritanical Taliban had captured Kabul, and ended up controlling more than 90 per cent of Afghanistan. It is not enough, then, to blame revolutionary terror on Islamic extremism. Revolutionary terror has its own inexorable logic.
The interesting aspect of terrorism is that people who did not believe in God or religion have forged it during the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions. They were all honourable secularists. To understand the phenomenon of the reigns of terror, we need a historian who will explain the characteristics of revolutionary frenzy.
It is American historian Crane Brinton, who analyses the four major modern revolutions, the English, American, French and Russian, in "The Anatomy of Revolution" - first published in 1938, and then an expanded and revised version in 1965 - and pays attention to the reigns of terror in each of these revolutions. Brinton is an unusual historian, who was not tied down by doctrinaire views. He believed in what he curiously called "historical sociology" by which he meant the social aspects of any historical phenomenon or period.
Brinton shows that all reigns of terror are about imposing virtue on ordinary people who want to be left alone. But such is the inherent messianism of the secular and religion-inspired revolutions that they want to make saints of people. He says of the French Jacobins led by Robespierre, who orchestrated the terror: "The Jacobins were in principle against gambling, drunkenness, sexual irregularities of all sorts, ostentatious display of poverty, idleness, thieving " The Bolsheviks followed the same puritanical regime: "Early the Bolsheviks prohibited the national drink, vodka, and almost all the first soviets took steps against prostitution, gambling, night life "
What the Taliban tried to impose does not seem to be very different from what Robespierre in France and Lenin in Russia tried to do: impose the tyranny of virtue. The excesses of Taliban cannot be traced back to "mediaeval Islamism". There is something irrational about violent revolutions, as the friar in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" remarks: "Violent passions have violent ends".
Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Robespierre seem to belong to the same fraternity of fanatics. And it is clear that though there is something religious about fanaticism, it has nothing to do with religion as such. Robespierre was a declared atheist, while Omar considers himself an orthodox Muslim. But they act in similar ways. They want to impose piety and order on the rest of society.
Brinton also observes that the reigns of terror are periods of acute economic shortages, and that administration during the terror is managed not by an individual but by a committee. "Though names like Cromwell, Robespierre, and Lenin stand out as those of rulers, and although these men did exercise unquestioned power in many ways, the characteristic form of this supreme authority is that of a committee. The government of the Terror is the a dictatorship in committee."
The most important observation is that the reigns of terror are the most inefficient. It is sometimes argued that the chaos created by the initial outbreak of the revolution can only be sorted out by single-minded fanatics. "Indeed, one of the reasons why the governments of the Terror seem so tyrannical and hard to bear, even retrospectively, is precisely that they were so inefficient."
Reigns of terror must wind down because the leaders of terror are not good at managing the economy. Secondly, their zeal in promoting virtue becomes an unbearable burden. But the reigns of terror need not be short - just two years as in the case of the French Revolution. They can last for longer periods - 10 years in China, and about eight years in Khomeini's Iran. And at the end of it, the countries take a long time to recover from the grievous wounds inflicted on society and polity by the masters of terror.
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EITHER YOU ARE WITH ME, OR AGAINST ME
No matter what spin, what happens, how long it takes, in the end, this is what it is all about.
This may be hard for some to swallow right now, but eventually the truth must be faced.
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Agreed. If the radical right were nearly as powerful as the radical left is (in contemporary America), we'd be saying the same about them.
I too have felt uncomfortable about characterizing the Taliban as "medieval." On the whole, the medieval period was pretty civilized and decent. Europe was pulling itself back out of the dark age that followed the collapse of Rome and the incursion of the pagan German tribes. Many historians speak, rightly I think, of the "Renaissance of the twelfth century."
The Assassins and the Barbery Pirates may be better models for what we are seeing, as several threads have suggested.
Once it starts there is virtually no stopping it untill even the perpetrators are outraged and sickened by the terror. Afghanistan will eventually reach this point if we don't end it sooner.
The radical left also busily builds lists of enemies. You figure out why.
The Taliban are mostly a bunch of illiterate religious "students" (ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan and Afghanistan) out of the madrassas of Pakistan. They most certainly are not the traditional elite of Afghan or Pakistani society, which more or less sided with the Communists during the Cold War. So to answer your question, it most certainly is a grassroots movement; however, it was bolstered by active American involvement in that region. When they first came to power, the population was largely sympathetic and supportive. Today, they are not.