It had been years since I bought a copy of TIME magazine, and the 29 July issue with the picture of yet another mutilated Muslim woman on the cover explains why. I didn't even have to read the article to get author Aryn Baker's point. The Taliban are really bad. They throw acid on young girls who want to go to school, and cut off the noses of young women like Aisha who want to escape abusive family situations. If we leave, things could get worse.
I'd like to make two comments. The first is that all that is happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan is that Muslims are doing what they have been doing for the last 14 centuries with great abandonment and delight; fighting and slaughtering other Muslims. The second is that the key to helping girls like Aisha experience freedom and wholeness does not lie in defeating the Taliban.
Even during my lifetime the litany of Muslim on Muslim killing, starting from North Africa and moving eastward, has been impressive. The Moroccan Mauritanian war of the 1980's drained the economies of both countries and cost thousands of lives. Who knows how many tens of thousands (some estimates are much higher) were tortured and killed in Algeria during the nineties insurgency of Islamists against the government? Libya started a senseless war with Chad, and Egypt's President Nasser invaded Yemen in a war that was just as stupid. Yasser Arafat's PLO flexed their muscles in Jordan one too many times, with the result that King Hussain expelled them to Lebanon where they again tried to tip the balance of power and were influential in the start of Lebanon's Civil War. Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad's response to criticism in the city of Hama was to slaughter 15,000 Syrians. Iran and Iraq lunged headlong into a war that left one million dead (who even remembers what started it or why?). Further East, thousands of East Bengalis were murdered and raped by Pakistani soldiers before those two countries divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh in the early 1970's.
Everyone has their own theory about why President Bush invaded Iraq in 2002. Whatever his reason, he certainly had no idea what would result. The Sunni - Shia divide that is so little understood in the West resulted in the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis, to say nothing of the death of over 5,000 American soldiers and a cost of literally trillions of dollars.
One would think that President Obama could have learned. George Bush didn't have a clue about Islam (I'd bet a month's salary he went into the war unable to tell the difference between the Sunnis and the Shia), but President Obama thinks he understands Islam. With his advisors and his generals, he divides the playing field into good guys and bad guys, reconcilables with incorrigibles. For the first time in history thousands of young American soldiers are being killed, with arms and legs flying all over the place and irreparable burn and brain damage caused by homemade Improvised Explosive Devices, just to fight Muslims who hate us only more than they hate each other.
We're placing our bets on the hope that young girls like Aisha will have better lives if we but defeat the Taliban, but totally ignoring the reality that they will reach their full potential only when they and the men who control their lives leave their Prophet Muhammad far behind.
Morocco, considered by many to be a modern, prosperous, Western-leaning country, has a rural literacy rate for women of ten percent. Afghanistan has always been far behind that. Ask any Saudi girl who has graduated from one of her country's universities to honestly describe her classroom environment, where she was forced to sit in separate classroom and watch lectures via video, with that of her male compatriots. Listen to students describe how no Muslim girl has ever graduated from the Pardada Pardadi School for Girls in India because their families place no value on their education. Consider the fact that Muhammad placed no interest in the education of his own wives, and ask yourself why in the name of God's great earth would we imagine that his followers in Afghanistan 14 centuries later really want to give young girls like Aisha the opportunity to believe whatever they choose, accomplish whatever they can, marry whomever they love, and be whatever they were created to be?