Irshad Manji (The Globe and Mail, Apr. 14) is outraged. The Afghan president signed an obnoxious piece of legislation recently giving free rein to all manner of women abuse in the dwindling areas still under his control. But, lest you confound the moral aversion to forced sex and wife beating of Ms Manji to that of Sherlock Holmes, the columnist does not see the ‘problem’ primarily in terms of the ‘recalcitrant Taliban or gutless central government’. No, the problem lies elsewhere, she says.
It’s something called ‘asabbiya’, or ‘tribal solidarity’, which she believes was imported into Afghanistan with Islam and the Arabic influence. In arid, mountainous, remote areas like Afghanistan, according to the father of sociology (one Ibn Khaldun, if you wonder) the kinship bonds conspire against central governance and degenerate into ‘feelings of group superiority’. In that land and climate, with Islam, says Manji, you get a cycle of vendetta, and countervendetta. In the end the warlords could be more legitimate than any democratically elected parliament – more legitimate because they are more authentic to the Afghan experience. And hence since this appears to be sort of a logically self-imposed backwardness and poverty, Ms Manji no longer supports the Canadian military mission. She can’t see a way to win.
There is something – and pardon me for speaking frankly – distinctly cuckoo about Irshad Manji’s view of the world. On surface she may echo the long-held verity that Afghanistan is ungovernable which at this particular juncture bespeaks of growing resignation in the West to a defeat by the Taliban. This of course does not come out of a choir which Ms Manji conducts.
It is just that the ideas in Ms Manji’s head are as chaotic as the current Afghan politics and to a degree reveal the prevailing confusions that make any effort to bring stability and civility to the region an impossible dream.
The warlord system in Afghanistan has very little to do with kinship solidarity imported from Arabia. Rather, it reflects the ethnic makeup of the country and the derelict, subsistence-level economy, that replaced the Soviet-subsidized system after 1991. The warlords are either the fittest of the heroin-producing drug lords or their military allies. According to the Wold Bank 2006 report the minority who survived the ineffective war on drugs by Karzai and his US advisors, have become more powerful than ever. Like in pre-1999 Chechnya, radical Islam and shari’a are used to control the population. Like in Caucasus, (and to a degree in the Balkan conflicts) the tough guys compete in religious orthodoxy when fighting each other. In 1990’s the religious laxity of the warlords cost them dearly against Taliban. They will not make the same mistake again. Additionally, the clamour for retrograde laws assures the powerful kingmakers that they have leverage with the central government and that it will not plot with the infidel to harm their business.
Ms Manji’s perspective, which she calls ‘muslim feminist’, seems innocent of such trivial matters. According to her, Islam cannot be blamed in the cries for the heads of the Islamic apostates in Kabul. According to her, the Koran is perfectly clear on the subject: ‘there is no compulsion in religion…full stop’. She does not seem at all bothered that so far, in all places where shari’a prevails a different part of the Koran has been cited for the death sentences passed on those who decided Christianity or voodoo suited better their spiritual needs: But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; (Sura 4,89). Most readers of the Quran, including all four of the legal Islamic authorities, agree that once you come in to Islam, you may not leave. I have yet to hear an imam who says differently. And on the moslem feminist issue, well Islam is a religion where wife-beaters are ok if they don’t overdo it (Sura 4,34). But I am sure Ms Manji would have a way to explain that too to the Kandahar schoolgirls with scars from acid in their faces.