From Taliban Clerics, Mixed Views on Terror

Article excerpt

As a Muslim cleric and head of his own religious school in this dusty Afghan refugee camp, Maulvi Abdul Qudus has mixed emotions about the terrorist attacks on the United States last Tuesday.

On one hand, he considers terrorism to be un-Islamic, since Islam condemns the killing of innocent civilians, even in times of war. On the other, he considers the United States to be an enemy of Islam and the perpetrator of crimes against Muslim civilians around the world.

"As Muslims, we condemn the heavy human casualties of the attack," says the maulvi (or expert in Islamic law), giving non- Muslims rare permission to enter his mosque for an interview. His students, many of them Taliban soldiers fresh from the front lines in Afghanistan, nod vigorously.

"But from an Islamic point of view, we are enjoying it a little bit, because America is responsible for the destruction of Muslim countries.

"We know that America is a superpower," he adds, "but we believe our cause is good. And if you study Islamic history, you'll find everywhere there was a war, we were small in

numbers and the enemy was bigger in numbers, and we still prevailed. If America wants to attack us, God will help us."

The radical variant of Islam promoted by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban is quite unlike the mainstream Islam practiced by most of the world's Muslims. But it has a powerful hold among the young men of this region, which has known nothing but conflict for more than 20 years. Why these warrior-students consider their cause worth dying for, and why they consider the US to be Islam's implacable enemy - is a function of many impulses.

Some historians say it is the natural reaction of a downtrodden people, frustrated by war, betrayal, and grinding poverty. Others call it a clash of civilizations: proud Islamic tradition on one side; Western democracy and economic dominance on the other. The anger behind militant Islam may be America's most difficult foe, with the sheer force of ideas extending far beyond the borders of Afghanistan to US shores.

"We need a reality check," says one Western diplomat in New Delhi with extensive experience in the Middle East (who requested anonymity). "This is an ideology that believes that 'once we were great and now we have lost everything.' Why? 'Because European culture took it from us.' These groups [including those who suupport the Taliban] are reviving Islam. The notion of purity goes much deeper than we imagine."

What is certain is that the Taliban and its followers consider the US to be their greatest obstacle in reviving and defending Islam. Part of this comes from a sense of historical betrayal, experts say.

After the mujahideen, or "Islamic warriors", forced the Soviet invading force to leave Afghanistan in 1989, many Afghans expected the US to pour in millions in aid to help rebuild the country. That aid was not forthcoming, in part because rival mujahideen commanders spent the next seven years pummeling each other - and pulverizing their country - in order to gain full control of Afghanistan themselves.

When the Taliban movement emerged in the spring of 1994 as a band of righteous Islamic reformers, many Western leaders considered the young Islamic students (Taliban means "students" in Arabic) to be a potentially positive force. But soon after the Taliban expelled the mujahideen from Kabul, the West saw the Taliban in far more negative terms.

In September1996, the Taliban tortured, and executed the former Soviet-backed President Mohammad Najibullah. …