An Afghan said, “If the communists ordered us not to pray, we would pray five times a day. If an Islamic government ordered us to pray five times, we would pray once.”
THE AFGHAN people had stood up and for a moment I was privileged to stand with them, but I realized that their fight could never be, in its entirety, or even in major part, mine. As Lawrence wrote, freedom was a purpose so ravenous that other considerations faded before its demands. What faded in this intense fight was democracy and tolerance, which do not fit well with absolute decisions of any sort. It would be a mistake to think the Afghan Resistance was completely committed to values familiar to Americans. The focus was different, affected by powerful ethnic divisions, by the tribal life that still existed in a good part of the country, by the oceanic influence of Islam, and above all by the tidal pull of modernization.
At the same time the absolute desire to live in freedom that I had expected to see was a force bent by the gravity of everyday life—self-seeking, corruption, vanity, ambiguity and confusion of aims. With a kind of maddeningly necessary inner contradiction, the very hardness that enabled the fight to succeed—forcing the Soviet superpower to withdraw—made any softening or compromise more unlikely. The war was limited from within by the spirit that allowed such tenacity to exist in the first place.
When I sat in a dark stone room in Kunar and the mujahid cracked open the skull of a calf with an axe, I realized I was on the other side of the world. How could I judge this profoundly different existence, with its own reasons and justifications, according to the experiences I had brought from middle-class America? “Self-evident concepts of Western politics are not applicable” warned Lucian Pye. 1 Right, but at the same time I couldn't jump out of my skin. What choice did I have but to judge them by my own experience? And, for that matter, could everything be different in every respect? I thought not. No matter what the place, politics revolves around blood, money and spirit—and spirit is the most important. Spirit means belief, or the tides of feeling