When the first edition of this book was published in 1997, readers had the luxury of believing that totalitarianism was purely a product of the twentieth century and a nevertoberepeated phenomenon. The people of the United States and Canadians could also imagine that mass murder and terror were things that only occurred on other continents and certainly not in North America. The suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington as well as the existence of the Taliban regime and its alQaeda allies in Afghanistan have shattered these illusions. What the world has learned since September 11, 2001, is that totalitarianism and terror are still realities and cannot be relegated to the status of historical curiosities.
The Taliban regime surpassed any of the regimes described in this book in the extent to which it attempted to control every facet of the lives of the Afghan people. Its Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice regulated daily life in ways undreamed of by Hitler, Stalin, or Mussolini. Laughter, music, and dancing, as well as modern inventions such as television were all prohibited. The total repression of women made the reactionary philosophy and policies of even Nazi Germany look downright progressive by comparison. If in some respects the fascists of Germany and Italy wanted to return to the bucolic days of the nineteenth century when a woman’s place was in the home, the Taliban wanted to return to the seventh century when Islamic women were presumably totally veiled and never seen in public. Whereas the totalitarian states of the twentieth century humiliated, imprisoned, and tortured their internal enemies out of the public’s view, the Taliban conducted very public executions in a former soccer stadium. If both the Axis powers and even the Allies sometimes resorted to attacking civilians to achieve their goals during the Second World War, civilians were the primary victims of the alQaeda organization. If fascism and Communism were secular religions that sometimes borrowed the terminology