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The fundamentalist era: The return of Taliban

Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi

Published: Updated:

Some nations and cultures have lived through a fundamentalist era in the course of their development to a more civilized level. This was also the case for the Western civilization, which is dominant in all aspects during the current stage of human history. However, the problem with that culture is that after it rid itself of its own fundamentalism and surpassed its fundamentalist ages, it adopted a fluctuant position towards fundamentalism in other cultures, including the Arab-Islamic one.

First of all, in order to eliminate any misunderstanding it is important to state that just as Jewish or Christian fundamentalisms are dissociated from Judaism and Christianity, Islam as well is not related in any way with the fundamentalism that takes its name. Rather, the latter is a political theory manifested via partisan groupings that exploit the name of religion and its holy aura to obtain some narrow-minded partisan gains. This is a plague that hardly any nation can rid itself of – except through exerting extensive awareness raising efforts to its hazards, and through the presence of elites and leaderships that are capable of confronting it while planing for the future.

The strong return of Taliban to the Afghan arena is not a normal development, but a very significant political and historical event, as after two decades of the intervention of a most powerful American empire with its armed forces and extensive alliances in Afghanistan, the Movement is back again to enforce itself as the ruler of the Afghan state, and it seems to be a matter of time until this is officially announced.

In the same vein, the return of Taliban telegraphs a very noteworthy signal in reply to those who keep claiming that movements such as the Muslim brotherhood or Sururism [a fundamentalist salafi trend] have ceased to exist. Furthermore, Taliban’s return asserts that the salvation from these fundamentalist Islamist groups, parties, ideologies, rhetoric, concepts, and lifestyles requires tremendous efforts, a comprehensive vision, long-term strategic plans, beside relentless persistence on relieving our nation from the yoke of backwardness, ignorance, extremist, and hatred.

In May 2011, I have written an article titled: “The Rise of Fundamentalist Ideologies, and the Fundamentalist Time,” in which I said: “The clearest constant factor now is the rise of fundamentalist ideologies and the emergence of an era of fundamentalism.” At the present we are witnessing the resurgence of Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, and other groups of political Islam in countries and communities that had supposedly shunned them and exposed their nature, even if this resurgence is taking place in new styles. These developments surely state the obvious, namely, that we are still living through the ‘fundamentalist era’ albeit with various degrees of intensity here and there. We are still the captives of that era.

A feature of the resurrection of that fundamentalist era in the Middle East among states, communities, individuals, and institutions is the Western liberal left’s tendency to build alliances with all the fundamental manifestations in the region, after the failure of this alliance during the so-called Arab Spring. This can be witnessed in the ongoing Vienna negotiations with the fundamentalist Iranian regime, and the lenient talks with the Houthi militias in Yemen – along with removing their classification as a terrorist organization, accompanied by mounting pressure on the Yemeni legitimate government and its allies to ease the confrontation of the fundamentalist terrorist Houthi militia. A further example is the flagrant leniency shown towards Iran’s fundamentalist militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. These are all clear indications of the revival of fundamentalism and its era.

Members of the Taliban delegation leave their seats at the end of the session during the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha on September 12, 2020.
Members of the Taliban delegation leave their seats at the end of the session during the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha on September 12, 2020.

Back in 2013, I wrote the introduction to the book “The Storm and the Turban” on Afghanistan and Taliban, where I stated: “This book raises a lot of questions as to the political and ideological future of the Taliban Movement, and whether it is capable of adapting itself to live up to the historical logic and the international power balance, or if it would repeat its own old failure after all it has been through? Moreover, if it regains power, will it be able to reverse the time and ignore the vast changes that happened to humanity in terms of development and other aspects?” Apparently, the questions I raised back then are getting several answers form the recent developments.

The US surprising and swift withdrawal from Afghanistan granted a golden chance to Taliban to resurge as a key player on the Afghan arena. Washington has been increasingly reckoning with the rising power of China, and recalling that Afghanistan was the scene of the fiercest battlefield during the Cold War – leading to the defeat and disintegration of the Soviet Union - it seems that the decisionmakers in DC do not mind repeating the same scenario, albeit with a various enemy, keeping Afghanistan as a spearhead ready to stab the back of China whenever necessary.

In a report aired by the British Sky News, Taliban gunmen were shown while taking control of large amounts of modern military vehicles and equipment left by the US Army upon its withdrawal. The scene recalls a similar one back in 2014, when ISIS took over the city of Mosul and seized vast reserves of modern US weapons that were there, enabling the terrorist organization to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria for years to come.

With the exception of some mildly-formed statements that are made to fit the media profile during this power transition stage in Kabul, everything else points to Taliban’s return to power with its very same old and barbaric rhetoric. Nothing seems to indicate any key alternation in the Movement’s ideology or brutal policy.

There is no doubt that the strategic depth of Afghanistan is Pakistan, and the latter does not seem to be in a hurry to express any obvious opinion on the recent developments, except after the internal Afghan scene has been largely rearranged and new international alliances are crystallized, which would enable Islamabad to move and react with some comfort. In the same vein, Taliban and some other allied forces in Afghanistan have well-known connections with the Iranian regime, and the future development of these connections are subject to many factors, but they all contribute to the revival of the ‘fundamentalist era’ and the drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

Turkey, a NATO member state, has vowed to Washington to fill the vacuum emerging from the latter’s withdrawal. However, Ankara is already being threatened by Taliban to pull back from Afghanistan with all its forces and arsenal, and apparently Turkey will not insist on staying there long once Taliban has become the effective ruler of the country.

On its part, Qatar is the country that has the strongest relations with Taliban and its predecessor Al-Qa’ida, all with the knowledge and consent of the US. Doha is even hosting peace talks between the Afghan Government and Taliban, and the Qatari state has some peculiar tendencies it will work on actualizing in the near future.

Some scenes emerging recently from Afghanistan bring back to memory the earliest emergence of the Taliban Movement and how it dealt with human beings, women, and political opponents. The situation indicates that the country will return to its former status as a safe haven for all terrorists and fundamentalists around the world. Already the Muslim Brotherhood - classified as a terrorist organization by some countries - is seriously considering relocating several of its affiliates and committees to Afghanistan.

At last but never least, it is prudent for Muslim countries to become fully alert and take all necessary steps to handle the return of ‘the fundamentalist era’ and the likelihood that it might become active, effective, and supported on the international scene, as human rights organizations and the leftist Western media might attack these countries when they confront the terrorists and fundamentalists.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.