Last Sunday in Kabul, Taliban fighters having entered the Afghan capital took over the Presidential Palace. President Ashraf Ghani took off for parts unknown, presumably Tajikistan, which is about as unknown as you can get. The fighters were there because they had been told it was their duty to return the government to its rightful leadership, to the Taliban. The extremist Muslim Taliban had been ousted with the help of the United States twenty years before.
The Taliban fighters are self-consciously male. They lack, in the western sense, much formal education. For them when formal education does occur it involves a great deal of rote learning of the Koran. The modern questioning of accepted truths is hardly a major part of their training.
The fighters clearly seemed to be enjoying lounging around the former President’s office in their colorful costumes, being photographed and famous, even though they probably had little understanding of the government they had overthrown. They were clearly more equipped to invade than to run a modern government themselves.
They did feel that Ghani and his predecessors were illegitimate puppets of the Americans, that God in his wisdom has returned them to power. Because their fight to return was part of a religious crusade they can feel that the revenge they will seek against the usurpers will be justified.
Last January 6th another group of fighters entered the Capitol in Washington and took it over. Those invaders, also self-consciously male, were there to prevent Donald Trump’s “rightful victory” from being stolen. They hoped to stop the members of Congress from ceremonially certifying the ballot counts reported by the states. That was somehow supposed to allow Donald Trump to return victorious.
Like the Taliban fighters, the invaders of the Capitol, seemed to have little understanding of the functions performed in the building they had invaded. They walked around, picked up documents that they clearly did not understand, and put them down again. It did appear that after the heart throbbing excitement of their entry they simply had no idea of what to do.
There is a reason that the fighters in the President’s palace in Kabul and the invaders of the American Capitol seem so similar. They are the same people. Neither group had much education. Probably many of the Taliban fighters had almost none. Endlessly memorizing the Koran would hardly prepare anyone to run the poverty stricken graveyard of dreams that is Afghanistan.
The invaders of the Capitol certainly had more formal education than the Afghans but anyone looking closely would discover that what most of them had, beyond their time in their rural high schools, was training. Much of that training would have been designed to enable its students to function well in hierarchically arranged organizations. Many had learned to follow leaders, with the police, with the military. It certainly appeared that a very large percentage of those men wandering around both inside and outside the Capitol were desperately looking for some one to tell them what to do.
The Taliban (Taliban means “student”) grow up in an adolescent male dominated culture where many mature adults are simply larger, stronger fourteen year olds. There, adult men continue to function as fourteen year olds. With no employment beyond simple agriculture and trading there is little to do. For fourteen year old adults with weapons, gaining a future through fighting must have seemed the only viable alternative.
That alternative has the advantage of being blessed by religion. Islam, like other religions is formed by the needs and interests of its followers. The Taliban led by large strong boy/men, whose manhood is tied to weapons, need to fight. Their manhood also means that they need to show others that they can dominate women. It is hardly shocking that the Taliban version of Islam justifies it all.
And what of the men who attacked the Capitol? Their manhood too seems tied to weapons. The published examination of many of them subsequently showed that many had collected large numbers of weapons. And, in context, it was clear how important those weapons were to them.
It is easy for men who grew up in a simpler world where the weapons make the man to imagine themselves using those weapons to make things right. Donald Trump’s genius was his ability, to make them believe that they were part of a great crusade. Most of them probably genuinely believed that they would return home heroes.
The circumstances in the two countries were really different. In Afghanistan, the Taliban could, with fierce persistence, drive out a corrupt government propped up by foreigners. Here, the fighters were only a tiny part of a much larger population. The fact that they could actually invade the Capitol did not mean that the government was weak. It did mean that the government was so established that few thought defending it from domestic attack would ever be necessary. And, without Donald Trump’s charisma it would not have been.
The circumstances were different but the fighters were not! Both were made up of men who, in the modern world, still needed weapons to make them feel powerful. Both groups were made up of men who felt left out, who felt that people like them had been left behind. Both groups were empowered by the belief that they were part of a great crusade to make things right, to return their leadership to power. The Taliban could succeed in the short term. The American attackers could not, but they are the same people. Washington was invaded by our own American Taliban!
H.J. Rishel 8/21/2021