The Taliban moving across my screen took me back over the years. I recognised the tribal features of men from the north, Asiatic, others from the border with Iran, Arabeque, and more. My eyes were drawn to the Pashtun. Men with superb bodies toned from a tough life in the mountains, upright, unbowed, poised in absolute confidence.
I had walked through their ordered settlements, peaceful places which had known little violence and change over the centuries - because few dare attack the awesome Pashtun. Pashtun villages seemed idyllic, they had tremendous charm, they were calm, safe; I slept alone under the stars without fear. Streets of shops, every one open, abandoned at prayer time, not a thief anywhere. Such timeless order was held together by powerful traditions reinforced generation upon generation. The rules were clear. The book was utterly sacred, though few but the Mullas could read it. The Mullas were demigods who controlled people’s lives through Sharia Law which dominated. The highly disciplined men made decisions; they knew their minds, there was nothing new to be grappled with, it was a a medieval existence. Women, you wonder why I’ve not mentioned them. It was a shock after India where women, though still under the strict control of religious rules made by men, walked the streets. In Afghanistan, I glimpsed shadows confined to their courtyards where they kept the home going and provided children.
On my screen, those guns which hadn’t bothered me because, fit, upright, relaxed in my skin, I was accept. Those guns casually slung about those awe-inspiring men’s shoulders, now there to control a society unused to the harsh, male oriented existence which the Taliban will now impose upon an Afghanistan used to the liberal ways of The West. You could argue it is our fault, this sea-change. We outsiders invaded, first the Russians, then the USA with the Brits. It was Russian violence which created the Taliban, bands of fighters under a rumpus of warlords who were eventually lead by the striking Pashtun.
Many ordinary Afghans might be relieved that, after forty years of constant war, it is over. A peace they might not want must now be suffered. I remember arriving in London after that walk-hitch across the enormity of Asia and Europe. Having myself lived a medieval existence for so long, I was shocked by the abject materialism, by the uncontrolled individualism, by the desire-lead orgy of pleasure in which almost anything went. I adjusted. I soon didn’t feel such an outsider.
The Taliban look at The West with such eyes. They see that we, who have no book, are corrupt. They are determined to undo the moral damage a selfish regime imposed and supported by us, has wreaked upon the orderly, arty, inspiring society I had once admired in Kabul, though I was glad to be walking from it.
With my strong, relaxed tanned body, long hair, pyjama trousers and split-shirt hanging just above my knees, I was accepted. They saw my moral certainty and mental clarity resonated with theirs and although our world views were opposed, I didn’t express them, so they didn’t contest me. I was welcomed. However, inside our heads we were quite different. They bore guns all the time, I was a pacifist. They went to mosque thrice a day, I had meditated for years. Like them, I was fanatical. They liked that. But whereas they were strong in a single, rigid belief, I took life as it unfolded in a Zen-like manner. They sensed this certitude and liked it.
They stoned people to death for transgressions. In complete control of their remote country, they will do so again. I abhorred this; I was to later put my own body in the way to save the intended victim of a stoning.
Today as Afghanistan changes gear yet again, I just wish the Taliban would accept that women are equal to men; that others’ life styles are as as valid as theirs; I wish they they would modernise their punishments, yes fear stops crime but education is better, although we in The West have still to crack this conundrum.
Living together, tolerating one another, we achieve so much more, even if we are very different - because we are so different. It isn’t just the Taliban’s ways which needs changing, it’s ours too. We never stop talking about equality, but look at the way our system is loaded towards the rich, see how we treat the poor. And remember what our system has done to The Planet, to a myriad of ecosystems and creatures. Before we can condemn others, we must change our own foul ways and think of the bigger picture, the longer term.