Image: tunasalmon/shutterstock.com - Photo: 2023

Exposing the Emerging Orientalist Narrative of Peace and Security for Afghanistan — Part II

By Bashir Mobasher and Zakira Rasooli*

Toda Peace Institute issued this article, which is being republished with their permission.

INDIANA, USA | DOHAN, Qatar | 12 December 2023 (IDN) — Edward Said defines Orientalism as a series of representations of the ‘East,’ in the form of ‘knowledge’ (and beyond), which does not reflect the intrinsic truth of the Eastern “other” but the Orientalists’ construction of it. Depicting Afghan society as “primitive,” “savage,” “undeveloped,” and “uncivilized” “other,” the orientalists’ notion of peace in Afghanistan is a Hobbesian one.

Thomas Hobbes, who chose absolutist monarchy over violent anarchy during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651), espoused the narrowest notion of peace and security, where individuals were prevented from perpetuating violence against each other. A monarch, on the other hand, had the absolute authority to use violence against citizens and impose sanctions of any kind against the citizen’s rights.

He concluded that England could not do any better than an absolutist monarch and called it realism. British citizens must be grateful now that their ancestors did not fall for Hobbes’s “realism.” But Hobbes’ “realism ” is still going strong, although with regard to the “developing countries” (countries recovering from colonialism) thanks to Orientalism.

For example, Cheryl Bernard justified her narrative of the Taliban’s crude peace by arguing that Afghans were used to isolation, harsh environments, and scarcity. She titled her piece, The Impossible Truth About Afghanistan, another phrase for the “realism” of Hobbes. Tobias Ellwood insisted that Afghans were “accepting a more authoritarian leadership in exchange for stability,” ignoring all the polls proving the contrary.

Reporting on the war and displaced populations in Ukraine, the Western media expressed shock over the unfolding events in the civilized, European, Christian, and white Ukraine that could only be expected in the “conflicting-raging,” “uncivil,” and “poor” Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the broader “third world”. It is only with this mindset that one can conclude that Afghans only deserve the kind of “peace” that the Taliban are offering.

Such mindsets imply that Afghans should surrender to the rule of an insurgent group that has terrorised them for over two decades and overlook the ongoing direct, structural, and cultural violence inflicted by the Taliban on them. Additionally, this narrative epitomises the self-centrism and cognitive biases of Orientalism and how it distorts the socio-political realities of an Orient “Other.”

Some so-called “observers” and tourists, including Ellwood, pronounced Afghanistan safe under the Taliban simply because they felt a sense of security during their visits to Afghanistan. Their perception of safety can be linked to the immature excitement or shock they might have felt when a known enemy, in this case, the Taliban, has suddenly changed into enthusiastic hosts, showering them with attention and attempting to impress them.

It must feel radically different when the same group who terrorised, killed, kidnapped, and raped foreign ex-pats and tourists in the 20 years of the Republic now provides them with safe passes and even escorts. The Taliban’s selective presentation of a welcoming image primarily to the West is a manipulation aimed at marketing their extremist and repressive regime to the world as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. They seek international recognition, not domestic legitimacy.

What these visitors fail to recognise is the stark disparity between their experiences and the experiences of the local population. These visitors don’t have to grapple with the daily consequences of non-compliance with the Taliban’s repressive rules, dress codes, grooming expectations, and daily harassment.

Women and displaced communities

Many have not even wondered if the women of Afghanistan, Hazaras, Panjshiris, journalists, and many forcibly displaced communities felt as safe and fear-free as themselves. Neither did they bother to take into account the reports produced by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other reputable human rights organisations.

Western-centrism is at the heart of how Orientalism defines and measures peace and security in an Orient region. Many European observers equate peace in Afghanistan with the absence of mass migration to Europe. As long as Afghans remain within their borders, the country is deemed sufficiently stable.

These “observers” favor the Taliban regime’s stabilisation efforts to curb the influx of Afghans into Europe. European nations have readily provided platforms for the Taliban in international forums like Oslo and the Netherlands, tacitly accepting them as Afghanistan’s official representatives. However, they are unwilling to extend this courtesy by allowing Taliban delegations to disseminate their extremist views among their own citizens.

German and the Biden Administration Attitudes

Recently, German authorities denounced the presence of a Taliban official at a Cologne mosque, declaring that “no one is permitted to provide a platform for radical Islamists in Germany.” This condemnation stands in stark contrast to the Taliban official’s unchallenged presence at the World Health Organization in the Netherlands. This double standard underscores a clear message: the Taliban’s extremism is only tolerated and normalised for Afghans, not for Europeans.

The Biden administration in the United States has undergone a striking reversal, embarking on a systematic effort to rehabilitate the Taliban’s image as a “counterterrorist partner” both domestically and internationally. This includes lavishing praise on the Taliban for their purported efforts against the ISSK and severing ties with Al-Qaeda, portraying these results as “also positive for Afghans,” while for most Afghans, they are all the same.

This shift underscores how, in the US context, terrorism is narrowly defined strictly as any act of violence directed against Americans, American interests, or “American allies.” Terrorists and counterterrorist actors are identified and categorised through this uniquely American-centric lens. The underlying rationale is that if collaborating with a regional violent, extremist organisation like the Taliban can weaken the capabilities of an anti-American international terrorist network like the ISSK, then it is a worthwhile endeavour.

Some have hailed this approach as “wise,” while others have gone so far as to label the Taliban “useful allies” and “Afghan partners” offering “help” in “counterterrorism” efforts. It is incredible how the narrative around the Taliban changed from a violent terrorist network targeting American soldiers and civilians and hosting Al-Qaeda to a “counterterrorist” “partner” following the Doha deal.

To conclude, International Orientalism is based on the conscious and unconscious perpetuation of at least two intertwined and self-centered presuppositions. First, what is in the best interest of the West must also be in the interest of the rest of the world. After all, the West is the only part of the world that knows what is best for them and the rest.

Therefore, if a partnership with a terrorist network, the Taliban, supposedly enhances the security of the United States, it must, by extension, advance stability in Afghanistan — or at least it must be depicted as such. Secondly, the West and the “East” are not on par; therefore, what counts as security, peace, and stability differs between the West and the rest.

In the “civilized,” moral, rational, democratic, and superior West, peace and security mean something more than the absence of physical violence. There is no peace unless the West is guaranteed liberty, fundamental rights, and freedom from intimidation and financial and emotional harm. The West deserves a “positive peace”.

However, in the inferior, “less civilized,” and mostly undemocratic “Rest,” the same standards of peace, security, and stability do not apply since their living standards can only afford them the absence of physical violence against each other. Orientalists do not even preclude violence of an extremist regime against people from their notion of stability in the Orient “Other”—not, at least, when they are “partners.” In this sense, human decency, integrity, freedom, and protection of fundamental human rights are only aspirational norms, not measures of peace and security in the East. The inferior Orient qualifies for a flawed, negative peace only.

Related articles:

Exposing the Emerging Orientalist Narrative of Peace and Security for Afghanistan Part II (3-minute read)

The Digital Battlefield: The Taliban’s Case of Co-opting Social Media for Warfare and Governance (20-minute read)

The unholy alliance of Orientalism, ethnocentrism, misogynism, and terrorism, Part I: Understanding Taliban apologism Part I (3-minute read)

The unholy alliance of Orientalism, ethnocentrism, misogynism, and terrorism, Part I: Understanding Taliban apologism Part II  (3-minute read)

Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the tragedy of Afghanistan (3-minute read)

*Bashir Mobasher is a postdoctoral fellow at the American University (DC), an adjunct at the American University of Afghanistan, and an affiliate with EBS Universität. Dr. Mobasher is the interim President of Afghanistan Law and Political Science Association (in Exile) and leads its online education programs for female students of Afghanistan. He is an expert in constitutional design and identity politics in divided societies. Dr. Mobasher obtained his B.A. (2007) from the School of Law and Political Science at Kabul University, and his LLM (2010) and PhD (2017) from the University of Washington School of Law. Zakira Rasooli is a peace and human rights activist pursuing her master’s degree in global affairs at the Keough School, Notre Dame, specifically concentrating on international peace studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, with a minor in law, from the American University of Afghanistan. In 2019, she co-founded Afghanistan Unites, a grassroots, nonviolent conflict transformation youth movement that promotes nonviolence and peace. Zakira has seven years of experience working for peace, security, human rights, and development in Afghanistan. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: tunasalmon/shutterstock.com

Original link: https://toda.org/global-outlook/2023/exposing-the-emerging-orientalist-narrative-of-peace-and-security-for-afghanistan-part-ii.html

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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