March 01, 2004

Underpants Taliban strategy

Saturday's Washington Post had an interesting account of a book written by one Waheed Mojda, a foreign affairs officer of the Taliban, about that regime's rise and misrule. The article describes the work as offering hilarious and painful accounts of a government that left few written records and made little effort to explain its actions to the world at large. There's a good deal of pathetic detail in the article that seems to describe not so much the regime as the kind of society it tried to impose...

In another passage of Mojda's account, a Kabul man desperately tries to secure a religious order from the Supreme Court to have his teeth pulled because he had his cavities filled by a dentist but was told by a Taliban cleric that having filled teeth "would make my prayers and ablutions invalid."

There are details about the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas, which suggest the totalitarian nature of the regime,

He described the crisis that erupted when Omar ordered the demolition of two majestic Buddhas carved into the cliffs of central Afghanistan.

According to Mojda, many officials were unhappy about the order. Some tried to warn foreign conservationists, while others ducked responsibility.

Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil was "depressed" over the demolition but had to defend it to the foreign media.

"A great tragedy occurred," Mojda wrote. Military explosives were transferred to Bamian, where the Buddhas had been carved 13 centuries before, and the statues were rendered faceless. Not even senior Taliban officials had dared defy [Mullah] Omar, whose spirit, Mojda wrote, "always hung over meetings like a shadow."

That's a nice phrase -- hung over meetings like a shadow -- one can imagine nervous apparatchiks in the Soviet ministry of incompetent bureaucracy nervously twiddling their thumbs as they try to decide by how many tons of iron ore or pairs of shoes they have to exaggerate to avoid Stalin's displeasure. It might be worth taking Mojda's description of the displeasure of his fellow Talibani at the Bamian desecration with a grain of salt, although he is happy to point out that not everyone regarded the event with disdain:

While much of the outside world recoiled, Mojda noted, the symbolic smashing of the Buddhas attracted secret donations from foreign Muslim sympathizers and a fresh flow of Arab fighters eager to join the struggle against the oppressive West.

I also found it interesting that, like al Qaeda (as Exit Zero pointed out), the Taliban were employing the Jihadi equivalent of the Underpants Gnome Strategy:

"The Taliban leadership had no plan but war," wrote Mojda, and yet its battle plans often went awry. Even seasoned commanders had to wait to make field decisions until they obtained permission from Omar, who was usually incommunicado in his southern headquarters. Planning was so haphazard that large numbers of troops were sent into battles in which massive casualties were inevitable.

Actually, the underpants gnomes seem relatively sane compared to this...

Posted by Ideofact at March 1, 2004 11:30 PM

It took some digging for me to figure out what the Gnome Underpants Strategy is, but it was well worth it. :)

Posted by: Mahsheed at March 2, 2004 02:39 PM

Painful and pathetic definitely describe Afghanistan under the Taliban.

From what I’ve read of Qtub, his strategy was

A. attack people that aren’t 'Islamic enough'
B. ???
C. victory!

There’s been some debate about whether al Qaeda was directly influenced by Qtub, but there’s no doubt that he was one of the earliest adaptors of the underpants gnome strategy.

Posted by: mary at March 2, 2004 11:48 PM


Ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

What is with your refusal to spell Qutb correctly?

Sayyid Qutb was part of an organization that had a defined methodology for bringing about the type of society they wanted. You or I may disagree with it, but it certainly was NOT to simply 'attack people who aren't Islamic enough.'

Any intelligent observer of Qutb's thought, regardless of whether one thinks Qutb's vision of society is evil or beautiful or just hopelessly naive and misguided or overly influenced by his own environment would tell you that.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at March 3, 2004 03:13 PM

Abu Noor - If you do a web search, you’ll see that his name is spelled Sayyid Qutb, Sayyid Qutub, sayed qutb, Sayyid Qtub, etc. Words in Arabic are spelled phonetically (Usama, Osama). Each individual writer is given the choice and the freedom to choose between many variations. I know you find things like variation and individual choice repugnant and upsetting, so I’ll spell it your way. Since you believe you know the one true, ultimate, pure path, you must know the one, true, pure ultimate spelling.

Did I make any mistakes in outlining Qutb’s plan for victory? How, exactly do Qutb’s followers plan to ‘bring about the society’ they want? Can you give us a quick outline?

Posted by: mary at March 3, 2004 09:46 PM

Another example would be Libya's leader: Khaddafi, Kadafi, Gadafi, Gaddafi, etc.


Posted by: Troy at March 5, 2004 07:11 PM

Thanks Mary,

I actually read Arabic (do you?) so I am well aware of the process of transliterating Arabic names.

Still, there is a way that makes sense and a way that doesn't. Qutb is almost universally spelled that way and that is the way that actually corresponds to the Arabic spelling. It was your insistence on spelling it Qtub in continual dialogues with others spelling it Qutb that led me to wonder if there was some kind of message behind your spelling. If there is not, I apologize if the way I framed my question/comment insulted you. That was not my intent.


Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at March 5, 2004 10:59 PM

Abu Noor – I make a lot of spelling mistakes and I don’t mind if they’re (politely) pointed out. I once misspelled the name of a blogger who called herself Sisyphus. She was convinced that my misspelling (Sissyphus) was a deliberate attempt to call her a sissy. (it wasn’t, really)

I know enough Arabic to say hello and order dinner at a restaurant. Did my spelling of Qutb (Qtub) imply some sort of metaphor, simile or double-entendre in Arabic?

You said “Sayyid Qutb was part of an organization that had a defined methodology for bringing about the type of society they wanted.” What is that ‘defined methodology?’

Posted by: mary at March 7, 2004 01:14 PM