A reformed Islam could save Afghanistan
The despotic and misogynist narratives of Islam must be challenged by interpretations that embrace freedom and human rights.
In Afghanistan where young people have placed themselves on waiting lists to become suicide bombers, increasing the number of soldiers – whether US, NATO, or Afghan (in order to "Afghanize" the war) – will prolong the conflict rather than ending it.Skip to next paragraph
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The decades of violence and instability in Afghanistan suggest a deeper answer to a deeper problem. What the country needs is an interpretation of Islam that embraces freedom and human rights instead of violence and tribal oppression. Everything else is a Band-Aid.
The despotic and misogynist narratives of Islam that predominate now must be challenged by alternative interpretations of Islam. The argument that Afghanistan is "not ready" for democracy and only capable of authoritarian politics misses this point entirely, and condemns Afghanistan to a permanent state of war.
Afghanistan is a deeply religious society, but the dominant interpretations of Islam, as in most Islamic countries, is one that fosters submission to force. More specifically, under existing sharia law, which is completely detached from the message of the Koran, human beings are understood to be at the service of religion and not vice-versa. Because this belief is entrenched deeply in the popular psyche, the struggle for social and political dominance expresses itself through religious discourse.
Religion has become about power. The most abhorrent form of this violence, suicide bombing, is the direct result of the dominance of a religious interpretation that sanctifies violence. Unless this changes, religion in Afghanistan will continue to serve the fundamentalist powers and those who are nourished by the politics of fear.
What is required instead is a revival of the repressed traditions of Islamic thought and practice, such as the concept of "Tawhid." This is a worldview that regards the whole of existence as a single form. There is no separation between everything existing. The whole of existence is a single living and conscious organism, possessing will, intelligence, feeling, and purpose. This encompassing existence is damaged by conflict and by separation from others.
Through this lens, the exercise of submission to power is regarded as anti-Islamic rather than as intrinsic to the faith. The expansion of freedom and development is understood as the pathway to the divine. From this perspective, human beings are created with the talents, rights, and responsibilities of initiative and self-determination.
All forms of censorship within "self" and "society" have to be removed because they are obstacles on the path to realization. This means that no individual or group can legitimately dominate another, and that challenging all forms of domination in oneself and others is an ethical responsibility. This Islam is a religion of freedom.