From Taliban clerics, mixed views on terror

As a Muslim cleric and head of his own religious school in this dusty Afghan refugee camp, Maulvi Abdul Qudus has mixed emotions about the terrorist attacks on the United States last Tuesday.

On one hand, he considers terrorism to be un-Islamic, since Islam condemns the killing of innocent civilians, even in times of war. On the other, he considers the United States to be an enemy of Islam and the perpetrator of crimes against Muslim civilians around the world.

"As Muslims, we condemn the heavy human casualties of the attack," says the maulvi (or expert in Islamic law), giving non-Muslims rare permission to enter his mosque for an interview. His students, many of them Taliban soldiers fresh from the front lines in Afghanistan, nod vigorously.

"But from an Islamic point of view, we are enjoying it a little bit, because America is responsible for the destruction of Muslim countries.

"We know that America is a superpower," he adds, "but we believe our cause is good. And if you study Islamic history, you'll find everywhere there was a war, we were small in

numbers and the enemy was bigger in numbers, and we still prevailed. If America wants to attack us, God will help us."

The radical variant of Islam promoted by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban is quite unlike the mainstream Islam practiced by most of the world's Muslims. But it has a powerful hold among the young men of this region, which has known nothing but conflict for more than 20 years. Why these warrior-students consider their cause worth dying for, and why they consider the US to be Islam's implacable enemy - is a function of many impulses.

Some historians say it is the natural reaction of a downtrodden people, frustrated by war, betrayal, and grinding poverty. Others call it a clash of civilizations: proud Islamic tradition on one side; Western democracy and economic dominance on the other. The anger behind militant Islam may be America's most difficult foe, with the sheer force of ideas extending far beyond the borders of Afghanistan to US shores.

"We need a reality check," says one Western diplomat in New Delhi with extensive experience in the Middle East (who requested anonymity). "This is an ideology that believes that 'once we were great and now we have lost everything.' Why? 'Because European culture took it from us.' These groups [including those who suupport the Taliban] are reviving Islam. The notion of purity goes much deeper than we imagine."

What is certain is that the Taliban and its followers consider the US to be their greatest obstacle in reviving and defending Islam. Part of this comes from a sense of historical betrayal, experts say.

After the mujahideen, or "Islamic warriors", forced the Soviet invading force to leave Afghanistan in 1989, many Afghans expected the US to pour in millions in aid to help rebuild the country. That aid was not forthcoming, in part because rival mujahideen commanders spent the next seven years pummeling each other - and pulverizing their country - in order to gain full control of Afghanistan themselves.

When the Taliban movement emerged in the spring of 1994 as a band of righteous Islamic reformers, many Western leaders considered the young Islamic students (Taliban means "students" in Arabic) to be a potentially positive force. But soon after the Taliban expelled the mujahideen from Kabul, the West saw the Taliban in far more negative terms.

In September1996, the Taliban tortured, and executed the former Soviet-backed President Mohammad Najibullah. Immediately after seizing power, the Taliban began to regulate every aspect of Afghan social life, from the length of men's beards to the right

of women to work, shop, study, or step outside the family home.

Currently, the main cause of tension with the West is the existence of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and the Taliban's unwillingness or inability to shut them down. Frederic Grare, an expert on Afghanistan and director of the Center for Human Sciences in New Delhi, argues that the rugged terrain and isolation makes it difficult to pin them down.

"The infrastrucure of terrorism has moved wherever the action is," says Dr. Grare. "Each time, they have regrouped around Osama bin Laden, who can support them financially. Frankly, these people don't need much: to be fed, given shelter. What else do they need?"

In the fight to remove the remaining mujahideen forces from northeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban often fight alongside some of the groups now targeted by US military planners.

But, while many of the Arab radicals and others based in Afghanistan have larger international goals, bringing jihad, or holy war, to Muslim-majority territories (such as Kashmir and Chechnya), Taliban goals are more nationalistic.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pakistan journalist and the last man that Osama bin Laden granted an interview to nearly three years ago, says he feels that both the US and the Taliban have overstated the importance of the dissident Saudi millionaire, for separate reasons.

The US pinpoints bin Laden as a "main suspect" because he has been a high profile figure who has openly declared war on the US, says Mr. Yusufzai, who adds that his own visits with bin Laden have left strong doubts that the dissident leader had the organizational or financial capacity to coordinate such a massive attack.

As for the Taliban and other Muslim radicals, he says, "There are people who have their own grievances with the US or with the West. They are people who need an inspiration, a leader. Somehow bin Laden has become a leader, a symbol of that challenge."

For their part, Muslim clerics in Afghanistan and Pakistan say there are broad clear lines that separate terrorism from legitimate holy war, or jihad.

"If a thief stops a bus and kills people and takes people's money, that is a form of terrorism. Any action to kill that thief is a kind of jihad," says Maulana Samiul Haq, head of the Jamia Darul Uloom Haqqania, a prominent Pakistani madrassah that has spawned most of the Taliban's top leadership in Afghanistan. "And if people want to make Muslims into servants, that is terrorism. Struggle against such people is jihad."

"This [terrorist act] is the reaction to America's wrong policies," he adds, noting that America supports Israel against the Muslim Palestinians, and gave tacit support to the Russian Army's actions in the mainly Muslim territory of Chechnya.

"But Muslims dislike America in conception only. It is not necessary that every Muslim who dislikes American should take a bomb and blast America."

At his madrassah in Jalozai camp, the Maulvi Qudus says that a monumental clash is mounting between Muslim and non-Muslim countries. "At the moment, all the non-Muslim countries support attacks on Afghanistan. The Christians are mostly against Afghanistan," he says. "So it's time that Muslim countries should also be unified."

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