Book Reviews

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia
By Ahmed Rashid
Hardcover - 288 pages (March 2000)
Yale Univ Pr; ISBN: 0300083408 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.19 x 8.82 x 5.68
Other Editions: Paperback
Editorial Reviews
Review by William  A.  Spriggs,  November 6, 2001
As keynote speaker for the annual Jefferson County (Colorado) Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner on September 30, 2001, The Honorable Congressman Barney Frank said in so many words, (I'm sorry, I don't have the exact words, but it's very close) that "the religious right-wing of the Republican Party has hijacked the mainstream Republican Party. The moderate Republicans can't count on any support from the religious right because of their refusal to deviate from their conservative base." Now of course Mr. Frank is a Democrat, and, in his own words, "proud to be a bleeding-heart liberal," so his remarks were quite consistent knowing his sexual orientation and the political company he keeps. But a few days later, I was struck by the similarity of his comments when I came across this passage in Ahmed Rashid's book, Taliban: "The Taliban were right, their interpretation of Islam was right and everything else was wrong and an expression of human weakness and a lack of piety." p. 107. I could not also fail to find a similar tone bantered about that I found in "Moses was a Far-Right Conservative" that I reviewed on September 3, 2001 in which the author, John Plough pontificated distaste for anyone who deviated from the belief in his Christian god, which, in his view, lead everyone away from "holiness" and was being swayed toward the dark side of "liberalism," evil, the devil, and thus, the destruction of the American way of life.

Stirred by the events of September 11, 2001, I continue my search for universals into the primal aggressive male mind that I, and many others, believe were the main contributors to those tragic events. It is my hypothesis that we will find a common thread of behavior that can be identified and isolated as primarily male in origin that originated in our Hebrew (and thus Christian and Muslamic) founding eras that were originally protectionist in design to assist in survival. But which today, when motivated by local or regional cultural events, and encouraged by large financial sums of resources by political bodies wishing to exert influences into regional disputes, these behaviors take on the persona of the elites that dominate local cultures and distribute those resources. And in this particular case, instead of championing for the common good for all people, once again we see the negative side of political and religious ethos creeping into the equation of human behaviors with justifications beginning with: "their side" and "our side." This is particularly true in the Taliban's treatment of women on which I will focus in the latter part of this review. Like the great debate of 2000 in which rape of females by males was academically debated as a natural selection process, I believe that future studies into politics and religions of the world from a evolutionary perspective will find the biocultural degradation of women finding a prominent place. Finding if this masculine behavior is innate (nature), cultural (nurture), or both (biocultural) while searching for the overall understanding of human nature will have to endure many years of study and debate; but if it is universal, then it must be tied to our ancient brains and the behaviors that evolved from those environments; and as we know, once we become aware of these behaviors, we humans have the ability to control them -- and even overcome them. There is hope in the darkness.

In this book, Taliban, we find the author Ahmed Rashid as an accomplished and mature reporter for the Far Eastern Economic Review who has covered the Central Asian area for over twenty years; this is a man who was born in this area and has talked, walked, sat, and ate with the men he writes about. We come away with a fascinating, highly detailed, yet non-academic view of the individuals that dominate that area and who (we suspect as of Nov., 2001), in one swift stroke, changed forever the American landscape -- politically and emotionally. We must rely on Mr. Rashid for recording accurately the events that occurred in Afghanistan over the past twenty years with small hope of verification; as normal outlets, such as an independent press and academic scholars have been non-existent in that area for that time span. We also know from his biographical history that Mr. Rashid has no biological or evolutionary studies in which to frame his political observations, so it is up to us to reach well-disciplined conclusions that will lay the groundwork for later studies in biopolitical and bioreligous origins. But overall, when one reads Taliban, one can not but be impressed with the meticulous reporting, and thus gain trust in the information placed before us.

I'm going to cut to the chase here: The Taliban are nothing more than armed tribal males who appear to be in a state of total obsessiveness in achieving their goal of total domination of all in their path. That is a pretty hard assessment, but over the past twenty years, the behavior seems to be fairly common in this geographic area of shifting loyalties behind the warlord with the most resources. If you have resources, such as a benefactor Osman bin Landen has shown that he does, then one merely acquires a following because its the only true industry left in Afghanistan other than opium growing and smuggling in stolen goods. Oil and gas is present, yet lies in waiting for foreign companies to enter the country and begin explorations; but that will not happen unless the region is void of strife and they can also be assured of the majority of the profits. In the book Taliban, it becomes abundantly clear that the Taliban, while establishing the fundamentalist Islamic rule of order in the name of piety, they have also not lost one moment of time extinguishing any semblance of western culture. In studying Taliban, one now must be aware of ethnic tribal names like: Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Baluchi, Punjabi, and Sindhi and the complex history of tribal territorial strife. From this complex chaos of various tribes it seems somewhat logical that territorial control by armed males has been the dominant behavior that has influenced the region since the days of Ghansis Kahn -- harse environment equate to harse behaviors to adapt.

In the 1980s, we also revisit the knowledge that America's CIA helped to arm, train, and assist the Taliban in attempting to defeat the invading Soviet army in the "big picture" conflict amongst superpowers. After the Soviet's withdrew, the Americans also withdrew their support -- both militarily and financially; dropping the Taliban like camel dung found on a breakfast buffet. As such, the Taliban merely regressed to what ethnic warlords have done in this part of the world for centuries -- they fought amongst themselves for territorial control. And once again, the boy with the most toys and with the most resources drew the most support: Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. The good news is that Mr. bin Laden can be easily overthrown; the bad news is that if nothing changes the local environment, he will merely be replaced by another aggressive male with a cause to fight and die for.

So, in order to give my overall search for the aggressive male mind a base validity of thought, I think that it is important to establish the stated objective of the Taliban as recorded in Mr. Rashid's book: "... the Taliban's declared aims -- restore peace, disarm the population, enforce sharia law (a strict interpretation of Islamic law) and defend the integrity and Islamic character of Afghanistan. As most of them were part-time or full-time students at madrassas (Islamic religious schools), the name they chose for themselves was natural. A "talib" is an Islamic student, one who seeks knowledge compared to the mullah who is one who gives knowledge. By choosing such a name the Taliban (plural of Talib) distanced themselves from the party politics of the Mujaheddi and signalled (underlined emphasis mine) that they were a movement of cleansing society rather than a party trying to grab power. p.22

I believe that we have come across the first of several universal behavioral mechanisms of the aggressive male mind which I argue is founded in territoriality: 1). the establishment of control in one's local environment (restoring order) by whatever means possible and to justify that goal ("signalled") to others being dominated; be it through stolen elections, dictatorships, or outright violence. 2). Disarm the population in order to prevent violent overthrow of the just established control of order. That's the modern method -- the deep history method of our ancestors most likely would have been more crude: to physically abuse into submission, (or kill) all your opponents. Since we are a group-living species, and being outnumbered in a group is difficult to maintain Able "Apeship" by oneself, then it is reasonable to expect that you can't do it alone. What you do then is share resources with Beta males and form alliances to accomplish your goals. 3). The enforcing of "display rules" -- values -- that the group being dominated is "allowed" to display that best represent the "true" objective of the dominate group. (In other words, in studying groups and their behavior, trust only movement -- for what they do -- and not what they say -- reflects the true beliefs of individuals or of the group doing the "saying.")

Now this leads us to another possible group universal: deceit of the dominated group in the "signal" to others of their stated goal. Once establishing control, switching the goal without "signalling"; the most likely reason is that it never was the intended goal in the first place.

"But the Taliban had also implemented an extreme interpretation of the Sharia or Islamic law that appalled many Afghans and the Muslim world. ...That Taliban's brand of Islamic fundamentalism was so extreme that it appeared to denigrate Islam's message of peace and tolerance and its capacity to live with other religious and ethnic groups." p. 2.

Here's another quote to help establish the existence of the "deceit" mechanism of the dominate group behavior once control is established:

Many Afgahans were also impressed by the fact that initially the Taliban did not demand power for themselves. Instead they insisted they were restoring law and order, only to hand over power to a government which was made up of 'good Muslims'. However, between 1994 and the capture of Kabul in 1996, the Taliban's decision-making process was to change and become highly centralized, secretive, dictatorial and inaccessible. p. 95.

If the "stated" goal of the Taliban was to restore "Islamic character" then why was the Taliban interpretation of the Shaira (Islam rules to live by) so appalling to the rest of the Muslim world? So now we have to beg the question: Is there something innate or biological occurring in the group doing the dominating? Could it be possibly be "Schadenfreude?" (German word for taking pleasure in someone’s discomfort). Does it appeal to the aggressive male mind to take pleasure in dominating -- "in winning a conflict?"; is it as simple as "being on top?" Does it draw us back to the days of Antoinio Machavelli, where restoring order from chaos by force and domination ensured the establishment of one's political goals? I argue that the biology involved is in the actual physical enforcing of the groups "goals," (like with the use of "religious police"); testosterone levels are increased in males leading to a biological "anticipation" in the brain of being "rewarded" in resources for the hard efforts -- these "rewards" may include food, sex, and "admiration" of the group for "helping" the group survival -- although the last may be more cultural in origin than biological.

When the Taliban gained control they enforced strict behavior and "display" rules that the dominated populace had to follow or suffer severe consequences: they forbade a whole array of sports and recreational activities including the flying of kites and listening of music; they also ordered all males to grow long beards that had to be at least two fists in length in accordance with Islamic law. Thieves, adulters, and men who performed homosexual acts were sometimes buried by falling walls, stoned to death, or hanged in large sport arenas in order to "send messages" or "signals" to those being dominated that if they refused to obey the strict religious laws, that that decision could be fatal.

Now, I want to focus on another possible universal of the aggressive male mind, and that is the degradation and total dominance of women. History gives us many examples of female degradation and domination; the most infamous are the Salem Witch Hunts. In fact, there are so many examples that we must truly beg the question: is this a universal, and thus, biological behavior?

I believe that the degradation and domination breaks down into two themes: 1). That women need to be "protected," from "undesirable" males, and 2). that women are a threat to the unity of aggressive male fighting units because they pose a "distraction" to the men in the bonded groups that are united for achieving their objectives. Another universal theme found in social histories, and in particular, in religions fundamentalism, is that power of the women's sexuality returns us to the "animal" within us and thus, away from the "humanness" that God created, but since other religions don't all exclude sexuality, that theme must remain suspect as a universal. Another perfectly normal bodily function that works against women is her menstrual bleeding, which in some uneducated circles, is considered "disgusting," and thus, carries with it a possibility of "contamination" and "disease"; hence, a degrading shunning mechanism may be present.

But I argue that there is a more potent universal force at work here, in particular, that women are more of a potential "disruptive" force than most of societies -- in particularly, exclusively male dominated societies -- want to admit. We can argue that women are honored and feared at the same time for the power of their sexuality, and hence their importance in genetic transference; and that the social treatment of women through dominance and control is an 'unannounced' or 'understood' method amongst bonded males designed to create self-doubt and poor self-esteem in women to reduce the awareness of their importance. In other words, while sitting around the campfires at night, instructions, rules, and anecdotes were passed to younger generations by elders passing the knowledge that women are desired sexually so much by other men, that if the women understood and harnessed this power, it would topple their hierarchies, and hence, extreme measures must be taken. Once again, as I mentioned in my book, Man in the Mist, the possibility of female choice as a force in human natural selection rears its ugly head to threaten male dominance. First, let's look at some examples where "saving" and "protecting" the women are present in Taliban thought:

" the religious police went on a rampage forcing all women off the streets of Kabul and insisting that householders blackened their windows, so women would not be visible from the outside. Women were now forced to spend all their time indoors, where not even sunlight could penetrate. p. 70.

"Women you should not step outside our residence. If you go outside the house you should not be like women who used to go with fashionable clothes wearing much cosmetics and appearing in front of every men before the coming of Islam....If women are going outside with fashionable, ornamental, tight and charming clothes to show themselves, they will be cursed by the Islamic Sharia and should never expect to go to heaven. p. 217.

"Women must be completely segregated from men. And within us we have those men who cannot behave properly with women. p. 106.

"Islam as a rescuing religion has determined specific dignity for women, Islam has valuable instructions for women. Women should not create such opportunity to attract the attention of useless people who will not look at them with a good eye." p. 217.

Now let's combine this theme of "protecting" the female with separating the female from the males. Many believe that this has evolved from gender roles, but consensus thinking today leans toward cultural display rules; much study needs to be done to determine this path.

"that women should be neither seen nor heard because they drove men away from the proscribed Islamic path and into wild temptation." P. 2.

"The mullahs who had taught them (young Taliban warriors) stressed that women were a temptation, an unnecessary distraction from being of service to Allah. p. 106

...The subjugation of women became the mission of the true believer and a fundamental marker that differentiated the Taliban from the former Mujaheddin." p. 33.

This "separation" of females from males seems to be a universal theme amongst many western military analysts who also tell us that women in fighting units would be "disruptive" to the unity of the fighting unit, and thus, threaten that unity. We find the same theme in Taliban: "They also claimed their recruits would be weakened and subverted by the possibility of sexual opportunities and thus not fight with the same zeal. So the oppression of women became a benchmark for the Taliban's Islamic radicalism, their aim to 'cleanse society and to keep the same zeal." p. 111.

It is also used as an excuse to exclude women from religious inner circles because they would be "disruptive" to males in their devotion to their god. Do you see the common theme? I believe that modern Able "apes" use this behavior argument to other males as a glue for keeping alliances together and the potential "disruption" of the female away. Here are several quotes from the Taliban book to shore up this argument:

"The Taliban's uncompromising attitude was also shaped by their own internal political dynamic and the nature of their recruiting base. Their recruits -- the orphans, the rootless, the lumpen proletariat from the war and the refugee camps -- had been bought up in a totally male society. In the madrassa milieu, control over women and their virtual exclusion was a powerful symbol of manhood and a reaffirmation of the students' commitment to jihad. Denying a role for women gave the Taliban a kind of false legitimacy amongst these elements. 'This conflict against women is rooted in the political beliefs and ideologies, not in Islam or the cultural norms. The Taliban are a new generation of Muslim males who are products of a war culture, who have spent much of their adult lives in complete segregation from their own communities. In Afghan society, women have traditionally been used as instruments to regulate social behaviour, and as such are powerful symbols in Afghan culture,' said Simi Wali, the head of an Afghan NGO." p. 111.

So, it's my belief that what we see here is another "bait & switch" mechanism within bonded males: tell people that what you do for women is for their "protection" and the ultimate road to "purity," and thus, "salvation" and everlasting life with their God, while at the same time displaying to other males the advantages that subjugation of the females has in store for them. Another possible universal could be the age of the participant males in which cultural behaviors are set in stone before they set out on the path of life; all humans must learn these behaviors before taking their first step; I argue that perhaps this mentality of male aggressiveness falls within a recognized universal age range -- approximately 16 to 27. (Look at American car insurance rates -- they are not high for young males because they are cautious and their reflexes are slow, its because they are full of testosterone in preparation of the battle of life before them and tend to take more risks than elders).

(In describing the young male warriors that made up the Taliban in 1994),"...The majority were incredibly young -- between 14 and 24 years old --...These boys were from a generation who had never seen their country at peace -- an Afghanistan not at war with invaders and itself. They had no memories of their tribes, their elders, their neighbors nor the complex ethnic mix of people that often made up their villages and their homeland. ...They admired war because it was the only occupation they could possibly adapt to. Their simple belief in a messianic, puritan Islam which had been drummed into them by simple village mullahs was the only prop they could hold on to and which gave their lives some meaning. P. 32.

"Moreover, they had willingly gathered under the all-male brotherhood that the Taliban leaders were set on creating, because they knew of nothing else. Many in fact were orphans who had grown up without women -- mothers, sisters or cousins. Others were madrassa students or had lived in the strict confines of segregated refugee camp life, where the normal comings and goings of female relatives were curtailed. Even by the norms of conservative Pashtun tribal society, where villages or nomadic camps were close-knit communities and men still mixed with women to whom they were related, these boys had lived rough, tough lives. They had simply never known the company of women. The mullahs who had taught them (young Taliban warriors) stressed that women were a temptation, an unnecessary distraction from being of service to Allah....The subjugation of women became the mission of the true believer and a fundamental marker that differentiated the Taliban from the former Mujaheddin." p. 32 & 33.

In one hidden quote in Taliban, I came across a significant passage that might very well sum up the origin of male domination over women -- the equating of women with weakness and "infidel" thinking: "This is a big infidel policy which gives such obscene freedom to women which would lead to adultery and herald the destruction of Islam. In any Islamic country were adultery becomes common, that country is destroyed and enters the domination of the infidels because their men become like women and women cannot defend themselves." p. 111. Hence, I believe that we see the familiar theme found in "homophobia" based on hatred by males against other males because of a perceived "weakness" mentality that seems to permeate aggressive bonded males; hence the strong possibility of strength and "fighting" zeal as important issues for the primal male mind.

In the previous book review of The New Right Papers, I made the following observation about the political motives of the men who presented the essays in the 1980s: "They are OLD ideas for the times that have past and these aggressive and selfish behaviors were suited for THEN. We no longer are small isolated groups of hunter gatherers rallying around brave male warriors who lead us out of the dark wilderness...The more severe the conditions, the closer to 'nature' are the beliefs; the less severe the conditions, the human spirit rises up and shows itself closer to the compassionate God it wishes to emulate no matter what name or form humankind has given to this deity." And so, my only conclusion that I can reach in regards to the Taliban is that they are aggressive armed males rising a banner of fundamental religion has their justification. They are free to roam their declared territory; dominate, and control whomever they please and vicariously repress any and all who disagree in their goal. No one was present in our deep history to record the events of our early social groupings but its my belief and others that in an environment that is harse, so too are the survival mechanisms that permeate individual human behaviors. Judging whether those behaviors are moral and just is in the hands of time.

As with the reviews for The New Right Papers and Moses was a Far Right Wing Conservative, this book is not recommended for general evolutionary study but for those who search for the origins of the primal aggressive male mind and the beliefs that stir their souls to good or evil.

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