Visual Media, Global News Channels and Shaping Public Opinion
‘Daisy Cutters and Poppy Wearers.’ Some people may be wondering what this means.
The Daisy Cutter is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the American armoury.
Even larger bombs are currently being developed. The Daisy Cutter has an explosion similar to a small nuclear or atomic bomb. They say that when one was dropped in Iraq, the explosion lit up the entire front. Many Iraqi soldiers defected after seeing that bomb.
Several of these were dropped in Afghanistan, especially in the battles of Tora Bora.
Tony Blair is an example of a poppy-wearer. The poppy represents international peace. I got the idea for the title of this article from a cartoon I saw in one of the national newspapers. It was at the time when daisy-cutters were being dropped in Afghanistan and it was international peace day. The cartoon depicted a picture of Tony Blair wearing a poppy and an explosion behind him. The caption simply read: ‘Daisy-cutter…Poppy-wearer’.
We are entering an age where the visual media is gaining increasing influence on human societies, especially the 24-hour news channels, which have now become the most popular of all channels. A lot has been written about the shaping of public opinion.1
I would like to mention some of the things that characterize the visual news media.
First, thought and emotion control. By relying upon the global news channels for information, the public tacitly allow themselves to be influenced in their thoughts and opinions about global events, on the spurious assumption that such information is unbiased and ‘independent’. A more ominous recent development, possibly, was illustrated by the case of Princess Diana’s death. The virtually unending media coverage generated the huge public outpouring of grief, so uncharacteristic of the British people. Individuals who would not normally have paid the story much of a second thought were influenced by the unceasing media coverage, repeatedly telling them how devastated they (the British public) were, that they found themselves believing it and even feeling it.
News channels have short memories. This was partly my reason for writing this article. The material we are currently seeing on the news channels about Afghanistan, the Taliban and the war — it is as if everything that led up to that point has been forgotten. The comments being made about the Taliban seem as if they come from a vacuum, as if everything that has led up to this point has been erased from the public mind.
When most people think about the Taliban and opium, they have the impression that the Taliban are heavily involved in the opium trade. That is in fact the message that is coming through from the media at the current time, sometimes through hints, and sometimes more explicitly. Whereas, in reality, as we shall see, the Taliban were responsible for stopping the opium production in Afghanistan and reducing it to zero.
The Pentagon now spends more than $550m on what it calls ‘public affairs’, not including personnel costs. So huge amounts of money are being put by the American military into what is referred to as ‘perception management.’ It involves manipulating and using the media to convey a certain message. I will present a couple of examples of this.
It is clear that the media is not a neutral institution. For example, Tony Blair met Rupert Murdoch three times in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. Rupert Murdoch owns large sections of the western news media, including Fox News, Sky, the Times newspaper, the Sun, News of the World, at least one of the large American newspapers and much of the Australian news media.
Although ‘Muslim’ channels such as the Emirates’ Al-Jazeera, Pakistan’s Geo News, and others, may superficially give the impression of being pro-Muslim, this is certainly not the case. In fact, there is little difference between such channels and mainstream UK or US news channels. These Arab or Pakistani news channels represent the secular, westernised tier of those societies. Despite the differing national allegiances, they ultimately share common values with their ex-colonial masters, i.e., democracy, secularism and often a belief in a capitalist economy. However, it should be remembered that this West-imitating class is a minority in Muslim countries.2
An example of how the news media has been responsible for manipulating public opinion occurred prior to the war against Iraq, when Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Prior to the American and British led attack, there was a widely reported story of Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies. At a congressional human rights caucus, a young woman called Nayirah relayed a shocking story of what she had allegedly witnessed. The press latched on to the story, and the initial account of fifteen babies was soon exaggerated in sectors of the press up to 312. Several members of congress said that this story had influenced their vote to approve the military action against Iraq. President Bush frequently mentioned it in the lead up to the war. In the Senate, six senators specifically cited the story in their speeches supporting the resolution to give Bush authorization to use American forces in Kuwait.3
Shortly after the war ended, it became clear that this story was fabricated. ABC News and Amnesty International amongst others reported that there was no evidence that this had occurred. Finally, the New York Times made the shocking revelation that Nayirah was in fact the 15-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in America.
Similarly, before Iraq was invaded following the September 11th attacks, most Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was somehow behind 9/11 or that he was directly linked to Al Qaeda, despite the fact that no such link existed. In fact, Salafi jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda (supposing we assume that such an organisation substantially exists outside of its media construct) are ideologically vehemently opposed to secular leaders like Hussein, considering them to be apostates, worse than ‘disbelievers.’4
Some polls found that 7 in 10 Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in September 11th attacks. This public attitude was engineered by the state department. President Bush, Dick Cheney and co were hinting at links between the two in public speeches. The journal Perspectives on Politics published a study in which they looked at this issue. The authors mention: “Our analysis of Bush’s speeches reveals that the administration consistently connected Iraq with 9/11…” They go on to mention how the media colluded with the Bush et al.: “New York Times coverage of the president’s speeches featured almost no debate over the framing of the Iraq conflict as part of the war on terror. This assertion had tremendous influence on public attitudes, as indicated by polling data from several sources.”5
This eventually led to Iraq being invaded.
History of the Global Opium Industry
Now, going into the main subject of the article, I am going present you with two historical narratives and they interlink. One of them is the history of the global opium/heroin trade. The other is the story of the Taliban. Part of the intention of this presentation is just to remind people of historical facts. I will not indulge in conspiracy theory or anything of that sort; I simply wish to mention historical realities and allow people to judge the facts for themselves. The information about the Taliban is drawn from sources that are in not in any way pro-Taliban. The two main books to which I refer are The Taliban by Ahmad Rashid, which many western leaders were reading (it was said to be Tony Blair’s bedside reading leading up to the war), and Reaping the Whirlwind by a journalist called Michael Griffin. Neither author is a fan of the Taliban
I present the reader with historical facts which are often obscured or omitted from our dominant sources of news. People have a right to know the truth, and the British people have a right to know why their sons and daughters are fighting and being killed in a faraway land called Afghanistan. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The best jihad is the word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler.”
The narcotics industry is amongst the largest international businesses in the world. The U.N estimates approximately $400 billion a year is involved.6 Kofi Anan, the ex-secretary general of the United Nations, claimed that the illegal narcotics industry is greater than the global oil and gas industry and twice as large as the overall automobile industry.
This gives us an idea of the scale we are dealing with. We know that the oil and gas or global energy industry is one of the largest industries in the world. Oil is so central to the global economy that it is referred to as an ‘oil-based economy’.
It is clear that this is a huge, highly organised and integrated international industry. There must be very powerful players where such vast amounts of money are involved. This is not about a few Pakistanis smuggling Afghan heroin and selling it in Bradford. That is just the very lowest point of the chain.7 There are far bigger players involved, and they are literally making billions.
The 18th and 19th centuries were the height of the British Empire. In the 20th century, America emerges as the major world power and proceeds to sideline Britain, France and the old colonial powers.
Let us examine the ‘Opium Wars’, also called the ‘Anglo-Chinese Wars.’
The East India Company was owned by British aristocracy and major British traders. It was a shareholder company and the names of all of the owners can be easily looked up. The East India Company is described as the mother of modern corporations and, interestingly, it had its own army.
The Mughal Empire was in decline when, in 1757, the East India Company conquered Bengal. This was a major opium growing region. The East India Company pursued a monopoly on the production and export of opium.8 It was only later, towards the end of the 19th century, that heroin was first synthesized from opium. Prior to that, it was the opium that was smoked.
In 1773, 75 tonnes were exported to China. The East India Company was selling the opium to China in exchange for Chinese commodities such as silk and tea.
This was against Chinese law. The Chinese had outlawed opium in their land because of the detrimental effects on their people. However Britain continued. By the 1830’s, England had become the major drug trafficking organisation in the world, through the East India Company. Many opium addicts were coming about in China. The British government gave the East India Company a monopoly on trade with China.
Heroin Destroys Lives
Opium is a devastating addiction. When people become addicted to opium or heroin, they will give all of their wealth to feed their addiction. When they run out of money they will start stealing, from their own family, from their neighbours. Many women will go into prostitution to pay for their habit. It’s a very, very addictive drug.
As a side note, many people of my generation did not get into hard drugs like heroin because of the public awareness campaigns that took place in the 1980’s when we were going through school. Many of my generation will remember the ‘Just Say No’ campaign that began in America and crossed over to the UK in the 1980s. The fact that we still remember it shows, firstly, how powerful the visual media is in our lives, and, secondly, how easily it can be used as a force for good if the will is there. It makes you wonder why such campaigns are not seen any longer and why steps are not taken to prevent the glamorisation of drug use in the media.
From a purely business point of view, this is the best commodity you can imagine. You sell this to someone and they will come back for more.
Many heroin addicts soon start injecting the drug so that it goes straight into the bloodstream. This often causes infections and abscesses.
When they keep injecting into the same veins, they clot up so they have to keep finding new ones. Many end up injecting into their groin or even the base of the tongue.
The Opium Trade in the Nineteenth Century
Moving now into the 19th century, the opium trade was increasing. By the 1820’s it had gone up to 900 tonnes of opium annually from India to China. Once again the Imperial Chinese government made the opium imports illegal, but Great Britain continued. By 1837, 2500 tonnes were being exported. This was more than all other British exports to China combined.
In effect, the opium trade was fuelling the East India company, and — considering that India was the richest and most productive region of the empire — was a major driver for the empire itself.
The First Opium War came about because the Chinese were resisting the import of opium into their country. Great Britain sent warships to face the Chinese. It has been described as “perhaps the most sordid, base and vicious event in European history.” The Chinese were defeated and were forced to sign a treaty in 1842. They were forced to pay 6 million dollars for the opium that the Chinese police had destroyed. Hong Kong was handed over to Britain, and access to Chinese ports was agreed.
Over the next 30 years the opium trade more than doubled.
France was Britain’s main colonial rival.
In 1856, because of the devastating effect on the Chinese people, the Chinese once again made attempts to resist. The Second Opium War broke out and Britain was again victorious. This time Great Britain demanded complete legalisation of opium and the free propagation of Christianity in China, to which the Chinese had no choice but to submit.
In 1858, the East India Company was dissolved and the British government itself took on the governance of India. Incidentally, John Stewart Mill, one of the fathers of modern capitalism, made a ‘valiant defence’ of the East India Company.
Following the second opium war, China gave up trying to stop the influx of opium and, to minimise the economic impact of the British trade, decided to grow opium itself,. By the end of the 19th century, 90 million out of 300 million Chinese were addicted to opium. Almost a third of the population were addicts.
The Opium Trade in the Twentieth Century
Let us move on to the 20th century which has been triumphantly described as “the American Century”. It seems strange for anyone to want to claim the 20th century, as it was, no doubt, the most bloody, horrific century known to recorded history, which witnessed two world wars and the slaughter of millions. One of the signs of the End Times according to the Prophet (may blessings and peace be upon him) is widespread bloodshed.
As Shaykh Hamza Yusuf9 has mentioned, the 20th century, especially the first half of it, can be seen in the light of the power struggle between the new American power and colonial rivals Britain and France, with the US emerging victorious. Many of the events of the 20th century can be looked at in that light.
Looking at America, let us examine actions rather than words.
As Noam Chomsky points out, “Britain can appeal to an imperial tradition of refreshing candor, unlike the United States which has preferred to don the garb of saintliness as it proceeds to crush anyone in its path.” In other words, the British were openly racist and imperial in their outlook. With the United States, we find a different approach. They always claim to be doing ‘good’ while, in fact, crushing anyone in their path to power and dominance.
If we concentrate on rhetoric and the public stances of politicians, we will simply be lost in circles of half-truths, avoidance, and illogicity. If we examine actions, we may arrive at a clearer understanding of reality.
Coming into the 20th century, China eventually managed to stop Britain exporting opium to it. Significantly, it only achieved this with the assistance of the USA. China had tried in vain for 150 years and fought two wars to stop Britain bringing opium into China, but it had failed.
In 1911, US president Theodore Roosevelt intervened to break up the British opium trade. This was, no doubt, a significant blow for Britain’s imperial economy. Of course, the American stance was that they were doing it for a good cause.
Through the forum of the Shanghai International Opium Conference, the US pressed for legislation aimed at suppressing the sale of opium to China. Britain and France had to agree.
By 1917 China had stopped producing and importing opium. In the 1950s, all opium production in China ceased with the communist regime. Before the Second World War, it was producing most of the world’s opium.
Opium production shifted away from China to neighbouring countries which became known as the golden triangle: Thailand, Laos, Burma, all bordering China on the south-west side. In the 1970s, 67 % of the world’s opium was coming from this area. In 1972, one third of US soldiers coming back from Vietnam were addicted to opium.
Wherever the United States intervenes, politically or militarily, in different opium producing regions, opium production invariably increases. The US, of course, will blame one factor or another for this, and often claims to be struggling valiantly to fight the drug problem. Once again, witness ‘the garb of saintliness’ that Chomsky describes.
For example, in the 1970s, Nixon launched his ‘war on drugs.’ He successfully shut down the heroin supply chain through Turkey and France (the so-called ‘French connection’), but “inadvertently” ended up creating a new market for the South-East Asian heroin. The long term consequence of this drug war was in fact increased global opium production and rising heroin consumption.10
In a well-referenced article by Peter Dale Scott, professor at the University of California, Berkley, under the sub-title, ‘Expanded World Drug Production as a Product of US Interventions,’ he shows that every time America becomes politically or militarily involved in any drug producing country, drug production multiplies.11 Here are some examples he gives for opium production:
Burma: 40 tonnes in 1939 – 600 tonnes in 1970
Thailand: 7 tonnes in 1939 – 200 tonnes in 1968
Laos: Less than 15 tonnes in 1939 – 50 tonnes in 1973
In Columbia, US troops have been intervening since the late 1980s in another so-called ‘war on drugs,’ but in fact the coca production (which is what cocaine is produced from) has tripled between 1991 and 1999. Cultivation of the opium poppy has increased by five times in the region.
Once again, either you can look at realities on the ground or you can listen to the rhetoric. There are many reasons why they have been unable to curtail drug production, for example, “We were unable to control the situation here,” or “the insurgents are causing trouble so we are unable to control the drug trade,” etc.
However, with a repeated pattern, excuses start becoming a little lame, to use a colloquial expression. This is a huge cake, and people want part of the cake. The CIA has been widely implicated in the international drugs trade.12 ,13 ,14
Afghanistan became important as it began producing a lot of opium. After the defeat of the communists in 1989, Afghanistan descended into chaos with multiple warlords, each commanding his own territory and establishing the rule of brute force.
The opium trade flourished. By the 1990s, half of the world’s heroin and 90% of European heroin was coming from Afghanistan. In 1996, the Taliban took power in Kabul. Initially the Taliban allowed the opium production to continue. Although opium is illegal in Shariah law, they justified their position by saying that stopping the opium trade would have a devastating impact on Afghanistan’s impoverished economy, and, secondly, that Afghan opium was being exported to non-Muslim lands, so it was not the Taliban’s concern.
Insight into the players involved in the international drug trade
In 1986, Major Zahooruddin Afridi of the Pakistan Army was caught driving to Karachi from Peshawar with 220 kilograms of high grade heroin. This was the largest seizure in Pakistani history. Two months later, Air Force officer, Flight Lieutenant Khalilur Rahman was caught with 220 kilograms of heroin on the same route. He calmly confessed that this was his fifth mission. The total value of just these two seizures was $600 million, equivalent to the entire US aid to Pakistan that year.15
This brings home the vast sums of money involved. If this is the value of just two seizures, it is perhaps not surprising, bearing in mind human nature, that top government officials and army personnel are involved. Both men were put in jail in Karachi but soon mysteriously disappeared.
Ahmed Rashid mentions that “western anti-narcotics agencies in Islamabad kept track of drug lords, who became Members of the National Assembly… Drug lords funded candidates to high office in both Bhutto’s PPP and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League.”15 This is what money can do.
At the end of 2000, Mullah Omar, no doubt under pressure from other ulema, reversed the Taliban position and issued the fatwa to ban the opium poppy, despite the economic repercussions on his country.
The United Nations confirmed that by spring, which is the time of year for the opium harvest, opium production had gone down to almost zero.
Half of the world’s heroin had been stopped by that one act of Mullah Omar. Martin Jelsma, in the International Journal on Drug Policy, states, “The Taliban opium ban in 2000/2001 had, there is no doubt, the most profound impact on opium/heroin supply in modern history.”16
You can imagine that some very powerful people were not too happy about this.
Soon after this, the September 11 attacks took place in New York, leading, within months, to the invasion of Afghanistan. America and Britain brought back all of the old drug lords, the so called Northern Alliance. Opium production went straight back up to what it had been before the ban by the Taliban.
It is by no means clear who engineered the September 11 attacks. Iraq had nothing to do with September 11, but it was invaded as a direct result. September 11 led to America gaining direct control of Iraq, with its huge oil reserves, and Afghanistan, with its huge opium crop. American forces were extremely efficient in immediately seizing and securing the Iraqi oil fields, but are not organised enough to this day to provide basic amenities for the Iraqi people, or stop the opium/heroin production in Afghanistan.
An important point about the poppy growth in Afghanistan is that it is relatively simple for the US to eradicate it. All of it is well mapped out by satellite imagery. By satellite, you can read what is written on a cigarette packet so it is no problem identifying the massive opium fields. Sophisticated computer programs can map out exactly where the opium is growing.17 The US forces could destroy the crops using aerial spraying techniques. They do not even have to go on the ground, they can simply fly over, spray and destroy. This is not denied by the US and its allies, but other reasons are given to justify why opium poppies are not destroyed.
A recent development is that the media has started to portray the Taliban as the cause of the current explosion in heroin and opium production.
In 2002, following the American-led invasion, the United Nations drug agency issued an urgent warning that the allied forces need to act quickly to destroy the poppy crops before the end of spring. Otherwise the heroin that the Taliban had stopped would flood back. However, the Bush Administration-CIA decided not to destroy the poppy crop in Afghanistan, saying, “We decided not to destroy Afghanistan’s opium over fears that such an act may destabilise Pakistan.”18
Just $200 given to each Afghan poppy farmer would compensate for their opium crop. For just $20 million in total, America could get the farmers to stop growing opium by simply paying them off.
A significant point to note in this regard is the ease and rapidity with which the Taliban were able to eradicate opium production In Afghanistan, despite having none of the sophisticated technology or resources available to western agencies. The results of the Taliban opium ban shocked the world anti-narcotics agencies, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which have been operating for decades on a budget of billions to fight against the global illegal drugs trade. The only sensible conclusion we can draw from this is that there are powerful forces working to prevent easy and effective strategies from being implemented by anti-narcotics agencies. In view of the effectiveness of the Taliban opium ban, claims by anti-narcotics agencies that they have been unable to find effective means of fighting the ‘war on drugs’ despite the immense resources thrown at them by the US and other governments are implausible. Rashid mentions that several members of the US Drugs Enforcement Administration in Pakistan in the 1980s resigned from their posts or requested to be relocated as the CIA refused to allow them to do their job.19
In 2009, opium production has continued to escalate dramatically. Recent figures from the UN show that 90% of the world’s heroin now comes from Afghanistan.
History of the Taliban
It was 1989 that the Soviet troops finally left Afghanistan. America and Pakistan had been helping the so-called Mujahidin fight against the communists. The puppet communist government left behind by the Russians was overthrown by 1992.
Following that, Afghanistan descended into an anarchic state, and it was in 1994 that the Taliban emerged. Ahmad Rashid says, “Afghanistan was in a state of virtual disintegration just before the Taliban emerged… The country was divided into warlord fiefdoms… The warlords seized homes and farms and abused the population at will.”19 They were kidnapping boys and girls for sexual pleasure and robbing merchants in the markets.
Traditional the ulema mention that an hour of anarchy is worse than 40 years of a tyrant. You may have a tyrant ruler but he maintains law and order. People can go about their normal life. But when you have anarchy, a complete breakdown of authority, the poor and the weak in society are the ones who suffer most.
Ahmad Rashid is an Afghan himself. He met several of the original Taliban, friends of Mullah Omar. They told him that during the time after the communists were defeated, some of the mujahidin, like Mullah Omar, went back to their madrasas (schools) to continue studying and teaching. All of the anti-communist fighters were referred to as mujahidin but some were doing it for the sake of God, some evidently were not.
Mullah Omar himself had a school where he was teaching students in the south of Afghanistan. His companions mention that they used to sit and discuss what they could do about the state of the country. They agonised over the abuses taking place and the suffering of the people.
In the spring of 1994, the initial event that took place is quite widely reported and probably true. Two teenage girls were abducted by one of the commanders, taken to a military camp, their hair shaved, and they were repeatedly raped. Some of their family came to Mullah Omar and asked for his help. Mullah Omar took thirty students with sixteen rifles between them. They freed the girls and hung the commander from the barrel of a tank. Mullah Omar said later, “We were fighting against Muslims who had gone wrong. How could we remain quiet when we could see crimes being committed against women and the poor.”
Word got around of this incident. People started coming to Mullah Omar and asking for his help. A few months later, two commanders were fighting over a young boy that both wanted to rape. Several civilians were killed in that fight. Omar and the students freed him. This led, as Rashid describes it, to Mullah Omar emerging as a ‘Robin Hood figure,’ helping the poor against the warlords and druglords. From this beginning, the Taliban (or ‘Students’) eventually took control of Kandahar and then the south of Afghanistan. Within two years, they had marched into the capital, Kabul.
Mullah Omar Declared ‘Commander of the Believers’
In Kandahar, there is a museum which contains a burdah (a cloak) which is attributed to the Prophet himself, and is considered the most holy shrine in Afghanistan. The cloak is rarely taken out of the museum. For Mullah Omar, it was brought it out for the first time in 60 years. Draped in the blessed cloak, the ‘students’ pledged allegiance to him and declared him ‘Ameer al Mu’mineen’ (Commander of the Believers).
Strict Interpretation of Islam
The Taliban were criticised for was their strict interpretation of Islam. This aspect is routinely used as a justification for invading the country. Journalist, Michael Griffin mentions the following acts of the Taliban when they took Kabul:
They made an announcement on the radio ordering: “All those sisters working in government offices are hereby informed to stay at home until further notice”. They were probably concerned about unislamic free-mixing in government departments. This paralysed the government, of which 25% staff were women.
They made the full body covering (Niqaab) obligatory for women. Men had to wear shalwar kameez apparently, not western clothing, grow long beards and forced to go to the mosque five times a day. They prohibited toothpaste, insisting on the natural tooth-cleansing root, miswak. All of the following were forbidden: TV, kite flying, pigeons, dancing, music, singing, chess, marbles, cigarettes, and using paper as a wrapper in case it was printed with extracts of the Quran.
I don’t know what really happened. How many times have you seen Taliban ambassadors or representatives on television, explaining their point of view? You have to give people a chance to speak; this is a fundamental aspect of justice. One of the most effective techniques of media control is simply not to give the ‘enemy’ a voice.
One of the rare exceptions was when Taliban Envoy, Saeed Rahmatullah Hishami, was interviewed on the American radio station, Talk of the Nation, prior to the September 11 attacks.
He protested at the biased reporting and demonisation of the Taliban by western media: “If I had all my knowledge of Taliban from the media here, I would hate the Taliban as well.”
He was asked why the Taliban stopped girls going to school. He repeatedly said, “The Taliban have never said that girls should not go to school.” In fact, he stated that the Taliban had appealed to the international community to help Afghanistan provide facilities for girls to obtain a segregated education. The United Nations had responded by building several girls’ colleges there which had been running successfully under the Taliban. He also stated that contrary to the media depiction of the Taliban as misogynous zealots who did not allow women to leave their houses, the Taliban had respect for women and had improved the situation for Afghan women, making it safe for them to walk the streets. He said that women were working in several government ministries under Taliban rule.
He also claimed that the Taliban had offered the US to try Bin Laden in Afghanistan if the US provided evidence that he was involved in attacks on civilians in Tanzania and Kenya. Anyone convicted of killing civilians under Taliban rule would get capital punishment. The US rejected this offer. The Taliban made a further offer agreeing to an international monitoring committee to be present in Afghanistan to watch Bin Laden’s activities for the rest of his life, to ensure that he was not politically active. This was also rejected by the US.
Saeed Hishami emphasised that the Taliban had done what no one else had done for Afghanistan: bring law and order, disarm the people, establish peace and security, make it safe for women to walk the streets, and stop opium production, but, he lamented, “the world has only sent us cruise missiles, sanctions, isolation and criticism.”
From the limited information I have, I suspect the Taliban did have a strict interpretation of Islam. But one thing you can see from the list of prohibitions is that it is according to the traditional Hanafi school of law. If you read the later books of Hanafi jurisprudence, you will find that the Taliban rulings pretty much follow them to the letter. Was there wisdom in enforcing such a strict set of rules suddenly upon the people? That is debatable, but really the whole discussion about the Taliban’s interpretation of shariah obscures and deviates attention from the real issues at hand
Muslims are becoming a persecuted minority in the UK, sometimes living in an atmosphere of fear if they wish to speak the truth. One of the things we appreciate in this country is freedom of speech. There is an increasing tendency to see things in the ‘you’re either with us or with the terrorists’ fashion of George W Bush.
I do not support terrorism or attacks on innocent civilians in this country or any other, but does this mean I have to support an unjust foreign policy of the UK government? Do Muslims not have a right to express dissent without being labelled a ‘fifth column’ or ‘traitors in our midst’?
America’s War Against the Taliban
When the Taliban came into power, perhaps they had a strict interpretation of Islam, but they brought law and order to the country, and it was a widely popular movement, because the poor and the oppressed, who were suffering from the anarchy, drug lords, and warlords, welcomed them. The poor and weak were the ones who benefited because the Taliban brought justice and security. They brought strict punishments, but for people who wanted to be law abiding citizens, go out and work, earn their daily living and feel safe on the streets, they were heroes and saviours. They are aggressively demonised in the global media. It is difficult to see the reality through the propaganda, and they are certainly not a media-savvy group.20
In 1996, the Taliban came into power in Kabul. In the beginning they were welcomed by the Pakistan and US administrations. People do not know this but there were Taliban ambassadors in America trying to work out a deal for a gas pipeline through Afghanistan. An American oil company and an Argentinean one were competing for this contract. So the US was dealing with the Taliban. At that time the Taliban were allowing the opium production to continue.
Pakistan was particularly pleased because the Taliban had made the roads safe, and Pakistani trade could transit through Afghanistan to Turkmenistan and other central Asian destinations. A few feminist voices objected to alleged abuse of women’s rights, but Pakistan recognised the Taliban government, as did Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
But in early 2001, they stopped the opium.
After September 11 2001, the USA delivered the following ultimatum to the Taliban: The Taliban should hand over all the leaders of al Qaeda, release all imprisoned foreign nationals, close immediately every terrorist training camp, and give the United States access to terrorist training camps for inspection.
The Taliban responded that if the US gave them evidence that Bin Laden was guilty, they would hand him over. They said that they had no evidence in their possession linking him to the September 11 attacks. The response was not unreasonable: give us evidence and we will hand him over.
On 4th October, it is believed that the Taliban offered to turn Bin Laden over to Pakistan to have a trial in an international tribunal according to Islamic Shariah. Pakistan refused. On 7th October, the military threat was building up, and the Taliban offered again to detain Bin Laden and try him under Islamic Law, if the United States made a formal request and presented evidence. This was also immediately rejected by the US.
When the American-led forces attacked Afghanistan, Pakistan entered into full cooperation with the American forces, allowing them to use her land and airspace. Faced with the full might of Washington and her allies, Pervez Musharraf committed one of the most treacherous acts in Islam’s history. Fellow Muslim neighbours and brothers whom Pakistan had supported were ignominiously forsaken to gain American favour.
If Pakistan had simply remained neutral, it would have saved some honour. Even Russia refused its airspace to be used by America until only a few weeks ago, when Barack Obama finally persuaded Putin and colleagues to allow it.
I was in Syria when Iraq was invaded. I attended Friday prayer at the mosque of Shaykh Said Ramadan al-Buti. In the sermon, he said, “Not one leader of the Arab countries has stood up. Not one voice has been heard from any Arab leader against the invasion of Iraq.” Baghdad has been bombed and Iraq has been invaded and not a voice heard from her Arab neighbours. Shaykh Buti said that it would have been better for us to die, for all of us to have been killed [referring to the Arab people], then to suffer such a humiliation and disgrace.
Whereas Musharraf capitulated, Mullah Omar remained steadfast. The Taliban were clearly desperate not to enter a conflict with America and her allies. They made offer after offer to the United States to try and resolve the issue, but they were not willing to hand over a man against whom they were given no evidence.
The Voice of America radio station conducted an interview with Mullah Omar through satellite phone just before the commencement of the war. The US National Security Council raised objections and it was never broadcast in America. However it was published in full in the UK in the Guardian newspaper — not front page news though. Most people probably missed it. This is a transcript of the interview:
VoA: Why don’t you expel Osama Bin Laden?
Mullah Omar: This is not an issue of Osama Bin Laden, it is an issue of Islam. Islam’s prestige is at stake. So is Afghanistan’s tradition.
VoA: Do you know the US has announced a war on terrorism?
Mullah Omar: I am considering two promises. One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The Promise of God is that ‘My land is vast.’ If you start a journey on God’s Path, you can reside anywhere on this Earth and will be protected. The promise of Bush is that there is no place on Earth where you can hide and I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled.
VoA: But aren’t you afraid for the people, yourself, the Taliban, your country?
Mullah Omar: Almighty God is helping the believers and the Muslims. God Says He will never be satisfied with the infidels. In terms of worldly affairs America is very strong. Even if it was twice as strong, or twice that, it could not be strong enough to defeat us. We are confident that no one can harm us if God is with us.
VoA: You are telling me you are not concerned but Afghans all over the world are concerned.
Mullah Omar: We are also concerned. Great issues lie ahead but we depend on God’s Mercy. Consider our point of view. If we give Osama away today, Muslims who are now pleading to give him up would then be reviling us for giving him up. Everyone is afraid of America and wants to please it, but Americans will not be able to prevent such acts like the one that has just occurred because America has taken Islam hostage. If you look at Islamic countries the people are in despair, they are complaining that Islam is gone but people remain firm in their Islamic beliefs. In their pain and frustration some of them commit suicide acts. They feel they have nothing to lose.
VoA: What do you mean by saying America has taken the Islamic world hostage?
Mullah Omar: America controls the governments of the Islamic countries. The people ask to follow Islam but the governments do not listen because they are in the grip of the United States. If someone follows the path of Islam, the government arrests him, tortures him or kills him. This is the doing of America. If it stops supporting those governments and lets the people deal with them then such things won’t happen. America has created the evil that is attacking it. The evil will not disappear even if I die and Osama dies and others die. The US should step back and review its policy. It should stop trying to impose its empire on the rest of the world, especially on Islamic countries.
VoA: So you won’t give Osama Bin Laden up?
Mullah Omar: No. We cannot do that. If we did it means we are not Muslims, that Islam is finished. If we were afraid of attack, we could have surrendered him the last time we were threatened and attacked. So America can hit us again and this time we don’t even have a friend.
VoA: If you fight America with all your might, can the Taliban do that? Won’t America beat you and won’t your people suffer even more?
Mullah Omar: I am very confident that it won’t turn out this way. Please note this. There is nothing more we can do except depend on Almighty God. If a person does then he is assured that the Almighty will help him, have mercy on him, and he will succeed.21
By 2006, a few years after the invasion, the Washington Post reported that opium production in Afghanistan, now providing more than 90% of the world’s heroin, broke all previous records.22
The United Nations office of drugs and crime in 2006 reported that the harvest in Afghanistan was going to be a world record, and up to 92% of the world’s heroin was now originating in Afghanistan.
The Daily Mail on 21 July 2007 carried an article by Craig Murray, British ambassador in neighbouring Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004, entitled: “Britain is protecting the biggest heroin crop of all time”. He asks why British troops are being killed in Afghanistan. He says, “The Taliban had reduced the opium crop to precisely nil. That is an inconvenient truth that our spin has managed to obscure…”
“They were as unlikely to sell you heroin as a bottle of Johnny Walker” (alluding to the fact that they are strict Muslims). “They stamped out the opium trade and impoverished and drove out the drug warlords, whose warring and rapacity had ruined what was left of the country after the Soviet war.”
Murray says that since the invasion, Afghanistan has progressed from simple opium production to actually manufacturing heroin. Now, “opium is converted into heroin on an industrial scale, not in kitchens but in factories. Millions of gallons of the chemicals needed for this process are shipped into Afghanistan by tanker. The tankers and bulk opium lorries on the way to the factories share the roads, improved by American aid, with Nato troops.”
He goes on to say in the article: “The four largest players in the heroin business are all senior members of the Afghan government. This is the government that our soldiers are fighting and dying to protect”.
Murray is vehemently anti-Taliban but he is willing to speak the truth, and his concern is that British soldiers are dying in an unjust war.23 This is very relevant because recently there has been a new upsurge in fighting and the propaganda machine has been working in overdrive to provide fresh justifications for continued British involvement in Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai is reported to have acted as a consultant for US oil company, UNOCAL, and is an ex-CIA operative. Following the invasion, he was made president of Afghanistan. George Bush was not a very subtle player.
Karzai’s brother has been linked to the heroin trade. The New York Times on October 4 2008 reported that an enormous cache of heroin was found under some concrete blocks. Karzai’s brother phoned the commander who had seized the heroin and instructed him to release the vehicle and the drugs. Two years later a similar incident took place. Once again his brother was involved.24
In fact the article goes on to state that it is widely known that Karzai’s brother is heavily involved in the international heroin trade. It mentions that the White House ‘favoured a hands off approach’ toward Karzai’s brother. (This means they will not get involved). The White House justified its position by alluding to “the political delicacy of the matter”.
Current Situation in Afghanistan
As the British death toll escalates, the propaganda machine has gone into overdrive to keep the British public on board. According to the media, the Taliban are responsible for all of Afghanistan’s problems including the opium/heroin production. The Taliban are the enemies of the Afghan people and it has fallen to the valiant efforts of the allied forces to save them from them. If you look carefully, however, the facts do surface from time to time. On December 2 2006, the Washington Post admitted that the Taliban were not to blame for the record levels of opium: “…most experts believe it is largely an organized criminal enterprise. According to a major report on the Afghan drug industry jointly released last week by the World Bank and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, key narcotics traffickers “work closely with sponsors in top government and political positions.”,,,”25
Barack Obama came into power with a lot of enthusiasm, even from sections of the Muslim world. The first major step he took, after visiting London to tackle the economic crisis, was to gather European leaders together in Paris to initiate a new offensive against the Taliban. As a direct result, two million people so far have been made homeless in the northwest frontier region.26
Let’s keep an eye on what he does, not what he says.
- Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman have done some of the pioneering work on the subversive role of mass media in western societies. For example, see the classic work: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. See also: Chomsky, Media Control, The spectacular achievements of propaganda [Seven Stories Press] [↩]
- NASR, Islam and the Plight of Modern Man, [ITS], p. 207. [↩]
- Douglas Harbrecht, “Another Clouded Clinton Appointee,” Business Week, 8 Nov 1993. [↩]
- Bernard Haykel: “Radical Salafism,” Hindu Times, 1 Dec 2001. [↩]
- Amy Gershkoff and Shana Kusher (2005). Shaping Public Opinion: The 9/11-Iraq Connection in the Bush Administration’s Rhetoric. Perspectives on Politics, 3 , p. 525-537. [↩]
- Calvani, S., “Eastern Horizons,” UN International Drug Control Programme, #1, March 3, 2000. [↩]
- Kopp, Political Economy of illegal drugs, p. 23, “…we know almost nothing of the functioning of the segments of the chain that enable the drugs to move from the wholesalers to the final resellers…” [↩]
- Many books have been written on the British Government-East India Company involvement in the opium trade, for example: Trocki, Carl A., Opium, empire and the global political economy [Routledge] [↩]
- Director, Zaytuna Institute, California, and one of the leading traditionalist Islamic scholars in the West. [↩]
- Detailed statistics on global drug production and use can be found in the annual ‘World Drugs Report’ of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. [↩]
- Scott, P., “Afghanistan: Heroin-ravaged State”, Global Research, 8 May 2009. [↩]
- Rashid, A. Taliban: Islam, oil and the new great game in central Asia, [Pub: I B Tauris], p. 121: “The heroin pipeline in the 1980s could not have operated without the knowledge, if not the connivance, of officials at the highest level of the army, the government and the CIA.” [↩]
- McCoy, A., The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade [Lawrence Hill Books]. McCoy discusses in detail how U.S. drug policies and actions in the Third World has created “America’s heroin plague.” McCoy notes that every attempt at interdiction has only resulted in the expansion of both the production and consumption of drugs. [↩]
- Haq, I., ‘Pak-Afghan drug trade in historical perspective,’ Asian Survey, Vol. 36, No. 10 (Oct. 1996), p. 945-963: “During…the Cold War…CIA intervention provided the political protection and logistics linkage that joined Afghanistan’s poppy fields, through Pakistan’s land mass to heroin markets in Europe and America,” p. 945. [↩]
- Rashid, p. 120-121. [↩] [↩]
- Jelsma, M., ‘Learning lessons from the Taliban opium ban,‘ International Journal of Drug Policy, Vol. 16, Issue 2, March 2005, p. 98-103. [↩]
- Deyoung, K., “Afghanistan Opium Crop Sets Record,” Washington Post, 2 Dec 2006. [↩]
- Smith, C., “Bush Will Not Stop Afghan Opium Trade,” Newsmax, 28 March 2002. [↩]
- Rashid, p. 121. [↩] [↩]
- Chris Sands, “Afghans back Taliban, says abducted senator,” The National, 2 Oct 2008. [↩]
- “Mullah Omar — in his own words,” The Guardian, 26 September 2001. [↩]
- Deyoung, K., “Afghanistan Opium Crop Sets Record”, Washington Post, 2 Dec 2006. [↩]
- Murray, ‘Britain is protecting the biggest heroin crop of all time,è Daily Mail, 21 July 2007. [↩]
- Risen, J., “Reports Link Karzai’s Brother to Afghanistan Heroin Trade,” New York Times, Oct 4 2008. [↩]
- Deyoung, K., “Afghanistan Opium Crop Sets Record,” Washington Post, 2 Dec 2006. [↩]
- Walsh, D., “Swat valley could be worst refugee crisis since Rwanda, UN warns,” The Guardian, 19 May 2009, p. 16. [↩]