In Afghanistan, the Triumph of Fanaticism
by Hugh Fitzgerald
In Afghanistan, the Taliban’s victory was not due to the the number of its recruits – the Afghan army was four times as large as the Taliban forces; nor to the superiority of its weapons, for the Afghan Army had tens of billions of dollars worth of advanced weapons given to it by the Americans, who also provided air cover for that army, while the Taliban recruits relied mainly on their rifles; nor to its battlefield tactics, but mainly, to the fanatical faith of its members. A report on that “victory of faith” is here: “The Taliban Victory as a Victory of Faith,” by Gershon Hacohen, Algemeiner, August 24, 2021:
To understand the last 40 years of the Islamic struggle in Afghanistan, it is worth looking at the legacy of Abdullah Azzam. Born in a small village near Jenin in 1941, he moved to Jordan after the reclamation of the West Bank during the Six-Day War. While there, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and participated in activities of Palestinian terrorist organizations against Israel.
He eventually went to Afghanistan, where he was a major factor in helping the mujahideen repel the Soviets. An inspirational figure and a mentor of Osama bin Laden, Azzam would come to lead thousands of volunteers from across the Islamic world as they fought in Afghanistan, earning the title the “father of global jihad.” Azzam was assassinated with his two sons in Peshawar in November 1989.
The life of Abdullah Azzam offers one example of the ferocious commitment to Jihad of those determined souls who devote their lives to fighting the Infidels. When Israel won back Judea and Samaria in the Six-Day War, Azzam – unwilling to be governed by the hated Jews –moved from his native Jenin to Jordan, where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, and engaged in planning terrorist attacks on Israel. Eventually, he felt the call to help his fellow Muslims in Afghanistan fight the Russian Infidels who had invaded that Muslim land. Once in Afghanistan, he helped to recruit Muslims from all over the world to fight the Russians, and to prepare themselves to return home to conduct jihad throughout the world. Azzam became known as the “father of global jihad.” Among those he inspired was Osama bin Laden, and Azzam was the reason that Afghanistan became the refuge for Al-Qaeda. Jihad was his life’s work; he lived only to kill the Infidels, and to create a worldwide caliphate. He sacrificed his life, and the lives of his two sons, willingly, to the cause.
Unlike the leaders of the pan-Arab movement, from Gamal Abdul Nasser to Hafez Assad to Saddam Hussein, who all failed to unite the “Arab nation” on behalf of a common struggle, Azzam managed to bring together large numbers of Muslims from different countries, clans, and tribes to participate in a “holy war” — a jihad.
Azzam was a pan-Islamist, who found the pan-Arabist impulse too limited; it was not a united Arab world he sought, whether under its various champions, from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Hafez Assad to Saddam Hussein – to his much more ambitious project, a worldwide caliphate.
Azzam explained his vision in simple terms:
We will fight and defeat our enemies and establish an Islamic state on a piece of land in Afghanistan … Jihad will spread and Islam will fight elsewhere. Islam will fight the Jews in Palestine and establish an Islamic state in Palestine and elsewhere. These countries will then be united into one Islamic State.
Echoing the prophet Muhammad’s key message in his farewell address (“I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah’”), Azzam viewed the fighting in Afghanistan as the starting point for a global jihad, the ultimate goal of which was the establishment of a worldwide “Islamic Nation” (or umma).
When President Joe Biden expressed his confidence in the stability of the regime in Afghanistan by pointing out that “the Afghan army has 300,000 well-equipped soldiers … and they also have an air force. In contrast, the Taliban has only 75,000 soldiers,” he made clear that he has no understanding of this reality. Although those numbers are in dispute, the victory of the Taliban over the US in Afghanistan is a lesson for the world on the tremendous capacity of spiritual strength and faith to win protracted conflicts against far superior enemies.
Biden, a rational Western man with a limited imagination, thought only in terms of numbers – “the Afghan army has 300,000 well-equipped soldiers…and an air force,” while the Taliban has “only 75,000 soldiers.” He did not recognize the tremendous effect of the Taliban’s “spiritual strength” (which sounds almost admirable), that is, the fanatical desire of its members to fight against Infidels and any Muslims – the Afghan government and army – who were allied with the Infidels. And while the Afghan army consisted of recruits waiting for their next paychecks, the Taliban fanatics were prepared to give their lives. Thus when faced with certain defeat and likely death at the hands of the Taliban, the Afghan army melted away, its soldiers surrendering or fleeing in droves, while the Taliban were never afraid to die. It is this fanaticism of the Taliban that Biden, and so many others in Washington, seemed unable to comprehend. Homo islamicus remains a mystery to them.
In the first years of the war, the Americans had overwhelming superiority over the Taliban and inflicted many severe defeats upon it. But partly by virtue of their religious faith, the Taliban fighters were able to withstand those defeats. They believed in what is known in the Islamic faith as the “stage of weakness” (Rahlat al-Istidaf), which requires patiently biding one’s time in anticipation of opportunities. Their faith thus served as a strategy enabling them to cope with what might be a long wait
The Americans, on the other hand, could not bear the burden of a protracted struggle without a solution in the foreseeable future. On a deeper level, they discounted the religious roots of the conflict, which are expressed, among other things, in the rejection of the message of Western-American prosperity. As Mordechai Kedar put it, “August 15, 2021 will forever be remembered in the Islamic world as the victory of Islam over Christianity, the victory of faith over heresy, and the victory of tradition over permissiveness. … These events are pumping new blood into jihad arteries and the results are being seen around the world, including in Israel.”
The Taliban’s Islamic warriors are patient; for them what happened 1,400 years ago, when Muslims swept out of western Arabia to conquer vast territories from the Atlantic to the Gulf, is just as real as what happens today in Afghanistan. They are willing to wait out the foreign Infidels, Russian or American, taking the long view, and certain that in the end, beginning with Afghanistan, and then, by slow degrees, the entire Islamic world, will unite in a single caliphate and force the world’s Infidels to submit to the true Islam, the Islam of, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Taliban is committed to a struggle over the long haul. The Americans were willing to engage in an anti-Taliban campaign for 20 years – the U.S.’s longest war — but at a certain point, the cost-benefit analysis told them it was time to leave, for they finally realized that no matter when they left Afghanistan, the patient, stubborn, fanatical Taliban would take over.
Indeed, the American defeat will have a direct impact on Israel. Like the pseudo-government foisted by the Americans on Afghanistan, which, despite massive investment, turned out to be useless against the forces of jihad, the Palestinian Authority administration and its security forces will collapse in time against its Islamist adversaries, notably Hamas. Its overwhelming material and technological superiority notwithstanding, the IDF stands no chance of defeating Israel’s Islamist enemies unless its soldiers are driven by a relentless belief in their national cause.
The lesson of the Afghanistan debacle for Israel is twofold. First, the PA, which is full of corrupt time-servers who have no intention of sacrificing their Swiss bank accounts or luxury villas in Ramallah’s “Diplomat’s Compound,” much less their lives, in fighting the Zionists, offers a monitory example. The PA is now besieged from within by Palestinians who have had enough of the despotic and corrupt regime, headed by a man who will not let go. Those Palestinians have been protesting for two months over the killing, by PA barbouzes, of the human rights activist and harsh critic of the PA, Nizar Banat. The PA could collapse at any point, if the protests keep spreading and become too much for the PA to handle; many are predicting t PA’s territory will then be taken over by the Islamic fanatics of Hamas.
Second, Israel’s citizens need not become fanatics to match the fanaticism of their enemies; unlike so many in the demoralized West, Israelis are still “driven by a relentless belief in their national cause.” While Western countries have ended their military draft, Israeli males willingly accept the sacrifice of spending two years and eight months as IDF draftees; in addition, all Israeli males must serve as Reservists, giving 36 days a year to their army service until they reach the age of 40. Israeli females must serve for two years. This military burden – the heaviest one in the Western world – is assumed willingly by the Israelis, who know that their country’s very existence is at stake. They are constantly reminded of the malignant and murderous enemy they face. When Hamas launches rockets from Gaza into Israeli cities or sends incendiary balloons into Israel to set fire to farmland and forests, when Hezbollah adds to its armory of 150,000 rockets, when both Hamas and Hezbollah spend hundreds of millions of dollars on vast tunnel networks that the IDF has managed to unearth, when Iran’s Supreme Leader and IRGC generals vow to destroy the Jewish state, when Palestinian terrorists keep killing Israelis — yeshiva students, hitchhiking soldiers, a female police recruit, a Jewish family murdered while driving in the West Bank – the Israelis are reminded every day of the answer to “Why We Fight.” Despite differences among Israelis in political and religious matters, they are united in understanding that they must fight, unceasingly, for their state’s existence, as they have done in three major wars – in 1948, 1967, and 1973 – as well as in many smaller campaigns, including two wars against the PLO and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and four wars in Gaza against Hamas.
There is no end to this. But the Israelis, more than any other people in the advanced Western world, have repeatedly shown a steely determination to fight, against great odds (in 1948 and 1967), to absorb devastating blows, in 1973, and to fight on, always able to finally wreak havoc on their multifarious enemies. The Mossad has demonstrated endless creativity in acts of derring-do to delay Iran’s nuclear project. What the Israelis possess isn’t the fanaticism of the Taliban. It’s better than that, the esprit de corps of a citizen army, led by brilliant professionals, that knows it has no other choice.
First published in Jihad Watch.