Saturday mornings are a great time to take a long, leisurely walk in our community. We’re pretty wellness focused here; in addition to the neighborhood gym, there’s some 40+ miles of walking trails. Yesterday, in fact, was especially sweet. Almost all of a sudden, displayed on dozens of front patios and lanais, the American flag was proudly displayed.
Let’s be honest. Some have struggled with the flag in recent years. Some have used it as a brash source of protest. Some as a bold sign of patriotism. Some have wished to fly it or trounce it in the face of another. Still others use it to mop up tears or to drape a casket in the ultimate sacrifice.
I would like to believe, no less, the flags flown in my neighborhood are for something else this week…
That we know who our enemies actually are.
One of the most grievous errors of even the intelligent is the mistaken identity of our enemy. Let’s go one step further. One of the most grievous errors of even the intelligent is the mistaken identity and promotion of that enemy.
Such is part of what has been so difficult and confusing about the week behind. The images in Afghanistan have been awful… people killed, suicide bombers, babies thrown over fences, people in absolute desperation, fearing for their very lives…
The Taliban have taken over the country. Let’s remind ourselves briefly of who they are…
The Taliban — or “students” in the Pashto language — enforce what the BBC refers to as “their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law.” Ruthless adherence to this “austere version” is demanded, with the Taliban having a long history of gross abuses and attacks especially on women, Americans, and on any civilians and journalists who dissent. They are a religious movement that relies on physical force.
When they ruled the majority of Afghanistan pre-9/11, note Wikipedia’s report: “The Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians, and conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes. While the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, they banned activities and media including paintings, photography, and movies that depicted people or other living things… The Taliban prevented girls and young women from attending school, banned women from working jobs outside of healthcare (male doctors were prohibited from treating women), and required that women be accompanied by a male relative and wear a burqa at all times when in public. If women broke certain rules, they were publicly whipped or executed. Religious and ethnic minorities were heavily discriminated against during Taliban rule.”
And yet these are the people to which the American government recently gave a list of US citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies wanting to get out of their country. These are a group of people unquestionably marked by authoritarianism and violence. And these are a group of people we are attempting to trust.
To say our government’s approach to withdrawal has been incredibly poor is being kind. The inconsistency and inaccuracy of their messaging may be worse. But let me also remind us that we are not the enemy.
While the Taliban is not currently designated as an official Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), they still have not taken tangible steps to break the ties with the enemies they continue to house. Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIS-K, etc. are still active in Afghanistan. Dare we go out on a limb here, they are our enemies.
Hence, the next time one of our American leaders attempts to paint an entire political party as our enemy, let them be convicted of their foolishness.
The next time we cheer along with the rhetoric — concluding that because of the way another thinks or votes or wants to wear/not wear their mask — that they are our enemy, let us be quieted in our judgment — choosing humility instead, with a commitment to grow in our understanding of others.
And the next time we get so frustrated with the imperfections in our country — those existing pockets of oppression and injustice, inefficiency and hardship — let us not fight to trounce all others and tear all systems down. Let’s work together, recognizing we are not the enemy. There’s a reason people are throwing those babies over fences. There’s a reason people want to come here. There’s a reason we take refugees.
That’s what working together takes, my friends. It starts by ridding our rhetoric of its inherent folly, changing our harsh, divisive thinking, and recognizing instead who the enemy actually is.
Under no circumstances is it us.