THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Pondering the Taliban

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Storm Lake is at heart an education-minded city. That is to be expected from a city of 11,000 with two colleges, two high schools, two middle schools, five elementaries, several preschools and a Community Education program.

If there ever was a doubt about the innate curiosity of the community, it is perhaps answered in the response to the terrorist bombings of Sept. 11.

Like all communities, we got out our flags, gave blood in record numbers, donated many thousands of dollars to the relief efforts. For those who know Storm Lake, those actions are no surprise.

Unlike other communities, it did not react with much hate, but with an effort to better understand. In a few short weeks, at least three public educational events were planned, sharing the knowledge of local educators who have lived in, visited, studied about or come from the volatile regions of the middle east.

Perhaps such questioning comes natural for the community. In its own ethnic diversification, it has had to be introspective, had to educate itself on the new cultures that have immigrated to the community, to look for what is different and what is similar in people. Just this week, the chamber sponsored a rather enlightening discussion on the needs of the local Hispanic community.

The messages that we have heard from those among us who know the situation in the middle east first-hand is this: people in this region have largely the same hopes, aspirations and instincts as do people everywhere.

It would be a huge mistake to think that all people in the middle east or with a middle eastern background are sympathetic to terrorism. It would be a huge mistake to assume that all who follow Islam would define it to endorse violence. It would be blinding to simply hate.

Storm Lake, of course, has learned long ago not to overgeneralize cultures, but to judge each person on his or her own merit, or lack of merit.

Even with all of our learned scholars, however, trying to understand the Taliban is a challenge.

They were born of mainly the Pushtun ethnic group, and formed up in the early 1990s, after the Soviet withdrawal. They grew up in refugee camps or Koranic schools of Afghanistan, indoctrinated with a strict code of religion. Many of the fighters were trained by the U.S. CIA, which saw them as expendable tools to bother the Soviets who were occupying the era during the Cold War.

After they seized power from a period of civil war, the Taliban imposed harsh codes that simply do not compute with our understanding here in rural Iowa.

The Taliban forbids the education of women, and they are not allowed to have jobs. They must be covered from head to toe outside. Female doctors cannot practice, and male doctors cannot touch the bodies of female patients.

Almost all music is banned except for their approved religious songs. Television, dance, film, most photography, most statues and even kite-flying is illegal.

Public executions and amputations are not uncommon. Women found guilty of adultery can be stoned to death, and suspected homosexuals can be crushed under brick walls. According to research from Congressman Latham's office, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is reportedly

married to a daughter of terrorist bankroller Osama bin Laden.

Many ordinary Afghans disagree with the Taliban policies, some seem willing to tolerate it in exchange for bringing relative order to a chaotic society.

Many people in many parts of the world have suffered and known war, but have not resorted to barbaric terrorism of innocent people.

We will continue, no doubt, to work to understand the motivations of the middle east; yet all we learn does nothing to justify the violence we have seen.