“Americans have all the watches, we have all the time.” Words of a captured Taliban fighter.

I take the following text with some small changes and omissions from Chapter One of Frederick Forsyth’s book, The Kill List, A Penguin Kindle edition.

It was the summer of 1991 when Lieutenant Carson replied to his superiors that he wanted to be sent to the Defense Language Institute, located in the Presidio at Monterey, California. Pressed further, he admitted he wanted to master Arabic.  Two years later, on February 26, 1993, Carson was in Cairo, Egypt, when a Pakistani named Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up one of the towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. He failed, but his attempt became what would be the first or Fort Sumter shot of the Islamic Jihad against the United States.

Carson followed closely what was happening, was puzzled, intrigued as so many of us. He wanted to know more. He paid a call upon the wisest man he had come across in Egypt, Professor Khaled Abdulaziz a Don at the al-Azhar University, one of the greatest centers in all Islam for Koranic studies. The Professor received the young American in his rooms on campus at al-Azhar.

“Why do they do it, blow themselves up, and all the rest?” asked Carson.

“Because they hate you,” said the old man calmly.

“But why? What have we ever done to them?”

“To them personally? To their countries? To their families? Nothing. Except perhaps display your arrogance. But that is not the point. With terrorism, that is never the point. With terrorists, whether al-Fatah or Black September or the new, fanatical religious breed, the rage and the hatred come first. Then afterwards the justification.”

The professor continued to prepare tea for two on his small spirit stove.

“But they claim to follow the teachings of the Holy Koran. They claim that they are obeying the Prophet Muhammad. They claim they are serving Allah.”

The old scholar smiled as the water boiled. “Young man, I am what is called hafiz. That is one who has memorized all 6,236 verses of the Holy Koran. Unlike your Bible, which was written by hundreds of authors, our Koran was written— dictated, actually by one. And there are passages, yes, that do seem to contradict each other.”

[Hafiz (Arabic: حافظ‎‎, ḥāfiẓ, Arabic: حُفَّاظ‎‎, pl. ḥuffāẓ, Arabic: حافظة‎‎ f. ḥāfiẓa), literally meaning “guardian” or “memorizer,” depending on the context, is a term used by Muslims for someone who has completely memorized the Qur’an. Hafiza is the female equivalent.]

“What the Jihadists do is to take one or two phrases out of context, distort them a little more and then pretend they have divine justification. They do not. There is nothing in all our Holy Book that decrees we must slaughter women and children to please the one we call Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate. All extremists do that sort of thing, even Christian and Jewish ones.”

“But Professor, these contradictions. Have they never been addressed, explained, rationalized?” The professor served the American more tea with his own hands. He had servants, but it pleased him to make and serve his tea personally.

“Constantly. For thirteen hundred years, scholars have studied and composed commentaries on that one single book, the Koran. Collectively, they are called the hadith, that is stories, traditions, all together making up some hundred thousand commentaries.”

“Have you read them?”

“Not all. It would take ten lifetimes. But many. And I have written two myself.”

“But I must ask again: Why do they hate us?”

“Because you are not them. They experience deep rage at what is not themselves. Jews, Christians, those we call the kuffars, the unbelievers who will not convert to the one true faith. But also those who are not Muslim enough. In Algeria the Jihadists butcher villages of fellaghas, peasants, including women and children, in their Holy War against Algiers. Always remember this, Lieutenant. First comes the rage and the hatred. Then the justification, the pose of deep piety, all a sham.”

“And you, Professor?”

The old man sighed. “I loathe and despise them. Because they take the face of my dear Islam and present it to the world twisted with rage and hatred. But with communism now dead, the West weak and self-serving, concerned mostly with pleasure and greed, there will be many who will listen to the new message.”

Carson glanced at his watch. It would soon be time for the professor’s prayers. He rose. The scholar noticed the gesture and smiled. He, too, rose and accompanied his guest to the door. As the American left, he called after him. “Lieutenant, I fear my dear Islam is entering a long dark night. You are young, you will see the end of it, inshallah. I pray I shall not be forced to witness what is coming.”

Just three years later, in 1996, the old scholar died in his bed. But the mass killings had by then begun.  And a man named Osama bin Laden had quit Sudan and returned to Afghanistan as an honored guest of a new regime, the Taliban.

All that was happening some 20 years ago. We certainly have not seen the end of terrorism. While Bin Laden is no more, Afghanistan continues to be torn apart by “those who hate.” We went into Afghanistan some 17 years ago with our men and women in arms and our treasure, and remain there still 17 years later without a clue as to how to end it. And in Afghanistan today things are  pretty much as Andrew Bacevich describes them in a recent Times op ed (see below). Here I quote  portions of his article, and encourage you to follow the link and read the whole nine yards.

The Never-Ending War in Afghanistan

BOSTON — Remember Afghanistan? The longest war in American history? Ever?
…President Trump’s Inaugural Address included no mention of Afghanistan. Nor did his remarks last month at a joint session of Congress. …

A similar attitude prevails on Capitol Hill. …Last week Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, told Congress that the Pentagon would probably need more troops in Afghanistan, a statement that seemed to catch politicians and reporters by surprise — but that was old news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the conflict.
And that’s the problem. It doesn’t seem that anyone is. …

To be fair, Defense Secretary Mattis did acknowledge that “our country is still at war in Afghanistan,” … and allowed that the Taliban had “eroded some of our successes.”
That was it. No further follow up….

The military brass deserves some of the blame. Soon after Mr. Mattis’s hearing, Gen. John Nicholson, the latest in a long line of American commanders to have presided over the Afghan mission, arrived in Washington to report on its progress. While conceding that the conflict is stalemated, General Nicholson doggedly insisted that it is a “stalemate where the equilibrium favors the government.” Carefully avoiding terms like “victory” or “win,” he described his strategy as “hold-fight-disrupt.” He ventured no guess on when the war might end….

Despite appropriating over three-quarters of a trillion dollars on Afghanistan since 2001, Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by the problem of inflated rolls, with local commanders pocketing American-supplied funds to pay for nonexistent soldiers; according to the report, “The number of troops fighting alongside ‘ghost soldiers’ is a fraction of the men required for the fight.”

…American spending to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total expended to rebuild all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan; yet to have any hope of surviving, the Afghan government will for the foreseeable future remain almost completely dependent on outside support.

And things are getting worse. …What are we to make of the chasm between effort expended and results achieved? Why on those increasingly infrequent occasions when Afghanistan attracts notice do half-truths and pettifoggery prevail, rather than hard-nosed assessments? Why has Washington ceased to care about the Afghan war?

In Washington, war has become tolerable, an enterprise to be managed rather than terminated as quickly as possible. Like other large-scale government projects, war now serves as a medium through which favors are bestowed, largess distributed and ambitions satisfied.

That our impulsive commander in chief may one day initiate some new war in a fit of pique is a worrisome prospect. That neither President Trump nor anyone else in Washington seems troubled that wars once begun drag on in perpetuity is beyond worrisome.


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