In Kabul I was met at the airport by M. Amin Mudaqiq, bureau chief for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Afghan branch, Radio Azadi. “Our office is just down the main road,” he said, “but since it’s early in the morning we’ll take the back way, because of the Suicides.” That last word, I noticed, was pronounced as a proper noun, the way we would say “Beatles” slightly differently than “beetles.” And, in a sense, suicide bombers do aspire to be the rock stars of the Afghan insurgency (average career span being about the same in both professions).
“The Suicides usually attack early in the morning,” Amin said. “It’s a hot country and the explosive vests are thick and heavy.”
I’d never thought about suicide bombing in terms of comfort. Here’s some guy who’s decided to blow himself gloriously to bits and he’s pounding the pavement all dressed up in the blazing sun, sweat running down his face, thinking, “Gosh this thing itches, I’m pooped, let’s call it off.”
“It’s the same with car bombs,” Amin said. “You don’t want to be driving around the whole day with police everywhere and maybe get a ticket.”
Imagine the indignity of winding up in traffic court instead of the terrorist equivalent of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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The Pashtun tribal leader was joined by a Turkmen tribal leader who has a Ph.D. in sociology. I asked the Turkmen tribal leader about the socioeconomic, class, and status aspects of Afghan tribalism.
“No tribe is resented for wealth,” he said. So, right off the bat, Afghans show greater tribal sophistication than Americans. There is no Wall Street Tribe upon which the Afghan government can blame everything.
Even the worst of Afghan governments never acquired the special knack of pitting tribe against tribe that is vital to American politics—the Squishy Liberal Tribe vs. the Kick-Butt Tribe; the Indignantly Entitled Tribe vs. the Fed-Up Taxpayer Tribe; the Smug Tribe vs. the Wipe-That-Smirk-Off-Your-Face Tribe.
• • •
There was one other point that people in Kabul agreed on. Whatever it is that America does in Afghanistan, America should proceed with wisdom. The governor told a story about wisdom.
There was a student who had been studying for many years at a madrassa. He had memorized the Koran and learned all the lessons his teacher taught. One day he went to his teacher and said, “I am ready to leave and go be a mullah.”
His teacher said, “I think you should stay here for a few more years.”
“Why?” asked the student. “Is there some additional degree or higher certificate that I will get?”
“No,” said the teacher, “all you will get is wisdom.”
“But I’m ready to be a mullah now,” said the student. And he left the madrassa and wandered from village to village looking for a mosque where he could be the prayer-leader.
Finally the student came to a village where a corrupt old mullah was using the mosque as a stall for his cow. The student was outraged. He gathered the villagers together and told them, “I have studied at a madrassa. I have memorized the Koran. It is a great sacrilege for your mullah to use the mosque as a stall for his cow.”
The villagers beat him up.
The student limped back to the madrassa and told his teacher what had happened. The teacher said, “Follow me.” They went back to the village where the mullah was using the mosque as a stall.
The teacher gathered the villagers together and told them, “I see you have a beautiful cow being kept in your mosque. It must be a very blessed animal. And I hear the cow belongs to your mullah. He must be a very holy man. In fact, I think that this cow is so blessed and your mullah is so holy that if you were to take one hair from the cow’s hide and one hair from the mullah’s beard and rub them together, you would be assured of paradise.”
The villagers ran into the mosque and began plucking hairs from the cow’s hide. The cow started to buck and kick and it bolted from the mosque and disappeared. Then the villagers ran to the mullah’s house and began plucking hairs from the corrupt old mullah’s beard. And they tugged and they yanked so hard at the mullah’s beard that he had a heart attack and died.
“You see,” said the teacher to the student, “no cow in the mosque and a need for a new mullah—that is wisdom.”