Voters vs. Bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan

by Tom Rogan
Fanatics hide weapons under burqas and kill children; the voters keep coming.

On Saturday, Afghans will go the polls to elect a new president. On April 30, Iraqis will vote for a new parliament.

These two days will be historic. Once again, millions of Muslim voters will repudiate the foul lie of democratic-cultural relativism: They are incapable of democracy. Instead, these men and women will prove freedom’s greatest virtue — its enduring endorsement of hope.

Yet for some, these elections are a motive for murder. Last Friday, the Taliban raided a guest house of the American NGO Roots of Peace. Attempting to kill Western civilians, they scored one death — that of a young Afghan girl. The next day, heavily armed and concealed under burqas, Taliban fighters stormed the headquarters of Afghanistan’s electoral agency. Fortunately, no one was killed. The following day, a series of shootings and suicide bombings brought death to 16 people across Iraq. Then, on Wednesday, the Taliban attacked the Interior Ministry in Aghanistan’s capital, Kabul, assassinated an election candidate, and killed nine other civilians. In Iraq, six Army recruits were blown up by a suicide bomber.

Pay heed to this havoc.

These bombings and raids and massacres aren’t just acts of terror. Instead, they encapsulate the war on terror and remind us that this isn’t a struggle between nationalists and foreign occupiers but rather an existential battle between freedom and theocratic fanaticism.

This is not to say that the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq have always been formed by a cohesive terrorist enemy. On the contrary, our greatest error in the 2003–2006 period in Iraq, and the 2001–2009 period in Afghanistan, was failing to separate those harboring nationalist, tribal, and class-based grievances from those diametrically opposed to democracy. Case in point, as Charles Tripp has explained with regard to Iraq: Our blindness to Saddam’s manipulation of Sunni identity politics was catastrophic.

Too often, we’ve been unwilling to recognize the complexity of the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq today, for example, it isn’t simply Sunni-Salafi aligned jihadists such as ISIS waging destruction, it’s also Shia-centered Islamists like the Iranian-supported AAH. But we can’t ignore the escalating violence. America is out of Iraq and heading out of Afghanistan. Correspondingly, by the thinking of the pro-withdrawal movement — summed up by then-senator Obama and foreign-policy experts on the American left, our departure should have reconciled the terrorists to democracy. Yet still they fight. That tells us something. It proves that whether it’s Iran’s endeavor to “facilitate” Lebanese-Hezbollah-style “democracy” in Iraq, or the Salafi-jihadist desire to purge Iraq and Syria of Shia influence, or the Taliban’s desire to sit upon an all-powerful throne, even as they diverge in respective beliefs, these theocratic fascists unite in their hatred for freedom. It’s a battle they’ve been waging since the Middle Ages.

Regardless, when in the space of three days insurgents murder a child (a favorite Taliban fetish) and disguise themselves as women in order to kill election workers, they become the living antithesis of freedom fighters.

In part, their patent disinterest in freedom is understandable. After all, in the Taliban’s ideological blending of Deobandi-Wahhabi traditionalism and Pashtunwali (without the moral generosity or honor) intractability, they don’t exactly offer an inspiring choice for the nearly 65 percent of Afghans who are younger than 25.

Ultimately, however, whether it’s Afghanistan or Iraq, this youth factor gets to the core of what these elections are all about: the future. Flawed but real, these contests portend a better future. The terrorists know that democracy’s advance will eventually destroy them, that pluralism conquers those who claim the absolutism of one voice.

Confronting this reality, we therefore have two responsibilities.

First, just as we work to move reconcilable terrorists toward peace, we must be more attentive to the contrast between voters and bloodthirsty bombers. In doing so, we must relinquish our supposedly enlightened hesitation to avoid passing judgment on good and evil. Moreover, we must see the insipid moral relativists such as George Galloway (who insisted that “the Taliban are nor an enemy to me”) and Alan Grayson (who called his political opponent in 2010 “Taliban Dan”) for who they are: the partisan agents of immorality.

Second, we must accept that even as Afghanistan and Iraq are riven by corruption, sectarianism, and mistrust, only democracy will bring a better, balanced future to their people. The alternative is chaos or dictatorship, and Syria shows where that path leads.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not endorsing perpetual war, or expecting the prospect of Jeffersonian democracy. Still, facing a world divided between those who see children as the future and those who see children as walking carcasses for terror, our support must always fall with the former and our resolution always against the latter.

Absent our moral resolution, we must accept what will follow — a world of Fallujahs.

Tom Rogan is a blogger based in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to the Guardian and The American Spectator.