NERVANA MAHMOUD, ENGLAND
By naming the co-founder of the Taliban one of the world’s 100 most influential leaders, Time Magazine reveals its contempt for Muslims and shows how successfully Islamists have brainwashed gullible Western elites.
It was a baking hot July day in Cairo and my first day in medical school. Like many well-sheltered Egyptian girls, I was shy and introspective; I decided to spend my lecture break in the female section of the university’s mosque, instead of in the public café. In hindsight, that was a turning point in my life. For the first time, I was faced with the raw, unfiltered, unapologetic face of Islamism.
It was not prayer time, but the self-appointed niqabi-wearing fellow student had started a preaching session on what she claimed to be “the real Islam.” When she saw me, she was not impressed. “It’s a shame your parents opted to choose such an infidel name for you; to prove you are Muslim, at least you need to wear the hijab,” she added. For the next six years, I heard her and other “sisters and brothers” preaching about the mandatory obligation to wear a hijab, the need for segregation between male and female students, the importance of female “circumcision,” how music is forbidden in Islam, and why it is crucial to return to what they labelled the “puritan spirit of Islam.”
Yes, I heard all those Taliban-style teachings a long time ago, well before the 9/11 terror attacks in New York. Those Islamist colleagues eventually joined the various Islamist movements that spread underground in Egypt during Mubarak’s tenure. Some of them joined the Muslim Brotherhood; some joined various Salafi groups; others went to Afghanistan, and a few of them emigrated to Europe pretending to be “reformers.” The cobweb of Islamists is tangled, diverse, and multidimensional.
Islamists may differ in strategy and tactics, violent or non-violent, but all are united in one goal: achieving a significant paradigm shift in the minds of both Muslims and non-Muslims. They aim to convince Muslims that Islamism is the real Islam, and to persuade non-Muslims that the concepts of equality and women’s rights are alien to Muslims and should not be imposed by the West.
Afghans murdered by the Taliban since the magazine’s publication were not available for comment .
The handover of Afghanistan to the Taliban—and Time Magazine’s naming of Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar as one of the 100 most influential people of 2021, under the “leaders” category—arguably represents the most significant victory of Islamism as a global ideology to date. Both symbolize a significant paradigm shift in the minds of top Western policy makers.
Western elites have convinced themselves that their values are alien to Muslims, at least in Afghanistan, and have been preoccupied with finding a “moderate” path, even within the most radical and oppressive puritan groups such as the Taliban. Baradar represents a more moderate current within the Taliban, “one that will be thrust into the limelight to win Western support,” Time’s profile explains, describing him as “deeply pious,” “charismatic,” and the author of admirable policies such as “the amnesty offered to members of the former regime, the lack of bloodshed when the Taliban entered Kabul and the regime’s contacts and visits with neighboring states.” Afghans murdered by the Taliban since the magazine’s publication were not available for comment.
As Afghan-Canadian entrepreneur Sara Wahedi remarked, “There was a clear campaign to sanitize the Taliban from the very beginning of the peace process.” Think tanks, consultants, journalists, and so-called experts, she writes, “were tasked with planting the seed of neutrality, at the cost of destabilizing a nation.”
One might argue that Time’s choice merely reflects events, since the fall of Afghanistan is perhaps the biggest political event of 2021. Nonetheless, that so-called victory can hardly be credited to Baradar and his clan; it was largely an American political move. It was the United States that decided to withdraw from Afghanistan, regardless of the implications of such a decision—or the negotiation skills of Mr Baradar and his team.
Shortly after Time Magazine’s prestigious choice, we learned that the Taliban, defying international calls for diversity, inclusion, and gender equality left women out of their line-up of ministers and deputies and accommodated few ethnic minorities. Moreover, a Taliban official revealed that the group will once again carry out strict punishments and executions. Many Western pundits, however, claim that Baradar is moderate and that he has been sidelined by radicals within the group—this on the basis of the flowery, cheap words he used during his negotiations with US officials.
In an attempt to look balanced, Time Magazine also included a female Afghani entrepreneur, Mahbouba Seraj, on its list. But this quest for balance is farcical, to say the least. It is like putting a drug dealer and an anti-addiction champion on the same list. Only a cruel, soulless editor can do that without a shred of shame.
Thus far, however, the success of Islamists in conquering the minds of Muslims seems limited only to their core supporters. Many have noted the images of desperate Afghans clinging to the side of a moving US military plane leaving Kabul airport, the decisive defeat of an Islamist party in a free and fair election in Morocco, and the rising resentment against the Mullah’s regime in Tehran and Erdogan’s ruling party in Turkey. Even the Western-based Islamist thinkers who are applauding the Taliban have failed to move to Afghanistan to bask in the sharia. Instead, they’ve resumed enjoying the freedoms and liberties guaranteed by democratic and secular laws in the West, as Hany Ghoraba has highlighted.
The battle for the soul of Islam in the modern era will continue, but despite the paradigm shift in support of Islamism within many Western institutions, this ideology will not prevail. Islamists may rule and oppress their opponents. They may be glamorized by prestigious Western magazines. But their inability to provide a successful formula for governance will eventually lead to their defeat in every corner of the Muslim world.
Nervana Mahmoud is a UK-based physician from Egypt who writes about Middle Eastern politics. We have withheld her location for her security. You can read more of her writing here.