Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2011
1 September 2011
This year I was looking forward to Mullah Mohammad Omar’s holiday message for Eid al-Fitr, since it has become the Mullah’s tradition to deliver himself of an address on the occasion of Eid. This is the “State of the Union” address for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Afghani Mujahideen style themselves. I previously discussed Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Eid al-Fitr messages for 2009 and 2010. The entire statement for this year can be found, translated into English, at Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban): Mullah Omar’s Eid ul-Fitr Message (August 28, 2011).
This year Mullah Omar signs himself, “Servant of Islam, Amir-ul-Momineen, Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid,” and the statement several times refers to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which in turn is abbreviated to “Islamic Emirate,” which again is abbreviated as “IE.” The title “Amir-ul-Momineen,” is usually translated as “Commander of the Faithful,” and there is a legitimate question as to whether Mullah Omar has a right to this title. Beyond this, “Amir” is one of many variant spellings of the “Emir” in “Emirate” (this is from Wikipedia: “‘Emir’ Arabic: أمير; amīr, Male: أميرة; emira; amīrah, “commander” or “general”, also “prince”; also transliterated as amir, aamir or ameer”), which suggests that Mullah Omar, despite his Spartan pretensions, is implying that he is a political official of an Afghan political entity.
Whereas last year’s statement was highly confident, reading like a miniature treatise on Islamic nation-building, this year’s statement is rather different. Most of the quasi-leftist/revolutionary struggle rhetoric about colonialism, evident two years previously, is gone, as is the programmatic nation-building sections from last year’s statement. The centerpiece of the present statement is the section headed, “To the Vanguards of the Stronghold of Truth,” which consists of eight (8) items regarding the proper conduct of Mujahideen engaged in Jihad in Afghanistan. Thus this is more a statement of a military commander to his men engaged in ongoing combat than the statement of a political leader to his people that he intends to organize into a nation. It is also reminiscent of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in which the former urged the latter to avoid actions that would alienate the peoples of Iraq.
The need for the Mujahideen to behave themselves (as instructed by Mullah Omar) reminds us of a recent incident in Afghanistan that does not bode well for the Taliban. It was reported last week in the New York Times in Afghan Villagers Stone a Taliban Commander to Death that “Angry villagers stoned to death a local Taliban commander and his bodyguard in southern Afghanistan Sunday after the militants killed a 60-year-old man accused of aiding the government, Afghan officials said.”
As Mao said, and as I have quoted many times, a guerrilla must move among the people like a fish in the sea. If the Taliban do not have the sympathy of the people of Afghanistan, they have nothing. Obviously, to endure as long as they have endured, they must have a great deal of sympathy among the peoples of Afghanistan, but with this incident we see that this sympathy has its limits. More episodes like this would suggest serious problems for the Taliban. Afghanistan is a highly ethnically diverse place, and not everyone is equally enthusiastic for the ethnically- and sectarian-specific character of the Taliban.
It is often said that the Taliban represent a movement indigenous to Afghanistan, specifically to contrast this with the trans-national character and ambitions of Al-Qaeda, and this is true, but it further follows that the intensely indigenous character of the Taliban means that the movement is peculiar to a particular people and a particular region and a particular interpretation of Islam, and imposing this particularist vision upon the diversity of Afghanistan’s tribal and ethnic patchwork is no easy task. And so we find in this year’s Eid statement several paragraphs emphasizing that the Taliban will tolerate all walks of life in Afghanistan. Perhaps they, too, have read the Ayman al-Zawahiri letter cited above, in which the author stated, “We don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Qandahar alone.”
The most interesting thing about Mullah Omar’s Eid statement was what it omitted. We are accustomed to statements of this kind mentioning recent political events in order to prove that the party making the statement is alive and aware of the strategic situation, even if they have not been seen in quite some time. Call it a rhetorical proof of life. Mullah Omar does this, but he mentions nothing whatsoever of the Arab Spring.
While little has changed in Afghanistan in the past year, the situation for the Ummah has changed drastically, with the peoples of North Africa demonstrating that they are able to throw off the secular dictators previously favored by the West for the semblance of stability that they brought to the region. The recent successes of the rebels in Libya, and the confidence that the people in Libya have gained from the ouster of Qaddafi, further demonstrates that members of the Ummah can successfully engage in armed struggle with assistance from the West and no assistance at all from Islamic militants. This alternative vision presents a challenge to the vision of Islamic militants, and Mullah Omar passed over this challenge in silence. He dares not limn the limits of his vision.
Two more things I should mention are the fact that the bulk of the statement is very politic, especially as noted above in relation to Taliban professed tolerance for the “various strata of the Afghan society” — diplomatically worded, even if poorly translated in parts — and that the opening paragraphs, celebrating the victories and successes of the Mujahideen, are the weakest part of the document and betray an ever-so-slight diminution of confidence on the part of Mullah Omar. If you’re winning, you don’t need to tell people that you’re winning, so that the more you say about your successes and brag about your body count, the more obvious it is that you are worried that you aren’t winning.
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