Last Tuesday, November 20, 2018, religious scholars and clerics gathered in the Uranus Wedding Hall in Kabul, Afghanistan. The hall was being used for a wedding as well as for an assembly of scholars congregating to celebrate the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, a national, and widely celebrated holiday in Afghanistan. At 6:20 p.m. the bombing of the convocation took place, killing around 55 people and injuring 100 more, leaving many in critical condition.
The bombing is claimed to be a suicide bombing according to the Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, Najib Danish, who also confirmed the death toll at the time. This attack, while horrific, is not remarkable in its manifestation.
Amidst a 17-year long war with the Taliban and a resurgence of suicide attacks, said to be claimed by lingering Islamist State loyalists, the Afghan government and its people are losing sight of a future that is not saturated in violence and marked by bloodshed.
Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, has continuously condemned attack after attack, labeling them inhumane, anti-Islamic, and haram, an Arabic word used to describe an act in Islamic jurisprudence that is forbidden in the eyes of God. As of 2016, it is estimated that 100,000 people have been killed since the U.S. invaded in 2001, and of that figure around 30,000 people are believed to have been civilians. Both these figures have continued to rise since then and show no signs of slowing down.
According to the United States Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, the UN Assistance Missions to Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented around 37 attacks on places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers in 2017 alone.
The attack at the wedding hall in Kabul is a prime example of the terrorism that has been plaguing the region for years now, mostly by the Taliban, but also by other extremist groups that have found a safe place to operate amongst the chaos. Although the Taliban has not claimed responsibility for the attack last Tuesday, it is not unheard of for the organization to attack religious sites.
Unknown to many who are not overly familiar with Islam the term constantly regurgitated by press and media alike, jihad, is not a naturally violent nor extreme prospect of Islam. In fact, most devout Muslims will take part in some sort of jihad. Jihad is used to describe a struggle or a fight, usually against oneself in an effort to improve one’s own devotion to God.
Organizations like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State have claimed to be acting in accordance with jihad, whether it be against false Islamic practices or governments in violation of sharia. However, these groups have always been in violation themselves. They kill mercilessly and subjugate innocent people to their extreme beliefs and ways of life. Despite this, the Taliban has control of more Afghan land in their possession since 2001 insinuating that recruitment has been strong enough to keep the organization, not only afloat, but thriving.
It is important to understand that organizations like the Taliban, like most terrorists’ groups, prey on and seek to exploit youth that find themselves in exceedingly difficult situations. Youth are often disproportionately affected by war and economic strife. An example of this is evident when analyzing the birth of the Taliban in 1994.
Afghanistan has a long history of foreign intervention, first by the British, followed by the Soviets in the late 70s to the late 80s, and most recently the U.S. What this means is that during its inception, the Taliban targeted young men who had grown up in refugee camps, young men who knew nothing but war. The Taliban did not promise them a return to their homeland, rather the creation of a home they never knew.
Currently, the situation has become so dire that the Afghan government has discussed having peace talks with the Taliban in an effort to avoid more casualties. The government has even gone so far as to recognize them as a valid political entity. This has not proven fruitful but neither has violent retaliation, as seen by both the Afghan and U.S. militaries. So where then can a solution be found?
There is no easy fix, however, possible solutions could be attacking the problem at its core. In other words, citizens are the key to peace. Much of the recruitment today happens online, social media platforms have already started partnering with intelligence agencies to find solutions to limit access to the sites where recruitment takes place. In addition, educating young people, especially young men, in regions of high contestation is crucial.
Young people who decide to join extremists’ organizations often see no other option, in many of their eyes the government has failed them.
Youth must be shown another way and enlightened on the atrocities that organizations like the Taliban commit. It is critical that the government focuses on emphasizing and providing other ways to address legitimate grievances, not only to curb the flow of recruitment but also to build trust among the Afghan population again.