lion of panjshir

Seven Days of Redeeming Islam: Day Seven - The Lion of Panjshir

As a secular leftist from a family with a long history of socialism, I am not what you’d consider a natural ally of Islam.

Yet recently I feel like the heights of Islamaphobia within mainstream Western discourse has gotten to such that even I cannot sit idly by and make snide remarks at an organised largely conservative religion.

“If Islam is such a beautiful faith, why don’t people condemn the extremists?” goes the common refrain.

The idea that Islam is a homogeneous group, where the mainstream tolerates Salafist, Wahabist and Jihadist schools which have come to represent the worst excesses of the Islamic faith has got to stop.

Why don’t Muslims do anything about their own extremists? The simple answer is that they do. Tens of thousands of Muslims have given up their life in the fight against radical Wahabit, Salafist tendencies.

Therefore I’ve resolved, for the next week, to make a daily post to show the world that Islam, like all faiths, has it’s ugly but also beautiful aspects, from large to small.

One of the most common questions I have encountered in discourse to modern Islam is: why didn’t Muslims try to stop the Taliban?

The short answer is: they did. Thousands of Afghanis gave their lives in close to a decade long resistance against the Taliban, largely unaided and ignored by the outside world.

The complexities of the civil strife in Afghanistan pre-NATO intervention are too much to fit into this one short post, so instead I’ll focus on one particular man - “Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir”.

Massoud came to the scene in Afghanistan as a prominent figure in the resistance against the Soviet occupation. After the fall of the incredibly ill-fated post-Soviet Kabul regime, Massoud formed the Northern Alliance in an effort to resist the Taliban, whose fanaticism and ideology he saw incomparable to his more moderate, pro-democracy vision for Afghanistan.

As the other (largely corrupt and ineffectual) warlords fell one by one to the Taliban, Massoud’s force became the only force able to effectively defend against the Taliban, and succeeded in keeping the Taliban out of the northern third of Afghanistan for five long years. Whilst facing down the larger, more well funded and more well backed (thanks to the Pakistani intelligence and military services) Taliban forces, Massoud never stopped his tireless attempts to build a collaborative democratic state in Afghanistan. Repeated diplomatic efforts were made to other forces both internally and abroad, democratic institutions and women’s rights laws were set up in Massoud’s territory, and his armies conducted warfare with an admirably low amount of civilian casualties and abuses (which is really par the course for civil wars).

For five long years he fought against the Taliban in this way, all the while Pakistan continued pouring resources cross border, all the while the US told him to surrender to the Taliban, and both the Taliban and Al Qaeda wanted his head to a plate.

In April 2001, Massoud addressed the European parliament, warning that he had intelligence that a major terrorist attack against the West was being planned.

On the 9th of September, 2001, the Lion of Panjshir was finally laid low by one of the many assassination attempts that’s plagued him over the years. A suicide bomber, largely believed to be acting under the orders of Al Qaeda, got him, two days before the major terrorist attack Massoud warned about happened.

The rest, as they say, is history.

(This is a series of photo and text posts called “Seven Days of Redeeming Islam”, please follow me on http://perfect for more posts)