Treachery fire

By Lorenzo

The recent murder of 3 diggers by an Afghan wearing the uniform of the Afghan National Army is part of a pattern of murders of NATO and Allied personnel by Afghans who are either members of official Afghan security services or wearing the uniform of same.

In just the past two weeks, at least 9 Americans have been killed in such insider attacks. For the year to date, at least 40 NATO service members, most of them American, have been killed by either active members of the Afghan forces or attackers dressed in their uniforms — already outstripping the toll from all last year.

Obviously, these “insider killings” sew profound mistrust between NATO and Allied troops and Afghan forces.

Field commanders have also been given discretion to increase numbers of so-called “guardian angel” sentries who oversee foreign soldiers in crowded areas such as gyms and food halls, to respond to any rogue shooting incidents.

Not least because it undermines any sense that Afghans can be trusted to act according to the uniform they wear. Said uniform, and any associated oaths, clearly means much less to the treachery killers than that the NATO and Allied forces are “infidels”. There is, for them, no overarching moral standard across the gulf between believer and non-believer.

There is also nothing new in the this pattern. The Dutch encountered exactly the same phenomenon during the Aceh War.

There was no shortage of would-be Acehnese martyrs who, for the sake of gaining a victim, were willing to feign friendship with the Dutch, before drawing their knives against them.  The phenomenon of unpredictable killings by the Acehnese came to be known as Atjèh-moord ‘Acehnese murder’.

The gulf between believer and non-believer trumped any explicit or implicit obligation.

It might be objected that the Dutch were colonising imperialists: which is true. Given that Afghanistan has an elected government and the NATO and Allied forces have no intention of staying permanently — indeed, have an announced timetable of withdrawal — that is hardly a common factor. Even more given that the Western intervention has seen a dramatic fall in the number of Afghan refugees, dramatic economic growthexpansion in schooling (particularly of girls and women) and elections (which, though imperfect, likely compare favourably to, say, Chicago under the Daley clan).

All of which may be much of the point.  Empowering women, giving folk effective votes that allow laws to be passed by mere humans, daily reminders of infidel success; these are profoundly affronting to a certain Islamic sensibility.

Of course, what we are dealing with here is a pattern within Islam. Which does not make it a pattern of Islam. An important distinction that may be lost on grieving families, and comrades.

Especially the latter. For how can you tell the difference between an Afghan who takes his oaths seriously and those who decide that no promise can reach across the gulf between infidel and believer? You can’t, until they open fire.

This is the insidious nature of the doctrine of taqiyya or permitted deception; it poisons both moral understanding and human interactions. It subverts the function of morality — to make human interactions more trustworthy and so far more extensive — quite thoroughly. All in the name of a higher good.

Attempts to argue that the doctrine only “properly” applies in specific cases miss the point. People, not even devout believers, are not doctrinal machines robotically programmed by the subtleties and nuance of doctrine. Indeed, they can show great ingenuity in bending doctrine to convenience, as in the ways Muslim rulers bent or ignored the strictures on not enslaving fellow Muslims; including C20th Saudi Arabia enslaving black African Muslims engaged in the Hajj.

Similarly, in attempting to find doctrinal justification for suicide bombing, Al Qaeda’s Al-Zawahiri is reduced to making a very weak inference from a parable hadith about a young boy who is a martyr to Islam by telling the evil king how to kill him after Allah had saved the boy more than once and claiming from that it is the intention in the suicide which makes all the difference. However thin the doctrinal basis, that has not stopped suicide bombing becoming a much used weapon by those wishing to proclaim their total commitment to Islam.

It is the underlying logic of belief (and the patterns it gives rise to) which have the power, the details of doctrine are a moveable feast. The logic that taqiyya endorses is the logic of promises to or regarding infidels are not binding. It meshes in with the logic of jihad, of the permissibility of violence to force submission to Allah.

Both are a very particular manifestation of the burden of God; of God as such an absolute authority that all moral considerations are subordinated to submission to God — such being, indeed, the highest form of morality. It is Deuteronomy 13 (kill the apostate) without the counterbalance of Exodus 22:21 (treat the alien well).

What, after all, is the point of military uniforms? They are means of identification, to show whose side you are on and so who is, or is not, a military target. They are a means of both protecting civilians and permitting cohesion in battle. While use of false uniforms (and false flags) is a long used form of deception in war, during periods where adherence to rules of war was strictest, wearing a false uniform (or no uniform at all) was also grounds for battlefield execution precisely because it subverted basic signals.

What we are dealing with here is not only such deception, but a deeper issue of denial of binding promises. It is a very explicit example of how religion subverts basic morality by elevating other claims over it. It also raises the issue of what credence to put in statements by Muslims within our own societies. Are they being honest or are they applying taqiyya?

Connected to this is the notion that the loyalty to the ummah, the community of believers, trumps that to any state, particularly an infidel state. Even in its weakest manifestation, it discourages any public statement which might be regarded as critical of fellow Muslims, Islam or the Muslim community. This also tends to seriously truncate the possibilities of honest public debate.

The logic of belief is not necessarily the logic of believers. But that just raises again the question of how do you tell? What signals (if any) can you believe? This might be a life-and-death issue for Western soldiers in Afghanistan, but it is a profound social question for the West.  One that is likely to get more intense the larger Muslim minorities become, because that increases the likelihood, extent and intensity of such patterns through much greater chances of mutual enforcement.


  1. Moz
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Surely the whole point is that you can’t tell which is which? Otherwise it’s only attempted deception. When we do it we go to some lengths to make sure the lies are believable, after all. Although the idea that they will fake wedding celebrations in order to have secret meetings does stretch my credulity, I admit, and stunting people’s growth to get adult soldiers the side of infants suggests incredible foresight (not to mention more advanced medicine than anywhere in the west has). But hey, let’s call it deception on the part of the enemy and move on.

    I don’t really buy the idea that Islam is any more than a covering for political machinations, any more than the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Afghanistan and just happen to all be proudly Christian nations are really united behind any form of religion. I note that Australia plays a double game here, technically we have no state religion but we use Christian prayers in government and our monarch is by law also the head of a Christian church. But we are not a Christian nation, Brian, I’d just like to make that clear.

  2. Posted September 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    While important issues guerrilla tactics or politically motivated infiltration are hardly unique to Islam.

  3. derrida derider
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Religious doctrine has always been amazingly flexible in the face of social, political, economic or military convenience. Holy books, in particular, can usually be found to contain passages which with suitable selection or careful interpretation can be made to justify almost any action.

    After all, it is not so very long ago that two of the more influential verses in the Christian bible were “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” and (said by a Jewish crowd) “his blood be upon us and our children”.

  4. derrida derider
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    PS it is quite amazing how people talk of “treachery” here. We’ve brought yet another decades of death and destruction to the country and installed a puppet government composed of racketeers and drug smugglers (that bit about elections has to be a joke, surely, Lorenzo – half the country didn’t actually get to vote and the count of the rest was, shall we say, somewhat irregular). Now THEY’RE the ones that are “treacherous”?

    What is it we are achieving in Afghanistan again?

  5. Mel
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    I think you are being way too optimistic about Afghanistan, Lorenzo. It seems like the Government is joke and that it’s power doesn’t extend much beyond Kabul. The gains that have been made re female education etc could easily evaporate as soon the CoW leave. And that’s another thing, the CoW is leaving soon and the locals know it would be suicidal to piss off the Taliban. There is no incentive to help the CoW.

    Anyway, the Americans had to punish the Afghan Govt (Taliban) in some way for helping AQ. With the benefit of hindsight, maybe they should’ve simply given the locals 24 hours notice then bombed every city, port, major road, water and electricity utility etc such that Afghanistan could no longer function as a country. This would have been harsh and many civilians would’ve died but it would’ve acted as a strong deterrent for other rogue Muzzie regimes.

    Oh yes, and here is that cost of war counter again. Can you explain to me again why a small government type such as yourself thinks this Mount Everest of government expenditure is a wise investment rather than a clusterfuck?

  6. Posted September 2, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    While I accept that there are serious issues concerning Muslim immigration to Western countries (for precisely the reasons you raise – there really does seem to be something wrong with the religion at a very basic level), Afghanistan is an unfixable clusterfuck not amenable to nation building, and is in part a mess of our own making.

    That mess, however, comprises not only this latest exercise in invasion and ‘rebuilding’, but also our (read US) foolish backing of the Islamists against the Soviets, purely on the basis that the Afghans believed in God. I have come at least in part to the view that we should have left the Russians to it.

  7. TerjeP
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Mel – I think the correct response to 911 was a widespread decapitation of the Taliban leadership in so far as that was achievable. Conquest and nation building were overshoot. I would not condone carpet bombing the whole country.

  8. Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink


    Charles Kingsley said something similar about Roman Catholics, you may recall. Newman’s Apologia pro vita sua was the response.

    I am shocked by the way you proceed by a chain of generalisations to which you acknowledge exceptions which you then proceed to disregard (eg: false flags as a ruse of war) when taking the next normative step. By the final sentence of your post you have reached a demonization of the other which is hard to differentiate from that which you profess to decry in Islam.

    It’s not as if there are not already plenty of people in our society who are capable of deceiving others without regard to religious doctrine or indeed in disregard of religious doctrines to the contrary.

  9. Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] That an accusation has been used against others does not mean it has no force in this case.

    You are also missing my point. If it was as easy as “no Muslim can be trusted” then policy is simple — chuck them all out. But of course my point is precisely that it is not that simple.

    What I think is dangerously silly is pretending there is no issue.

    [email protected] I am not quite sure whether equating the invaders (the Soviets) with the people helping the defenders (the US) is a useful way of thinking about it. A better point is that the US should not have dropped Afghanistan as a concern the minute the Soviets were defeated.

    On the religious angle, suicide bombing is not necessarily Islamic (the Tamil Tigers were famous users, though the religious angle was not absent there). And yes, infiltration is a tactic of war, as I pointed out. But there are also repeating patterns — the Suras the 911 bombers cited were the same ones the Aceh fighters used to use. The cognitive resources are there to be grabbed.

  10. Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Backing the Soviets against Hitler led to the Cold War. It was still a sensible thing to do at the time.

    The trouble with leaving the Soviets to it was the feeling that it would encourage the Soviets to try again. They were running the war at a profit (by thieving the natural gas and charging it as “payment for fraternal assistance”) until the US started giving the mujahideen shoulder-mounted SAMs. The Soviets started losing an aircraft a day and the war became a losing proposition very quickly.

    Profitable expansion, on the other hand, was much more tempting for a regime with economic problems. As it was, there is something to the argument that defeat in Afghanistan pushed them into reforms that collapsed the Soviet Empire and, even with subsequent problems, that was a good result.

  11. kvd
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    “People should marry across national and cultural boundaries with people from countries they consider to be their enemies so that the world of peace can come that much more quickly.”

    Now there’s a fellow worth at least talking with. Pity he’s no longer with us. But then, maybe he never was?

  12. Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    As it was, there is something to the argument that defeat in Afghanistan pushed them into reforms that collapsed the Soviet Empire and, even with subsequent problems, that was a good result.

    I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of treating entire countries or classes of people as oversized trolley problems. First, you’d need to demonstrate (at least partial) causal linkage between Russia’s loss in Afghanistan and the later collapse of communism. Next, you’d need to work out whether sacrificing Afghanistan’s women (because that’s what we sacrificed) to that collapse was worth it.

    Especially considering that Putin’s Russia is as borked as it ever was.

    Very, very discomforting thoughts.

  13. Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink


    Maybe we have a glass full/empty question here.

    Some Muslims cannot be trusted. There are some specific reasons why some Muslims cannot be trusted. To pretend otherwise would be to pretend that there is no issue.

    What’s uncertain is whether more Muslims than the rest of us cannot be trusted, and even if so, how many more.

    To declare that untrustworthy Muslims and the potential that with more Muslims we will have more untrustworthy Muslims is a profound social question , but scarcely beyond the sense that anything is profound if you ponder it deeply and darkly enough.

    The point about the Kingsley/Newman example is that everyone thought Kingsley made a bit of a goose of himself and that has coalesced into the historical orthodoxy.

  14. Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Clarification to 14, fourth paragraph might be clearer as follows:

    That untrustworthy Muslims and the potential that with more Muslims we will have more untrustworthy Muslims is a profound social question is true, but scarcely beyond in the sense that anything is profound if you ponder it deeply and darkly enough.

  15. Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    And again (Oh I hate not being able to edit my comments when I’ve assayed a too-knotty sentence!):

    That untrustworthy Muslims and the potential that with more Muslims we will have more untrustworthy Muslims is a profound social question may be true, but scarcely beyond in the sense that anything is profound if you ponder it deeply and darkly enough.

  16. Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Partly OT: I will be in London for the next few days, and while I’m there I’ll be going to this:

    There will be a blogpost on the lecture, of course 🙂

    And (germane to Marcellous’ request), at some point our server issues will be sorted out… which means ‘comment preview’ then becomes possible!

  17. Mel
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    If I walked the streets of Melbourne wearing a t-shirt that featured one of the Dutch cartoons that offended Muslims back in 2006, I’d be dead or pulverized within the week. As much as I hate Catholics, I know I can wear my Pope Benedict XVI is a wanker t-shirt without fear. That’s reason enough for me to tell Muslims who want to move to Oz that they can fuck off (unless they are from subgroup with a history of tolerance).

  18. Posted September 19, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    On the geopolitics of intervention, Stratfor has some pertinent observations about the Libyan intervention and aftermath.

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