Photo Credit: Wikimedia commons
Afghan Taliban mujaheddin

I am so sick of extremism. And I don’t just mean Jewish extremism. I mean extremism in all its forms. to be clear, I do not mean that there is never a time for zealotry. There are such times, as was the case in last week’s Torah portion, Pinchas. The problem is when zealotry becomes a way of life. Then it turns into extremism

This morning I watched a CBS reporter telling us that President Biden has decided to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Now, after 20 years of fighting the Taliban – all that American blood and treasure spent on the war – is about to become a Bracha L’Vatalah –  WASTED!


I actually feel bad saying this to all the Gold Star mothers who lost sons and daughters there. But the truth cannot  be denied. Just as was the case in Viet Nam (after losing far more of our young there in a shorter amount of time) the results here are about to be the same. The people we fought there took over almost immediately after we left. The same thing is going to happen this time.

Please do not misunderstand. I do not want to see one additional life lost in that futile 20 year effort. Nation building is not the job of the US army. But the results we hoped for… the results we fought for will not happen. The free democratic government we support that loosened the reins of Islamist extremism will by any measure soon be gone. Territory is being taken over by the Taliban almost faster that the US troops are leaving.  The Afghani military seems helpless  in the faced of the Taliban advance.

The question is why? Why is the Taliban so successful? This brings me back to extremism.

When does someone become an extremist? When they become true believers. I don’t mean those of is that believe in the word of God. I mean using those beliefs as the motive for extremist acts. If you think you are doing God’s will… if you believe in eternity… if you believe that giving your life in service to God will give you the ultimate in eternal life… and if you believe turning your country into a state based on th word of God (an Islamist Republic in the case of the Taliban) you will be far more willing to die for that cause. Sacrificing your life in service of God will give you the ultimate reward in heaven.

The Afghani regulars might be religious too. But their determination does not even come close to that of the true believer. Fighting for freedom is not the same as fighting for God. Fighting for freedom will not guarantee a place in heaven. Freedom fighters want to live. Fighting a true believer then becomes a lost cause. The Taliban are true believers. They are not going to stop until they fulfill the word of God as they see it.

This has been the hallmark of Islamist religious fanaticism in Afghanistan going back to at least the 70s when the former Soviet Union was fighting them. They were called the Mujahidin then. We were in fact on the Mujahidin side back – seeing the USSR as the enemy trying to overrun that country and turn it into a Communist vassal state. The Mujahidin were the freedom fighters to us then. But they are the same people that call themselves Taliban now.

So why do I care what goes on in a country so far away from us? The best answer I can give for that – Osama Bin Ladin. If we allow terrorist extremists to reign, they can easily find their way here. If they for example don’t like a foreign policy that supports Israel – a people whose Jewish religion they believe to be false and evil in the eyes of God – 9/11 could happen again. As could a number of things worldwide like it that would undermine the freedoms the Western world has come to love. If you think that is unlikely, I direct you to Iran, another nation that sees service to God in extremist terms to the point of exporting terror in service to it.

Extremist behavior is never good. Not among the nations of the world. and not here in America where right wing White Supremacists are as devoted to their extremist Christian beliefs as are the Taliban to their extremist Islamic beliefs. And just as determined these days. They are now coming out of the shadows and killing people they consider inferior degenerates in the eyes of God. Like the Taliban – they too believe they are acting on the word of God.

And we, the Jewish people have our own share of extremists, whether they live in Meah Shearim, Ramat Bet Shemsh B or on hilltops in the West Bank. They are dangerous true believers that will commit atrocities in the belief that they are serving God. Same as the Taliban or White Supremacist’s.

If there is one thing the entire world should be afraid of  – it is the true believers. Those whose extremist religious values are so strong that they are willing to give up their lives and the lives of others in what they believe to be service to God.

Back to Afghanistan. This is not to say we should stay there. But it does mean that as we leave, we should do so with our eyes wide open and realize what that might mean to the future of the free world. And figure out what we can do to stop it.


{Reposted from the author’s blog}


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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at [email protected].