Terrorism and isolation seem to go hand in hand. Over fifty years ago, before my conversion to Christ and long before the world became aware of Osama Bin Laden, I visited Afghanistan. I was 24 years old, still single, seeing the world and getting an eyeful. Four of us made an overland journey from London to Delhi, India, in a 1956 English Ford station wagon. I traveled with an Anglo-Indian who had solicited riders to share expenses, an Australian fellow and a young woman from Boston. Reflecting on my experience there, I realize the condition of that country was much the same then as it is today, and as it was a thousand years ago. Several parallels exist between the social and political tendencies of Afghanistan and the terrorist leaders who are attracted to that region. The most obvious are religious legalism, fanaticism and isolationism.
It was the fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. Perhaps with their future invasion in mind, the Russians had helped finance and construct the first paved highway that went from one border of Afghanistan to another, Iran to Pakistan. We drove the entire length of that road beginning in the high rolling area near the Persian desert, moving eastward toward the Hindu Kush mountains, passing under the shadow of Tora Bora and ending at the Khyber Pass, an area so rugged and severe it was, and still is, guarded by a thousand neutral troops to protect commercial caravans carrying their goods from the Indian sub-continent to points north. Some of these peaks are half again higher than any in the Rockies.
Much of the populace is descended from the hordes of Genghis Khan who plundered the area several hundred years earlier. War lords and mullahs rule over territories with undefined boundaries and vague laws. The men are fearsome looking with treachery in their eyes. They wear thick sandals, baggy trousers, long shirts, loose fitting turbans, and animal skins thrown about their shoulders. They smoke opium in public places. Most are armed with a pistol and knife in their belts, with a rifle and a bandoleer of bullets. And these are civilians in peace time!
To be fair, not all Afghans fit this model in the same way not all Muslims are terrorists. But it remains that Afghanistan has been dealing with foreign aggression almost continuously for centuries and males are heavily influenced by a warrior mentality from an early age. A pervasive culture of violence is palpable and lurks in every social intercourse like an iron shadow. It’s unmistakable, unavoidable and seems to be a part of every day life. There is no other country quite like it. Repression is an existential reality, not from a dictator, but at the tribal level
Camel caravans were just as common as they had been for centuries. Bus service was virtually unknown. The only vehicles on “the” highway were tanker trucks and there weren’t many of those. Westerners were likely targets for mischief. Adventurers like me were routinely robbed, beaten or killed by the bandits (Kabulis) who lived in the mountains. Personal safety was like contraband confiscated at the border. My feelings ran from general unease to occasional terror.
We stayed in Afghanistan for a week. It was a man’s world. Afghan women were covered from head to toe and were seen in public only to shop in the marketplace and tend to children. In Kabul, when the Boston woman and I went for a walk through a residential area, children threw stones at us because, I presumed later, the American girl’s face and head were not covered and she was wearing jeans. We were hit several times and had to run all the way back to our hotel.
One night in central Kandahar, we heard live music and went into a place with a four-piece drum and string band playing at the rear of the room. Men crouched on their haunches along the walls, a large oriental rug on the floor between them. When the music built to a raucous and fevered pitch, two boys about 12 years old leapt into the midst and began a very sensual dance, shimmying and prancing on the carpet. They wore eye make-up. They were pretty. We were told that Afghan men were only permitted to have relations with their wives in order to procreate, but never for pleasure (a luxury reserved for paradise). But many hired or kept young boys as prostitutes instead and that was acceptable. Homosexuality was common. But Afghan men are far from effeminate. In Sodom and Gomorrah, you’ll remember, the men were crude and aggressive.
Being remote from the rest of the world is common to terrorists and religious extremists. Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.” (NKJV) A propensity to be isolated is the mark of many terrorists who inflict serious damage to innocent people. They corrupt the doctrines of their belief system. They are convinced their interpretation is the only correct one. They withdraw from society and insulate themselves against it. They play to the weaknesses of the disenfranchised to recruit followers.
The same holds true of Christian fanatics who are motivated by fear of persecution and who miss the central theme of the gospel which is love. Early Christians counted it a blessing with an eternal reward to be persecuted, even to death. To be removed from society at large and to engage in mass murder or suicide was never perceived as superior spirituality. David Koresh and Jim Jones were not as political as Bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh but just as dangerous in their own ways.
Jesus sent us into the world, not to escape from it, but to be a light to it. Though we are free to enjoy material things, he doesn’t want us to be addicted to the spirit of the world. He wants us to walk through it bringing kingdom revelation with us but not be stained by useless indulgence. He protects us by his truth. He prayed we would be unified in love as a witness that would bring glory to Him. And that’s basically the message we should all be bringing wherever we are.