cover image The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan

The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan

, . . Harvard Univ., $27.95 (430pp) ISBN 978-0-674-02690-2

Observers in the 1990s marveled to see the Taliban bring order to a chaotic Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Admiration vanished as the Taliban proceeded to oppress men as well as women and massacre opponents. When they refused to surrender Osama bin Laden after 9/11, the U.S. invasion helped sweep them from power. Then dismissed as reactionary zealots, the Taliban have since been revived and are now steadily expanding their influence. Historian Crews and reporter Tarzi have assembled eight revealing essays on this widely reviled movement. The Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns who make up perhaps half the country's population and whose elite have traditionally ruled the country. This ragtag army of Islamic clerics and religious students presented itself as a superior alternative to ruling Pashtun elites and successfully manipulated tribal politics. Despite accusations of being a medieval throwback, the Taliban are Islamic “counter modernists.” Their use of mass spectacle, surveillance, the media and even their strict regulation of gender roles is consistent with other modern totalitarian movements. The authors' 58-page introduction adds additional clarity and context to Afghanistan's tortured history, making for an engrossing read that is more accessible than most academic collections. (Feb.)