A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Pakistani Taliban as The Borg

A tip of the hat to Juan Cole for pointing to this piece on the website of the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn, which dares to make a comparison that would make most Western analysts fear they'd seem way too nerdy: Irfan Hussein, spinning off from the Space Shuttle launch, manages to compare the Pakistani Taliban to the Borg in the Star Trek franchise. He argues:

Watching a re-run featuring the fearsome Borg, I was struck by how similar they are to the Taliban. Anonymous and terrifying, these bearded holy warriors could easily be an army of clones. Motivated only by ideas put in their unformed minds by the Taliban collective, they kill all who differ with them. Those who fall into line then become foot soldiers. Other recruits to the Taliban cause are drawn from the thousands of madressahs that have proliferated across Pakistan. Here, young men are brainwashed into hating all ideas and influences not sanctioned by their narrow belief system.

Just like the Borg, the Taliban are an implacable foe in their unreasoning drive to assimilate or annihilate all in their path. So certain are they of their monopoly on the one truth that they are not willing to contemplate the possibility of different approaches, different beliefs. And just like the Borg, it is impossible to reason or negotiate with the Taliban. It’s all or nothing for these stone-age warriors.

I really don't want to reveal my own nerdiness by extending the metaphor and discussing it in detail, but I thought it was worth calling this article to your attention. On the "resistance is futile" theme, Hussein says this:

Given the nature of the foe, it is hard to see how the Taliban and their many offshoots and affiliates can be tamed and contained. It would certainly be a mistake to confuse nationalist struggles waged by Muslims with Islamic groups fighting to impose their benighted views on the rest of the world. The former can negotiate meaningfully as their goals are to do with territory. But the Islamic jihadis want to dominate the world, and force the rest of us to live according to their primitive code.

As mankind explores the stars, and seeks to leave the confines of earth’s gravity, it is hard to believe that we are still locked in an existential battle against a foe that wants to drag us back to the seventh century. For the Taliban, there are no half-measures. As we saw in Swat, they are not content with simply running a territory ceded to them by a weak state. Having grabbed one piece of land, they sense weakness, and want it all.

While I won't be drawn into extending the metaphor, the Borg are supposed to be a technologically superior civilization in every way, who have "assimilated" world after world. The Taliban are, in contrast, while equally expansionist and intent on transforming their subjects, profoundly lacking in modern means of coercion. They can take over towns and even provinces if the central government is weak, but they can hardly defeat modern armor and air power. And as seems rather evident now that the Pakistani Armed Forces are actually engaging the Taliban: Resistance is not futile.

This will, I hope, be the only Taliban/Borg post for a while.

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