The one thing that Islamist terrorism does not get enough credit for is its phenomenal public relations.
It manipulates mass imagination like a sorcerer. IS lines up a thousand men in Guantanamo-like orange jumpsuits, shoots them at the back of the head, and sends the videos out to send shockwaves of chill down the civilised world’s spine. The same IS PR team, perhaps sitting in the same room with peeling, cobalt-blue walls in Mosul or Raqqa, sends out cheerful brochures to teenage Muslim girls in London or Berlin selling them the Caliphate dream of fun villas, jacuzzi, and heroic young men fighting for a just and caring world.
As I write this, there are reports of the Taliban going door to door in Afghanistan forcing parents to hand over their girls to the ‘fighters’ for sex slavery. Executions and stoning have started. Taliban is allowing the leak of videos of themselves dragging 11- and 12-year-old girls away from their mothers to be gang-raped into submission. That is to drive terror into the hearts of ‘infidels’ and those ‘not Muslim enough’.
But in front of the international cameras in Kabul, the Taliban has declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government. They even allowed four burqa-tented women to shout slogans in public and some chosen journalists to question them at press meet and studio interviews.
Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, went as far as describing women as “the main victims of the more than 40 years of crisis in Afghanistan”. At some faraway football stadium, irony fell to the ground in a blue burqa, with a bullet in its head.
The liberal world, which has made its mission to whitewash or dilute even the worst Islamic excesses, instantly lapped up the saccharine. Journalists sympathetic to the Taliban’s cause even started hashtagging it #FreedomOfSpeech.
Four women were protesting against the Taliban takeover in Kabul today. They were neither beaten, killed, raped or taken hostage, rather they were guarded and allowed to carry on with their protest by Taliban. #FreedomOfSpeech pic.twitter.com/vB6PF37trc
— Mirwais افغان (@miirwais) August 17, 2021
Some Indian journalists were counting how many foreign media outlets covered the Taliban’s press utterances.
Others unquestioningly latched on to Taliban PR artillery the way some Afghans were seen clinging to the tyres of an American plane in an attempt to escape the Taliban. A gaggle of them even used it to take potshots at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tweeting in tandem as if at the behest of a ‘toolkit’. More than a dozen blue-tick handles posted identical tweets.
Even Taliban is taking unscripted questions from the press.
— Gurmehar Kaur (@mehartweets) August 17, 2021
Even the Taliban gives press conferences. But no such luck with our leadership. https://t.co/wIrfw87kaZ
— shunali khullar shroff (@shunalishroff) August 17, 2021
Meanwhile, Germany halted development aid to Afghanistan. So did Sweden. The Taliban’s image re-invention exercise is clearly aimed at ensuring that money continues to flow.
The Taliban’s code for women is fairly clear and unambiguous. Here are, in a nutshell, some handy guidelines:
Gullible liberal apologists and overground Islamists may wish to paint a different picture, but there is no room for ambiguity in Taliban’s code. When foreign media switches off its fawning cameras, the world is black or white from Kabul to Kandahar, Herat to Khost.