The Alt-Media Community: Virtue Signaling & False Comparisons About Afghanistan
Everyone’s entitled to express their personal views about whatever it is that they’re passionate about, but one can’t help but get the impression that some voices in the Alt-Media Community are either uninformed about Afghanistan’s complex realities, only care about exploiting global attention towards this conflict in order to push their agendas, and/or are behaving hypocritically by ironically embodying the same ideological imperialism that they claim to be against.
Many in the Alt-Media Community (AMC) are resorting to virtue signaling and false comparisons about Afghanistan following the Taliban’s decisive anti-imperialist victory there over the Americans. Leftist, liberal, and pro-secular activists are flooding social media with lamentations about the supposed plight of Afghanistan’s minorities and women now that the group – which is still officially designated as terrorists by most countries such as Russia despite Moscow recently taking the lead in the Afghan peace process – has returned to power.
Supportive hashtags abound despite the vast majority of Afghanistan’s people not knowing English nor having a presence on those same social media platforms where such activism is being practiced. The most common narratives being propagated by these increasingly vocal members of the AMC include the following: the Taliban are actually American proxies; they’re an unpopular fringe terrorist group with no grassroots support; and Afghanistan will inevitably experience countless more atrocities under the Taliban that need to be stopped.
Everyone’s entitled to express their personal views about whatever it is that they’re passionate about, but one can’t help but get the impression that those AMC voices are either uninformed about Afghanistan’s complex realities, only care about exploiting global attention towards this conflict in order to push their agendas, and/or are behaving hypocritically by ironically embodying the same ideological imperialism that they claim to be against.
To the first point of criticism, some well-intended activists might simply be naive and therefore unaware of how complex the situation has always been in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban’s mujahideen forefathers received American support against the Soviet Union, this doesn’t make the group’s present-day manifestation an American proxy. After all, the US and its allies slaughtered thousands of Taliban members and even more Afghan civilians over the years in their quest to exterminate the group and its nationwide support network.
These wanton killings were carried out with impunity through indiscriminate bombings and special forces raids against weddings and even people’s own homes respectively which turned public favor outside the cities where approximately 75% of the population resides against the US-backed Afghan government and towards the Taliban. The group became the so-called “lesser evil”, gained strength, was regarded by countries like Russia and China as a legitimate stakeholder in the conflict with whom to negotiate, and cut ties with terrorists.
Although its vision for Afghanistan doesn’t align with Western notions of democracy or human rights, the Taliban still promised to respect the interests of minorities and women. Afghan society is mostly traditional despite some urban folks embracing the Western way of life since 2001. Regardless of however one feels about the differences between their own morals/ethics/values and the Taliban’s, they should acknowledge that the latter largely represents the majority of Afghan society, for better or for worse depending on one’s stance.
Nevertheless, many of those expressing concern about recent events in Afghanistan don’t appreciate these complexities and instead view everything through an oversimplified perspective. This is largely attributable to mostly uninformed commentators in the AMC constructing self-serving narratives about that country and its conflict over the past two decades. It’s easy to rile up one’s audience by reminding them of the CIA’s “Operation Cyclone” in the 1980s in order to delegitimize many Afghans’ passionate pro-Islamist sentiments.
This observation smoothly segues into the next point which is that the many leftist/liberal/pro-secular activists in the AMC who came to prominence throughout the course of the ongoing Hybrid War of Terror on Syria see a perfect opportunity to continue pushing their agendas onto a broader audience via the newfound global attention towards Afghanistan. Instead of accepting the Afghans’ right to embrace different morals/ethics/values, they want to present their proud embrace of Islamist values as a threat to everyone else.
This projection of their own preferred vision onto Afghanistan and associated attempts to delegitimize the Afghans’ popular embrace of different morals/ethics/values inadvertently results in those activists embodying the same ideological imperialism that they claim to be against. They’re resolutely opposed to foreign forces militantly seeking to impose their unpopular vision of an Islamist society onto traditionally secular Syria, yet they themselves want to impose an unpopular vision of a secular one onto traditionally Islamist Afghanistan.
These double standards might be unintentional, but they’re no less hypocritical than the West’s own towards Syria that these same activists have done such a great job exposing. Everyone should respect the Afghans’ sovereign choice to develop their society however they so choose while acknowledging that no system is perfect and that there will always be dissenters within it, just like there exist the same within Syria and every other country. What’s most important is that foreign forces don’t meddle in the domestic affairs of these states.
It’s understandable that some might feel concerned to see those who share the same morals/ethics/values as they do end up on the losing side in whatever conflict it may be, but observers should always remain objective in recognizing which side represents the majority and minority of those societies. Secularism is supported by the majority in Syria while Islamism is embraced by the majority of Afghans. Those abroad who feel strongly about minority views should be conscious that their activism in each case goes against the majority of society.
In addition, these same activists shouldn’t misportray each majority side’s prior policies as a means to delegitimize them. The Taliban aren’t US proxies just because their forefathers acquired American arms to defeat a foreign force that militarily intervened in their country to prop up an unpopular government, nor is the Syrian government a US proxy either even though it participated in the CIA’s secret rendition program and previously entered into talks with “Israel” over the occupied Golan Heights. Such narratives are manipulative.
The lessons to be learned from all of this are several. First, activists should remain consistent in support of their morals/ethics/values. They should be conscious whenever they’re applying double standards towards a certain cause like supporting state sovereignty in Syria and the genuine will of its social majority while going against this principle when it comes to Afghanistan by implying that the unpopular US-backed puppet regime in Kabul was preferable to the Taliban in the eyes of most Afghans (excluding of course the minority of urban dwellers).
Second, it’s possible that the point of criticism above is attributable to the said activists’ lack of awareness about Afghanistan’s complex realities. In that case, activists should endeavor to learn more areas that they’re unfamiliar with before sharing their hot takes about whatever the situation might be. They can also inform their audience that they’re still learning about everything but that their initial impression is whatever they share at that time and why. That’s better than pretending that they’re an expert on something that they aren’t.
Third, all activists should acknowledge that their models aren’t universal. The paradigm of Islamism being a foreign-backed proxy force aggressively imposed against the majority of a society’s secular wishes is applicable in Syria but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny in Afghanistan. In fact, the reality there is the opposite. It should also be remembered that the US-backed puppet regime in Kabul was officially an Islamic Republic anyhow even if it was comparably more secular than the Taliban’s envisioned Islamic Emirate.
Fourth, it’s understandable that activists are passionate about their preferred ideologies but they mustn’t impose them on others lest they inadvertently end up doing the same thing that they criticize the West for. Structurally speaking, there’s no difference between a leftist/liberal/secular activist pushing their ideology onto the conservative/nationalist/Islamist Afghan society and the West pushing its own weaponized conservative/Islamist ideology onto Syria’s leftist/secular society. They’re both forms of ideological imperialism.
Finally, the last lesson to be learned is that no activist should ever deign to be so dishonest as to deceptively misportray their opponent’s prior policies in order to delegitimize them and their anti-imperialist cause. Even though the Syrian government and the Taliban support two totally different visions of society with irreconcilable ideological differences, they’re both nevertheless very strong anti-imperialist forces with respect to resisting the US in their own way. Neither should be delegitimized since doing so only serves US interests.