However, Marsden must also remain objective and realistic in his account of Western society. On page 100 the author notes, "It is also important to recognize that western society is no more homogenous than Afghan society." The heterogeneity of the international community and of the Afghan community make Marsden's job more difficult. The author avoids sweeping generalizations about Western and Afghan societies but Marsden does not shy away from necessary summaries of different ideological and theoretical perspectives.
For example, Marsden points especially to the philosophy of individualism present more in Western than Eastern societies as an example of the differences between Afghan and, say, American or European cultural norms. Marsden also refers to the subsequent difficulties in forging communications between humanitarian organizations and the Taliban. Many of these organizations come equipped and willing to help out the Afghan people but inevitably bring with them cultural value systems that cloud objective and unbiased communications. Unfortunately Marsden does not go into any detail about the various organizations that have been involved with Afghanistan or the Taliban. Citing specific examples of NGOs that have been involved with the Taliban or Afghani society would have been helpful to bolster some of Marsden's key arguments. Case studies could have illustrated some of Marsden's key points about the difficulties in creating clear communication between divergent groups of people. If personal stories and anecdotes had been included, the Taliban would have come to life more; the book would have provided a more human face to an otherwise academic perspective. Nevertheless, the book's small size limits the extent to which Marsden can delve into specific case studies and the author works well within the scope of the material available on the Taliban. Moreover, although Marsden does not come out and say so directly, it is possible that case studies are unavailable.
Marsden's perspective on the Taliban is as compassionate as it is objective. In providing a clear and comprehensive history of the movement, he places the Taliban within a global and historical perspective. The author suggests, for instance, that the Taliban and other radical movements in political Islam arose not in isolation but in conjunction with seemingly unrelated world events. Marsden takes care to describe the influences of the United States and the Soviet Union on the recent history of Afghanistan and shows how the economy of that nation is also supported by the Taliban. Afghanistan is characterized by an economy that relies on smuggling, opium and heroin, and controversial oil and gas pipelines, all of which Marsden describes briefly in Chapter 11, "The Regional Picture."
One of the main strengths of Marsden's book is his dedication to framing the Taliban within a broader historical, cultural, and religious framework. In addition to offering the background historical information in the early chapters of the book, describing how the Taliban eventually were able to take power in Kabul, the author also includes an outline of early and convergent Islamic movements in Chapter Six. Marsden compares and contrasts these movements, taking care to respect the specific ethnic and cultural traditions that support them. While Marsden does not treat Islam as a homogenous religious force, he does note the inevitable similarities between Islamic movements, especially as they draw upon religious scripture as the source for political policy. Indeed, one of the main difficulties in forming dialogue with radical Islamic movements is that those movements are informed directly by religion, whereas in European and North American secular societies, religion and politics inhabit separate spheres. Great difficulties arise when the religiously-grounded politics of the Taliban conflict with the secular morals and ethics of other cultures around the world.
The author neither demonizes nor glorifies the Taliban in his constructive and scholarly overview of the movement. The Taliban: War, Religion, and the New Order in Afghanistan is therefore a useful starting point for a fruitful investigation of the Taliban in particular and radical Islam in general. The theme and tone of Marsden's book are diplomatic and thus the book also allows students of international relations to grasp the objective and unbiased perspectives necessary to approach complex global issues. The Taliban in fact provide a prime example of the difficulties in forging dialogue between divergent cultures.
Marsden, Peter. The Taliban: War, Religion and the…