Staffers of the largest freethinking group in the United States have interviewed one of the foremost experts on the social dynamics and historical foundations of Muslim societies to shed light on the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is a commentator on the modern Middle East and South Asia. Since 2002, he has written the blog: “Informed Comment” (, which has gotten a lot of attention, including that of the CIA under the Bush administration. Professor Cole has authored many books, including Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East and The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East.

In a conversation with the Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor and Communications Director Amit Pal, Cole delves into the various aspects of the Taliban, including its ideology and its roots, its potential impact on Afghan society, and how multiple failures of U.S. policy led to the Taliban’s resurgence.

Religion Foundation Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. Photo: FFRF

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The erudite scholar delves deep into the Taliban’s origins, tracing its ideological provenance back to the 19th century and a seminary in Northern India called Deoband. As a reaction to British colonial rule, the school of thought (Deobandism) originating at this seminary urged Muslims to return to a supposedly pure form of Islam modeled on the religion around the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The Taliban base much of their conduct around the presumed sayings and deeds (Hadith) of Muhammad, even if much of this is unverifiable.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, their brutality compelled a flood of refugees to Pakistan and created legions of orphans. The Pakistani security forces took many of these young men, Cole explains, and formed a fighting force to serve their interests in a strategically crucial neighboring country.

Cole offers a bleak forecast of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, especially for women and minorities. He says that even if the Taliban leadership is sincere in its public pronouncements of moderation, the group is so organizationally chaotic that its field commanders may not follow that line.

Juan Cole the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.

Cole emphasizes that the United States fostered the conditions for the Taliban victory by engaging in a brutal and corrupt occupation. U.S. forces alienated much of the Afghan population by their heavyhanded tactics. And the U.S. abettment of massive Afghan govermental corruption created a Potemkin village-type house of cards that massively collapsed. The Taliban, which had minuscule approval among the Afghan population immediately after their ouster, was able to launch a comeback.

Finally, Cole appeals to the world not to prolong the suffering of the Afghan people by sponsoring counterinsurgency forces or by imposing economic sanctions. The Afghans have suffered enough, he stresses, and the global emphasis should be on alleviating their misery through aid efforts.

For further analysis about Afghanistan, please visit Professor Cole’s website at  To listen to the original FFRF radio program, please go to:

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