Afghanistan bedeviled by ‘Mystical Imperialism’
Gould and Fitzgerald’s books on Afghanistan, Invisible History and Crossing Zero, have won praise from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone and Daniel Ellsberg. They were also the first Western journalists allowed back into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan during the early 1980s, when Paul discovered a story that wasn’t being reported in the mainstream press.
While conducting research for their books, Paul and Liz discovered a trove of esoteric history surrounding the West’s attraction to Afghanistan, dating back to the 1800s when the British set out to colonize the non-Christian world. During the lecture, Liz provided this brief explanation of an age-old esoteric ideology which continues to infect our current political and military leaders:
“Simply put, Mystical imperialism rationalizes the expansion of a nation’s authority, by conquest over other nations, by infusing a sense of the divine into the raw politics of empire building. Today’s practitioners of American Mystical Imperialism are a hardened core of ideological defense intellectuals and military officers who infuse their own esoteric and religious beliefs into Washington policymaking.”
Mystical imperialism can be traced back about 400 years to the British East India Company’s draconian pursuit of profits at any cost, as the Russians were demonized to protect the Raj’s interests in Central Asia and India. Somewhere along the line the British convinced themselves and the world that Russia was bent on controlling routes to the Persian Gulf – a neurosis that forced the British to do everything in its power to transform Afghanistan into a protective bulwark against Czarist Russia’s inevitable expansion.
This type of thinking was then embraced by the U.S. at the dawn of the Cold War. In the 1970s American policymakers and the media came to view the struggle in Afghanistan through a Manichean prism, and the Soviets were on the wrong side of this black and white world which saw the U.S. find common cause with violent Islamist fanatics, purportedly to ensure Afghanistan remained a Cold War “buffer zone.”
The blinding Cold War paradigm became like a religion, bemoaned by Senator William Fulbright as early as 1972: “Our ‘faith’ liberated us, like the believers of old, from the requirements of empirical thinking… Like medieval theologians, we had a philosophy that explained everything to us in advance, and everything that did not fit could be readily identified as a fraud or a lie or an illusion.”
Even when the U.S. had an opportunity to detangle itself from Afghanistan it resisted. In fact, the U.S. aimed to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan in what later became known as the “Bear Trap”, designed by Zbigniew Brzezinski to give communist Russia its own Vietnam War.
An underreported historical fact is how the U.S. began funding terrorists in Pakistan before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Years later Brzezinski admitted as much and saw the rise of the Taliban as an acceptable side effect of the CIA’s shadowy program because, in his mind, it led to the fall of communism.
The U.S. also embraced the British tactic of empowering backward elements within Afghan society who seemed intent on keeping Afghanistan in the dark ages, including reactionaries who continually sabotaged Kabul’s attempts at modernization. In the 1920s King Amanullah brought on a period of rapid liberalization which included a democratic constitution, universal suffrage and civil rights. In 1922 U.S. envoy Cornelius Van Engert reported that the Afghans were not savage fanatics, but highly cultivated people in the midst of a major effort to modernize.
In fact, near the end of a 40-year era of peace, King Zahir Shah’s “experiment in democracy” was thwarted in the 1970s when the superpowers began using Afghanistan as a geopolitical chessboard. As a result of foreign meddling, Afghanistan regressed in terms of security, prosperity, human rights, education and culture over the past four decades at an unprecedented pace.
Flash forward to today’s “AfPak” policy, which is also void of reason and underpinned by an outdated mythology, as the U.S. continues to operate based on flawed assumptions left over from the British colonial era. And like its predecessors, the U.S. now finds itself mired in the “graveyard of empires.” And just like it did during the Afghan war against the Soviets, the U.S. continues to rely on its wayward ally Pakistan, who in turn continues to support virulently anti-American jihadists.
What makes Liz and Paul’s story especially compelling is the synchronicity that exists between their personal lives, their dreams and the historical drama as it unfolds in Central Asia. Their story is retold in the novel The Voice, in which they make esoteric connections between Templar Knights, the mujahideen and the CIA.
Underlying what appears to be irrational foreign policy is a twisted spirituality, an American exceptionalism and crusading impulse the U.S. inherited from its British forebears. Perhaps Gould and Fitzgerald were meant to serve a higher purpose themselves as they try to decode a mystery that has caused the people of Afghanistan endless suffering. Perhaps they were meant to “shed some light” on dark unseen forces swirling at the center of one of America’s biggest foreign policy catastrophes.