After a group of Taliban militants attacked a small town south of Kabul and beheaded 15 people recently, Western media has turned its gaze back to Afghanistan. Comments on the new government in Kabul and on the Taliban's links with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and interviews in U.S. media outlets about the future of Afghanistan have come one after another. Why so?Because the media wants shocking and provocative stories. The Western media attaches particular importance to events that stir the collective memory of its consumers, and collapse the ideological taboos called "universal values." If these were not at stake, it wouldn't give a damn.
Just remember, when the Taliban gained control of Kabul in 1996, the Western media did not pay much attention, despite U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan being behind the Taliban's rapid rise. The best approach at the time was to leave the issue to the experts and confine it to the "opinion" pages. The Taliban was lining up its opponents and shooting them dead, cutting ears off as a punishment and whipping the feet of women who went out. But mainstream media has treated all of these as "primitivism of a distant geography." Five years have passed thus.
Then one day we learned that the Taliban had decided to destroy two giant Buddha statues dating back 1,400 years in the Bamiyan region. And pandemonium followed. After deciding to destroy the two Buddha statues, which had been carved out of rock, one 55 meters and the other 37 meters tall, the Taliban suddenly emerged on the media scene of the Western world. Ordinary Afghans were not considered "included in universal values." But destroying these statues meant "overstepping the boundary." Live broadcasts started immediately.
There were even some diplomatic initiatives launched to save the statues. For example; the then-Egyptian government had sent an envoy to urge the Taliban to review its decision. What happened next? In early 2001, the statues were destroyed by using tons of dynamite. Let me give an interesting detail. First the heads of the statues were destroyed and images from that operation were distributed around the world. The destruction of the statues, which none of the Muslim communities ruling over the region in centuries past had ever imagined doing, was presented as "in accordance with Islamic law [sharia]," in the words of Ahmad Mutawakel, the Taliban administration's Foreign Minister. From New York to Tokyo, everyone learned of and understood the issue in this frame. Symbols should not be underestimated. Destruction of these statues played an important role in creating a perception of distrust toward Muslims, especially among Asian Buddhists. And then the 9/11 attacks came.
Now fingers in the U.S. were pointed at Afghanistan without hesitation. The Taliban was in cahoots with al-Qaida. They first destroyed the statues in Afghanistan and then the towers in New York. The upshot was: It's time to invade Afghanistan. And so it happened.
I would like to remind those who might ask why I'm telling this old story that ISIS has pursued a conscious media policy during its operations in Iraq and Syria over the last year. More and more people have become convinced that this organization is managed by a skillful "mind" that knows the West well - and this is not a groundless claim at all. A media campaign ranging from beheading the journalist James Foley using special effects reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino to having British journalist John Cantlie broadcast from Kobani, contains some strategic skills.
What really matters is the answer to this question: Whose interests does that strategy actually serve? Only those of ISIS? When people in the West are forced to turn their attention to the Middle East, which they are not usually interested in, through such news, this means "something" great will follow. Will we take the examples of Afghanistan and the statues into account when considering this, or forget them?