The character of Bill the Butcher in the movie Gangs of New York explained the secret of power of terrorism. It is the ability to command obedience through fear. Bill explained, “I’m forty-seven. Forty-seven years old. You know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all on the streets can see. That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.”
The Taliban understand this principle well. Mohammed Hanif of the BBC has watched his country, Pakistan, simply avert its eyes from the reign of terror. He writes in a Washington Post editorial entitled, My Country, Caving to the Taliban:
The day after Pakistan’s government signed a peace deal with the Taliban allowing them to implement their own version of sharia in the Swat Valley, there was a traffic jam at a square in downtown Mingora, the main town in the region. The square, Green Chowk, has acquired the nickname Khooni Chowk, or Bloody Square, because the Taliban used to string up their victims there. “Look at this.” A shopkeeper pointed to the hubbub. “This is what people wanted, to get out and do business. Take the security forces away, take the Taliban away, and we can get on with our lives.” He, like many Pakistanis, believed that the deal with the Taliban was the only way to stop bullet-riddled bodies from turning up at Khooni Chowk.
Mingora is not a backwater, not part of the Wild West that foreign journalists invoke whenever they talk about the Taliban. It’s bursting with aspiration; it has law schools, a medical college, a nurses’ training institute. There is even a heritage museum. Yet when peace arrived on Feb. 16, all the women vanished. They were not in the streets or in the offices, not even in the bazaar, which sells nothing but fabric, bags, shoes and fashion accessories.
The music market vanished, too. All 400 shops. The owner of one had converted it into a kebab joint. “This is sharia,” he spat at his grill, which hissed with more smoke than fire. Across from his stand, a barber had hung the obligatory “No un-Islamic haircuts, no shaves” sign and was taking an early morning nap, his face covered with a newspaper.
This, I was told, was the price of peace.
What does peace look like? The Guardian obtained a copy of cell phone video being circulated by the Taliban showing what was in store for women who defied sharia, or at least, their understanding of sharia. Video shown below is an example of what Hanif is talking about. But what puzzled Hanif was how things could come to this pass. “Over the past two years, Pakistani civil society has driven a military dictator from power and managed to force an elected government to restore our top judges to the bench. But when it comes to the Taliban, it seems incapable of speaking with one voice. There is little sense of an impending crisis, just the blithe belief that the Taliban are not as bad as they seem, and that in any case, Pakistan’s fractious government and security services are no match for these men with beards and guns. I hear vague comparisons with the days before the Iranian revolution; the only problem is that we don’t seem to have a Khomeini, at least not yet.”