Mills students had the opportunity to learn about America’s reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the history of Afghanistan from an expert Oct. 10.
Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Theodore Eliot, spoke in the Student Union as part of the Understanding Southern Asia and the Middle East educational series.
“I was surprised that terrorism was such a surprise on Sept. 11,” said Eliot. “What is news is the size of the tragedy it caused.”
Eliot explained the history of U.S. involvement in the region and of the Taliban. “Many Afghans felt they (the Taliban) brought peace and security after 10 years of war,” Eliot said. Over a million Afghans died in 10 years of war with the former Soviet Union, he said.
Eliot said that he would not have believed 20 years ago that the U.S. would ever bomb Kabul. “While it is bizarre, it is necessary,” he said. “When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the evil empire, he was right. When George Bush calls Osama bin Ladin evil, he is right. It is important, though, to separate the evil leader from the people they rule.”
He said that he disagreed with the Bush administration’s unilateral foreign policy prior to Sept. 11, but believes that there has been a change. “We need to cooperation to fight terrorism,” Eliot said.
Eliot was also pleased that the U.S. is looking toward the humanitarian aspects of the conflict. “The new government would have something to do which will help the Afghan people,” he said. Eliot is also looking forward to having the Afghani people develop their own government.
Islam may have been a factor in the strong Afghan response to the Soviet backed communist regime, which took over the country in 1978 and later fell to the Taliban. “Godless communism was not something that was appreciated in a country as religious of Afghanistan,” said Eliot.
The U.S. initially helped to back rebels fighting the communist regime, but pulled out of Afghanistan shortly after, he said.
Eliot commented that the country’s capital, Kabul, was destroyed by war. “The main commercial district in Kabul looked like Berlin in 1945.”
Government professor Fred Lawson introduced Eliot. The series, presented by the government department and the Office of Student Life, brought three speakers on to campus: Eliot, Lawson, and Islamic Law Specialist Hatim Bazian.
Students and faculty members asked questions about humanitarian issues, the perception of U.S. foreign policy abroad.
Eliot said that the U.S. was widely respected throughout the world for its freedoms, rule of law and respect for civil liberties. He also said that the American public needs to “become more educated about the rest of the world and other cultures within our own boarders.”