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Notre Dame professors discuss impact of 20 years of American presence in Afghanistan

| Wednesday, September 1, 2021

According to USA Today, over 2,400 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan in the last 20 years. The 13 troops who were killed in the Kabul airport attack on Thursday were the first U.S. casualties since February 2020.

In addition to American casualties in Afghanistan, many Afghan service members have also lost their lives. According to Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion at Notre Dame, more than 65,000 Afghan service members have died, and this number does not reportedly account for civilian casualties.

Courtesy of Mahan Mirza
Mahan Mirza serves as the executive director of the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion. He is also a teaching professor specializing in Islamic Studies.

Mirza said he believes the United States is, to some extent, responsible for the conditions that Afghans are currently facing.

“The past 40 years for Afghanistan have been very wild and violent and we have played a part in the dire conditions that their society faces today, especially because we instrumentalized both religion and [their] culture in order to be armed with them,” Mirza said.

Mirza explained that American exceptionalism is what began the war in Afghanistan since the U.S. believed it was powerful enough to go into Afghanistan and bring about long-lasting and systemic change. Consequently, the war and violence that Afghanistan experienced as a result of this exceptionalism have left a lasting trauma on its society, he said.

“Instead of trying to work with the world to help them heal and think of our interests as being intertwined, we left them, and then we isolated them,” Mirza said.

Mirza also said the U.S. has treated non-American lives as “lesser” than American lives in its affairs in Afghanistan.

“We need to begin to be able to see our concerns and interests as being connected to a larger human family,” Mirza said.

Learning to view the deaths of others as tragic and viewing their lives as valuable as our own is an important step towards resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, Mirza said.

Ebrahim Moosa, the Mirza Family Professor of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies at Notre Dame, said the political leaders of America that got the U.S. involved in this conflict need to be held accountable, so it is important for the American public and voters to be made aware of the situation.

“We always want to hold other people accountable, for example, other leaders and other parts of the world, but we don’t want ourselves to be held accountable,” Moosa said.

In an opinion piece Mirza wrote for The Hill, he discussed the United States’s need to take into account Sharia law and U.S. imperialism in order to “work with the international community to constructively engage the Taliban in what the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame calls strategic peace-building: establishing sustained relationships across all levels of society to build trust.”

Additionally, in the virtual flash panel “The Unfolding Situation in Afghanistan” hosted Thursday by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Mirza and his colleagues posed the question “Is the U.S. willing to rethink its military-industrial complex?” This question then became the backdrop for other discussions concerning “finding a bridge that reconciles adversaries through moral imagination” to achieve peace.

The War in Afghanistan has been the longest war in American history.

“Therefore, it is important for this generation of students to learn about these conflicts in a very detailed and unvarnished manner,” Moosa said. “If we’re not going to have that conversation, we’re going to repeatedly make this mistake.”

Mirza also addressed the global effects of the conflict in the Middle East.

“If the violence escalates, it will eventually touch all of us in some way; none of us live in isolation,” Mirza said.

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