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Published: Wednesday, 5/30/2001

Shades of the Third Reich

In 1939, a decree went out from Adolf Hitler that Jewish residents of the German-occupied Polish territories would henceforth be required to wear white armbands bearing a blue Star of David. Before long, all European Jews under the spreading Nazi regime were forced to display yellow stars, which became, as one Hitler security aide put it, “another step on the road to the Final Solution.”

So what are we to make of a similar order by the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan, where Hindus and all other non-Muslims now are required to identify themselves with yellow badges worn on their clothing? Is this, as with the Nazis, a prelude to extermination of an unwanted group?

The basic difference is that non-Muslims make up a tiny portion, perhaps only a few thousand, of Afghanistan's 25 million people, 95 percent of whom live under Taliban rule. Beyond that, though, there seems to be no distinction, only a means to identify, isolate, and control a minority of the population.

The Taliban religious police are using the transparent claim that the yellow badges are for the “safety” of non-Muslim Afghans. Non-Muslims must be identified in public, they say, or the authorities won't know who to harass and arrest for failing to wear full beards, pray in the mosque five times a day, or otherwise hew to the harsh interpretation of Islamic law prescribed by the Taliban.

Few Hindus who dare to live in Afghanistan see it that way. “We don't feel safe with this,” said one spice dealer. “This is discrimination. We are Afghans.”

The United States properly has condemned the restrictions; a State Department spokesman called them “the latest in a long line of oppressions” by the Taliban. “Forcing social groups to wear distinctive clothing or identifying marks stigmatizes and isolates those groups and can never, never be justified.”

No one who has watched the Taliban ban education for girls, destroy ancient Buddhist statues, or close a hospital for allowing male and female patients to “mingle,” will be surprised at yet another draconian tactic, perpetrated in the name of a brand of Islam only this alien group among civilized nations seems to recognize.

The Taliban's hardening attitude toward non-Muslims comes as Afghanistan continues to wither in the throes of civil war and famine. Millions face starvation there. The United States could attempt to restrain the regime by threatening to withdraw its recent offer of a $43 million aid package, but, pitted against the virulent strain of religious extremism, such a tactic might do more harm than good for the people it's supposed to help.



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