Paul Anderson, review of Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan by Olivier Roy (Cambridge, £9.95), Tribune, 16 January 1987

Olivier Roy’s Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan is not an easy read. This is partly because of the complexity of its subject – the social roots and politics of the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But it is as much the result of some clumsy translation (from the French) and poor editing. The book is haphazardly structured and contains no maps, and its chronology of recent Afghan history is inadequate.

Nevertheless, the work Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan demands of the reader is worthwhile. The book can only help to de-mystify a movement that for too long has either been ignored or misunderstood in the west.

Roy puts the resistance into its many contexts: the cultural differences between town and country, the deep-rooted antagonism to the state felt by the Afghan peasantry, the importance of tribal allegiances, the arrogant incompetence and brutality of the communist reforms of the late 1970s, the complex and changing roles of Islam (not least as a system of common law) in everyday life. Against this complex background, he charts the fortunes of the different factions and parties of the resistance, examines the impact of the war on rural society, and discusses the military strengths and weaknesses of the resistance forces.

Roy’s sympathies are clearly with the resistance fighters, with whom he has spent many months. Perhaps because of this, he skips lightly over the issue of aid to the resistance from the US and its allies: for Roy, the resistance is “organised by poor people in a war waged by poor people”, and aid from outside Afghanistan has had only a negligible impact upon the equipment and training of the guerrilla fighters. He might be right – corruption, incompetence and the sheer difficulty of getting arms into Afghanistan could well have conspired to minimise the effect of US and other aid. I don’t know. But whatever the truth in this particular matter, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan deserves a wide readership. It’s a path-breaking study.

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