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Dr. Frank Conlon

Professor, History and International Studies, University of Washington: Jackson School of International Studies

On October 11, Dr. Frank Conlon discussed Islam and its cultural and political influence on Afghanistan and Pakistan before PNNL staff in Richland, Washington. Dr. Conlon is the Chairman of the University of Washington's South Asia Program, and co-founder of an international discussion site for professors of South Asia studies. His speech was the first of a four-part series titled Islam, Afghanistan and the Issue of Terrorism, organized to provide insight into the circumstances contributing to the rise of Al Qaeda, and the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"The Taliban… is an extreme deviation from principles, which are basically admirable," Conlon told his audience. Conlon provided a brief historical overview of Islam, describing it as an absolute monotheism born in Mecca during the 7th century when the angel Gabriel spoke to Mohammed, believed by Muslims to be the last prophet of God. He also explained that throughout the majority of history, Muslims have peacefully coexisted with Jews and Christians, who Muslims consider to be "people of the book," albeit who they also consider to be supporters of "incomplete" or "mistaken" interpretations of God's will, thus necessitating the clarification provided by Islam. In addition, Conlon explained that in Islam, as in other religions, suicide is frowned upon, and that jihad is widely interpreted to be an inner struggle against one's darker desires, rather than a military struggle against non-Muslims.
Humorously referring to Afghanistan as "more of a geographic expression than a country," Professor Conlon explained that Afghanistan and Pakistan are a cultural, ethnic and religious crossroads and that empires and borders in the region have changed many times throughout the centuries. While much of the region gradually became Muslim as a result of territorial expansion by the Mogul Empire in the sixteenth century, there have been differing interpretations of Islam, which has been adapted to the varying cultural practices of the region's numerous ethnic groups, resulting in different sects.

Today, Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to face great challenges, as a result of the difficulties posed by their great diversity, history of conflict, and the artificial boundaries imposed by the British Empire before it pulled out of the area after World War II. Afghanistan has been unsuccessful in creating a government that is satisfactorily representative of all its ethnic groups. The Duran line, separating Afghanistan and Pakistan, is not formally recognized by both nations. Territorial conflict continues between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, and until the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, violence raged between Pakistan and Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan.
Drawing his presentation to a close, Professor Conlon offered a brief remark on perceptions of the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "I've been asked if they 'really hate us' (in the region)... I don't know that they do 'hate us'… but if they did, I would have to say it is due to our own ignorance," he offered, highlighting the vast gap between the United State's knowledge of the region and its ability to influence it.

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