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Prelude to 9-11: The assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud

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allmassoud.jpg This graphic appears on a t-shirt, proceeds of sales going to Afghans for a Civil Society. (Via the Corner)

Who was Massoud, and what does the t-shirt mean?

On September 9, 2001, two days before planes flew into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the last remaining anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan was assassinated by two suicide bombers pretending to be journalists. The bomb was hidden in their camera. A documentary filmmaker and newspaper editor, Faheem Dashty, was almost killed in the blast. The assassins were sent by Osama bin Laden, in concert with the Taliban, who wanted to eliminate Massoud before turning their attention to the US.
As head of the Northern Alliance and an avowed enemy of the Taliban, Massoud would have been a key figure in any attempt by America to oust the regime and the terrorists it harbored. The date for the Sept. 11 attacks presumably had been set months in advance; it is likely, too, that Massoud's foes wanted to dispose of him well ahead of that day. "I hear there was a program to kill Mr. Massoud 20 or 22 days before,' says Dashty, the newspaper editor. "But they could only kill him on the 9th."
(The article goes on to tell exactly what happened that fateful day.)

massoud3.gif Massoud began to engage in national politics while an engineering student in Kabul in the early 70s, joining with an Islamist group to oppose the local Communist government. He later distanced himself from extremist tactics, one of his many differences with his former comrade Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

After playing a large role in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, Massoud served as Afghanistan's defense minister from 1992 until the Taliban seized power in 1996, and then joined with other mujehadeen to depose the Taliban. But his goal of a free democratic Afghanistan was challenged by the remaining warlords, the Taliban, and the global chess games of nations.
Massood's men are . . . of Tajik, Uzbek or Mongol descent and largely Shia Muslim. For centuries the Shias have fought with the majority, Sunni, Pathan tribes of the South and East. It is from these tribes that the Taliban draw most of their support.

In recent years that emnity has been deepened both by atrocities on both sides and, most significantly, by the meddling of overseas powers. All the countries bordering Afghanistan, and others further afield, are pushing their own candidates in the war.

The Taliban owes much of its success to military support from Pakistan and financial aid from Saudi Arabia, both Sunni Muslim countries. Though relationships with the Saudis have chilled recently - not least because of the Taliban government's refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi dissident and alleged master terrorist - private donations continue to pour in.
massoud2.jpeg Massoud's movement had became better-known after a sympathetic portrait in National Geographic in 2000, by Sebastian Junger (author of A Perfect Storm), and - after two decades of funding and supporting radical Islamists - it seemed possible that the US would listen to Massoud's warnings against bin Laden and his ilk, and to support him as a moderate pro-democracy leader. But the Taliban had already grown strong, and bin Laden's planes did strike, and as the t-shirt says, we are all Massoud now - equally vulnerable to being murdered by suicide bombers, and more so each year: in office buildings, in subways, on airplanes, in schools. Massoud was widely respected as an excellent guerilla tactician, a charismatic leader, a lover of the arts, and an advocate of democracy and civil rights. He was called the "Lion of Panjshir" after his native valley and the home base of his operations. This transcript from a press conference in 2000 gives you a sense of his personality and values. He throws down the gauntlet to the other factions which claim that they represent the people.
. . . . the best way is to go toward elections, to go toward a democracy and to allow the people to determine their destiny. We told Hekmatyar on several occasions that if he really thought that he had influence and was effective, then fine, let's move toward elections and let the people legitimately, legally and formally elect you with their ballots. Now, our proposal is the same for the Taliban. On several occasions, I told the Taliban delegations that came here for talks with us in the Panjsher, that you claim to represent the Pashtun tribes - fine, we agree. You say that the majority of Afghanistan is under our control - we agree. You say that the people accept us - we agree. Fine, if there is such level of confidence - then let's go toward elections. You [the Taliban] claim to hold the majority backed by popular acceptance; then what are you worried about? In place of so much warfare and bloodshed, move toward elections and legitimately attain power.
His assassination
propelled an already legendary figure into one of mythic proportions. On April 25, [2002] he was officially proclaimed the national hero of Afghanistan. His portrait is in homes, in shops and on postage stamps. A committee is collecting signatures to have him awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. And every day, hundreds of admirers make the arduous trek to visit his grave.
He also inspired a symphony, The Lion of Panjir, by David Gaines, performed in 2004.

Beautiful Atrocities posted an appreciation of Massoud on the anniversary of his death in 2004.

Massoud's tombstone in his beloved Panjir valley:
In this place, the Lord of liberty sleeps. "My war was not to obtain the right to govern, but to safeguard the dignity and honor of Afghanistan and her people."

The tomb: tombedemassoud.jpg

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Tracked: September 11, 2006 5:53 PM
9/11: FIVE YEARS AFTER from Pajamas Media
Excerpt: New Media The Wound. (American Digest) A 9/11 Reading in five parts: (Ron Coleman @ Dean's World) The Fifth Anniversary of the Last Good Day: a report from the ceremonies at Ground Zero yesterday. (Rude Pundit) Five years ago:...


Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

Thank you for this, Judith.

Thanks for this very interesting description of Massoud and for featuring the T-shirt my ex-girlfriend designed and made available ($1 from each shirt still goes to ACS). We were wondering last fall why there was suddenly this massive number of views out of nowhere. :)

The phrase "now we are all Massoud" comes from Sebastian Junger's recollection of the aftermath of Massoud's assassination. Sebastian was with Reza (the famous photographer who took most of the photographs of Massoud that have been seen around the world) in Paris, and before going over to a memorial service for Massoud, Reza called a colleague in Tajikistan, whose response to Reza was "now we are all Massoud." That description by Sebastian is part of the narration of my symphony and I knew very early on that that last line would make a perfect T-shirt slogan.

Anyone interested in the Massoud symphony -- titled "The Lion of Panjshir (Symphony No. 2) for narrator and symphonic band" -- is welcome to visit A live recording of the premier performance is available through a link on that page.


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