When Ahmad Massoud appeared on the stage of the Rendez-vous de l’Histoire in Blois a month ago, the 300 spectators in the room stood up to applaud him. His name so awakens the memory of his father, the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud. Nicknamed “the lion of Panchir”, this Afghan warlord first fought the Soviets in the 1980s, before having to face the Taliban. He was killed in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda, two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
The son took over. He was 12 when his father died. Today, he in turn faces the Taliban, driven out of Kabul by an international coalition at the end of 2001 but who regained power after long years of guerrilla warfare in August 2021.
Militarily, Ahmad Massoud is starting practically from scratch. Politically, he undertook to create a National Resistance Front. But it is also on the ground of ideas that he intends to make the decision. He is engaged in an ideological battle which goes beyond the limits of Afghanistan and which is being played out in many other Muslim countries: that of an Islam of reason against the radical Islam advocated in particular by terrorist organizations.
The young leader, who wears the famous pakol Afghan – a woolen beret with a large bead – explains his thoughts in a recent book, Our freedom (1). It refers to one of the legal schools of Islam, Hanafism, which gives a large place to the reasoned interpretation of religious texts, as opposed to literalist readings.
This thought deeply marked Central Asia for centuries, before seeing competition from other very doctrinaire currents, such as Wahhabism, from Saudi Arabia. According to Ahmad Massoud, the groups resorting to terrorism, which he includes the Taliban, want to eliminate the representatives of rational Islam – and it was through them that his father was killed. They base the legitimacy of their power on a binary interpretation – good and evil –, excluding and intransigent of sacred texts.
The program of the National Resistance Front defends, conversely, a plural vision of Afghanistan. It takes into account the multicultural and multinational character of this vast mountainous country, where no ethnic group can claim to represent more than 40% of the population. He advocates a decentralized model of governance, based on the Swiss model, where the power established in the capital would draw its legitimacy from the peripheries, and not the other way around.
Ahmad Massoud, three of whose four sisters are doctors, is also a strong defender of women’s rights and their access to education. More broadly, he affirms that Islam is entirely compatible with democracy, knowledge and progress. The Koran “encourages human beings to build spiritual, moral and ethical civilizations that take into account the common interest, he writes. My project is to harmonize democracy with religious values”.
He who followed university studies in London and who likes to delve into the mystical subtleties of Persian literature will have to convince a population deeply attached to its traditions and to different religious currents. Against fanaticism, he takes the path of tolerance. To support it, we can already start by reading it.