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What is the Taliban?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Taliban or Taleban is a Sunni Muslim movement dominated by people with Pashtun ethnic identity which controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. Although the displacement of the group from government in 2001 greatly destabilized the organization, it still has active members, including people from other parts of the world who traveled to Afghanistan to support its work. During the Taliban's years of control over Afghanistan, most governments around the world did not recognize it as a legitimate government, due to concerns about human rights violations.

The name comes from Arabic word talib, which means “student.” The organization was founded by Mullah Mohammed Omar, an extremely enigmatic individual who went into hiding in 2001 after the organization's fall from power. Members of the Taliban were originally religious students who developed a very conservative interpretation of Islam and the Sharia, or Islamic law. During Afghanistan's long and bitter civil war, members of the group began a slow rise to power, and ultimately took control of most of Afghanistan, promising to put a stop to infighting between various bands of mujahideen, or groups of soldiers led by warlords, to make the country a safer place.

Initially, the Taliban's rise to power was actually greeted with excitement by many Afghans. The group asserted that it would restore Muslim values to Afghanistan, garnering support from many Muslim nations, and it pledged to put a stop to violence. However, the regime quickly turned sour. The movement's extremely conservative interpretation of Muslim traditions and values came to be a major stumbling block for many people in the country.

Under the Taliban, women's rights were severely restricted, and “modesty police” enforced strict rules about what women could wear, study, and do. Men were expected to grow traditional beards, and cultural expression in Afghanistan became virtually nonexistent. Afghans were not allowed to play music, fly kites, clap at sports events, or to engage in a variety of other activities which are permitted in other Muslim nations. Unemployment skyrocketed under the Taliban, adding greatly to social unrest.

In addition to being extremely conservative, the Taliban also attracted global ire by supporting terrorism, either directly through training camps, or indirectly through financial assistance. The group also contributed to the expansion of Afghanistan's opium market, exporting this agricultural product by the ton. Under the depressed economy, some Afghans turned to opium to make a living, leading Afghanistan's opium exports to account for around 75% of the global supply by the 2000s.

In 2001, the Taliban's control over Afghanistan came to an end with an invasion led by American troops. Although the organization was quickly routed, troops remained in Afghanistan to deal with insurgents and the low-level civil war which erupted after the government fell. These troops also sought out members of the Taliban to bring them to justice for human rights violations and alleged war crimes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon996389 — On Aug 22, 2016

Terrorism is the scare of our age. Living in Turkey, we are mostly suffering from these inhuman acts. The number of suicide bombings are getting much more in our cities every year. I am afraid of being like other Middle East countries in one day.

By anon957986 — On Jun 24, 2014

Do any of the people who are commenting even come from the Middle East?

By anon943570 — On Apr 02, 2014

I don't believe that Muslims are evil. I'm Muslim and I love America.

By anon343771 — On Aug 02, 2013

Conspiracy theorists are crazy. They need to get out of the country if they even entertain the idea that we attacked ourselves. Seriously, we don't need them poisoning what is the greatest country in the world. People have it so good here, they have no idea!

President Bush was a great man! Everyone gives him grief for racking up $4 trillion in debt in eight years, but the fact is is that our country was attacked and it cost a lot of money to keep the situation from getting worse and defeat terrorism.

Then that idiot Obama steps in and just because we finally found Bin Laden he gets all of the credit and Bush gets blamed for everything.

By the way, Obama ran by saying how irresponsible Bush was for racking up $4 trillion in eight years. Then he goes and racks up over $8 trillion more in four years and accomplishes nothing except riding off of the work that Bush started and at the same time destroying our economy.

By anon315159 — On Jan 22, 2013

Wow, after scrolling through the comment section, I came to the conclusion that most of the people on both sides of this argument are either uneducated half wits or just completely nuts. I don't believe it was Bush and I don't believe it was the terrorists that the media claim it to be. Those 19 goat farmers did not overtake our entire national defense system with a couple of box cutters. That sounds pretty made up.

Bush was too stupid to have any clue as to what was going on. He could barely sound out the book he was trying to read to that kindergarten class. So that leave the war mongers who were really running this country, like Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld who all just so happened to be part of the first Bush's cabinet that went after Saddam the first time.

The bottom line is it's like debating over who killed the Kennedys. There are only a handful of people who really know the truth and we will never hear it.

By anon269715 — On May 19, 2012

For Post 24, your argument is interesting. Are there any videos that you would recommend to hopes of learning more about what you stated? Such as "Fahrenheit 9/11"?

By anon197838 — On Jul 18, 2011

All the people out there who thought 9/11 was a conspiracy are just plain pathetic. They probably have no social life so they have nothing better to do with their time than make up crap stories about something that is 100 percent true. 9/11 was a terrorist attack by a group of people who thought they could rule the world. Do you people understand how many lives were lost that day? All the pain and suffering their families went through? I should think not! No one can understand the devastation that these people caused. This is the truth!

By anon189637 — On Jun 23, 2011

@ anon96541: You're the one who is brainwashed. the attack on 9/11 was indeed America itself. The government, the CIA, bush, all of them orchestrated the attack and conned the world to believe it was a terrorist attack.

Those towers fell down in a controlled demolition style with smaller bombs on each floor exploding as the building went down. They had to do it this way so that it did not collapse and ruin however many blocks of manhattan. not only that, the steel design and architecture of those towers could have easily stood if even three planes hit each building.

So yeah, you're another one of the millions of idiots who believe exactly what the media says. You watched or read that it was a terrorist attack and you believed it. You didn't bother to research any motives, why it happened, why whoever supposedly claimed did it actually did it.

Did you even watch the fake video of taliban terrorists claiming responsibility? It looked like a conference room in the CIA and even one of the terrorists acting on screen was wearing a watch on the hand the muslims use to wipe their behinds when finishing on the toilet. Don't tell me you still believe it was a terrorist attack

Go open your eyes. You are just ill informed, and a sheep.

By anon115392 — On Oct 01, 2010

I imagine Bush having trouble figuring out a bowl of cereal, so crediting him with an extensive and successful racist/prejudiced attack with brainwashing cover-up stories is not reasonable, unless the accuser also has trouble with cereal.

The concept of terrorism against your own people is that they do what you want for free.

By private123 — On Aug 10, 2010

Seriously! This article is not racist. How do you substantiate that comment? Please be specific. Please. Don't make unsubstantiated, uneducated comments. Wow. Bush blew up the twin towers, huh? Well, Holy Cow, there are people out there who should not be able to own a computer.

By anon96541 — On Jul 16, 2010

Oh yes, President Bush planted bombs, The Taliban really doesn't exist, we need Afghanistan's “resources?” and my favorite: The media is brainwashing us. LOL! 1. We are not a richer country because we went to war. So that theory is out. There was an attack on America on 9-11, and everyone saw it. That's out. And I don't get my information from the media.

So, the only reasonable explanation is that you are brainwashed! You're nuts if you think this war started for "resources."

Stop watching Michael Moore movies. That isn't research!

By anon93200 — On Jul 02, 2010

Which one of you has visited Afghanistan recently or any neighboring country?

I saw the World-Trade-Center "bombings" from several angles and can conclude that those airplanes alone surely didn't cause the drop.

How many stories will we keep assuring ourselves are true? We are winning the Vietnam war, we have to beat those Commies, so we ask that you send 10,000 more troops. We are winning but need 10,000 more troops? Interesting.

We needed to beat out Cuba because they weren't capitalists either. In fact North Korea fits that role nicely as well.

Now let's jump to the future and the Taliban. Hmm. I think you observant ones might see a pattern forming. It might just appear that any force or culture or species that conflicts with the US regime of power will be classified as an enemy. This is guaranteed. In fact, not only if such places, cultures and people conflict, but also, if they happen to own resources that the power hungry US craves.

In fact, not only if they conflict, own resources that they crave but also, if the US might have a new military toy or strategy to test on what they deem as insignificant minorities.

Trace the history right from World War I and up and you will see that the media has been used as the main tool in brainwashing Americans and in attempting to brainwash the rest of the world.

Do you want to try something exciting that hopefully won't crash your moral belief system?

Try taking everything you read (90 percent at least), see on TV, see in the movies, magazines, posters, etc., etc., and believe it to be the complete opposite of what it is displayed as.

That would be a good start to opening your minds.

P.S. The US is definitely one of the main places to use brainwashing; however the rest of the world is using the same.

By anon88118 — On Jun 03, 2010

If a single person wanted to destroy the twin towers, the people around him aren't going to do anything to stop him? Come on, seriously? he hates black/Islamic people? if he really does, would he go to the trouble of attacking the twin towers, with so many white people in there, and i think you're forgetting that they attacked the pentagon as well?

By anon73133 — On Mar 25, 2010

What do you mean, "if they would have never attacked the US, we would not be in war."?

If you're talking about 9/11 it's not the Taliban; it was the racist president people in America voted for: Bush, the ugly cheerleader in high school.

it's his fault that 9/11 occurred. he planted bombs in buildings and a missile onto the airplane. there are huge proofs that the airplane hadn't even touched the building when the building first fell.

Therefore my theory is: Bush hates black/ maybe just islamic people, so he wanted to let everyone hate them too so he did all this because people would believe anything that an american president will say other than a country that bush says bombed america.

By anon71884 — On Mar 20, 2010

I still don't quite understand this concept though. After reading the A Thousand Splendid Suns, I was under the understanding that the Taliban also practiced terrorism in Afghanistan. Would somebody please explain?

By anon71638 — On Mar 19, 2010

OK. yeah this was not racist. Calling them a racist name would be. this is all facts. if they would have never attacked the US, we would not be in war. it is also bush and his administrators fault.

By anon61538 — On Jan 20, 2010

the taliban is the reason we're still in afghanistan.

By anon57251 — On Dec 21, 2009

O.K. Really? This is simply, a definition. Facts. Not racist.

By anon55236 — On Dec 06, 2009

people will just say anything. there was nothing racist about that article.

By anon50194 — On Oct 26, 2009

how is it racist?

By anon47557 — On Oct 05, 2009

this article was racist.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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