Choosing sides
January 5 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Choosing sides | Saturday, Jan. 5, 2002

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2002

Choosing sides

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor There is a fascinating story in 1 Samuel 27 about how David, tired of running around the Judean backlands with King Saul in hot pursuit, decided to leave Israel and pledge allegiance to the Philistines. According to the text, David took his private army of 600 men to Achish, king of the city-state of Gath, and promised to serve the Philistine chief. Achish had refused an earlier request for sanctuary (1 Sam. 23, when David didn't have a 600 man army), but he accepted the enterprising warlord's second offer and assigned David the frontier city of Ziklag to hold and to expand. I always struggled to understand how a loyal Israelite could go over to the Philistines so easily, even though it is apparent from the text that David cleverly undercut Achish and that his real loyalty, apart from God, was to himself and his followers.

Tribal strife, feudal machinations, mountain hideaways and pragmatic allegiance-switching seemed so far removed from contemporary life that I found it hard to comprehend - until we all started learning about Afghanistan.

If the plentiful news reports and background stories about America's war in Afghanistan are accurate, it seems to be a country not far removed - except for the caliber of its weaponry - from the 10th century B.C.

Tribal factions promote constant strife, as Uzbeks, Tajiks and others come into conflict with the dominant Pashtuns. Regional warlords with private armies control many villages, towns and cities. Allegiance to broader coalitions is pragmatic rather than ideological.

An early report described how one contingent of Taliban soldiers fighting against the Northern Alliance found themselves hemmed in between opposing troops and American bombs. "We had no choice but to switch over," said the group's commander. "Surrender" was apparently not an option - when faced with defeat, the detachment simply kept their weapons, announced they were switching sides, and promptly sat down to share rations with the same farmer-soldiers who had been shooting at them a few hours earlier.

A more recent report detailed how the powerful Tajik warlord who controls the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif criticized the transitional government for putting Pashtun tribal leaders in charge of defense. To quiet his criticism - and to bring his private army into the newly-created national armed forces - the interim leader simply appointed him as deputy defense director.

If widely reported suspicions are correct, another querulous tribal chieftan took his complaints directly to the U.S. armed forces. He apparently provided intentionally misleading "intelligence" that a convoy of rival tribesmen included Taliban supporters, knowing that U.S. warplanes would eliminate his competition.

Many former members of the Taliban, in presumed collusion with Alliance forces, seem to have simply melted back into the general populace. Some are now saying they did not really favor the oppressive measures of the movement, which was based on a radically distorted, fundamentalist brand of Islam. They didn't really want to force their women to wear the enshrouding burqas, they say, or to keep them away from jobs or school. But when the strong-armed, execution-minded Taliban was in control, it seemed like a good idea.

Can Afghanistan's transitional leadership begin cultivating a true sense of national loyalty that goes beyond tribal and personal allegiance? Can the people of Afghanistan unite around a system of values that respects the rights of both men and women, has room for differing views, and includes religious freedom?

I hope and pray that good things will come to Afghanistan.

I also hope those of us who may seem so far removed from Central Asia may learn from the war-torn nation's struggles.

Does our allegiance to Christ penetrate our lives and values, or did we just "switch over" to the church because we felt hemmed in by hell?

Do the decisions we make in church and denominational life grow from genuine, personal beliefs, or are they based on the proverbial "which side the bread is buttered on"?

Even the great King David struggled with questions of practicality and ideology, with choices between expedience and faith.

The same kinds of issues still confront people from Afghanistan to America, from Kabul to Kentucky, from Kandahar to Kenansville.

And good choices remain at a premium.

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1/5/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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