Christmas Day, 1979. Families across the globe were celebrating Christmas with the usual routine of giving presents and visiting loved ones. In the U.S.A. people might have been watching Christmas specials like Dean Martin’s Christmas in California or John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together Again. In the U.K., families may have been tuning into the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast addressing the Cambodian refugee crisis.
In the early hours of Christmas morning in Afghanistan, people would watch as 30,000 Soviet troops invaded their country to prop up the Marxist government. Though that Christmas Day wasn’t of particular significance to most of the Afghans or the Soviets, this particular Christmas is now one of the most significant in recent memory in its shaping of our world today.
The immediate impact the invasion had was reigniting the Cold War. The period of Détente, which had existed since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, was over. The staunch anti-communist, Ronald Reagan, soared to a presidential victory. He immediately set up plans to escalate the conflict with Russia; pouring trillions of dollars into weapons and armaments. The Cold war resumed in earnest. Part of Reagan’s policy was also to arm and aid any anti-communist forces and the C.I.A. provided the latest military technology to the Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan.
While this may seem like just another episode of the Cold War which eventually ended, its consequences were far reaching. An invasion by atheist foreign forces in an Islamic country caused a huge stir in the Sunni Islamic world. They felt their entire religion was threatened by the Soviets. One of these men was Osama Bin Laden, son of a wealthy Saudi businessman with ties to the royal family. Bin Laden and his ally Adbdullah Azzam set up the ‘Makatab al-Khidmat’ or ‘MAK’ to transport foreign fighters and secure global finances.
The MAK and Mujahedeen inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviet forces and in 1989 the U.S.S.R. withdrew from Afghanistan. One of the Mujahedeen groups, backed by Pakistan, renamed themselves the Taliban and defeated the other cells to become the government of Afghanistan. The ‘MAK’ became al-Qaeda and, under Bin Laden’s direction, the group promoted global jihad; in particular to kill ‘America and its allies’. The grateful Taliban gave Al-Qaeda a country to operate in freely, where they partly formulated and rehearsed the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. responded by invading Afghanistan and later Iraq. The aftermath of a decade of fighting has left a tumultuous situation which allowed the Islamic State to rise to power in 2014.
The Soviet invasion opened a Pandora’s Box that the West has not been able to close. Al-Qaeda’s rise and the actions of NATO have led to a seemingly unending war between Islamic fundamentalists and their enemies. Europe has suffered many terrorist attacks – you cannot have missed the recent ones in Paris – and is gripped by constant fear another could take place in any moment. The threat that Islamic Extremism has today is largely a result of that fateful Christmas Day in 1979.
Featured image by Chester Frampton.