Rohde says US efforts against radicalism must progress beyond war

Yemi Falodun | Staff Writer


In 2009, two months after exchanging wedding vows with his wife, David Rohde spent seven months in Taliban captivity.

“I saw religion at its best and worst,” Rohde said about the ordeal in Afghanistan, which is chronicled in the book A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides, by Rohde and his wife, Kristen Mulvihill.

Two-time Pulitzer Award-winning investigative journalist and author David Rohde will share his story and thoughts in his program titled “Beyond War: The Failed American Effort to Back Moderate Muslims Since 9/11” at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater.

He is the final morning speaker in this week’s  series of “Radicalism” lectures.

“Our guards were these brainwashed young men who were told to hate me, because I wasn’t of their faith,” Rohde said. “But the Afghan journalist Tahir Lundin, who was kidnapped with me, became deeply religious. And that really gave him strength.”

Rohde, then a New York Times reporter, was working on assignment for his book detailing American involvement in Afghanistan, when he was invited to interview a Taliban commander in an area near Kabul.

The planned interview escalated into an abduction, which led to major United States officials being involved, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.

But negotiations stalled and proved to be fruitless.

It was not until June 19, 2009, that Rohde and Lundin made their escape, scaling the abduction compound’s 10-foot wall. The third man, their driver, Asadullah Mangal, made his escape some days later.

“I think whatever God is out there wants us to feel more sympathy and empathy toward our fellow humans,” Rohde said about what he learned from his experience. “I’m not a very religious person. I’ve covered events that have shown extremist Jews, Christians, Hindus and Muslims can all carry out horrific crimes. So, I think religion and moderation is a positive, but if taken to the extreme can be very destructive.”

Rohde is currently working on a book that calls for a new U.S. policy in the Middle East that more effectively backs moderates.

“I think we have allies in the region,” he said. “And we need to use less military force. And invest more in technology and trade. Independent economies across the Middle East are our best tool against terrorism. Most Muslims resent jihadists who force to them pray at gunpoint. And they also don’t want to be Americans. But they want a way where they can be modern and Muslim.”

According to Rohde, who is a foreign affairs columnist at Reuters, Islam should not be the center focus, but the people behind pushing extreme values.

“I’ve seen radicalism used by members of every major faith in order to do other things,” he said. “The danger isn’t that some people are sadistic and know they’re doing wrong and enjoy it. The danger is some people’s ability to rationalize their extreme actions. And radicalism often allows people to think they’re victims of some vast conspiracy and to carry out these horrible acts.”

In his captivity, Rohde witnessed the cruel but persuasive tactics by extremists.

“The older jihadists brainwashed young boys by separating them from their friends and family,” he said. “And they teach them that the only relationship that matters is their relationship with God and none of their earthly relationships matters.”

Rohde explained that radicalism offers impressionable young men a sense of identity.

“It gives them a whole culture and a place,” Rohde said. “We should be asking ourselves why aren’t our families and community giving them that sense of identity?”

Since his abduction, Rohde has found solace in writing and his loving relationship with his wife.

“Our big project was the book,” he said. “The book was very cathartic for us, the way to know what each of us had gone though. We were able to say this is a chapter in our lives, but it doesn’t define us.”

Rohde attributes his wife as his major source for inspiration.

“She is the kind of person who wakes up in the morning, looks out the window and says, ‘Wow, look how beautiful the light is,’” he said. “And she helps me see that light.”