WASHINGTON, May 22, 2001 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The ruling Taliban movement in Afghanistan plans to require all non-Muslims in that country to wear distinctive symbols or clothes. Such a requirement will inevitably recall one of the worst features of the Nazi era in Europe and further isolate Afghanistan's Taliban from the rest of the world.

Maulawai Abdul Wali -- the Taliban minister for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice -- told the Pakistani-based Afghan Islamic Press on Monday that "non-Muslims should have a distinctive mark in their dress so that they can be identified. We have asked for a fatwa [a religious decree] from the ulema [a group of Islamic scholars] for the full implementation of this. When a fatwa comes, a complete law will be made."

On one hand, this requirement would only complete a process that the Taliban have already begun. For some months, Indian news media reported, the Afghan authorities have required distinctive clothing to be worn by the country's roughly 1,000 Hindus. They have prohibited Hindu men from wearing turbans, the Indian media said, and they have required Hindu women to wear a yellow chador with two small holes cut for the eyes.

But on the other hand, it represents a dangerous step backwards towards more open discrimination of non-Muslims in Afghanistan and would ultimately lead the Taliban to view them as something less than human, thus appropriate targets for extermination.

That process, in which the outsider is first identified as different, then viewed as less than equal, and finally viewed as less than fully human is against the teachings of Islam and other major religions. But it was manifested in Nazi-occupied Europe when Jews were forced to wear a Star of David and then ultimately sent to the death camps where more than six million were killed. Such a transformation of the other into something less than human also took place in other totalitarian regimes where individuals and groups were branded "enemies of the people" and officials first called for the elimination of what they often described as "vermin" and then in many cases carried out that threat.

Two months ago, virtually the entire world watched in horror as the Taliban dynamited ancient Buddhist statues and shrines in Bamiyan after Kabul leaders declared that "all un-Islamic statues and structures across Afghanistan" were to be blown up as part of an effort at the spiritual cleansing of the Afghan people.

International organizations and national governments appealed to the Taliban not to destroy the statues, and various diplomats and international civil servants attempted to dissuade Kabul from taking that step, all to no avail. Now, the international community is confronted with another outrage by the Taliban, one that could have significant human costs. The government of India, where most of the world's Hindus live, has already reacted sharply. External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raminder Singh said that New Delhi "absolutely deplore[s] such orders, which patently discriminate against minorities." He added that these new dress requirements are "evidence further of the backward and unacceptable ideological underpinnings of the Taliban and justify the action the international community has taken in imposing sanctions on the Taliban."

Similar statements are likely to be issued over the next days and weeks, but they are unlikely to have any more impact on the Taliban than earlier objections to the destruction of Buddhist shrines.

If such statements and the continuing sanctions fail to have an impact on the Taliban, then the question will inevitably arise as to whether the international community should do something more.

Given the memory of those forced to wear the Star of David by the Nazis and those branded "enemies of the people" by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, few world leaders are likely to be entirely comfortable with the prospect that failing to do something could entail a new genocide. This latest Taliban step backwards could lead the world to step forward to prevent precisely that.

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