We’re told that Western countries face an ideological battle with The Taliban, the Sunni Islamist and Pashtun nationalist movement that ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, and harbored Bin Laden and Al Qaida prior to the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  Some of us love freedom, the line goes, and others hate it; they want to destroy it. 

Any thinking person recognizes the danger of such abstraction; after all, misunderstanding is the root of most conflict.  The truth is actually much too complex to articulate or even fully comprehend, but a thoughtful series from GlobeAndMail, Talking with the Taliban, helps us begin the process of discovery.

It’s a simply defined task with a harrowing execution marked by an earnest curiosity: "To find small groups of Taliban and try to speak with them individually."  

Journalist Graeme Smith was struck by a general ignorance that makes it tough to know "who to kill, who to talk to, and how to stem the flow of recruits to the insurgency" in Afghanistan, so he decided to create a survey: "I got a small video camera, gave it to a guy I’ve known for a long time here in Kandahar, and he went around to five districts here in the province and asked a standard list of twenty questions to ordinary fighters."

The result is fascinating, terrifying, reassuring, dumbfounding and eye-opening.  It certainly doesn’t leave me with a clearer understanding of the greater conflict, or with a moral imperative, but I guess that’s the risk of sincere conversation. 

This user-guided piece, that elegantly incorporates figures and charts with unprecedented video coverage, is a moving depiction of a very complicated reality.

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