The Taliban movement, on both sides of the Pakistan/Afghan border, has become the focal point of a long standing war between a minority of Islamic radicals, and the less fanatic mainstream Moslems. Basically, its a few self-righteous bullies seeking to prevent the majority from doing anything different. The most contentious issue is the education of children, particularly girls. Literacy is very low in the Pushtun tribal territories (about 15 percent on the Afghan side, 23 percent on the Pakistan side). The Islamic radicals are determined to keep it low. There are also prohibitions on women working outside the home, and the use of entertainment technology (music and videos, in particular, and don't even try to dance). Modern weapons and vehicles are another matter, as long as women are not operating these devices.
The Islamic radicals are confident they will prevail, as they have for about a thousand years. Moslems like to make a big deal about the major contributions to science their ancestors made a thousand years ago. They are less eager to discuss why there has been nothing since. That's because of the rejection of education in the Islamic world, enforced by periodic outbreaks of Islamic radical violence.
This sort of thing has had a cumulative effect. Throughout the Moslem world, the current literacy rate is only about 60 percent, in the rest of the world, it's over 80 percent. But it's with higher education, especially in the sciences, that the biggest differences appear. Among Moslems, there are 230 scientists per million population. In the West, it is over 4,000 per million population. That explains why Moslems, with 22 percent of the worlds' population, produce only five percent of the GDP. The U.S., with five percent of the planet's population, produces over 20 percent of GDP. Moslems have gained one percent of the Nobel prizes (only two of those for scientific work), while the Jews ( .23 percent of the planets population, but who are really into education) have won 22 percent of the Nobel prizes.
Many Moslems realize that lack of literacy, and education, is what underlies their poverty, corruption and dictatorial governments. And maintaining the lack of education are a minority of religious fanatics who will kill to keep girls from getting any education, or boys from getting anything but a religious education. Thus recent opinion polls in Afghanistan show that 90 percent of the population oppose the Taliban and their programs. There are similar attitudes across the border in Pakistan.
But the Taliban are only the worst of the Islamic conservatives who oppose education and scientific progress, in the name of religion. These religious conservatives are a large minority in most Islamic countries, and a formidable obstacle to education and economic progress. The only hope the West can find in this is that Moslems are becoming less inclined to blame the West for all these problems, and look inward for the causes, and the solutions to a millennium of failure. The problems are internal, and so are the solutions.