Our news tends to report stories in a simple binary: good guys versus bad guys. And sometimes those cast as "bad guys" become interchangeable. Not to sound too Rudy Giuliani about the whole thing, but since September 11, we've had a pretty steady stream of appearances in the media by the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. Whenever they appear, the story is usually bad, so it's understandable that the distinction between the two might be blurry. Let's shake it out.
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The Taliban: A religious-based group who came to power during civil war and ruled in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. It was removed from power following the events of September 11. This authoritarian government's goal was to create the world's most pure Islamic state. They strictly interpreted Islamic law and forbade, among other things, television, music, and the Internet. Under the Taliban, women wore burqas and most of their freedom was eradicated, including the ability to attend school. Some Afghanis tolerated the harsh rule of the Taliban, as its focus was on the punishment of Islamic trespasses and restoring order to a chaotic country.
al-Qaeda: This Islamic militant organization seeks to end foreign influence in Muslim countries, "to kill US citizens — civilian or military — and their allies everywhere," and create a perfect Islamic form of government in the Muslim world. Internationally branded a terrorist organization by many, including the UN Security Council, and the US Department of State, al-Qaeda is known for suicide attacks and coordinated bombings. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are sometimes mentioned together because of their similar goals of a pure Islam, and because the Taliban gave safe harbor for al-Qaeda for training camps and granted it legitimacy as part of their ministry of defense.