Afghan Blazers fear for their homeland


Nov. 16, 2001, midnight | By Elizabeth Green | 19 years, 7 months ago

As the U.S. continues to bomb Afghanistan, one student and two faculty members reflect


Recently, sophomore Idris Mokhtarzada's cousin became a casualty of the new war. His cousin is not a postal worker. He did not work in either of the two World Trade Center Towers. He was not exposed to anthrax. His assailant: an American bomb that struck his village in Kabul, Afghanistan, unfortunately costing him an arm and a leg.

Mokhtarzada, like thousands of Afghan-Americans across the United States—estimates of this population run between 40,000 and 181,000, according to Associated Press research––has been doubly hit by the war on terror. Although his experience with tragedy crosses an ocean, he says it makes everything feel closer to home. "Now, [war] is not so foreign to me, because it's in my country," he says.

His country, Afghanistan, is a land he's never seen except in old family photographs, but a land that nonetheless remains close to his heart. He has never met the between five and ten relatives who are now living in the war-torn country, but this doesn't prevent him from worrying about his family there. "They're still related to me," Mokhtarzada explains simply.

Even beyond bloodlines, Mokhtarzada says he is hurting for all the people of Afghanistan. "I could be there just as easily now," he avows.

Two other Blazers can make similar claims. Although User Support Specialist Ishaq Osman doesn't remember the land that is his birthplace, he too feels close ties to Afghanistan.

Science Laboratory Assistant Mary Nawabi, also Afghan-American, holds even stronger ties to the Muslim nation. Nawabi, who still speaks in Farsi-accented English, escaped to the United States 18 years ago when Taliban rebels threatened her husband's life.

A war less foreign

Mokhtarzada is as against the U.S.-led war as he is against the Taliban government which the war targets. "They can't possibly only bomb Taliban things and al-Qaeda camps. They're going to hit civilians," he says.

Because his family is among these civilians, Mokhtarzada says, he is especially opposed to the war. Still, he affirms that if a similar case arose in a country he had no ties to, his feelings would remain unchanged. Taking the lives of citizens unaffiliated with terrorism, Mokhtarzada maintains, is inexcusable. "It's like punishing a whole country for what a few people did," he says.

Nawabi, who also cringes at the thought of the innocent people whose lives are at risk in U.S.-led bombings, says her ties to Afghanistan have had the reverse effect of increasing her support of the war.

She sees the lives lost as sacrifices for a greater good, one she dreamed of long before Sept 11—the salvation of a country enslaved by an inhumane regime. "If [the U.S.] doesn't fight with those kinds of people—people who aren't human beings—who will fight them?" she asks rhetorically. "I am happy to get rid of those kinds of people."

"They are not human"

"Those kinds of people" are the same people who prompted her family's hasty flight from the then-Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in 1983. They are the same people who, 12 years later, held her brother at gunpoint and left him, bound in rags, in a cold corner of his basement for a week-long period during which only a dripping ceiling saved him from death by dehydration. They are the same people who, after she and her husband and children came to Pakistan as refugees, dragged her husband out of the family's two-room apartment to beat fear into him.

These people are the Taliban, and their actions against her family have inflamed a burning anger in Nawabi. Her voice is deep with seriousness as she asks, "Who did these things to us?" And she points a finger from her clenched fist, her gaze steady. "That regime—the Taliban," she says, nearly spitting out the words. Plain and simple: she wants them eliminated. "If the bad people die," she resolves, "I will be happy."

But her responses to the evil with which she has had such intimate contact are far more complex than anger alone. She feels horrified, aghast, distraught, hopeless. But above all, she is incredulous. "I cannot stop my emotions, thinking, ‘Why? Why are they doing that?'" She pauses, fighting tears now as she shakes her head grimly. "Those groups," she says, "they are not human."

Before the family fled their country, Nawabi's husband was Afghanistan's top expert on natural gas and petroleum. He was also U.S.-educated. Perhaps because of his Western education, the man became a target in his country—literally. One day, when he was riding in his village, his chauffeur spotted a suspicious-looking man holding a gun. That gun, Nawabi recounts, was pointed directly at her husband's head.

So they fled. "We locked the door, left the lights on and we escaped [across] the border," she says. They left their house—its antiques, its fine carpets, its expensive furniture. And in America, says Nawabi, although they would start with "zero," a possession greater and more precious than any fine carpet awaited them.

Where freedom rings

"We felt, ‘Oh my God, now we are free,'" describes Nawabi. "We have the freedom to talk, to eat, to write, to work. Here, the easy life is freedom."

Because of the blessings the U.S. has afforded her, Nawabi frequently thanks God for America. She only wishes those Afghans enslaved by a restrictive ruling Taliban authority could enjoy the sort of life she has been able to lead since her escape. "I worry about Afghanistan," she says. "I want the country free."

Nawabi's dream of peace and freedom prospering in her homeland stretches beyond the country's borders. "I hope some day," she says, "that peace can come around the world—fly around the world."

Despite her dreams, Nawabi says optimism is hard to come by. She doubts that U.S. attacks will mark the end of terrorist actions. "I don't see any light," she says. With factions clearly present in more Muslim nations than Afghanistan alone, Nawabi argues, the region may remain darkened by terrorism and tragedy for years to come.

Although Osman can't say he's any more optimistic than Nawabi, rather than torment himself over the current state of affairs, Osman has decided to focus on solutions to the problems he believes will continue to plague Afghanistan after the war ends.

He and his father have devised a method that they think could pull Afghanistan out of its cycle of corrupted leadership. The pair's number-one priority: educate the Afghan citizenry. "When all is said and done, education is the best thing," he says. "That's the way we can bring society up—not just in Afghanistan, but everywhere where they need help."

To implement the idea, Osman's father began the Afghanistan Education Foundation three years ago. The foundation collects money from Afghan-Americans to be spent on resources for a school it founded in Kandahar, his hometown. So far, funds have paid for twelve computers, numerous science and math textbooks and teacher salaries.

Nawabi, when she was still living in Afghanistan, also saw education as a means of moving her country forward. Beyond education, Nawabi's particular area of interest, though, was women's rights.

At the age of 17, Nawabi headed a student conference that discussed the inequalities of Afghan women. At the time, she says conditions for women were much better than they are under the Taliban regime. For example, women, though they were not allowed to swim, could work.

The former teacher says the current situation of women shocks her. "Why are ladies treated like that? They don't have a right to live? That's not the human being way," she declares.

Nawabi can't propose any immediate solutions to the circumstances that plague her country. Now, she just thanks the U.S. Rising from her seat before photographs of her two smiling grandchildren—both of them American-born—Nawabi releases a bright smile as she proclaims, voice firm and strong, "God bless America!"



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Elizabeth Green. Elizabeth Green is seventeen years old. She is also happy to take on the position of editor-in-chief of Chips this, her senior, year. In fact, she has so enjoyed her forays in high school journalism that she is thinking about pursuing a career in the … More »

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