A Call to Action from an Afghan-American

By Mahnaz

A street in Afghanistn in the past

As an Afghan-American woman who had spent most of her life in immigration and war, it is very painful to see what is happening in my country, Afghanistan, and it is harder to remember all the hardship and horrific memories we went through, and to know Afghans will experience all those again. It is easy for some people to say Afghans should stay in their own country and build their country. To them, I would say you never experienced war and despair.

During the Russian invasion, my family escaped Herat and immigrated to Iran. I was born in Iran but never received Iranian documentation or recognition. To the Iranian government, we were like trash. My father was a civil engineer, but he worked as a laborer. We didn’t have the right to buy a house, to buy a car or have a driving license. Afghan students were some of the brightest kids at Iranian schools, but their talents were ignored, if they achieved any medals, it would be taken from them because they were Afghans. Still the situation is the same and, in many cases, it is even worse. In short, Afghans do not have human rights in Iran.

When I finished first grade, we decided to come back to Herat, Afghanistan. My father said, “Life will be difficult in Afghanistan, but we will have our rights”. Six months later, Taliban came. I was 7 or 8 at the time but I remember vividly what happened to my family and my people. Let me tell you a few of the things I experienced:

1. Girls’ schools were closed. So, my sisters and I got stuck at home with no future or positive activity to do. My mom was illiterate so she couldn’t teach us

2. Public baths were closed so we had to warm water with wood to bathe

3. A lot of Afghans didn’t have money to buy wood so they had to cut thorns from outside fields to use as fuel or bathe with well water, even in cold winters.

4. Our neighbors were robbed, and their daughters were sexually assaulted.

5. My father was scared and married off my sister at the age of 15 because the Taliban kidnapped and assaulted young girls.

6. My arm was accidently burnt at my cousin’s wedding but we couldn’t go to hospital because the Taliban had set a curfew at 10pm and they would shoot anyone who was out. The wedding itself was a secret because Taliban didn’t approve music and dance. So, I still have all those scars on my arm because I couldn’t go to hospital on time.

7. The economic situation got so bad that my mother and I had to shell pistachios to earn enough to live.

8. We didn’t throw away the dried bread. We kept it in a bag to give to our dog. During the Taliban, it got to a point that we had to dampen the dog’s bread and eat it ourselves. And other people’s situation was the same. I remember during Ramadan our neighbors fasted the whole day and broke their fast with tea and bread. They were so poor that they couldn’t afford to buy anything else

9. Taliban would beat people to go to prayers on time

10. They would prevent boys from growing long hair. They shaved men’s head. I saw a man cry on his wedding day and begged Taliban to not cut his hair, but they did.

I can go on about the hell we experienced during Taliban which forced us to immigrate to Iran for the second time, but it would just depress everyone. Instead, I want to say how we can help in this situation.

Afghans have a lot of will and strength, but they have been very unlucky and often ended up with corrupt and liar leaders. Years of war and illiteracy has led to a huge population of simple people who would believe and follow whoever show them a green way. The strategic location of Afghanistan also has often been used against us for it to become the center of power play of empires and propaganda.

It is easy for President Biden to say Afghan soldiers didn’t have the will to fight the Taliban but when the commander in chief order the soldiers to not fight, what are they to do? An Afghan soldier writes, “We were betrayed. We were told a peace agreement is reached. Government is being formed. Stop fighting. Retreat to your bases. Then we were ordered to handover everything to Taliban…” As Afghan soldiers feel betrayed, we all feel betrayed too by our corrupt leaders. Unfortunately, it is the weak and innocent people that will pay the price.

So, please don’t judge Afghans or any other group easily if you don’t know what those people have been through.

Many know that Taliban regime will be disastrous for Afghanistan but what can we do in the U.S. to help? Please do more than just expressing an opinion. Write to congress/senators/President’s Office to ask to open immigration for Afghans who are vulnerable, not just translators and those who worked with Americans.

There are a lot of Afghan people who are in danger in Afghanistan and deserve to get out, a lot of artists, activists, journalists, young girls, and widows. There are also a lot of Afghan people who live as immigrants in the neighboring countries like Iran and Turkey, who don’t have basic human rights. I haven’t seen my sister and her family for 13 years now. She lives in Iran under a lot of pressure and no certain future. It hurts me to see my nieces and nephew have no future in Iran as if they live under Taliban. No matter how smart they are or how hard they study, they will not have a decent job in Iran. They will not be treated as equal.

Please also ask U.S. officials to expedite immigrant cases that are already pending. My parents and brother are in the U.S. as asylees. They gave their interviews 4 years ago and no decision came yet. A lot of other people are waiting in a limbo.

I heard some people say Afghans will come here to take away our food stamps and other government benefits and I should say to them that Afghans are one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever seen. We learned to work hard and stand on our feet from childhood. Immigrants and refugees may need help in the beginning to settle in the U.S. and to learn the system but once they know their way, they will be running. They will work and make their lives. For those who have lived in war and insecurity, they know the value of security and peace.

Thank you for reading this. And at the end, I’d like to ask please be kind to everyone, especially refugees and immigrants because they all came with broken hearts and huge burdens on their shoulders. If you can’t lift any of their burdens, at least offer them a smile.

With love and prayers to my people.

Writing by Afghan writers. Editor/Publisher: Nancy Antle; Editor: Pamela Hart