Where I was on September 11, 2001?

Falling man on 9/11 (photo: Richard Drew / AP)

On 9/11 day Afghanistan was in shock (of joy and sorrow) for Ahmad Shah Massoud’s assassination from two days earlier, so the terrorist attack in the US was not a big deal for ordinary Afghans, especially considering this fact that it was Taliban time, and people had no TVs and therefore had no idea about the magnitude of the attacks and dramatic scenery from New York.

I was in Herat, it was a normal evening in the madrasa, and most of the boys, as a tradition, were listening to BBC Persian radio – as it was one of the few sources of news from outside world.  I was not listening that night; I was in my room reading or relaxing. All of sudden, I realized everybody was rushing towards the radio in the courtyard.   No one knew what was going on, “the world trade center is being attacked”, someone said, “what is that”? I asked. “How should I know, the radio is saying.”

It took some time to realize what was going on, because at first the reporters were also confused, they were caught in surprise, they had to report it live without papers, and there were a lot of stumbling- which was interesting as it was the first time seeing the smooth-talking Iranians were so lost and confused and made silly mistakes.

I think that night we went to bed, without really understanding what was going on, just knew it was a terrorist attack. As Afghans who grew up in war, we couldn’t understand why Americans were making a scene out of an explosion; it was a normal thing we believed. A decade later, now I think it was not a normal thing. That was a fate-changing event for me and many millions of Afghans, who were taken hostage by the Taliban group.

Last year I wrote an article for the uOttawa’s English language newspaper to address a question I was frequently asked by Canadians. When they know I am an Afghan, they simply ask: “do you hate America?” I say no, I don’t belong to Taliban or their sympathizers who lost their power, as a result of the US military intervention in Afghanistan. As all non-Taliban Afghans, I am thankful to America for saving us from the Taliban tyranny. The 9/11 event was a tragedy and we are sorry for all who lost loved ones on that day, but for Afghans, especially the women and ethnic minorities, 9/11 happened to be the end of their miseries and the beginning of a better tomorrow. I am almost sure that if 9/11 hadn’t happened, I would be dead by now. The Taliban would have killed me.  I survived the Taliban only because I was a skinny teenage boy who was luckily didn’t look like his fellow Hazaras. My family was not rich enough to have afforded escaping  the country, so I am sure  the Taliban would caught me one day or another.

Anyways, this is the article I wrote (and sorry for the stupidly optimistic tone, it was two years ago!):

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Afghanistan: Occupation or liberation?

From an Afghan’s point of view

AFTER EIGHT YEARS of war in Afghanistan, anti-war movements in Canada and elsewhere in the West have started to raise a crucial question: is Afghanistan a librated country or an occupied one? Many answer the question themselves, coming up with a resounding answer: yes, Afghanistan is an occupied country. But it seems that few are willing to hear how Afghans feel. They are the subjects of this war—how do they feel about the soldiers from 42 different countries on their land? Do they feel occupied or liberated? As an Afghan, I want to examine the confusing line between occupation and liberation of Afghanistan.

In his short essay “Republic of Silence”, Jean-Paul Sartre gives a personal account of life under the German occupation in France during the Second World War. For him, occupation first and foremost is the limitation of freedom. “We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk,” he recalls.

We are already familiar with situations like Nazi-occupied France, Soviet-occupied Czechkoslovkia, and the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip; legally, ethically, and politically there is a general consensus on the occupation of these countries. However, the situation in Afghanistan is more complex: is it right to say “American-occupied Afghanistan”? Is it possible to compare what Nazis did in France to what NATO forces are doing in Afghanistan?

As an Afghan who was a victim of the Taliban regime before 2001 and a witness to the American presence after that year, I believe that it is not fair to do so. For me (and for many Afghans) the American B-52 bombers flying in our blue sky on Oct. 7, 2001, were regarded as saving angels rather than occupying devils—we felt liberated rather than invaded with their bombs hitting Taliban bases around the country. Since 2001, we have been practising almost all our rights, “beginning with the right to talk”—a universal right we had been longing for for years.

Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban, and that means a lot. I remember those October nights in 2001 when American aircraft were bombarding Taliban military bases on the outskirts of my hometown Herat, in western Afghanistan: everyone was rushing to their roofs, pointing to barely visible aircraft, cheering and yelling out of joy, mixing the sound of their laughter with that of explosions. Strange but true, those moments were the moments of liberation. With each bomb, another link in the chain that had bound us for years was broken. War and violence are familiar phenomena for Afghans, but the Taliban regime was an experience unlike any other in our recent history.

To better understand Afghanistan since the beginning of the war, one should first understand Afghanistan before it. The Taliban were a religiously fundamentalist and politically racist group that ruled the country through barbarism and brutality. As a totalitarian state, the Taliban controlled the entire human being—not just their bodies but also their souls and spirits. Basing their actions on a radical religious ideology, they banned everything associated with life’s pleasures: dancing, listening to music, kite-running, shaving beards, cutting hair in a fashionable way, wearing Western clothes, photography, cinema, and television. Moreover, women were banned from walking out of their houses without a male relative, going to school, talking to strangers, and walking in high heels. When I was a schoolboy, it was part of everyday life to see those who disobeyed these rules being hanged on traffic lights or being whipped in the middle of street. Afghanistan under Taliban was a burning “hell on earth” as Afghans say. Considering all this, one can understand why the people of Afghanistan warmly welcomed the American bombs hitting the Taliban in October 2001.

Article 42 of “The Laws and Customs of War on Land” in the Hague Conventions of 1907 state that “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” By definition, an occupier must be considered a “hostile army.” In the Afghan case, which one is the hostile army: the coalition forces or the Taliban fighters? A national poll of Afghanistan conducted jointly by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD (the German public broadcaster) in September 2009 asked Afghans their opinion on the Taliban. The results suggest the vast majority of Afghans considers them to be the hostile army, and also illustrate that hostility to the Taliban remains very strong throughout the country; only four per cent of Afghans want them back, and 90 per cent say they are opposed to the Taliban.

Of course, no one wants foreign soldiers in his or her country—neither do Afghans. But we need them to be there in this critical time. Over the past eight years, huge progress has been made regarding the quality of life in Afghanistan. You would have to be blind not to see the huge difference in Afghanistan before and after 2001: under the new government, we have free media (20 TV channels and hundreds of print media); millions of girls are going to school; women can work as ministers, members of parliament, judges, journalists, and police officers; and there is an elected parliament with an elected president. I did all my school homework before a gleaming oil lamp, but my siblings are doing theirs surrounded by electricity and computers. It is evident that Afghan land can also grow the plant of democracy.

But why is only news of bombs and bloodshed broadcast on TV? The answer is simple: because other stories are not news for Western mainstream media. They only cover the insurgency, which is limited to southern Afghanistan where Pashtuns are living. Pashtuns—an ethnic group forming about 42 per cent of the total Afghan population—are the group that Taliban belongs to. International terrorists and Pashtun men from both sides of Afghanistan-Pakistan border area form the majority of the current Taliban, and cause trouble in this part of the country. For the most part, the rest of the country is peaceful and people live in comfort.

During the past eight years, Afghanistan has been struggling to establish democratic institutions with generous helping hands from other nations—institutions such as an independent judiciary, parliament, police, army, and free media to improve the young democracy. Of course there is corruption in the administration, inadequacy in the army, and civilian casualties in NATO attacks, but for most of the population these are not catastrophes of democracy, they are signs of the time: a time of transition from a painful past to a prosperous future, a transition from a republic of terror and tyranny to a country of peace and prosperity. These are the birth pangs of the Afghan democracy. Afghanistan’s dark days are over: what we are experiencing now is the dawn of a bright, new day. We are in a process of building a nation and forming a state and appropriately have problems to struggle with.

Sartre called France under Nazi occupation the “republic of silence,” and after the liberation of his country, wrote a prayer for France that I think fits Afghanistan as well: “May this Republic to be set up in broad daylight preserve the austere virtue of that other Republic of Silence and of Night.”

Amen.

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The link to the original source.

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