Afghan Educator Speaks Out

A reader sent me the following blog written by Zahal Turkmani, an Afghan American educator living in Arizona.

I was born in Afghanistan. My country garners global headlines because of gruesome, horrific events involving Afghan people. However, three decades of conflict and war created inimical effects on Afghan people, including its educational system.  Women, school-aged girls, any minority who worked in the government and the Hazara race have been especially targeted by the Taliban. To understand the current events in Afghanistan, it’s important to look back into its history.

The Taliban first appeared in 1994 from northern Pakistan as one of the factions in the Afghan Civil War and continued until the Soviet-Afghan war. The Taliban’s totalitarian government was in control at the time of the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. NATO Allies arrived in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, to establish that it does not again become a safe haven for the Taliban.  With no terrorist attacks on the soil of Afghanistan, it’s’ people began to recover from the pain and suffering they had witnessed during the long term war.  Life began to appear normal; women joined the workforce, girls went to school, multi million businesses were built, and television channels began broadcasting again. This adapted normalcy lasted until the US-Taliban peace deal of February 2020. 

After the deal, the “Taliban shifted their tactics from complex attacks in cities and on military outposts to a wave of targeted assassinations that terrorized Afghan civilians” (BBC, 2021). The targeted ones were innocent civilians, students, educators, journalists, and women in positions of power. It’s predictable to say that the Taliban had not, and will never change their extremist ideology and totalitarian ways of operating.

Things worsened when US president, Joe Biden, announced that all American forces would leave the country by September 11, 2021.   Thereafter, within 10 days the country was overpowered and control reverted back to the Taliban. 

To the Afghan population the arrival of the Taliban is like a never ending purge.

“In the first half of 2021 alone, there were 1,659 Afghan civilians killed and 3,524 wounded — a 47 percent increase compared with the same period last year” (Suliman, 2021).  Also according to Suliman, This doesn’t include the lives of 66,000 Afghan military and national police who lost their lives in the conflict.  When you consider the total number of lives lost, 71,183, don’t look at it as just a number, but as an officer on the line of duty, children on their way to school, college students, a father or mother on their way to work and any other individual trying to build a better future for themselves,with hopes and dreams, which were destroyed with bomb blast. 

My sister, Nargis Turkmani, a teacher at Abdul Rahim Shaheed school in Dasht-e-Barchi shared in our video chat that “Life’s a gamble in Afghanistan,” (Turkmani, 2021).  Any individual who steps out of their home knows that they may not come back to their family in one piece. If day-to-day living and circumstances weren’t grave enough before the Taliban assumed complete control, now it’s a never-ending nightmare for educators like my family. 

My brothers-in-law, Ahmad Reza Azad, English Course Instructor/Director and Ahmad Murtaza Ahmadi, Accreditation Directorate, Ministry of Higher Education, Author and Writer of “The Dream Seller: Bakhshinda Roya”,  and Nargis Turkmani, my sister, aren’t doing well. I am grateful that they are alive, but they are not living. It has been two weeks since I last spoke with my sister, Nargis, who shared, “to be safe and alive, my family and I are relocating as much as we can” (Turkmani, 2021). 

Similarly, when I  chatted with my brother-in-law he stated, “My crime is that I am an educator with Hazara ethnicity and Shia beliefs” (Ahmad Ahmadi, 2021).  Taliban  target minority groups that don’t look, act or believe as they do.  If you do not share similar appearances or beliefs pertaining to women’s rights, and other religious beliefs that they espouse, you are not safe.  Taliban is spreading hate and violence in the name of Islam, when in fact they are the modern Nazi. History is repeating itself with the genocide of targeted ethnic minorities, such as my family members, who are Hazara.  Genocide is the systematic extermination of a specific group of people based upon race, ethnicity, religion, identity, belief, or even occupation.  World leaders and people know that this is happening, yet they continue on with life by not doing anything about it. 

Taliban are not true Muslims or Islamic followers. Islam teaches, “Whosoever killed a person … it shall be as if he had killed all mankind” (5:32). Any act of violence is condemned in the Quran. True Muslims, like Ahmad Murtaza Ahmadi, wish that

 “Afghanistan will be a country where all the values and norms of humanity and democracy are implemented, accepted, and respected. I wish my son grows up in a country where all humanity is equal and children have the opportunity to have their free appropriate educational rights” (Ahmadi, 2021). 

Under Taliban rule the plan for education is to purge any curricula, methods and teaching that are “against Islam” and return to authoritarian rule in the country. 

As a Muslim, I can confidently say that no Islamic law states that schools shouldn’t teach Math, Science, or Language Arts. Or, that  school-aged girls shouldn’t be allowed to attend school. 

“In 2001, there were no girls formally attending schools in Afghanistan, and only one million boys were in school. Numbers have since increased, although the country’s education system is still significantly underdeveloped” (BBC, 2014). This should be an awakening moment for ALL, because the Taliban are not focusing on developing a future where children can have a choice on what type of leader they want to become.  Rather, they are training our young and innocent children to assume roles as future terrorists. Afghans are choosing to flee the country because they don’t want to raise future Talibs, they are exhausted from decades of war, have lost too many loved ones, and are aware that any rights on how they choose to live are taken away. 

Dear fellow educators,

When I look at my students, I see the potential in all of  them and recognize that they can determine what kind of leaders they will be in the future. Great educators in Afghanistan like my relatives,  Nargis Turkmani, Murtaza Ahmadi, and Ahmad Reza Azad are fearing for their lives because they wish to raise future scientists, journalists, doctors and activists. The choice for Afghan children to be just who they want to be, is taken away from them. In reality, they are only given the option to be future Talibs. 

I am wishing from all educators, across the U.S. and globally, to please raise awareness about ongoing persecution of the minority groups (Hazara and Sikh ethnicity, women and children) and mobilizing action to support refugees. 

Donate to help displaced Afghan refugees at: 

https://lss-sw.givingfuel.com/empower-refugees or 

https://www.rescue.org/announcement/how-help-our-afghan-neighbors-phoenix

Any type of help is appreciated starting from volunteering your time, providing housing options, or providing cash.  Any amount is highly appreciated as Afghans are arriving with no extras, including clothes, shoes, and basic necessities.

Encourage Action by your government to protect human rights and grant protection for the minorities who are at risk. 

And lastly, I would like to thank all American veterans who risked their lives to save Afghan refugees, and all activists who are using their voice to raise awareness. Also, my amazing professor Dr. Barbra Veltri for giving me the opportunity to share my pain that I have for my country.

Thank you, 

Zahal Turkmani

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