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CMES sheds light on Afghan experience

Guest speakers share their research, personal stories in light of current crisis in Afghanistan

 On Tuesday, the Center for Middle East Studies sponsored a webinar that centered the experiences of Afghans during the ongoing crisis. The event, titled Afghanistan Lives: Then and Now, invited researchers Mejgan Massoumi and Valentine Moghadam and community organizer Arash Azzizada to discuss the historical and current conditions under which Afghan citizens. The conversation was moderated by Director of Middle East Studies and Professor of Anthropology and Middle East Studies Nadje Al-Ali.

Massoumi, a college fellow at Stanford University, kicked off the talks with a presentation on Afghan music, playing pieces that have historically demonstrated the history and context of the country. She discussed how various communities in Afghanistan use music to express their sentiments and advocate for their rights. After giving examples of different pieces of music, she ended with the song “My Land,” which has become an “informal anthem for both Afghans that have become new refugees outside of the country, and those who consider themselves physically and mentally displaced within the country,” Massoumi said.

While music represents the history of Afghanistan, it is also threatened under the new rule of the Taliban, said Al-Ali. “Part of dehumanizing people is (viewing them) either as victims or perpetrators, but they are people,” she added. “In Afghanistan, there are people who love music, who love literature, theater, the arts, and it is not a coincidence that one of the first things the Taliban are going to do is to prevent people from playing and listening to music.”

Moghadam, a professor at Northeastern University and an expert in Afghan history, followed with a presentation that placed context around the current state of the country and the United States’ role. Through detailing the past forty years of Afghan history, Moghadam demonstrated that the majority of American resources put into rebuilding the country did not have a lasting impact. 

“Hardly any of it… went to social and economic reconstruction and development of Afghanistan,” she said. 

Born to Afghan refugee parents, writer, photographer and community organizer Azizzada shared some personal experiences around the impact displacement has on the Afghan people, specifically among his own family, friends and broader communities. Azzizada said that the World Bank has frozen aid to the country and banks in Afghanistan are withholding money from citizens. In light of this turmoil, he describes his community work as doing the jobs that institutions and governments “failed to do.”

On Aug. 14, the Taliban invaded Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and seized the presidential palace. Since then, thousands of Afghan people have fled the country, terrified of what the country might become under Taliban rule. “I wish I could invite folks to come see and look at our inboxes…(with emails) from people desperate for evacuation currently,” Azzizada said. 

Arrizzada ended his talk with a call to action for students, faculty and the American public: “Start valuing Afghan lives. There are 50 to 70,000 Afghan people coming to the United States. Treat them like human beings, don’t treat them like Afghans, don't treat them like refugees. Despite all the pain and tragedy, despite all the displacement, there are still Afghans fighting for a better tomorrow.”


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