Between Two Worlds: Afghan-Americans
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SPENCER MICHELS: The streets are quieter than usual these days in “little Kabul,” as this neighborhood in the San Francisco suburb of Fremont is called. An estimated 200,000 Afghans live in America, perhaps 60,000 of them in the Bay area, and many of them say they are uneasy and fearful. A few Afghans venture out to the restaurants and shops, which now display American flags. Here, the overwhelming sentiment is anti-Osama bin Laden and anti-Taliban. Many in this Afghan-American family, especially the older, traditionally dressed members, remain indoors, concerned for their own safety and for their relatives in Afghanistan.
FARIMA RAHMATI: My mom cannot sit inside the room without locking the door for even five minutes, and this is not the life that we wanted here; that’s why we don’t live in Afghanistan any more, because that’s what was going on there.
SPENCER MICHELS: Farima Rahmati and her family are part of the largest Afghan community in America. Most came here in the ’80s to escape the disruption and devastation of the Soviet invasion. But the terrorist attacks have been followed by attacks on American Muslims, and Afghan Americans in particular.
SHAGOFA RAHMAN: It’s scary. I get these weird looks. I get eyeballs following me around. But yeah, it’s not the same as… Like, a month before, I went out with friends and we were talking about how nice it is, how, like… You know, they talk about the melting pot and how it is nice that we could all be different and be respected in our difference. And we’re… Right now we’re afraid of the difference.
SPENCER MICHELS: While many Afghan- American families are staying quiet, fearful of possible Taliban retaliation, this family wants it known that they deplore the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban government. Fazluddin Jamash says he would use his knowledge of local languages and geography to help America root out the Taliban and the terrorists.
FAZLUDDIN JAMASH: There are Afghans– many Afghans– who could be introduced or they volunteer to do this, go to the translations. Personally, myself? I know the area, many people know. They know the area, the mountains. Help, helping American soldiers, help helping the American government, just to go around and follow these guys.
SPENCER MICHELS: Sounds like you’re volunteering.
FAZLUDDIN JAMASH: I am volunteering. I am volunteering. I’m ready any moment. I’ll be at the front line with American soldiers.
FARIMA RAHMATI: And we’re not supporting Taliban or bin Laden. We want him out of our country and the only thing that I’m concerned about is my people right now. We cannot sleep at night thinking about what’s going to happen to Afghanistan next, and everybody is trying to take sleeping pills to get over this. I mean, I’m personally taking sleeping pills to get over this thinking, because I don’t know what is going to happen to my country.
SPENCER MICHELS: At an Afghan mosque just a few blocks away, an American flag has been attached to a light standard in the parking lot. Here, too, there is great concern that American Afghans not be confused with the Taliban. Even though some acknowledge that the Taliban brought order to their war-torn country, at this prayer service, the Imam, speaking in Farsi, condemned the terrorist acts.
IMAM: ( Preaching in Farsi )
STEVE FARYABI, Afghan American Association: He said there was nothing in any part of Holy Koran that suggests to go kill other humans, so this is totally un- Islamic.
SPENCER MICHELS: This was unusual, for him to speak about political matters like this?
STEVE FARYABI: Yes, it was truly unusual. Usually in the mosque they only talk about religion. But today he condemned Taliban and Pakistan and Arab allies that are in Afghanistan.
SPENCER MICHELS: Steve Faryabi worries that his relatives, like most people in Afghanistan, have suffered 22 years of war and now a repressive regime, and they shouldn’t have to suffer any more.
STEVE FARYABI: The entire infrastructure of Afghanistan has been destroyed. The women have been imprisoned in their own homes. There is no schooling, there is no education, there is no hospitals for women. We’ve been raising this issue over and over, to Senate, to Congress, and to international community, to Arabian community, to help us, and no one helped the Afghans. We think it’s time that they should end this.
SPENCER MICHELS: Khaleda Atta is 22. She left Afghanistan as a baby, and now she is in the mortgage industry near San Francisco. She listened to President Bush’s speech to Congress.
KHALEDA ATTA: They’re saying anyone who harbors these enemies will also be held responsible. And those people who are harboring these enemies are not necessarily direct representatives of the Afghan community, and that’s what our concern is, that Bush will end up punishing the innocent.
SPENCER MICHELS: On the streets and in the shops of little Kabul, it is a stressful time for people torn between two worlds. While they proclaim their loyalty to America, they also want American political leaders to be aware of their fears.