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BEBARIAM: [via a translator] They
don’t have a shelter. Well, when it rains it’s very difficult.
This week on Common Ground, coping
with the post-September 11 reality. Plus, Pakistan’s fundamentalist schools.
Jihad is one of the fundamental
obligations of a Muslim. Everybody must get, go to jihad and take trainings for jihad
and go and get involved in jihad.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who
shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The
US-led war in Afghanistan forced hundreds of thousands of Afghans to flee their
homes. But the fall of the Taliban encouraged others to return. Meanwhile, in
the US, some people of South Asian origin face racist attacks and racial
profiling. They now question whether to return to their homelands.
PORTER: Common Ground’s Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich met an Afghan
refugee, an Afghan-American relief worker, and a Pakistani taxi driver from
Seattle. He asked them all the same question: Where’s home?
[sound of someone speaking in the middle of a
crowded, busy setting]
REESE EHRLICH: At the Jalozai refugee camp
near Peshawar, Pakistan, this refugee named Bebariam describes how she and her
family of 11 escaped Afghanistan prior to September 11.
BEBARIAM: [via a translator] They
came by foot.
EHRLICH: And so how long did it take
BEBARIAM: [via a translator] One
EHRLICH: It took one month from
Afghanistan to get, to reach here.
BEBARIAM: [via a translator] Yeah.
BEBARIAM: [via a translator] And
they say, we don’t have money to pay for buses or for vehicles and something.
EHRLICH: Bebariam and her entire
family live in a 15-square foot canvas tent with nothing but plastic sheeting
and woven mats on the floor.
BEBARIAM: [via a translator] They
had a better life in Afghanistan and she is now in a very difficult situation
now. They don’t have a shelter. Well, when it rains it’s very difficult.
EHRLICH: For these refugees there’s
no question that Afghanistan is their home. Bebariam’s husband Akbar says,
however, that despite the difficult conditions here they won’t return to
Afghanistan until the political and economic situation becomes better. They
won’t return while the US is still bombing their country and so far the new
US-backed government of Hamid Karzai hasn’t won the confidence of many folks at
AKBAR: [via a translator] He said
“when the government is stable and there is peace there and it’s the people’s
government we’ll go.” He said, “We don’t know anything.” I mean, he said “It’s
government’s job to do it. We can’t say whether it can be tomorrow or after six
months or one year.”
EHRLICH: What do other people—do
other people have plans to go back?
AKBAR: [via a translator]
“Whenever there is peace we’ll all go.”
AFGHAN REFUGEE: [via a translator] He says, “Whenever it’s peace, what are we doing
here? There’s no peace there.” I mean, “We can’t go there. What will we do
[more Afghan refugees speaking in the background]
EHRLICH: At a refugee camp near
Haripur, Pakistan another Afghan has a different story of going home. Twenty
three-year-old Afghan-American Halmira Hanif works as an intern with Save the
Children, an international relief agency. She faces the same question as many
immigrant children: Is home America or Afghanistan? Homaira was born in Kabul
and came to the US with her parents when she was only two. She says her parents
fled in 1980, not long after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
HALMIRA HANIF: They realized the situation
was becoming unstable and they had two small children. And they thought it was
necessary to leave. So, and in that time people were being kidnapped. No one
knew what would happen to them. So as far as that, and they felt it was time to
leave. So they left right in the beginning when it wasn’t that difficult to
EHRLICH: Homaira grew up in
California and northern Virginia. She say she never went through the teen
rebellion of rejecting her parents’ language and culture. In fact, quite the opposite.
She wanted to learn all of Afghanistan’s languages.
HANIF: My mom insisted on speaking
Farsi or Dari in the house. And I always, you know, I’m angry at them for not
teaching me how to speak Pashto. Even when I, when I started e-mailing them in
English it felt very strange. ‘Cause it’s always been Dari in the household.
EHRLICH: Homaira says from a very
early age she wanted to find some way to help the people of Afghanistan.
HANIF: I was originally pre-med
and I wanted to become a doctor, ‘cause that seems the obvious choice. But I
always felt that if I were a doctor and I went to some place like Afghanistan
where, you know, a quarter of the children die before age five and you have a
very high maternal mortality rate, you know, one doctor can’t do much. But
public health, when I read more about that and I decided to go into public
health, I liked it because of the preventive aspect and reaching a wide
population. So, I thought that if I, you know, learned those skills I could
help my country better in that way.
EHRLICH: Homaira now has a master’s
degree in public health and has worked with Afghan refugees in Pakistan for
four months. She doesn’t introduce herself as an Afghan-American, and the
refugees, she says, accept her just as another Afghan living in Pakistan. She’s
learned a lot from them.
HANIF: Coming here and seeing
Afghans help themselves and work with each other, I think it’s important to
realize that there are people here capable of doing the work. And they just
need some outside help as far as technical or other sorts of assistance. But
they don’t need anyone to come in and rescue them and take over programs. And I
don’t think that people necessarily in the US realize this, even in the Afghan
community—that people have established their own schools, that people are
working. And people are doctors still and they have received education. And
with a little training, you know, they can go a long way.
EHRLICH: She also sees the
importance of working with Afghan women. She and other relief workers encourage
them to participate in the refugee camp programs in hopes they can develop
useful skills for when they return to Afghanistan.
HANIF: In the camps we have, like
female health workers and volunteers in the camps who mobilize the communities.
So we already have women in the camps who are working, contributing in our
programs. We have women organizing in formal, you know, schools in the house,
and we have women, you know, in the office working. They’re all Afghan
refugees, you know, whether they’re living in the camps or they’re refugees
living outside of the camps. So, I know the women, they feel that they’ve been
a part of the process. They’ve gained some skills working here in the camps.
And I’m sure that they can use those same skills going back. I think women need
to be involved and women have been involved, whether it’s formal or informal.
And there’s no way you can have a country succeed without half of its
EHRLICH: Despite residing most of
her life in the US, Homaira considers Afghanistan her home. She concedes it
won’t be easy to give up the creature comforts of northern Virginia for the
chaos of Kabul. But she insists that’s exactly what she plans to do.
HANIF: That’s where commitment
comes into it. You know, how committed are you? How, you know, how much is this
a part of your life? And you know, if it’s not, if that’s not what you want to
do then you shouldn’t do it. You shouldn’t do something halfway, you know. It’s
either all or nothing for me.
EHRLICH: Zamir Kayyani is also
committed, but in a very different way. Zamir was born in Pakistan but has
lived in the US for ten years. Although he lives in Seattle, he too became a
victim of September 11. Early in the morning of September 30 he was driving cab
when two passengers viciously assaulted him.
ZAMIR KAYYANI: I was taking them to their
hotel when without any warning or any kind of indication they, they just, they
jump over me and start hitting me. And they were saying something about Osama
bin Laden and that “all you are terrorists” and “we’re gonna take you back. We
don’t know where you’re from but we’re gonna find it out.” I was kind of
shocked, you know. I mean, it is something I never anticipated.
EHRLICH: So they didn’t know you
KAYYANI: No. They just looked at my
color, you know. Color of my hands or face or somewhere.
EHRLICH: The beating caused internal
injuries and Zamir still suffers back and neck pain. He’s now back in Pakistan
for a few months to recuperate and see his family. His parents’ farm 45 miles
outside of Islamabad is a far cry from Seattle. Zamir shows how they use a hand
crank to get water from a well.
[metallic clanking sounds as water is drawn from a
KAYYANI: It’s coming up. Slowly,
slowly. As I am rolling it. On this.
EHRLICH: His mother Mechabegum is
EHRLICH: Mechabegum says the attack
on Zamir shattered her image of America in general and Seattle in particular.
MECHABEGUM: [via a translator] Her son
used to call her up and tell her that this is a very peaceful country and a
peaceful town and city as well. We don’t have any problems whatsoever. But
since, ever since after the attacks, I mean, she say, “Look at what, what has
happened.” I mean, her son had to come back because he had, he got beaten up
over there. And the peace has totally collapsed.
EHRLICH: Mechabegum would like Zamir
to stay here in Pakistan.
MECHABEGUM: [via a translator] She’s
saying that whatever happened to her son was a great, I mean a pretty big
disaster. Should not have happened at all. And his, he lost a lot of
self-respect in that process as well. Of course she is going to have a lot of
reservations about him going back now. And she is always going to be thinking
about his well being.
EHRLICH: Zamir feels the pull of
being both Pakistani and American. He and his entire family strongly condemn
Osama bin Laden and the September 11 attacks. They say such terrorism is
unIslamic. At the same time, Zamir’s family, like almost everyone I talked to in
Pakistan, think the US must stop opposing the Palestinians and stop building
military bases all over the world. Mehmood, Zamir’s brother, says such US
policies actually build political support for terrorists in the Muslim world.
MEHMOOD: If the United States is
playing its role, I mean, probably, you know, in these terrorist groups, they
will automatically washed out from the society. Yeah, they are using these
issues for their own purposes. But, and if and all these issues settled on, of
course there will be no need for these groups.
[the sound chickens cackling and crowing]
EHRLICH: Zamir walks outside to a
field full of poultry, sheep, and a water buffalo.
KAYYANI: We feed those goats and
lambs and a cow and buffalo. So they eat it. We just feed them every morning.
EHRLICH: He misses his childhood
here in rural Pakistan where life is simpler and he doesn’t face racist
attacks. But Zamir still loves America and he doesn’t blame the American people
for his beating.
KAYYANI: There are some people, some
negative mind people everywhere. So, those are just a few of them. So, I mean,
I don’t all blame America for this thing I’m in. The other people in America,
they are very supportive. And I really appreciate their, their, the direction
what they took when somebody attacked our mosque in Northgate. And I saw some
of us fellow Americans sitting outside, you know, guarding that mosque. And on
Friday, on our holy day, they brought the ice cream and cookies and all the
stuff over there just to help the worshippers.
EHRLICH: Zamir is impressed by that
spirit of helping people and a willingness to fight intolerance. Despite the
racist attack, he plans to return to Seattle.
KAYYANI: I think I kinda consider it
my home, the United States. This is the place where I was born and that’s the
place where I live right now.
EHRLICH: So for you, going home is
back to Seattle?
KAYYANI: Back to Seattle. That’s
[Zamir’s mother is speaking in the background]
EHRLICH: Zamir’s mother understands
that her son will in all likelihood return to the US. She offers her blessing
and adds one for the people of America as well.
MECHABEGUM: [via a translator] She says
everybody should, must remain peace. And that is, I mean, it comes from her
heart. Even after what happened to her son she’s still offering her blessings
to all the Americans. Not just the Muslims—everybody.
EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Pakistan.
MCHUGH: Pakistan’s fundamentalist
schools, next on Common Ground.
[via a translator] The major influx of these extreme thoughts came during the
Russian occupation of Afghanistan, where children, they were taught to, to go
to jihad. And that theology
flourished during the wartime.
PORTER: Earlier this year
Pakistan’s military ruler, President Prevez Musharraf, ordered a major
crackdown on the country’s madrasas,
or religious schools, that many claim organize support for terrorism.
MCHUGH: But these fundamentalist
schools have deep roots in Pakistan. And as Common
Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from the Pakistani
capital of Islamabad, the influence of the madrasas
won’t be easy to uproot.
[sound of many children talking and shouting at
EHRLICH: Here in a madrasa students chant the Koran from
[sound of many children talking and shouting at
EHRLICH: Critics charge that many madrasas offer little modern education
and inculcate their students with a right-wing, strict interpretation of Islam
that supports the Taliban and similar causes. Abdul Rashid-Ghazi, Vice
President of a madrasa at Islamabad’s
Red Mosque, admits that his school promotes jihad.
Some people think that Islam is meant only, it’s just a, I mean that you
practice, go for prayer, you fast in the holy month of Ramadan; it is not that.
It is a complete code of life that you have to accept each and every thing from
Islam. Jihad is one of the big basics
of Islam. You cannot do this thing that you accept few things and reject few
things. You have to accept all these Islamic principles.
EHRLICH: Dr. Abdul Nayyar, a Fellow
with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, a progressive think tank,
says most Pakistani Muslims define jihad
not as holy war but as “struggle,” which can include peaceful efforts to
eradicate poverty and other social problems. But the right-wing madrasas promote jihad as a holy war against infidels, says Nayyar, and some offer
There is now a unanimity or the near unanimity among the different kind of madrasas that exist in Pakistan, that jihad is one of the fundamental
obligations of a Muslim. And that everybody must get, go to jihad and take trainings for jihad and go and get involved in jihad. Even if some of the madrasas are not directly involved in
military training of their students they are giving them the ideology of jihad.
EHRLICH: Academics estimate there
are 6,000 to 10,000 madrasas in
Pakistan, of which perhaps 20 percent teach militant Islam. The madrasa has existed for many years as a
boarding school where impoverished students could get food, lodging, and the
basic religious education. Indeed, Red Mosque leader Ghazi defends the madrasas precisely because of that charitable
GHAZI: There are some families who
cannot afford their children so they send them to madrasas because in that they, they see that their children would
be placed and they would have food, they would have clothing, and then they
will grow up with the passage of time. And, of course, they will learn
something. They will be useful for the, for the society. You know that every
parent thinks—well, is concerned very much about his children. So they will not
send just only because of the food, because of the—to some place where they
think their, their children will be destroyed, or where they think their
children would become, I mean, useless or negative people, or be harmed.
EHRLICH: But during the 1980s some madrasas became something entirely
different. The US encouraged Saudi Arabia and Gulf states to fund the madrasas, according to Pakistani
academics. That aid transformed some schools into recruiting stations for mujahadeen fighting the Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan. By the 1990s the madrasas
were training the future leadership of the Taliban. Sayeed Asmat Gilani, is a
moderate Muslim scholar who helps run religious schools throughout the country.
[via a translator] The major influx of these extreme thoughts came during the
Russian war, the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, where children, they were
thought, taught to, to go to jihad.
And that theology, it flourished during the wartime. Surely that, the influence
of the Arab countries and their fundings in Pakistan have created, increased
extremism in Pakistan. And in fact that, that is the base of the root cause of
this spreading of extremism and violence.
EHRLICH: Throughout the 1990s
right-wing madrasa and political
group leaders murdered Muslim opponents and violently attacked secular
Pakistanis. Farzana Bari, who heads the women’s studies program at Islamabad’s
largest university, says they also waged vigilante campaigns against women.
FARZANA BARI: Anybody on the street can
come to, used to come to you and say, “If you are not covered”—your head, they
said, “Why aren’t you covering your head?” Go to any woman, any man can, could
walk up to you and say, “OK, why aren’t you covering your head?” If a woman is
wearing like sleeveless or if she’s not covered her head, there were lots of
incidents. There were, they have been, you know, slashed with a knife. There,
especially in Karachi, we have seen lot of incidents where girls who were
wearing half-sleeves or sleeveless, you know, with the knife they will, they
will just cut their skin.
EHRLICH: While rejected by a large
majority of Pakistanis these militant Islamic groups enjoyed support from
successive Pakistani governments since the 1970s. In return for those groups’
political support the governments ignored their illegal activities. The groups
also developed some popular support by combining a populist appeal to the poor
with opposition to US military expansion in the Muslim world. When the US
started bombing Afghanistan the madrasas
became a rallying point for protesting war and Pakistan’s alliance with the US.
[the Moslem call to prayer is heard over a
EHRLICH: Many Pakistanis strongly
oppose the US war in Afghanistan and some still support the Taliban, as can be
heard during random interviews after Friday prayers at this Islamabad mosque in
a working class neighborhood.
[via a translator] Americans are the largest terrorist state in the world, and
they are the enemies of Islam. And look at what they did in Iraq.
EHRLICH: This small shopkeeper
continues that theme.
[via a translator] Don’t, doesn’t America see terrorism within the Palestine
and Kashmir? I mean, is Afghanistan the only country they can see terrorism?
Israel is such a big terrorist, why doesn’t America take any actions against
EHRLICH: This bus driver says the US
unfairly criticized the Taliban.
[via a translator] Taliban, well, they, they were never given a chance to truly
stabilize the government over there, so that women could also start working.
They were planning on having women—different universities and different small
businesses, where the women could work over there as well. So that issue that
women were not allowed to work is incorrect. The Taliban were never given a
chance. [translator speaks in the second person now] And the second point he
made was that since Taliban were there, I mean even the, even the foreign
powers, they were, there was peace six years. I mean there was no civil war,
there was nothing. The main point is that, that, why they are trying to enforce
their own culture on us? If we try to enforce our own culture on the European
people, how will they feel about that?
EHRLICH: While opposition to the US
war remains high, even very conservative Muslims now question their faith in
the Taliban. Antiwar demonstrations have stopped. Mutaz Fazal is a devout
Muslim businessman who supported the Taliban. But he was severely disappointed
in the Taliban’s weak military response to the US.
MUTAZ FAZAL: Their crumbling created
lots of dissatisfaction. People expected that there must be, would be some sort
of better response as compared to their just running away. Since the
expectations were not met everything subsided.
EHRLICH: People here thought that
the Taliban would put up a tougher fight?
FAZAL: Yes! They, they thought it
EHRLICH: Pakistani President
Musharraf, under US pressure, is cracking down on the madrasas and right-wing mullahs. He has jailed thousands of
militant activists. He’s proposing new rules to bring the madrasas under government control and reshape their curricula to be
closer to that of the public schools. The hard right wing is not happy with
these plans. Hamid Gul is a former chief of the main Pakistani intelligence
service and currently is a leader in the Afghan Defense Council, a group that
backs the Taliban. He makes a populist appeal to Pakistani’s hatred of past
corrupt governments allied with the US.
HAMID GUL: The elitist class of the
society had plundered the country with both hands. They dishonored the country,
they plundered, they made it poor. They really made our heads hang in shame.
They were so corrupt, the educated ones from Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford,
Pennsylvania, and all the other universities. They, they were all corrupt. But
now madrasas become the target. None
of the madrasas plundered the
country. What have they done?
EHRLICH: But the madras leaders themselves are split, in
part because the government is offering funds to religious schools who support
its reforms. Red Mosque leader Abdul Ghazi reflects the dual reaction of many madrasa leaders. He wants the government
money, but doesn’t trust the Musharraf regime.
RASHID-GHAZI: They are not serious
because whatever we have seen in the past that all such actions are taken on
the pressure from the foreign governments. Whatever they are doing they are
doing just to please America. But still, we do not reject it. If the government
is serious then I don’t think that there is any harm.
EHRLICH: The leaders of the madrasas and fundamentalist groups are
clearly on the defensive. The government has banned extremist parties, closed
their offices, and undercut their source of financing. Musharraf has certainly
won the support of intellectuals and the middle class. Rasul Bakhash Rais, a
political scientist at Islamabad’s largest university, says Pakistanis support
General Musharraf despite the fact that he came to power in a military coup two
Rasul Bakhash Rais: No leader in Pakistan has
been in recent history as popular General Prevez Musharraf. And that is a
really sad reflection on Pakistan’s political culture, that a man in uniform is
more popular—popular and more credible than the elected politicians in the
recent history of Pakistan. Why it is so? Because he comes off as a
straightforward, sincere person. He has a sense of integrity. And people
believe him, what he says.
[people talking in a marketplace]
EHRLICH: However, in random
interviews here at Islamabad’s largest open-air market, poor and working class
Pakistanis express more mixed opinions. They still strongly oppose the US war
in Afghanistan and criticize Musharraf, but don’t necessarily support the
militant right wing either.
[via a translator] He says Musharraf should think about the poor people, not
just the well-off people. I mean, even with all these, I mean, all these
resources at our, at our hands, we still have problems trying to make ends
meet. And the rich keep on getting richer and the poor keep on getting poorer.
EHRLICH: This student on the other
hand praises Musharraf.
[via a translator] He’s a brave and clever leader.
EHRLICH: This van driver says he
respects Musharraf for dealing with a very difficult situation.
[via a translator] Musharraf knows that if he had gone against the Americans,
then they would all have been against us as well. So we are not that big a
power to go against Americans right now.
EHRLICH: So he supports Musharraf?
[via a translator] For the time being what he did was, was OK.
EHRLICH: For the moment Musharraf
has the full backing of the military and enough popular support to crack down
on the madrasas and extremist Islamic
groups. Critics note that those groups have enjoyed years of support from the
US, Middle Eastern governments, and successive Pakistani regimes. Until
September 11 Musharraf had tolerated and even courted such groups. So uprooting
their influence will be a long-term battle. But for the moment, says Women’s
Studies Professor Farzana Bari, Pakistanis are breathing a sigh of relief.
FARZANA BARI: We were feeling very
trapped in, you know. And feeling very—we were very scared that maybe the
similar situation what was in Afghanistan can come to us as well. I think that
threat seems to be gone. And I hope for, forever these groups have really become
very weak. And I think if our government takes this opportunity to make sure
that these people do not surface again, then we will be quite OK.
EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Islamabad, Pakistan.
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