Dec 2, 2022

Why are Some International Students Indifferent to UC labor Strike?

In the past three weeks, since November 14, when the UC labor strike began, I have noticed that only a few international students have joined our labor strike. A few times, I walked through the picket lines to see international students; one can determine with ease or guess from their accents, language, or appearance. There were some international students whom I knew personally but only a few. I conjectured that, given their legal status, they probably do not see themselves in an equal position to American students to participate or are worried about unanticipated or unimaginable consequences in supporting the strike. I also mused myself on the idea that maybe they work hard and are too busy, but then I challenged that assumption because we all are busy and work hard, yet we are determined to come out and fight for fair wages.

The other day I was walking down the steps of the engineering building south of campus at UCI, where the strike was taking place. I saw some familiar faces, but inevitably, I was reminded to look for a diverse presence, but I saw few international students. While picketing, I spoke with a fellow Ph.D. student, Sarah (pseudonym), and I shared my view with her, hoping to elicit a subtle understanding of why international students are absent. Questions popped up in my head, are they afraid of authorities? Are they indifferent to our cause? Are they satisfied with the status quo? What prevents them from joining the strike and embracing changes?

It was a little after 1:00 pm, the best time to seek sunlight, making autumn a favorite time of the year. I grabbed a cup of coffee from the table prepared by undergraduate students who have compassionately stood in solidarity with their TAs. I started walking back to Sarah, seated on the opposite end of one of those black metal benches without a backrest. As we warmed ourselves to the sunlight rays passing through leafless tree branches, I could hear strikers chanting, "If we don't get it, Shut it Down," What do we want? A Fair Contract." 

I asked Sarah if her cohort members were on strike. Surprisingly, she was the only one to walk off her job from her entire cohort in her department. Five other graduate students, mostly international students, refused to join the strike and continued teaching and grading students' work. I asked her whether they were afraid to join the strike. She said no, they were simply indifferent to the strike and when she asked them about the unfair wages and high cost of living conditions, she was told that they have no financial problem because they receive free groceries from Food Pantry on campus and, therefore, they do not see the reason to go on strike. She told me that she explained to them that if they obtain a better deal that allows them to receive a better wage, they do not need to rely on the food pantry and what if the food pantry does not exist any longer or is unable to supply groceries. She told me that she could not convince them.

Anyway, I wanted to share this here without making any judgments. I hope we better understand why some students are unwilling to join the strike, and knowing the reasons behind their indifference will help us understand that we are not all equal in our demands.

Nov 30, 2022

Why do we fight for fair wages in UC labor strike?

We are entering into the third week of our strike for a fair contract. The strike began on November 14, when graduate students at the UC system walked off their jobs. There are 48,000 of us, including teaching assistants, researchers, post-doctoral students, and others represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW). This morning I woke up to an e-mail sent out by the bargaining teams that there is a tentative agreement between UC and the union in which postdocs and academic researchers will receive higher wages, but the agreement does not include teaching assistants.

When I read it I thought, what a terrible deal! The bulk of the work is being done by TAs and the fact is the majority of people who are on strike are TAs. Why would they be left out of the deal when they are the ones who are doing the majority of work for the university? We, as TAs, are required to work 20 hours a week but sometimes, we work beyond those hours. I personally respond to e-mails on weekends and spend hours on students' work to provide quality constructive feedback and never think of how many hours I am spending and yet the amount of wage I am receiving is a livable minimum wage that is not even enough to enjoy the peace of mind and convenience. 

If this diagram is correct, UC wages are amongst the lowest.
Click to enlarge the diagram. source: here
To put it in perspective, UC Irvine pays the teaching assistants a little over 21k for 9 months, not the entire year. That is a little over $2,300 a month, of which more than 60% goes to rent. Some students even pay up to 75% of their wages towards rent. Today, I met with a student who told me she pays nearly $1300 for UC subsidized housing, also called (ironically) affordable, which is unaffordable given the unfair pay. She is often left with $700 or less to pay for her car insurance, gas, food, travel, and bare minimum necessities, forgetting leisure and eating out, and joining other social conventions. The sad part of this reality is that we pay more than half of our wages as rent back to UC. In a sense, the UC system is benefiting from us in multiple ways. They benefit from our scientific endeavors, from our labor in exchange for minimum wage, and benefit from us living in their housing and paying them back. This is called exploitation without fair compensation.

International teaching assistants suffer the most because they do not have the same advantage that Americans have. I know an international PhD student who is financially struggling. He is married, his wife has no job and they have two kids, aged 2 and 4, all uninsured except the father. Since more than half of his salary goes toward housing, he is left with very little to buy food and clothing for his wife and children. A few times I brought this issue up with a few faculties, they spoke of state-subsidized child care, which I don't think international students' spouses and children qualify for.

I myself have to look for a weekend side job to cover my cost. I recently started website maintenance job by stretching my limited time over the weekend to make a few extra bucks. Since the fall of Kabul to the hands of a terror group, the Taliban, it has become harder for me because of what is happening in Afghanistan. I have to send money to my family and relatives who are not only struggling with food insecurity but also the ongoing genocide against the Hazaras. Some are fleeing the Taliban atrocities while others are trying to find enough to feed themselves. No one understands such a condition, neither my fellow students nor the UC system. My brother, nephew, and niece are now kept at the refugee camp for nearly 14 months. They are languishing at the camp as a result of the long wait for evacuation. The worst part is when no one in the US government is ready to help despite the sacrifice and service that I made for this country. Forget the various degrees of emotional toll and suffering I endure on a daily basis as a result of cumulative grief and trauma. In any respect, like myself, some students suffer from numerous issues, and food insecurity is one of them that is directly linked to unfair wages at UC.

At the beginning of our strike, UC came up with a humiliating offer that was insufficient because it did not meet the current inflation rate in the county, let alone our demands. The offer indicated that the pay would increase, ranging from 4-7 percent in the first year of the contract and incremental raises in subsequent years. The inflation rate, in July 2022, in the LA area and Orange counties was recorded 8.6%, the highest in 40 years. 

The recent agreement is a terrible blow to teaching assistants who constitute the core of this strike and they are in higher numbers compared to other groups; of course, this is not to disregard the fight that first began by postdocs and academic researchers almost 19 months ago. What this recent deal does is to cajole strikers into giving up their efforts, which is not a bad idea but what I observed and learned from my conversations with students on the picket line today was that they are more determined to continue fighting for fair wages even if takes longer.

The tentative agreement dated November 29 carries a reassuring attestation that UAW maintains a higher degree of power when it comes to collective bargaining. Today, I went back to the picket line to amplify the power of our strike to demand a fair contract from the UC system and also to renew our commitment that no matter what, we will continue our fight even if it spells over to the next quarter. The ongoing strike, which began on November 14 and is considered the largest strike by academic workers in US history, is laying the groundwork for labor rights and possible strikes in the future against unfair wages and labor exploitation by employers. 

Sep 27, 2022

At the Inspiration Point: soundscape, vision and what is observable

Not long ago, I walked here with a young novelist who I befriended recently. Since then, I have been coming every once in a while, especially when I need to get out of my daily routine and alleviate stress, which has become a regular occurrence these days. Every time I visit this spot, I see people standing, taking photos in groups, chitter-chattering, some with their arms stretched out holding cell phones, their eyes staring at the camera, trying hard to smile while tilting their heads right and left as if trying to find enough space to capture the ocean in the background. This particular spot is called “Inspiration Point.” It is a famous site in the seaside neighborhood of Corona Del Mar. A couple of weeks ago, this area was closed to visitors due to an oil spill. Not many people knew why it was closed though. I saw them being frustrated. Not only this spot, but the entire coast of southern California was shut down; dead animals washed up the beaches, some were injured and stranded, and others were buried in the sand. It’s reopened now and everyone visits here to enjoy the sun, sand, and salty sea. 

The Inspiration Point is located on a small blufftop park, overlooking the ocean, the Newport Harbor, and the Corona Del Mar beaches. It is around 3:00 p.m., but since the clock has moved backward for daylight on November 7th, it seems close to sunset time. Looking at a distance in the ocean, there are big fleets; from afar, they look like they are carrying containers, heading towards the Newport Harbor, which is not far, perhaps about 10 miles away. There is a white yacht near the coastline. I eagerly put on my eyeglasses to see the boat clearly but wished to have my binoculars, a gadget that is now part of my excursion into nature. 

I see some small boats and a few jet skis moving fast around the yacht. A few people were moving leisurely on the deck, music was blasting, and I could only recognize the beats from the background noise and chatter that filled the space around me, although much of it had to be blamed on waves and water that impeded the sound to travel smoothly. People come and go; they speak different languages and wear other clothes and colors. No one is hurried; you can tell it from their leisurely walks and their lazy legs that are being dragged behind them. You do not see many white people though, and if you see them, they are mostly tourists. In more than an hour, I saw people from diverse walks of life, but one thing was clear to me: class-wise they mostly belonged to the lower and middle classes. 

Some people who come here stand on the edges and stare at a distance in the ocean for a long time as if they are waiting for a loved one from a long voyage and yet to arrive. Some people are walking their dogs, and a few people strewn their blanket and sat on it while facing the ocean but looking directly at sunset. A lot of people come around 5 pm to find a spot to watch the sunset. I read a lot about the evenings, and one thing I realized from all my labor; you cannot describe the sunsets l. It is a subjective experience. 

I heard some music. Two people who seemed to be college students were playing their guitars, the sound was disappearing through the background noises of cars, people, the sounds of the ocean’s waves battering the bluffs and cliffs. 

After observing the people coming to the Inspiration Point, and taking pictures of the ocean, I was tempted not only to see myself as one of them and perhaps experience their feelings but also to appreciate the enduring beauty and inviting nature of the sounds of the ocean that cluttered the soundscape. I love how sounds glue together, especially that it arouses a different curiosity in the brain, you try to decipher, but you cannot. I walked to the point and stepped on a piece of wood, maybe cedar, used as a curb that was smoothed out by years of enduring the trampling of feet. Not to lose balance, I clasped the wire used as a fence. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my palm as if a needle had pierced through the skin. I lifted my hand, and suddenly, blood started oozing out from a few places. I had accidentally clutched on the knot where the wires were sticking out, perhaps due to constant stretching or natural wear. I pressed my finger against the holes where the blood was coming out. Then I rubbed my hands together to vanish any traces of redness on my hand, but the blood kept seeping out from punctures.  

Thinking that I was here for observation, the practice that I needed to learn as an anthropologist, I decided to stick around for over an hour. It was hard to take notes on people who were constantly moving. How can you observe when people are always on the move? What precise actions are lost in those movements and activities? It is hard to keep just one thing, then miss the whole thing. I could only see their patterns of performance on this particular spot, although a few times I wanted to ask people what they were thinking about this specific spot, the Inspiration Point, and whether they have ever felt inspired. One time I realized a person was standing close to me, and so I decided to verbalize something, perhaps my feelings about the ocean and the scenery. I said to myself out loud, “what a beautiful scenery!” and looked to the left to expect confirmation from the person next to me. It seemed that she either did not hear me or didn’t give me any mind. 

Then I started walking down toward the paved ramp on the south side of the Inspiration Point, which led to the overlook. My palm was wet, I clasped a bunch of grass to clean it. There were a few boulders, unlike the spiky wire fence at the Inspiration Point that pierced my palm; the fence at the overlook was a thick rail made of metal. Some people were holding the railing, constantly bending over, as if their eyes were foraging for something unseen beneath the cliff. The noise from the constant chattering of people faded in the background of the ferocious sounds of the waves crashing against the tall, jagged rocks that formed as a result of constant battering. Looking at those rocks that are partially eroded by the ocean water reminded me of the lesson my father tried to give me when I was ten years old. One day, far from our house, we were in a deep gorge searching for dried grass for animals. We came upon some holes in the granite rock. Some of those holes had water in them. My father stood and asked me to look up. At one point, a glacier existed over the cliff, and the glacier water came down over the cliff, and droplets of water hollowed out the hard rock. He asked me to take a lesson from the soft water and the power of persistence as well as consistency of it. As I was looking down through the jagged rock with darkened sellouts, the sun starting sinking the Pacific Ocean, it’s glittering raises diminished, I was left with a pang of nostalgia weaved into soundscapes, people, and sights that I had to retreat from. Undecidedly, I walked over to my car, turned on the radio, and left the shore but the sounds and sights and people did not leave me.

Sep 2, 2022

Rejoicing over the Death of an Evil Person

In 2013, when Margaret Thatcher died, some people celebrated her death--due to her destructive economic policies during her terms--not only in the UK but also in other places, like Chile. Rejoicing over her death was not only considered something unethical but a source of joy and happiness.  

Today I heard that Mujib Rahman Ansari, a senior Sunni extremist cleric and pro-Taliban was killed in a blast. On social media platforms, many Afghanistanis expressed their happiness over his death. The first question that might come to our mind is, is this morally a good thing? This is not the right question. A more correct and accurate question to ask is whether the absence of someone who promoted and caused hatred, disgust, misery, and suffering brings us peace? If the answer to this question is yes, then rejoicing over the death of an evil person should not only be considered normal but also morally justifiable. We humans naturally rejoice in a situation when we see that our suffering is over. Ethics and morality seem irrelevant when it comes to survival and how to end our suffering and continue living without misery.

Note: I once said that it might not be morally right to rejoice over someone's death. Recently, however, I no longer hold that belief.

Jun 29, 2022

Extrajudicial Killings of Hazaras by the Taliban

Some terrible news come from Afghanistan. In the past two days, the Taliban militants waged an attack on Balkhab, a Hazara district in northern Sar-e Pol province. They have been killing innocent people. Images appeared on social media show men and women are indiscriminately being shot, some are beheaded. Here is a VOA piece about extrajudicial killings in the Hazara districts of Balkhab. The title of the news wrongly says "Afghan district," it's a Hazara district.

May 31, 2022

Quotes By and About Women in Afghanistan Under the Taliban 20 Years Ago

It's sad, extremely sad to see what is happening to women in Afghanistan. Nothing has changed in the Taliban's strategies and views on women. They remain the same people as they were 20 or 30 years ago. Today I stumbled upon state.gov archive and found quotes by women and about women 20 years ago. These quotes took me to 1990s, the decade that resembled like today, nothing has changed in the Taliban's outlook. For the original, please visit here

Report on the Taliban's War Against Women
BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR
November 17, 2001
Report

They made me invisible, shrouded and non-being
A shadow, no existence, made silent and unseeing
Denied of freedom, confined to my cage
Tell me how to handle my anger and my rage?
-- Zieba Shorish-Shamley, from  "Look into my World"  published on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Taliban in Their Own Words
"It's like having a flower, or a rose. You water it and keep it at home for yourself, to look at it and smell it. It [a woman] is not supposed to be taken out of the house to be smelled."
-- Syed Ghaisuddin, Taliban Minister of Education, when asked why women needed to be confined at home

"If we are to ask Afghan women, their problems have been solved."
-- Qudratullah Jamal, Taliban Minister of Culture

"We have enough problems with the education of men, and in those affairs no one asks us about that."
-- Qari Mullah Din Muhammad Hanif, Taliban Minister of Higher Education

"If a woman wants to work away from her home and with men, then that is not allowed by our religion and our culture. If we force them to do this they may want to commit suicide."
-- Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, Taliban Minister of Justice

"We do not have any immediate plans to give jobs to (women) who have been laid off.  But they can find themselves jobs enjoying their free lives."
-- Moulvi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel, Taliban Minister of Foreign Affairs

And in Their People's Words
"Because of the Taliban, Afghanistan has become a jail for women. We haven't got any human rights. We haven't the right to go outside, to go to work, to look after our children."
-- Faranos Nazir, 34-year-old woman in Kabul

"Approximately 80% of women and men agreed that women should be able to move about freely and that the teachings of Islam do not restrict women's human rights." 
-- Physicians for Human Rights, "Women's Health and Human Rights in Afghanistan: A Population-Based Assessment"

"'Indignity is our destination,' says Seema, 30, who used to work at a health center and now roams the streets in Kabul begging to support her children."
-- Time, November 29, 2000

"When we are together, everyone here is talking about how the Taliban has destroyed our lives.  They won't let us go to school because they want us to be illiterate like them."
-- Nasima, 35-year-old Kabul resident

May 24, 2022

The biggest concern for Hazaras

Personally, I am less worried about the recent Taliban's restrictions on women appearing on TV or in public in that matter. What makes me more worried is the rampant violence across Afghanistan, specifically the genocide of the Hazara people which has been going on for years now and recently intensified. Attacks on Hazaras have become a daily occurrence now. No one takes responsibility anymore, even daily attacks don't make headlines, only attacks on a large scale become newsworthy. 

Since the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, a wave of violence swept the entire country, but violence against Hazaras is different, they are being systematically targeted at schools, mosques, hospitals, public squares, on the streets, and even in their homes. Simultaneously, something worse is happening these days. Pashtun Kuchis (nomads) have invaded Hazarajat, a region where the Hazaras live. They move with their livestock from village to village, grazing Hazara pastures, wheat farms, vegetable gardens, cutting and destroying trees and saplings. They trample their farmland, the very things that Hazara's livelihood is depend upon.

When local Hazaras protest, they are being attacked and killed by Pashtun Kuchis who are supported by the Taliban. This year, when autumn arrives, the Hazara people have nothing to reap from their farm fields. They are facing a serious famine. A bestial cruelty at its best. This is a matter of concern, not the hijab or covered faces of women on television and on the streets. The truth is that if we consider the tribal form of Islam, it is what the Taliban, and other Islamist groups trying to implement to some degree.

May 13, 2022

Why should we oppose the release of Afghanistan's reserves to the Taliban?

I am personally against the transfer of the former Afghanistan's government reserves ($7 billion) to the Taliban, for two reasons:

1) The Taliban as de factor rulers of Afghanistan are incapable of using the assets and even if they are, they will not use the funds among the population fairly. For the past 8 months, UN humanitarian aid has reached different cities across Afghanistan but most of the Hazara areas have not received them even once. For example, Pashtun families in southern and eastern Afghanistan, such as Jalalabad and Helmand, received 38 to 42 times while in central and northern Afghanistan, people have not receive a single grain of rice. 

2) This fund does not belong to the Taliban and to be honest, most of it comes from foreign donations and it belongs to the former government that supposed to represent all the people of Afghanistan. The Taliban is a terror group, representing the Pashtun tribe mostly, they do not represent all the people of Afghanistan. They do not represent women who half half of Afghanistan's population, they do not represent Tajiks and Uzbeks either. If you look at the Taliban's government, offices are filled with old Pashtun males, no women and no minority groups. 

I am also against the idea that these assets should be dispersed to the 9/11 victims because the perpetrators of 9/11 attacks were Saudis, not Afghanistanis. Giving the assets to the victims of 9/11 is worse than theft.

The funds should be handed over to Afghanistan one day, but not now while the Taliban are in power who terrorize minority ethnic groups. We know that the Taliban will not last long in power, and when there is a new government representing all people of Afghanistan, the funds should be released.

May 11, 2022

Afghanistani men who evacuated with multiple wives

In early September of 2021, AP reported that potentially there were young girls among evacuees who were forced to marry older men in order to escape the brutality of the Taliban regime. Well, there is a strange case that I am following closely. Well it is about an Afghanistani who brought two women, one registered as a wife, and the other as a sister. From his wife he has six children, the young woman who is registered as his sister has only one young child but recently the neighbors began noticing her belly gradually expanding. Neighbors are confused and wonder whether the man impregnated his sister or the woman is his second wife. Recently, the neighbors began speculating that the young woman is actually the man's second wife. They are currently kept in one of those lily pads overseas and have been there since six months ago or more. The officials at the camp are also aware of it but they do not know how deal with it. 

I spoke with a few translators who have worked in different military bases across the US--where Afghan refugees were held temporarily. They told me that they noticed older men with young girls, and often they were registered as their daughters but without mothers or any elder female members. They told me that the translators noticed it, they turned a blind eye.  See in this report:

An internal document described to the Associated Press by officials familiar with it says that Afghan girls at a transit site in Abu Dhabi have come forward with allegations that they were raped by older men they were forced to marry in order to escape Afghanistan. U.S. officials at intake centers in the United Arab Emirates and in Wisconsin have identified numerous incidents in which Afghan girls have been presented to authorities as the "wives" of much older men.

One of the translators told me, one time he decided to bring it to the attention of the Americans but other translators discouraged him and said, let it go for now, they will have problem when resettled. The translators shared their suspicions of polygamy cases that were not detected by the US officials but did not do anything because they could not establish claims without evidence or direct observation. On its latest update, the USCIS has added a tab on its website under "Information for Afghans"called polygamous marriages:

Polygamous Marriages

Polygamy is the religious practice or historical custom of having more than one spouse at the same time. Polygamous marriages are legal under Afghan law, but they are illegal in all states in the United States. U.S. law does not recognize polygamous marriages. Individuals should not continue to practice polygamy in the United States. Generally, we will only consider the first marriage of a polygamous marriage valid for immigration purposes. If you continue a polygamous marriage you were in before you came to the United States or begin a new polygamous marriage in the United States, we may deny your immigration application.

If you have questions about polygamous marriage and U.S. immigration law, contact your local resettlement agency. If you need to find legal services, please visit the Find Legal Services webpage.  

The translators told me that the wives were not allowed to come out of their rooms and when they did, they were forced to cover their face while their husbands on the lookout. I will write more on this later. 

Apr 27, 2022

Seminar: Unpacking the Genocide of Hazaras in Afghanistan

I posted this on a Facebook group that helps Afghanistani refugees. I'm reposting it here:

A lot of us are dealing *Afghanistani refugees nowadays, they are all traumatized one way or another. if we know how events in Afghanistan affect them, we know better how to help them. Afghanistan is rife with violence, but what is particular in the case of the Hazara people is that they are systematically targeted at schools, mosques, hospitals (at births), wedding halls, sport clubs, squares, streets, and highways by Sunni Muslim extremist groups, the Taliban, ISIS, and other affiliates. Please join this important virtual seminar on how the Hazara genocide unfolding. 

Join us this Friday at 10am ET for a virtual seminar: Unpacking the Genocide of Hazaras in Afghanistan. Event co-hosted by CGM and Porsesh Research and Studies Organization. Register here: https://t.co/sIeP6I8VlZ 

*Afghanistani is an inclusive term for all inhabitants of Afghanistan versus "Afghan" which exclusively used for Pashtun in  "Afghanistan." Please be sensitive to the use of those words. 

Apr 24, 2022

Western Union Employees in Pakistan ask for Religious Orientation

In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a lot of Afghanistanis* fled to Pakistan. Among the them were the Hazaras who escaped the Taliban and other Sunni extremist groups who are systematically targeting them. I have been in touch with a few people in Islamabad who are SIV applicants. Some of the individuals have been facing challenges especially with receiving funds from overseas. They told me that the Western Union employees in different Pakistani banks in Islamabad have asked them whether they are Christians because people with Christian names from overseas wired money to them. They told me that they assured the employees that they are Muslims, but they were still rejected on the grounds that Christian believers from Europe and America are sending money to convert them. This incident occurred at least for three individuals who are Hazaras.

When I heard it, I was totally flabbergasted and didn't know how to react. My advice to them was to ask their Pakistani landlords or the guesthouse owners to get the money. It worked for them but obviously, this was not a single incident until I came upon a blog post and a Facebook post about a similar issue. It appears that the Pakistani employees of Western Union in Islamabad have been interrogating other refugees as well, mostly Hazaras refugees, because they stand out due to their Asiatic look. 

Here is the blog post by William Harvey, a music teacher who taught violin at Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) from 2010 to 2014. and I copy and paste part of it here with block quote, but if you want to check out the original post, click here.

I am furious to learn that Western Union employees are illegally imposing religious tests in order to release funds that have been normally sent through your service. 
On April 6, 2022, I received an email from Mr. I. He is an Afghan resident in Pakistan and is one of 326 of a list of Afghan musicians that my nonprofit organization, Cultures in Harmony, is helping find freedom and security following the takeover of Afghanistan by the violently anti-music Taliban on August 15, 2021. In Mr. I's April 6 email, he writes: "up to now, I haven’t picked it up [the Western Union transfer Cultures in Harmony sent him]. They told me. If this money transferred from an Islamic country. We can pay you. But not Christian country."
This seemed so outlandish that I was inclined to dismiss it as a fabrication. However, today via WhatsApp, Mr. H, another Afghan on that list, informed me the following: "I went to a bank offering Western Union they didn’t give me the money. I went out of green zone to a red zone for Hazaras. There is one main office of Western Union, kept me there for hours interrogating that why the sender is a foreigner. He must be a Muslim. According to Pakistan’s rule a foreigner(Foreign Name) can not send money to a Muslim! ( they think something is fishy fishy)."


*Afghanistani is someone from Afghanistan vs Afghan that is a tribe name for Pashtuns. 

Apr 17, 2022

the limits of categories: "immigrant" or "refugee"

Today, while hiking, I met an Ukrainian refugee or immigrant (whatever those categories mean to policy makers). We spoke of plants, birds, mountains and nature. I listened sympathetically to her stories about her escape from the Russian war in her country that catapulted her to another part of the world. There was an inner tension or urge building up inside me, it was some sort of emphatic feelings. I wanted to talk with her about what it means to be an immigrant or a refugee, but suddenly I realized that we are different and she may not understand my language and feelings. This hesitance was due to the way we are and the way we are defined as immigrants. So, I felt discouraged to say anything about my experience as an migrant because I, as an Afghanistani carrying multitude of tropes and stereotypes. I come from a majority Muslim country that is torn by war and violence, and its people's identity is often (if not always) coterminous with religion, terror, war, and drug. I thought I'm completely different from a refugee with blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin, and most importantly, a Christian believer. From our conversation, I realized she doesn't see herself as a refugee, but as a displaced person in a familiar culture and territory. It was here that I realized the word immigrant may not define us correctly. 

Jan 9, 2022

Indonesia has become an inferno for refugees

Refugees sleeping on the sidewalk in Indonesia (Photo source: social media)

What is going on in Indonesia? It has become an inferno for thousands of refugees who have been stranded for years now. Indonesia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and its supplemental 1967 Protocol which form the basis of rights of refugees and obligations of governments to protect them. The Indonesian government has done nothing but to create a situation that has become a protracted agony and suspense, a humanitarian predicament that has resulted in the loss of dozens of lives. 

In December 2016, in an attempt to a better humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, the Indonesian president Joko Widodo issued a decree called Presidential Regulation No. 125, which allows refugees and asylum seekers to stay in Indonesia, not to be forcibly returned to their country of origin. In the Article 1, no 1 it says:

Foreign refugee, hereinafter referred to as refugee, shall mean a foreigner who resides within the territory of the Republic of Indonesia due to a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, and different political opinions, and does not wish to avail him/herself of protection from their country of origin and/or has been granted the status of asylum-seeker or refugee by the United Nations through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

From the language, it is clear that Indonesia is able to protect refugees and wants them in its soil only for a terminable period, so to consider itself as a transit country. 

According to the UNHCR website, there are currently 13,273 refugees registered (there might be unregistered refugees and not counted) in Indonesia. Of that number 56% which is 7,432 are from Afghanistan, the rest are from Somalia and Myanmar. But the refugee resettlement has been slow and some of these refugees have been waiting to be resettled in third countries for nearly 10 years or more. 

The endless waiting coupled with terrible conditions of living contributed to psychological trauma. Pictures of refugees being shared on social media showing they are sleeping on sidewalks, under harsh weather conditions, on the side of the road and parking lots, some of them are placed in abandoned military buildings without running water or electricity and proper sanitation facilities. The resettlement refugees attrition in tandem with all these harsh conditions have driven refugees to feel they are condemned to slow death. As a result, 14 refugees have committed suicide and a dozen of others made failed attempts. Those who took their lives were all Afghan refugees who did not see any prospect of resettlement in third countries. Refugees have constantly protested against these inhuman conditions, they went on hunger strike, sewed lips, and set themselves on fire, but unfortunately none of these objections have changed policies implemented by the IOM, UNHCR, and the Indonesian government. 

According to UNHCR, in the year 2021, only 391 refugees were settled in third countries. This is extremely slow considering the overall number of refugees totaling 13,273 in Indonesia. If we consider the average resettlement 400 refugees per year, it would take nearly 32 years for all refugees to be resettled in third countries.

One of the options that UNHCR can take to end this predicament is to negotiate with countries that have already promised accepting Afghan refugees in the aftermath of US troops withdrawal that resulted in the collapse of the Afghan government. These refugees have the priority to be resettled because they escaped the brutality and persecution of the Taliban, and after all, they have been in limbo for over a decade in a country where they have little rights as a human being. Countries like Germany, Canada, the UK, and the United States have pledged to admit thousands of refugees. The majority of these refugees are young, single, educated, ambitious and ready to contribute to societies they would land in. 

Today, on January 09, 2022, people (mostly Afghanistani diasporas) have turned into Twitter using hashtag #HelpRefugees_Indonesia to amplify their voice against the pain and suffering that refugees have been enduring for years. If you can please go on Twitter and raise your voice in support of refugees who have been languishing in camps in Indonesia without access to basic rights such as work, education, and healthcare, and worst of all, living in limbo not for one or two years but over a decade. 

Jan 8, 2022

Afghanistan's embassy response

In response to my previous blog post about the crises at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington DC, I received the following e-mail from the Afghan embassy. For further transparency, I am going to copy and paste it here. The purpose of my previous blog post was to highlight the misery and injustice that the US brought on the people of Afghanistan not only inside but also outside. I have spoken to a few Afghan diplomats, they are struggling to survive as their country is handed over by the United States to a criminal ethno-religio-fascist group, the Taliban. Anyway, the following email is indicating that I got a few facts wrong. This post is for that purpose.  

Embassy Admin *******@afghanembassy.us

Dear Fekrat,

We are writing to inform you that the information contained in your blog post published today, supposedly provided by our diplomats, are false. In this regard, we would like to clarify the following.

1.      We are not told by the Department of States not to talk with the media. And our Bank accounts are frozen by Citibank, not the Department of States. We in fact are talking to the State to get our Bank accounts released through them.

2.      The rent for the house that Ambassador Raz is living in is not $12,000. Following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, we negotiated with the landlord and signed a new contract for $4,200 monthly from November 2021 to June 2022. Furthermore, no one at the embassy has received money from any entity. Our new year message published on 30 December on our website and social media accounts clarify that we are continuing to provide our services in the absence of funding from any source.

We have documents to support the above and should the documents remain confident, we could share them with you. We hope that you will revise your post and reflect our comments.

With regards,
--


EMBASSY OF AFGHANISTAN, WASHINGTON, D.C.

+1 202-483-6410 Ext 1033AFGHANEMBASSY.US

This message is intended only for the named recipient. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited.

Jan 3, 2022

Afghanistan's Diplomatic Mission Under Pressure from U.S. State Department

Afghanistan's flag flutters outside the Afghanistan embassy in Washington, DC. (Photo Source)
The collapse of Afghanistan's government was a catastrophic event for all Afghans, but for perhaps no one more so than for staff of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions in the United States whose employees are not only distressed financially but also oppressed politically. For months now, Afghan diplomats and staff have not received their salaries and recently, the U.S. State Department has pressured them to limit their diplomatic activities and asked them not to speak to the media.

After the sudden fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, the US decided to freeze nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. In addition, it froze all accounts belonging to the Afghan government, including those belonging to Afghanistan's diplomatic missions, its embassy in Washington D.C. and consulates in New York and Los Angeles.

The Afghanistan embassy recently shut its consulate and resumed its services through the embassy in DC because it lacked sufficient funds to pay the rent and utilities, according to an embassy employee who asked to remain anonymous. Dozens of diplomats have not received their salaries, local staff at all Afghan diplomatic missions are laid off. The embassy and its consulates in New York City and Los Angeles remain for now, though employees are not mandated to show up for work. 

Afghan consulates are still trying to offer a range of services to Afghan citizens, such as passport renewal, issuing birth and marriage certificates, and document validation but with their account frozen, it cannot cash money orders. The embassy has recently started asking its customers to pay fees for these services in cash, but the amount they collect each week doesn’t cover the the inutility bills. 

Worse, the U.S. State Department has recently begun demanding the Afghan embassy limit its diplomatic activities, since Afghanistan is now under the control of the Taliban. Afghan diplomats have also been asked to abstain from speaking about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan or complaining about their frozen bank accounts. The anonymous diplomat told me that when asked, the State Department has repeatedly said they are in talks with the US treasury and the Department of Justice to release some funds, but so far, the embassies and consulates have had to try and operate without access to funds or bank accounts.

Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, has also been under pressure from the State Department. According to Afghan diplomats, the State Department has urged her not to criticize the Biden administration, after she told Axios that "President Biden doesn't care about the fate of Afghan women and girls."

Desperation over embassy's account closure and pressure by the State Department has led to internal conflict. The diplomats and staff at the embassy are also at odds with Adela Raz who is still claiming to be leading Afghanistan's diplomatic mission. [This part that claimed Raz received cash gifts from other diplomatic missions is being removed after a cross-check for accuracy.] The staff at the Afghan embassy are preparing a press release to declare that the Afghanistan embassy has not received any cash gifts or donations from any entities.

According to employees, the Afghan embassy in DC and its consulates in New York and Los Angeles may soon close. It is now nearly for months staff have not received their salaries; the embassy has not paid its utility bills since its accounts were frozen in mid-August. Outside the embassy, diplomats struggle to pay their rent, utility bills and even buy winter clothes for their children. Those who lived with their families in government-sponsored housing have been forced to move out because they could not afford paying their rents without government support, and some families with sick members have been unable to afford doctor visits, since they lost their insurance when Kabul fell to the Taliban. I was told by several diplomats they are considering shutting down their diplomatic missions at the end of January if the US government does not unfreeze its employees’ salaries because they cannot afford rent, and some may apply for asylum in the U.S. while others are planning to escape to Canada.

Jan 2, 2022

The importance of using VPN in Afghanistan

Now that the Taliban have taken control of everything, privacy and safety on the web is more important than ever. This is especially important to those who are civil society activists, journalists and writers who want to avoid censorship and harassment from the Taliban. These two VPNs are working perfectly without putting too much constraints affecting the speed and quality of accessing the Internet. These are not free though but with one subscription you can connect five devices.

expressvpn*
nordvpn

It is important to shield ourselves against censorship and and control. One of the ways is to find alternatives to common Internet browsers we often use. Tor is a powerful browser, but it is also a VPN. You should first download it to your device and make sure it is connected. Then, everything you write or search while using Tor will bypass you local ISPs. For example, let's say you are in Kabul and you want to connect to the Internet via Roshan and Afghan Wireless or any other Afghan telecom, these companies give you a specific IP address. The IP address that is assigned to your computer or mobile phone by your local ISPs is your identification, you could easily be traced, recognized and whatever you search and see on the Internet can be seen. If you use VPN, you will taken to another region of the world and a different IP address will be assigned to you. Now all your information is encrypted and only the servers are able to know where you connected from, not the local ISPs.

Now, Tor connects you directly to its own servers, which is almost like a virtual world. Then you will be connected to the Internet. You can use Google, email and social networking sites. Local ISPs do not know that you are connected to the Internet through them because you are connected to the Internet from a third party. 

The advantage of using this browser and other VPNs is that it provides safety to you by providing you a detour, meaning it bypasses your local ISPs that might be in control of tyrannical governments whose will is to control and track down their citizens.

The disadvantage of this browser and VPN in general is that it slows down the Internet search because it bypasses the local ISP and connects to the Internet through a third party.

A Farsi version of this post with a little difference was already posted here on my Farsi blog.

* I was recently told by friends in Kabul that Roshan telecom has blocked expressvpn.

Dec 29, 2021

Afghanistan's women fighting back

One of the convincing and yet stereotype narratives of war on terror in Afghanistan has been linked with liberation of women. Afghan women have always been portrayed as oppressed, helpless, and always in need of help. Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the only group who has dared to take the streets in protest against the Taliban's violence and oppression are Afghanistan's women.  Here is a clip I saw on Twitter today. You can google or go on twitter to find more about these courageous ladies who stand up against gun-wielding Taliban. 


This video was sent me today and I download, I can't remember where but it is also circulated on twitter

Dec 28, 2021

the illusion of homeland

I was talking to a forlorn friend of mine the other day who talked sadly about her country, a place she called home. I totally understood her feelings. Years ago, I was in the same situation as she is now. But the reality is that there is no such thing as a "home" or "homeland" but an illusion. This illusion is being made by the political demarcation of the modern world created by European nationalism in the last two hundred years. In every way, they sewed clothes for their communities to monopolize the culture, language and, most importantly, the people.

Until the early twentieth century, there were barely a few demarcated boundaries as a nation or country in the Middle East and Asia and many of the borders that exist today. I write this to say that we humans have always been and will always be immigrants. Our ancestors traveled from Africa, went to Asia, the Middle East and some went to Europe. For whatever reason, we will be migrants or refugees today and tomorrow, either because of wars and conflicts, or because of the lack of resources resulted from the global climate change which is created by the industrial countries that are responsible for the refugee crisis as a result.

Obviously, this feeling is personal and I'm also speaking to my fellow Hazaras. We have been driven out of our lands several times in the past 200 years. We have been driven out of low lands (like Kandahar and Helmand) to high lands (Hazarajat). I see Afghanistan as just a physical place for us. We take the rest of our belongings with us wherever we go. Afghanistan will be a difficult place for Hazaras to live a peaceful life because we have never lived in peace for the past 200 years.

Dec 12, 2021

legal scamming by airlines

I bought a one-way ticket through Alaska Airlines the other day but soon realized I need to change it but when I tried, it didn't work. I contacted the customer service and here is my chat with them. Airlines like Alaska are using customer's vulnerability to sell cheaper tickets within a limited window of time for travel (which they know that often people can't make it) and if costumers want to change, they can't because it is designed to ensnare customers for profit. Let's say you bought a ticket for Saturday but on two days into your flight, your house is obliterated in a tornado or flooding and you can't travel, you contact Alaska Airlines to change or refund, you can't change it and you can't be refunded either, your money is gone because they come up with jargons for their deceptive scheme to swindle you. This is thievery but in a capitalist world like the US, this is a good mechanism of harvesting profits (capitalist thieves call it smart business), which I think should be called legal defrauding.  

Lisa
 
02:47 pm
Hi this is Lisa in Seattle, How can I help you?
dav
 
02:48 pm
Hi Lisa, how are you?
i need to cancel my flight, i wasn't able to cancel it myself
i'd appreciate if you can help
Lisa
 
02:48 pm
What is the confirmation code? I can take a look.
dav
 
02:49 pm
here it is
LVHXBP
Lisa
 
02:54 pm
This Alaska flight is a saver fare ticket. This can only be canceled in the first 24 hours of purchase otherwise it is a use the ticket or forfeit the ticket amount. This will not be able to be cancelled if not flying then you will loose the value of this ticket.
dav
 
02:54 pm
that is a shame
i'm a student
how can that be possible
Lisa
 
02:56 pm
I am sorry this is our most restricted ticket. There is not a way to get the credit back. It will be flying or loose the ticket amount. In order to not have this again it will be choosing our main cabin fare ticket for some flexibility in your travel plans.
dav
 
03:00 pm
that is not right! that is literally theft. why do you use consumer's vulnerability to scam for profit?
Lisa
 
03:02 pm
When making the reservation the fare rules are no changes or cancelation. You are outside of that time. You agreed to these terms at time of check out. There are no change or cancelation can be made to this reservation.
dav
 
03:03 pm
i mean why do you create such vulnerability to your customer in the first place?
Lisa
 
03:06 pm
This is a restricted ticket. I am sorry this is not the answer you wanted to hear. At this time we will not be canceling the reservation due to the restrictions of your ticket. If there is nothing else travel related. Thanks for choosing Alaska. Have a great day.

Dec 5, 2021

Replacing the Taliban with the Taliban

What did the US do in Afghanistan in the past 20 years? It depends on who asks and who answers but as we all know that our understanding of the current situation is formed historically, meaning that we know what empires did and do. And when it comes to Afghanistan, the same form of thinking could be considered. A few days ago, I saw a post on social media, someone said something splendidly accurate. The post said that you should not feel miserable and depressed, it took 20 years for the US to deploy hundreds of thousands of troops, spend trillions of dollars, dragged in four US presidents to replace the Taliban with the Taliban. 

Ironically, this is, of course, an over-simplification of the whole issue but in a very ironic and bitter way, this is a very accurate illustration. In a sense the US eventually did nothing but bringing back the Taliban to power that they ousted 20 years ago. 

But wait, there is something deeper and bitter nuance in it and that has to do with Afghanistan and its people. It exposes a very dreadful reality and that is that Afghanistan cannot be changed, and perhaps, it applies to its people as well. It is sad but true to some degree, unlike other nations that upgrade, Afghanistan retrograde, its people (not everyone though but some) undo their own civilization and culture.