As a Muslim I condemn the massacre in Orlando, just like all right-thinking people do. As an Afghan who has lived in a war zone much of my life and lost many family members, I understand the depth of the grief and pain of the families and friends of the victims. My heart goes out to them, and I offer them my prayers.
The presidential candidate Donald Trump was quick to point out that Mateen was a Muslim, whose parents where from Afghanistan. Trump decried Afghan immigration to the United States, despite the fact that the shooter himself was born in New York, and claimed that people from Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region hold “oppressive views and values” that shouldn’t be brought to America. Many of the Afghans living in the U.S. know these oppressive views and values all too well. They didn’t come to bring them here. They came to escape them.
Growing up in Kabul, I was taught from an early age that one of America’s core values is providing opportunities to make a good life, especially for those escaping oppression and extremism in their home countries. After all, the United States was founded by Europeans fleeing religious persecution; its purpose from the very beginning was to be a refuge. When I arrived as a graduate student in 2012, most of the Americans I met clearly lived by that welcoming creed. Many were eager to hear about my country and to know my story.
Until I was 10, I told them, my family at least had a good life, though Soviet troops were slaughtering thousands of people elsewhere in the country. Then the Soviets withdrew, and three years later, the government they had backed collapsed. In 1992, civil war erupted and changed everything. Our middle-class neighborhood of comfortable homes, tree-lined streets, and courtyards filled with gardens suddenly became the front line in a war between competing Afghan warlords.
For four and a half years, hundreds of rockets fell in our neighborhood every day. My family hid in our cellar. We had little to eat and hardly dared even to go to our garden to dig up carrots. Thugs sent by the warlords stole all our valuables. One day during a ceasefire, my father and I were captured by a faction and enslaved for two weeks. Our family thought we were dead. When we arrived home, we found them holding funerals for us.
The Taliban brought peace, but after a while they started making strange laws. They beat men for not dressing a certain way, or not having a beard. They forced women to wear burqas and forbade them from going to schools or working outside of their houses. One day they arrested me for not wearing a hat. I spent two weeks in a jail where they hung me from the ceiling in chains, and they beat me every day with a heavy electric cable. Many of the Afghans living in America can tell stories like mine.