By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
As I write this, there is a New York City Mayoral run-off taking place
to determine who will be the candidate of the Democratic Party for the highest office of
our City. As you read this, we know, or will shortly know, whether Mark Green or Freddy
Ferrer will face Republican candidate Mike Bloomberg in the November 6th election. As the
campaign enters the final critical month, this political junkie/columnist might be
expected to be dissecting and analyzing away.
Afghani publisher Nisar Ahmed Zuri and Trib Publisher
Photos by Tamara Hartman
Although committed to covering the City elections, an overriding
political issue hit us all in the face on September 11. And this writer and student of
history, who considered he was well-read and worldly, recognized just how little he knew
of the land, people, culture and religion where our new enemy was nurtured. Our schools
didnt teach us. Our books didnt inform us. Our electronic media also failed
us. And although as Tip ONeil told us, "All politics is local," the world
is much smaller and the people in Afghanistan are part of our brotherhood of man. Their
politics, life and religion impact us violently.
So while we shall continue our commentary on very local politics, we
are all too cognizant about whose politics is presently impacting our lives. So when Rego
Park resident Nisar Ahmed Zuri, publisher of Ayendah E-Afghan, agreed to have lunch on
Friday, my column was committed to learn and share an Afghanis insight into
politics, Afghanistan history and its people.
Front and back of Nisar Ahmed Zuris paper in English and Farsi.
Nisar arrived promptly at noon for our in-office lunch. He came
on the Q88 and was more familiar with Queens public transportation than I am. I called him
earlier in the week after searching the internet for Afghani publications in the United
States. I wanted to meet with the publisher or editor of an Afghani newspaper. Nisar, from
Rego Park, was nearby and gracious enough to quickly agree to meet. He began his career as
a publisher and editor more than 30 years ago in Afghanistan.
Nisar spent four hours at our office, with Trib editor Tamara Hartman
and me, sharing the story of his country, regularly invoking his peoples love for
freedom and his passion for an Afghanistan embracing western culture.
Nisar is scholarly; he speaks of the history of his homeland, recalling
dates of the past century without pause. He is a practicing Muslim and speaks of Islam no
differently than any of us speak of our religion. He is opinionated and driven. Freedom of
his homeland is his ultimate goal.
Democracy, western culture and freedom seem to run through his veins.
The dove part of his newspaper logo carries a folded newspaper with the Farsi words
meaning: "Freedom, Unity, Progress." Unlike a people who are able to take our
way of life for granted, Nisar has chronicled a society which evolved through the
centuries torn between the traditions of the east and the liberties of the west.
Historically, western values have time and again come to Afghanistan, been forced out and
later reemerged. With the utmost of passion, Nisar cries that terrorists and the Taliban
have taken his entire nation hostage depriving it of their beloved freedom.
He refers to the acts of September 11th as a "tragic crime
committed by terrorists . . . a genocide against the innocent people on US soil . . .
against Islamic norms and in conflict with Afghan tradition."
He asserts, "The people of Afghanistan around the world condemn
the barbaric terrorist attack." The people in Afghanistan, he continues, "Never
gave up hope and the continuous struggle against the terrorist organizations." Bin
Laden, Al-Qaedah, and other fundamentalist fanatics from Pakistan have perverted Islam,
are exporting terrorism, massacred thousands of Afghan civilians and killed their national
figure Ahmed Shah Massod, slain head of the Northern Alliance.
Year after year in the pages of his paper, in English and Farsi, and in
letters sent from his Rego Park home to United States Presidents from Ronald Reagan to
George Bush, Nisar has pled for his people. In an open letter to President Bush, he calls
upon the United States to support the Northern Alliance in returning freedom, democracy
and peace to his country, by ridding it of Bin Laden and the terrorists of the Taliban and
Schenkler and Zuri:
in search of peace.
His passion is clear and his words from the heart. To share his
compassion for freedom, Nisar patiently related to us the history of his nation:
In a land marked by centuries of internal wars and invasions by large
empires, Nisar recalled the richness of Afghan heritage. "In ancient times," he
explains, "we were the center of commerce. Goods from Thailand, Indonesia, Delhi and
the east would be brought to Kabul on their way to central Asia."
From the middle of the eighteenth century until the First World War,
Jewish businessmen traveled the Silk Road linking east to west. The goods
moved through Kabul from the Far East to Europe London, Paris and western
politics and culture were introduced to the people of Afghanistan.
For centuries, empires recognized the value of being at the center of
these crossroads and Afghani history is marked by invasions and battles for control.
During World War I, the Germans wanted this "road to India."
At wars end, the British and Russians agreed that Afghanistan would be a
It was here that Nisar begins to smile as he relates his political
history (while using a fork for his sushi): From 1919, for ten years, King Amanullah, the
reform King, pushed the British out as he westernized Afghanistan. He traveled to the
major European cities with his wife, who was dressed in western garb. Afghani women were
sent to European colleges. This ancient Islamic nation met the west and newspapers and
free thought flourished.
Although he ruled only 10 years, Amanullah introduced a series of
social and political reforms and seems to be the omnipresent heroic image when Nisar
discusses the Afghan peoples fervent love for freedom.
Nadir Kahn took control by 1930 and reversed many of the reforms. In
1933, after his assassination, he was succeeded by his 17 year-old son Zahir Shah, who
now, at the age of 86, is in exile in Italy.
For the first two decades of his rule, his uncles ran the country. It
was during this time that the US recognized the government of Afghanistan. Afghanistan
remained neutral during WWII and saw some of its land lost in 1949 when Pakistan was
carved out of India and a piece of Afghanistan, in a move rejected by the Afghani
government. When the US rejected an Afghan request to buy military equipment, they turned
to the Soviet Union.
Under Zahir Shahs rule, women entered the workforce and
government, war with Pakistan loomed and relations with the Soviets improved. In 1963
Zahir Shah created a constitutional monarchy.
In 1970, a young, 19 year-old lover of freedom named Nisar Ahmed Zuri,
began his career as a publisher offering political books to the Afghani population.
On Aug. 21, 1970, on the occasion of the celebration of the freedom of
Afghanistan, Nisar launched a new magazine, "Freedom," lauding the memory and
reforms of King Amanullah.
"I was aware of the fate of this magazine before I published
it," explained Nisar, who upon publication mailed copies to everyone,
"parliament, the king, the world."
"It was loved and hated," he explains. "But the old guys
[who ran the government] said no, and the Culture and Press Minister sent for me. I had to
change the magazines name," explained Nisar. By 1973 politics had reached a
boiling point. Backed by the Soviet Union, Zahir Shah was overthrown by a communist coup
and freedoms started to erode as independent newspapers were outlawed. After a year in the
army, young Nisar continued publishing in a threatening atmosphere.
"In 1976 at the age of 26, I had big ideas and big dreams. I came
to the United States," says Nisar.
Back in Afghanistan the landowners remained strong and the people
resisted the will of Moscow and objected to atheism. On Dec. 27, 1979, Russia invaded and
the Afghan guerrilla Mujahideen is born. A ten-year battle ensued and the Soviet Union was
finally driven out of a devastated country. By 1992, the Mujahideen formed an Islamic
state and call for Democratic elections.
Seeing a weakened country, Pakistan and Iran interfere and in 1994, the
Taliban militia was born. Fundamentalist religious students trained in and armed by
Pakistan were sent to attack. By 1996, Kabul fell. Under Taliban rule, women were severely
oppressed and men are forced to grow beards. Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport was
outlawed. Tensions rose as the Afghan government accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban.
Massive human rights violations by the Taliban existed and by 1997, much of the country
was under Taliban rule.
The rest of the history is current. The Mujahideen, now the Northern
Alliance, continues the struggle for freedom. The Taliban destroys any vestige of any
freedom or culture other than their own fundamentalism. They also became host to the
worlds most feared and barbaric terrorist group Osama Bin Ladens Al-Qaedah.
At this point, Nisars viewpoint varies somewhat with the present
day accounts that have been reported since September 11.
"Pakistan," asserts Nisar, "created the concept of the
Taliban as far back as 1981. Their intelligence agency (ISI) has been an interloper in
Afghani affairs since that time. Pakistan wishes to destroy Afghani culture and is using
fundamentalist religion to achieve their political end," explains Nisar.
"Pakistan is the body, Bin Laden is the brain. The Taliban
ignorant fundamentalists trained by the Pakistanis link the two," insists
"The Afghani people are innocent and must be protected," he
proclaims. "But we must get rid of the Taliban and Bin Laden at all measures."
When asked whether he felt all Muslims agreed with him, "No,"
explains Nisar, "I cant speak for the Muslim faith. We were bleeding and the
Islamic Conference didnt intervene."
Nisar explains, "Islam says, if you kill one person, Allah is
upset as if you killed all humanity. In war, Islam tells you do not harm women, children,
elderly men or even buildings. These people [the terrorists] are not Muslims. They have
their own agenda and we must act before another attack," Nisar cries with passion.
Nisar wrote to President Bush, "We cannot be blindsided. We must
act as soon as possible,"
And so it has begun.