Susan Qudus has a dream.
“I dream maybe when I’m old, that there will be peace for Afghans,” Qudus said.
Members of the Afghan Student Association at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosted a rally outside the Nebraska State Capitol on Sunday, Aug. 29, to raise the public’s awareness of what has recently unfolded in Afghanistan as the Taliban declared victory at the Kabul airport, hours after the departure of the final U.S. airplane.
“What is there to go back to? The Afghanistan I knew doesn’t exist anymore,” said Qudus, president of AFSA and the first speaker of the rally, facing a group of about 40 demonstrators. “There isn’t anything left for me there but war and violence.”
The end of America’s presence in Afghanistan began with the sudden evacuation of the Bagram Air Base overnight on July 2. More than a month later, the Taliban militants recaptured Kabul, leading experts to worry that 20 years of progress on women’s rights and public safety may be reversed.
“Hundreds, millions, trillions spent! The U.S. did not make a dent! Troops withdrawn on the 31st! All who’s left are left in dirt,” the crowd, led by Saahil Niazi, treasurer of AFSA, chanted with their signs up as they faced K Street.
Some cars honked as they passed, expressing support for the cause.
Participants were also encouraged to offer monetary donations.
“I’m not sure how many, but we’ll be getting Afghan refugees here in Nebraska,” said Michelle Ebrahim, vice president of AFSA. She shared the association’s plans to hold fundraisers in the future to collect donations in the form of food, money and clothes for the new Afghan refugees.
Members of UNL’s Recognized Student Organizations such as Sustain UNL, Racial Justice Alliance and Middle Eastern and North African Student Association appeared at the rally to show their support as an organization.
“This is something we can do here in Nebraska since there’s isn’t a lot we can do about what’s happening overseas right now,” said Audrey Anderson, a biological systems engineering student at UNL, while holding a cardboard sign that reads: “Every life should be a priority.”
Farida Ebrahim, AFSA’s advisor and the second speaker of the rally, told demonstrators that she left Afghanistan right before the Taliban overtook the capital city in 1996. She had lived through the harsh ruling of the Soviet Union and barely escaped the Taliban’s historically oppressive governance.
“We don’t talk about our pasts because it’s not pleasant,” Ebrahim said.
The helplessness in her voice was tangible, and it was a stark contrast to her tone when she opened her speech reminiscing about her peaceful childhood. Her parents used to bring her up to Jalalabad, a much warmer city compared to Kabul, for three months each year during the winter season. They had a holiday house there. When summer came around, she would spend it in a beautiful and scenic town called Paghman.
That was the Afghanistan she knew and remembered.
Rally participants talked about the Taliban being terrorists.
“It’s the people of Afghanistan who get to decide whether they want to forgive a terrorist group like the Taliban,” Farida said.
Speaker Aimal Ahmadzai shared similar sentiments with Farida.
“I thought we don’t negotiate with terrorists. The Taliban are terrorists!” Ahmadzai said.
He expressed his disappointment in the last 20 years of American intervention for not going after the root cause of the crisis.
Ahmadzai also said the most important thing Lincoln can do right now is to welcome the incoming Afghan refugees. He said they are not here to steal jobs or spread terror. Rather, they are fleeing from a country torn apart by war.
“No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here!” Niazi shouted into the microphone during the second round of chants, and the crowd echoed.
Many of the Afghans who attended the rally had relatives back in the country, hoping for a chance to evacuate.
Michelle Ebrahim’s aunt is still in Afghanistan with her two children. Ahmadzai hopes that he can get as many of his relatives and friends out as soon as possible. Farida said while she is grateful to have found refuge in Lincoln, she feels guilty that she could not do much for her family back in Afghanistan.
The list goes on.
Most of them hold Afghanistan citizenships with no way to obtain an authorized U.S. Visa.
“We can send them money, but that doesn’t guarantee them any safety,” Michelle said.
The rally marked the first of a series of efforts AFSA plans to make in an attempt to educate the public and shed light on the crisis conditions in Afghanistan.
The student association, in collaboration with the Bosnian American Student Alliance, will be hosting ‘Resources for Refugess’ at Nebraska Union starting next Monday. Donations of hygiene products and clothes can be deposited into bins set up around the Welcome Desks.