- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

Many of the estimated 20,000 Afghan-Americans who live in the Washington area last night denounced the Taliban extremists who have ruled over their homeland for more than two years.
During an interfaith candlelight vigil on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Afghan-Americans said they want the United States to do all it can to push the Taliban regime out of power so that the Afghanis can take control of the impoverished, war-torn country.
But they said they don't want the United States to use any force that would harm the Afghan people.
"The Taliban are not true Afghani people," said Khaled Sherdel, an Afghan-American who lives in Springfield. "They are not people of faith. The Taliban needs to go, but it should be done in a clean way so that no innocent people die. My country will not be free until an Afghan is in control and holding an Afghan flag."
Some like Rangina Hamidi, an Afghan-American activist from Burke, defended their homeland, saying the country does not support terrorism and its supporters, like suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.
"Terrorism has no home in Afghanistan," Miss Hamidi said as she stood on the memorial steps. "Osama is not a guest of Afghanistan. The Afghan people condemn demonic acts. They thirst for peace."
Mr. Sherdel and Miss Hamidi's sentiments were echoed among the crowd of young Afghan-Americans who gathered for the two-hour service last night.
Waving American flags, they prayed for peace and used the vigil to try to educate the American public about their culture and Islam.
Islam, they said, does not promote war and terror. The religion teaches peace and love, they said.
"We are people of faith," said Taufique Tokhi, an Afghan American from Springfield. "Our religion teaches peace, not violence. But only a small minority takes elements of it to the extreme. We are not those people."
Some of those who attended the service said they see this as an opportunity for Americans to help the Afghanis take back their country from the Taliban, a military junta of radical Islamic fundamentalists who seized power in 1998.
"We hate the Taliban," said one woman of Afghan descent who did not want to be identified. "This is a great opportunity for the U.S. to go in and take the Taliban out."
Harir Atmar, an Afghan American who lives in Alexandria, said the United States should do all it can to keep the Afghani people from getting killed if there are military strikes.
"These people are so poor and hungry that they're just trying to survive another day," Miss Atmar said.
The service was also a way to help ease the fears of the Afghan Americans, some of whom have recently been subjected to a backlash. Some had been assaulted, others have been harassed. Some of their homes had been vandalized too.
The taunting didn't stop last night. One passer-by yelled a racist epithet at some members of the group who were getting ready for the vigil.
"I'm sorry some people feel this way," Roya Ali, an Afghan American and event organizer, said. "There is nothing we can do. We will not turn to violence."
"These people have been triply devastated," said the Rev. Stephen Johnson, a pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun, who was among the half-dozen local pastors who participated in the vigil.
"Some of these people lost loved ones in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon," he said. "They're also fearful as Muslim Americans that they are being identified with the terrorists.
"And, now, they wait to see how American will retaliate against their homeland, where some still have families living,"Mr. Johnson said.
Still, the Afghan Americans want something to be done.
"Without America, nothing will change in Afghanistan," said Weis Sherdel, also from Springfield.
"We want the whole world to push the Taliban out."

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