- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

He has packed away his T-shirt, the one in jest that reads, "Don't mess with the Afghans."

This is no time for messages of that sort. Not in America. Not after the carnage of Sept. 11, 2001, inspired by Osama bin Laden, who functions in Afghanistan with the blessings of the Taliban government.

He is an Afghan American, born in Kabul, who came to this country 15 years ago while Afghanistan was in the midst of a war against the invaders from the then-Soviet Union.

You recall that distant event only because of America's decision to boycott the Moscow Games in 1980. We missed out on the Olympic Games. He missed out on discovering his origins.

He never has returned to Kabul. If he ever stepped foot in the country, he would be arrested by the Taliban. The Taliban would see him for what he is now, a Westerner, an American with a clean-shaven face who favors jeans and T-shirts. In the twisted doctrine of the Taliban, he has been polluted beyond help, compromised by American pop culture: our movies, our music, our television, everything.

He does not want his name used. It is crazy out there, and he is trying to come to terms with his fears: fear of the Taliban sympathizers who live in America and fear even of Americans, many of whom view him with suspicion and contempt because of his Middle Eastern features.

He has cut back on his social activities. He goes to school. He goes to work. He goes to the gym. He goes to places where he already is known, where he is comfortable. He can't be too careful.

He was driving on Fairfax Drive in Arlington the other night, waiting for a stoplight to turn green, when he locked eyes with the driver in the vehicle beside him. He soon looked the other way in discomfort, hoping to avoid a confrontation, after the driver refused to stop glaring at him.

After the light turned green, he drove ahead while the driver in the other vehicle stayed at his side, speeding up and slowing down whenever he did. This went on a couple of miles before the driver of the other vehicle decided he had made his point and moved in another direction.

The Afghan American does not know what to say to this. He understands the anger, the hurt, the grief, the flood of emotions consuming America, including the Afghan-American community. He feels it, too. He is one of us. Don't they know that? Can't they see that? Or do all they see is a potential terrorist?

"What the terrorists have done is totally opposite of the teachings of Islam, killing innocent people," he says.

He knows of what he speaks. He is a Muslim who follows the dictates of the Koran. Nowhere in it does it say that America is "The Great Satan." Nowhere does it encourage its followers to hijack four commercial jets and slam into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. That is evil, sick.

"Islam means peace," he says. "All life is sacred."

He was like many area residents a week ago, wondering if Michael Jordan was really going to

come out of retirement to play with the Wizards. He is, after all, a basketball junkie who can't get enough of the sport. That is just one more indication of America's influence on him. Charley don't surf, and the Taliban don't follow the NBA.

All that pales now amid a nation's misery and what looms ahead. He feels for the Afghan people fleeing Kabul. They are innocent, too, prisoners of the Taliban, stuck in a repressive world, ordered how to live, think and behave, the women so many pieces of chattel.

America is building a global coalition, putting its war materials in place, readying to extract the demons who live in the mountains of Afghanistan and elsewhere. The innocent abroad will die, just as they did here, and this Afghan American can only weep.

"It is so terrible," he says.

Yet, he says, it must be done. The evil must be destroyed. Maybe one day, he says, if the Taliban government is removed, the Afghan people can pick up and rebuild from their 22-year nightmare. That is his hope.

Until then, he is on his own kind of self-imposed alert, taking precautions around the madness, laboring to make sense out of it all. He is one of us, but he is finding he is not one of us. He also is a suspect who is left with his faith, his dreams, and a parting shot for the Taliban.

Bombs away.

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