How hate collides with arrogance

A review of “How Iran Controls Afghanistan”, by Fariba Nawa.
Foreigner cultural influences in Afghanistan, especially our neighbors, have been a very important issue in Afghanistan’s contemporary history, but recently are becoming a politically problematic and theoretically ambiguous cultural matter to deal with.

A review of “How Iran Controls Afghanistan”, byFariba Nawa

Foreigner cultural influences in Afghanistan, especially our neighbors, have been a very important issue in Afghanistan’s contemporary history, but recently are becoming a politically problematic and theoretically ambiguous cultural matter to deal with. After the fall of Taliban regime, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees from different part of the world returned to their mother land but their cultural behaviours seemed to be a little strange to Afghans who didn’t leave Afghanistan. The Afghan returnees, especially their second generations, appeared to be new type of Afghans who dressed, spoke and even thought differently. The distinction between Afghans who didn’t go anywhere and the Afghan returnees were additional cultural habits that returnees brought with them to Afghanistan. The returnees from India were alike to Indians and the one who was returned from Iran was alike Iranian and that’s why Afghanistan became home for people from all over the world who were also Afghan and Afghanistan’s big cities became a museum for a nation whose members dressed so differently and held a different range of dialects. The amount of new comer words in Dari (or Farsi) and Pashtu from English, French, Arabic, Turkey, Urdu, Indian, Iranian and … is shocking. There is no doubt that we, as Afghans need serious discussions to intellectualize this issue and search for the better use of cultural differences.

The most recent attempt to tackle this issue was Mrs. Fariba Nawa’s article, “How Iran Controls Afghanistan” and it has been published in Fox News. Fariba takes a political aspect of this cultural matter and tries to make a political use of it. She focuses on Afghan returnees from Iran and sees them as tools in the hands of Iranian regime to politically control Afghanistan. She minimizes the whole returnees from Iran to Shiite Afghans and minimizes the Shiites to the Hazara ethnic group. Then she calls Hazaras “Afghan-e badal,” or counterfeit Afghans and accuses some of them for having political connection to the Iranian regime. She ends her article with calling on USA to intervene and stop what she calls “Iran’s sponsorship of sectarian violence”. An easy review of her article shows that it misses some basic journalistic techniques to be balanced. If she would follow some of these basic journalistic tools, her piece would be an independent approach to this issue but Instead, Fariba shows her own religious and racial hatred. Here are just some traces of her generalizations, hatred and missing to use basic journalistic techniques in her article: 1- She sees all returnees as objects and tools and in her eyes they are all equal to each other. She doesn’t seem to see any personality, character or spirit in the body of Afghan returnees from Iran. The only character that they commonly hold, in her point of view, is perhaps their betrayal and dishonesty to their own country, Afghanistan. She sees all these returnees as tools in the hands of Iranian regime to be used against their own nation and country. She thinks these people have no eyes to see and have no intelligence to think but ears to just listen and follow Iran. As result of her gregarious approach to an immigrant nation who holds different ethnic and religious identities, they all look the same. In her eyes, all Afghan immigrants from Iran were from the Hazara ethnic and they were all Shiite. This is a fact that Hazara ethnic group has the highest number of refugees in Iran and this fact probably leads her to see all Afghan refugees in Iran as Hazaras. But she refuses to acknowledge that in the Iranian discriminatory social system, Afghans anatomically are only equal to Hazaras. Most of Iranian officials think an Afghan refugee is someone who has small eyes, almost flattened noses, and is short. If a bus travels between cities in Iran, the bus would be stopped in check-points at an entrance of to a city and police officers would walk into the bus to see if there are any Afghan refugees in the bus. Hazaras were the kind of Afghans who the Iranian police officers were looking for in the check points all over Iran. Hazaras were facing discriminations and deportations because of being Afghan in Iran and now Fariba calls the same people “Afghan-e badal,” or counterfeit Afghans”

2- “How Iran controls Afghanistan” focuses on Iranian cultural influences in Afghanistan. Fariba thinks and talks only about the Iranian regime even when she talks about language, the use of language, Iranian pop music and … she talks about dialect, common words and idioms, but she doesn’t really think of these issues. What she cares about and thinks of, is the Iranian political conspiracy. She says: “These Afghans (returnees from Iran) are changing Afghanistan’s identity to be more Iranian – for better or worse”. I’m sure that when she was making this comment, she wasn’t thinking about cultural identity at all. She knows that cultural identity of a nation can’t be changed by order, decision or action. No political schemes can change the identity of a nation. If this was possible, there wouldn’t be any Afghan identity left by now after some three decades of our neighbor’s political conspiracy against us. We have an established political system to represent us but in the past thirty years of civil wars, there wasn’t a national government to govern the country and protect Afghan national identity.

3- It’s obvious that the Hazara ethnic group is the centre of her accusations. She starts with drawing a historical picture of the Hazaras social lives, saying that hazaras “were the poorest minorities” in Afghanistan. Then she adds that they returned to Afghanistan “richer”, “literate” and “united”. She basically argues that Hazaras brought wealth, literacy and unity from Iran; because she mentions that they were the poorest of minorities. It’s not only that she thinks anything related to Iran, even knowledge is bad but she thinks that knowledge, wealth and unity were given to Hazaras by Iranian regime to change Afghanistan’s identity to be more Iranian. She argues that unity is good but not for Hazaras, because if they get united then they can make more advances in Afghanistan and that’s what cannot be tolerated by Fariba.

4- Fariba assumes that language and other cultural products are physical objects and tools. She thinks that it’s easy to dictate people of what kind of music they must listen to and what type of dialect they should use in their delay lives. She even goes farther and complains that “. The young Afghan activists and artists read Iranian websites and books”. She says in her hometown, Herat, Iranian pop produced in Los Angeles have taken the place of her childhood songs. I’m sure she knows that cultural products and the use of it do not take orders. If we don’t produce good Afghan pop music, people will listen to the Indian or Iranian one. It seems that she has problem with the whole Iranian cultural products because Iranian pop produced in Lon Angeles has no connections to Iranian regime.

5- Politicizing wealth, unity, knowledge and art are not her only problems. She criminalizes the use of language and sees Iranian accent as a proof of guiltiness for being a “sellout”. If someone is raised in Iran and perhaps speaks Dari with Iranian accent, his dialect itself can be a proof that he acts as an Iranian spy agent in Afghanistan. She says:”Several Afghans at NGOs I met told me that their returnee colleagues had clandestine connections to Iran. When I asked for tangible evidence, one of them told me. “I just know by that accent they use. They’re sellouts”. She seems to quote from several NGO workers but it’s actually her own voice. In her judgment, using Iranian accent is an evidence for being an Iranian informer. It’s very difficult to understand her logic of seeing dialect as a criminal code but it’s very easy to realize that she hates Iran.

6- Her hate towards the Iranian regime doesn’t allow her to choose her words properly. She says that Iran backs religious divisions inside Afghanistan and that can be very truth but then she accuse Afghan Shiites for acting as Iranian pawns. She doesn’t provide any evidence to back her accusation and it seems that she doesn’t even think that accusing a large number of her own people for being Iran’s pawns needs some sort of proof.

“How Iran controls Afghanistan” is so far from a journalistic review of cultural problems in Afghanistan. Instead, it’s full of generalization, injustice, inequality and hate towards the Hazara ethnicity, Shiites and Iranian culture.





How Iran Controls Afghanistan

By Fariba Nawa

Published January 25, 2012

Afghanistan has suffered from foreign meddling since its inception. But while Pakistan’s role has been widely discussed — most Afghans will point to concrete examples — Iran’s involvement is more subtle. Iranian influence is all encompassing–the Islamic government funds Afghan Shiite sects and politicians, has invested in building roads and providing fuel and transport, and is fighting hard against the Afghan opium trade that supplies millions of addicts. But Iran’s lasting power on Afghanistan is cultural as well as political, broadcasting state radio and television programs inside Afghanistan. Yet the country’s biggest cultural influence is not imposed by the Iranian government.

The more than one million repatriating Afghan refugees from Iran – tens of thousands have been deported –bring the dialect, food, music, and clothes particular to Iran.

Some of the Afghans repatriates are migrant workers, similar to Mexicans in the U.S., some are construction workers who became addicted to drugs in Iran, others were able to get an education and acquire job skills, and most have lived there for over three decades.

Yet Iran will not grant them legal status; they do not have a right to a higher education, to own property, or to work. Most voluntarily return to Afghanistan because there are more opportunities in their home country. These Afghans are changing Afghanistan’s identity to be more Iranian – for better or worse. My family escaped the Soviet invasion in 1982 and settled in the U.S.

I first returned to Afghanistan in 2000 when the Taliban reigned, but it was after the group’s ouster that I witnessed the cultural changes brought on by immigration.

I was traveling through Afghanistan researching the drug trade for my book “Opium Nation” from 2002 to 2007, and my first confrontation with Iran’s cultural impact was language.

Iran and Afghanistan both speak Farsi, but the Afghan dialect is called “Dari.” I’m fluent in Dari but I no longer understood what many of the families in my hometown, Herat are saying.

Common words, idioms, and even Iran’s use of French terms have invaded Afghan speech. The Herati folk songs I recalled hearing in shops as a child were replaced by Iranian pop produced in Los Angeles. The young Afghan activists and artists read Iranian websites and books. These changes have given rise to tension between the Afghans who never left home and the Afghan returnees.

The skilled repatriates are resented for getting better jobs with aid companies and the Afghan government.

Conservatives view the Afghan women who grew up in Iran with disdain because they appear more liberal and courageous–they sing on TV, they’re news broadcasters, business owners, and government workers. They voice their opinions loudly in a male dominated country.

The Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan who were historically the poorest of minorities return richer, more literate, and united. They have made unprecedented advances in Afghanistan, including in the arts and in the government. These returnees are called “Afghan-e badal,” or counterfeit Afghans. Few of them have political connections to Iran, but their time living in the Islamic Republic taints themin the eyes of the Afghans who didn’t leave as culturally inauthentic and politically suspect.

Several Afghans at NGOs I met told me that their returnee colleagues had clandestine connections to Iran. When I asked for tangible evidence, one of them told me. “I just know by that accent they use. They’re sellouts.” While I’m not fully comfortable with this cultural invasion, I understand that Iran advanced while Afghanistan struggled to survive in the last three decades.

Culture is fluid and both countries share a common history. After all, my own husband is one of these Afghan returnees and he’s a true patriot.

Repatriating Afghans have enough of a hard time readjusting to their battered country – ostracizing them is simply cruel. However, Afghan bitterness toward the Iranian government is justifiable. The Islamic Republic backs religious divisions inside Afghanistan, using Afghan Shiites as pawns.

Shiite Afghans, who come from other ethnic groups as well, are encouraged to watch Iranian clerics give fiery speeches against Sunni Afghans. Iran built the road from Herat City to its border, one of the finest rebuilt highways, but the signs alongside the road bear Koranic verses picked by Iran‘s government. My homeland is geographically determined as a buffer zone where empires and nations have fought their battles using Afghans as their pawns.

Extremist Sunni groups cross the Pakistani border to kill Afghan Shiite children and women. The carnage last month in Kabul at a Shiite mosque killed eighty people and was a new height in religious sectarian violence for Afghanistan. It won’t be long before Iran recruits a group to bomb a Sunni mosque. Iran and Pakistan were not such deadly influences on Afghanistan before the revolutions and wars inside these countries.

A harmonious cultural exchange was common among these neighbors. Pakistani couples took their honeymoon in Kabul while Iranian singers traveled to give concerts in Kabul in the 1960s.

Before the Soviet invasion, my mother, a Sunni, joined her Shiite friends to commemorate the death of Prophet Mohammed’s grandsons during the month of Muharram.

One of my uncles married a Shiite woman, and while throughout history tensions existed between the two sects, the result was not as violent. I can take pop music and the Iranian Farsi drawl, but Iran’s sponsorship of sectarian violence must be stopped — by the U.S. and other foreign powers invested in Afghanistan — but mostly, by Afghans themselves who must unite to stand up to their neighbors.


Fariba Nawa is the author of “Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan.” She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two daughters. Visit her online:



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