An Afghan man, previously a US army interpreter, thinks about 9/11 and lives as a Muslim in Georgia

Before Rohid Paiman came to the US 12 years ago, he was an interpreter for the US military for almost a decade. He left his family believing Afghanistan was in good hands after transitioning to a fledgling democracy after decades of war that went back to 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded and stayed for a decade.

Paiman is currently working with Afghan refugees and as a community organizer in Atlanta, but in recent weeks the few family members he has left in Afghanistan have had to flee the brutal Taliban regime. They are now refugees in a neighboring country and are not sure of their future.

On 20NS On the anniversary of September 11th and two decades of war in Afghanistan, Paiman reflects on his experiences as a Muslim in the USA and gives an insight into life under the new Taliban regime.

You have been here for 12 years. During this time, the United States and its relationship with Islam have changed dramatically, especially during the Trump years. What is your experience over the years you have been here and how have you been treated during that time?

The relationship between the United States and the Islamic world was controversial even before Trump’s presidency. Of course, his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate speech and policies exacerbated the hatred and bigotry that was out there before him. Part of the common misconception is that there has never been an institutional attempt to understand differences, facilitate dialogue, and alleviate elitist tensions between the US and the Islamic world. I have worked directly and indirectly with US forces in Afghanistan and the US. I have American friends who value and respect my identity and we speak openly about our views, which are not always the same. That should be the nature of any conversation about America’s relationship with its diverse community of citizens, including Muslim Americans.

Hate crimes against Muslims have increased steadily in recent years. Did you experience discrimination or hatred – and if so – when did it happen?

I don’t remember the details. But I have struggled to deal with situations where I felt discriminated against because of my identity or simply because I speak English with an accent. Unfortunately, this often happens to immigrants moving to the States. Some people get used to it because they don’t have the resources to educate people so often or explain themselves to so many arrogant people.

How can churches change that?

Patience. People often forget that understanding any human culture and society takes time and that it is normal to be different. I hope we all have the opportunity to pause, learn, and respect one another. The way to confront hatred and bigotry is not to stir up more hatred. We should have the compassion to listen and understand the other side of an argument.

Obviously, 9/11 had nothing to do with 99% of Muslims around the world who believe in peace. How do you feel about this date when it comes up?

It is disturbing and tragic to think of the thousands of innocent lives who died on September 11th. The tragedies of the first two decades of the 21st century should compel us to ponder the immense opportunities we all have for spreading hope and kindness in the world. Today we know more civil and effective ways to counter radical narratives across the political spectrum. The US should be friends with moderates, democrats and progressive leaders in the Islamic world, not dictators and radicals. It pains me to see the United States government romance twenty years later with the Taliban, who hosted al-Qaeda in 2001.

The group is still a bedmate of al-Qaeda and all terrorist organizations in the region.

How is your family doing in Afghanistan?

My family fled Kabul into the hands of the Taliban two weeks before the city fell. In broad daylight, Taliban-related criminals broke into our home and beat my mother, sister, and sister-in-law. You are now in Tajikistan. I am struggling to get her here because I cannot support her there.

The United States has now left Afghanistan and we are already seeing an influx of refugees. What do you think the future holds for these people in the United States – do you hope attitudes can change?

I think people understand the Afghan refugees better. Afghanistan was in the news. I’ve seen pictures that show tremendous compassion and care for the Afghan refugees. That is very promising. But it requires more organization and leadership to make it easier for refugees to integrate into host communities. To make them part of our communities we need to work with them, empower them, hire them, and make sure they have the support to stand on their feet.