In `Little Kabul,' love of country, homeland

Afghans in California display allegiance to all things American

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 26, 2001|By Mike Adams | Mike Adams,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FREMONT, Calif. - A poster of Osama bin Laden with an X across his face sits near the counter of the 98 Cent Plus store. The words under the photo say: "The Afghan community wants bin Laden out of their country and will not take the blame for terrorism."

The poster sums up the way many people feel here in "Little Kabul." About 40,000 Afghans live in the San Francisco Bay area, about a quarter of them in Fremont. Little Kabul, which takes its name from Afghanistan's capital, is a strip of small stores, restaurants and businesses on the city's main street, Fremont Boulevard.

The proprietor of the 98 Cent Plus store, Masood Haroon, 37, is an Afghan immigrant who has lived in the United States for 14 years. He resents the Taliban, the Islamic extremists who have taken over his homeland and are believed to be shielding bin Laden, the exiled Saudi terrorist accused of orchestrating the attacks Sept. 11 on New York and Washington that left nearly 7,000 dead or missing.

Haroon, like many others here, is quick to point out that bin Laden is an Arab - not an Afghan - and that much of the Taliban leadership received its religious and political training at Islamic schools in Pakistan. Neither the Taliban nor bin Laden has the support of most Afghans, he says.

Haroon wants the United States to take decisive action to neutralize bin Laden, but he's worried about the suffering that U.S. military action could bring to Afghanistan. He says that the United States could cut military casualties and civilian deaths by supporting the Northern Alliance, Afghan rebels already at war with the Taliban.

"We want to get rid of the Taliban any way possible, but we don't want innocent people to get killed by this war," he says.

While members of the Afghan community are paying rapt attention to events in their homeland, their allegiance to the United States and things American is much in evidence.

Shoppers who enter Haroon's variety store are greeted by two large American flags. Stacks of smaller flags are on display near the counter along with American flag key chains and ball point pens.

He also sells T-shirts that carry an American flag with the words "I love New York," a slogan with special significance after the attack that toppled the city's World Trade Center.

The best known local Afghan is an official All-American - quarterback Zamir Amin, star of nearby Menlo College, a Division III school, who set an overall NCAA record last year for passing 731 yards in a game.

Amin, who was born in Afghanistan but arrived in the United States as an infant in 1979 after the Soviet invasion, says he feels completely at home here. He says he has encountered none of the incidents of verbal abuse, vandalism and violence reported by Muslims, Sikhs and people of Middle Eastern origin since the terrorist attack.

"It's unfortunate for the people who are harassed," he says. "The people who do this are ignorant, and harassment doesn't accomplish anything."

He is much more concerned about the consequences of the attack for his homeland, which has been devastated by ethnic warfare, a war to drive out Soviet invaders a generation ago and years of misrule under the Taliban.

"I feel for the innocent citizens, the people that don't have anything to do with what's going on," he says.

During the Cold War, the United States helped Afghan freedom fighters in their campaign against the Soviet Union. But after the Soviets were expelled, the United States forgot about Afghanistan, Haroon says.

"The U.S. won the war, but unfortunately, they did not care after that," he says. "They left Afghanistan as a disaster, and they should have stayed with the Afghan people to help them build their country and bring a peaceful government there."

The United States is paying a price for its lack of concern about Afghanistan, Haroon maintains. Inaction by the United States made it possible for the Taliban to come to power, with assistance from elements in Pakistan, he says. Then bin Laden moved in and set up training camps for terrorists.

A devout Muslim, Haroon is appalled by the teachings of the Taliban and the violence of bin Laden. They have distorted his religion into something unrecognizable, he says.

"The Taliban is twisting Islam in a really harsh way, a bad way," he says. "The Taliban says women cannot go to school, that they cannot work. Nobody knows how many women have had their fingernails pulled out because they were caught wearing nail polish. ... This is ridiculous because Islam does not say any of this."

A few stores away, talk of the Taliban draws angry words from Homayoun Khamosh, 38, the owner of the Pamir Food Mart.

"Everyone calls them government; they are not our government, the Taliban is against our government," he says. "We have a legitimate government, the Northern Alliance."

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