20 Years After the First Taliban Regime, Will We Again Target People Based on How They Look?

Taliban fighters patrol in Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

(RNS) — I hope to never be so desperate that I cling to a military cargo plane because risking nearly certain death is my best option for survival.
It's a privilege that I can't comprehend such visceral fear, when it should be our God-given right as human beings to be able to live in safety and security among those we love. 

Watching Afghanistan's swift collapse has been stunning, and witnessing the human suffering horrific. It's hard to watch, though there's privilege in that too, spectating from across the world, knowing that we are far from harm's way.

There's a certain guilt in that, just as there has been for the past 20 years, as our country has waged war elsewhere, destroying other people's homes, while we watched from here — or if we're being honest, ignored from the safety of our homes.

But sometimes, extreme suffering can help us cut across our perceived differences and senses of distance, and see the humanity in one another. We saw that with George Floyd's murder last year, where people of all backgrounds and all across the world felt the pain of racist violence and felt moved into action. This feels like one of those moments.

Over the next months, we need to keep looking — just as many of us have kept examining racial bias at home since the "Floyd summer" and demanding racial equality and justice. As we watch Afghans flee for their lives from an intolerant Taliban regime, we should raise our awareness of how religious minorities have been denied equal rights and massacred by violent extremists for years in Afghanistan, by the Taliban and other groups.

Just this past March, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul in which 25 congregants were confirmed dead. In the 1970s, an estimated 700,000 Hindus and Sikhs lived in Afghanistan; now, only about 700 remain.

If this week's events, however, remind us who the Taliban are, they also remind people like me what it was like 20 years ago when American troops first invaded Afghanistan and we began seeing its Taliban rulers on the news. As I watch otherworldly scenes over there I realize that that other world can instantly make me an other in my own. It's striking that our public enemy No. 1 again looks very much like me: a bearded, brown-skinned, turban-wearing Sikh American.

One thing I've learned in the past two decades is that people's perceptions of me often depend on our current foreign policy focus: Growing up, I was "Iraqi"; after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, I was "Osama"; and during the 2010s, I was ISIS. Those perceptions produced not just verbal slurs — they came with violence, including attacks on and murders of people I've known and loved.
Christian family in Afghanistan appeals to pope to help them flee persecution

Now, as before, I am conscious that people's ignorance of who Sikhs are, as well as our country's underlying anti-Muslim bias, will translate into spikes of hate. It's a matter of fact, as pragmatic as the texts I've received from friends and family advising one another to be cautious and vigilant.

The anticipation of hate violence here does not compare to the immense suffering of Afghans who are losing their homes, their livelihoods, their loved ones and so much more. Yet we should ask whether, 20 years after we went to Afghanistan, we have learned to tell an extremist from a person of faith going about their daily lives. Have we learned anything about our own bigotry and extremism, and the rights of religious minorities?

It's hypocritical for us to point fingers at Afghanistan without looking at our own home, too.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

It is incredibly empowering to know that by protecting yourself, you can protect so many other people.  The Lord gave us the knowledge and people we need in order to defeat COVID-19.
"99.8% of U.S. deaths are of the unvaccinated. If you heard of an airline of that percentage dying, whereas a 0.02% on another, you’re switching flights." -- Dr. Jimmie Smith, Macon-Bibb County Health Department, Georgia.
As a scholar of religious studies, I frequently use critical race theory as a tool to better understand how religion operates in American society.
Inspired by their faith, four LDS students built new study resource that has revolutionized how hundreds of thousands of aspiring physicians study for their exams. "It really started because we just wanted to help people," one said.
We're now in one of the holiest seasons of the year for one of smallest and oldest religions in India -- one with a long history in the United States.
Organizing on-campus vaccination clinics, calling thousands of students, hosting informational webinars with medical experts – these are some of the ways in which IFYC’s Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors (FIVA) have been raising awareness around the COVID-19 vaccine on campuses and high-need communities across the nation.
Last year's winners, listed below, created a range of initiatives, from virtual retreats and criminal justice initiatives to book clubs and racial equity workshops.
Religious objections, once used sparingly around the country to get exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.
What will the campus chapel, and the chaplaincy, look like more than a century from now? Let the adventure begin.
The issue is not the presence of religion in the public square. Instead, the question before us is how to express those religious commitments within in a pluralistic society.
We don’t know what the year 5782 – as it is in the Hebrew calendar – has in store for any of us. But we have the power to act in a way to do right by each other and bring a little more peace and love and joy into this profoundly broken world.
The following interview features Dr. Toby Bressler, senior director of nursing for oncology and clinical quality at the Mount Sinai Health System and vice president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association.
Part of what I found so beautiful about our conversation is that we both agree that American pluralism is not simply a pragmatic solution to the challenge of a diverse democracy, it is also a kind of sacred trust that God intends us to steward.
After 9/11, there was increased intentionality in widening interfaith relations to include a broader number of faith groups and discussions. Twenty years later, it is not unusual to see interreligious conferences, joint advocacy efforts and disaster relief teamwork involving faith groups ranging from Adventists to Zoroastrians.
Twenty years later, we at IFYC, like so many others, collect the shards of memory, recollecting, reconstituting the trauma and horror of that day. And the sacredness is in doing so together.
As we approach this significant anniversary of 9/11, we must work to infuse the day with purpose and pluralism. Pay it Forward 9/11 is bringing people together to do 20,000 good deeds for the 20th anniversary.
In the first month since 9/11, The Sikh Coalition documented over 300 cases of violence and religious discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S. and has since grown to become the largest Sikh advocacy and civil rights organization in the country.
“If you were to quiz these students on what happened on 9/11, they think they knew what happened, but nobody really explained it to them,” Lisa Doi said. “I had to think through, how do you teach this history to somebody who doesn’t really remember it?”
My prayer is that for as long as we remember 9/11, that we will take time to listen to the stories of loss that break our hearts, and join together in finding ways to heal the division, violence and hate that continue to tear apart our world.
It has been 20 years, but the pain of that day is still present in so many places.
20 years after the 9/11 attacks, four remarkable people took profound suffering, loss and grief and “somehow managed to not center enemies. What can we learn from that? How can that be a teaching to the culture?”

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.