The Shia-Sunni Conflict: Discrimination at the Heart of my Afghanistan’s Suffering
It was a morning of July 2003; everyone was at their daily chores. The students were in school, and I was in my Physics class. Suddenly, a harsh sound of explosion scratched our mind into a grisly mind. For a moment, I thought that there was no more the golden coin in the sky of my life’s universe. Unexpectedly, the door of the class opened harshly, some soldiers entered. They shouted to move fast and go to home.
We could only see the soldiers on the land and the dust around us. I heard some girls crying. The ambulances’ sounds signaled us that something had happened with people. “Go home in running, and do not stop” the teacher told us. The school gate was opened, they were ordering to step out of school, “do not shout, do not stop, and go home directly without watching around you,” they uttered.
I started walking as fast as I could toward my home, abruptly I reached to the main street; I found myself among the chaos, on the blood stains, inside the dusts, near to the ambulances’ sounds, and face to face to the men with the machineguns. I remembered that we were told not to cross the subway. On the street, a man was being dragged down toward dustbin by many other men. I think, I knew that the man was going to be beheaded on the dustbin. Thus, after seeing that helpless man, I remained breathless. My little heart was trampled with the screams around me. And my little mind was completely under the shadows of the day, when I was born, 8 March 1990. I stood for a while; my eyes might be in search of something terrifying like wounded people or a dead body.
Abruptly, a man grabbed me from behind and told me that not to go home from that street. But, I started running toward home from that street, it was near and straight to my home’s gate, I knew it. I could see only the home’s gate’s picture in front of my eyes, I was thinking of opening the gate and entering home. In the life of migration the only gate was my target, and I was on the way to reach to the gate. The gate was opened by a soldier; I was breathing but truly dead from inside. In a few hours, at home, my brothers arrived from school, which was located in the same area. They also had to cross the road. My elder brother was terrified as he saw a man’s head in the dustbin. Still, I enlighten myself that it was not the man’s head, whom I saw alive being dragged by those men.
Though, I did not understand the situation in near-death experience of the violation, I learned it in the next day on TVs, in newspapers, and at school. I came to know that the previous incident of violence was a severe revenge war between the two armrests of Islam, the Shia and Sunni. On that day, the explosion happened in the Shia people’s big mosque, which was completely destroyed by a bomb from the terrorist groups. And it killed more than 50 men on Friday morning. Later, in the same day the youngsters of the Shia group started killing those opposite side. They burnt Madrassa, beheaded their teachers, and they did not let go anything peacefully or under any negotiation.
Most recently in 2011, the article, “A year of suffering for Pakistan's Shias,” which was published by BBC on 6th December of 2011, talked about the miserable state of Afghan Shias in Quetta, Pakistan. As it writes that hundreds people, who belong to Shia minority community, have been killed in Pakistan in 2011 (BBC), which are an Afghan minor group’s depressed condition even in their refuge place. In the same day, another article was released by BBC on, “Why have Afghanistan's Shias been targeted now?,” (BBC) which talks about the deadly attack on the Shia’s shrine in Kabul on the Ashura day. Also, the Kabulpress organization wrote that, the “Bloody attacks on Hazaras killed over 50 in Kabul and Mazar i Sharif!” which is about the same incident of Ashura day in Kabul and Mazar i Sharif. In this article, they have also published the letter from “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,” the terrorist group, where they have declared their way of Jihad by abolishing Shias-Hazaras as calling them “Kefir” infidels (kabulpress.org). This shows the very rooted hatred for people from centuries, which is a kind of belief heritage given by their ancestors. Still, to this day, we are facing this Shia-Sunni conflict and discrimination all over my country and in the refuge place.
My personal experiences from childhood and the facts about this ongoing conflict within Islam are not isolated issues; the attack on Hazara-Shias of Quetta and Ashura’s attack in Kabul. The cause of this conflict had been started centuries before for the facial differences, as outsider. As this conflict has carried out other negative consequences particularly the wide spread basic Human Rights’ violation in forms of torture and discrimination and people’s displacement all over country. My research and experience lead me to believe that the inter-religious conflict of Afghans has been the major cause of other violence in Afghanistan. We should address the Shia-Sunni conflict in Afghanistan in an international level as the core of other violations and problems in Afghanistan, which also includes violence against women.
Centuries ago, the violation against the minority groups in Afghanistan for differences in their facial look, who were named to be outsiders, began. It gradually increased hatred among people. Finally, in 1980s, the negative consequences of the ethnic discrimination with the rise of Mujahidin were evident all over country. These negative consequences for minority groups were violation of their Human Rights; such as a torturous life of slavery, war criminals, genocidal and other offenses against their human dignity. Still, the facial appearance has a very crucial part in this hatred. These are the cause of these ongoing conflicts of the twenty first century. This conflict could be ended, as father usually says, “In 1970s, in a short period but prosper era Daoud Khan, when Afghans lived in harmony and equality.” In 1978, our first president was assassinated by the arrival of the Soviet Union, and Communism in Afghanistan. The Mujahedeen got active in Afghanistan to fight against Red Armies of Russia, but they also started eradicating harmony among societies, as representing a particular group for holding the central power in the country.
One of these negative consequences is that the ethnic discrimination started all over the country. Afghans defined themselves belonging to the specific Mujahidin leaders, areas, religious’ sects, and even the facial appearance. Therefore, abruptly, the minority group of Hazara was observed as Shia sect, and the majority of Pashtun and Tajik was Sunni sect. This was the start of a newly born discrimination as ethnicity. A Hazara man could be arrested, abused, or killed by a Pashtun man for entering their lane, or contrariwise. We were living in a Pashtun surrounding; indeed, our shared land in the neighborhood of other ethnics was no longer the same for we have different eyes, nose, forehead, and hairs. The newly born children were named and related to a specific ethnicity, language, sects, and their facial look. Firstly, people, particularly children, were identified by their almond framed or not almond sharpened eyes. Father knew that we had almond eyes. We were from minorities. And we were going to die.
Another negative consequence of the Shia-Sunni conflict within Afghans caused forced exile for the parents since people were killed every day. The past memories of my parents always sheer in my mind that one of those freezing mid nights of bombing, our closely neighbors’ houses was burnt to ashes and their kids, youngsters, and old members lost breathe dressed in blood. In a glance from dark night to the morning light, our house’s surrounding areas turned to an ancient desert with dusts, dried land, and ghostly appearance. My father could not stay longer in the middle of the desert with a pregnant wife, the two sons, and myself. Father wanted a refuge, where none of his child could be disturbed from the wounded history by the nation of a country. Father could only think of a place out of Kabul city, since everywhere in city was led by different militias. We moved to the east side of my county to Ghazni Province. My life’s memories started from this voyage, as I still remember the fear of sounds. As a child, in a glance, I found fear of life from the fracture sounds of the bus. The sounds were mixed with shooting and screaming as it was passing by our bus, which is still ghostly throbbing in my ears. The horrible sounds of shooting, blasting, and screaming of men members were very horrified, as they were stopping our buses and looking for any militia. I could only hear my father’s words, “Close your eyes and sleep.”
The same negative circumstances did not allow my family to live in Ghazni longer; since father had bigger dreams for us. We were displaced once more from our own country. Thus, we left the cold, violent, and unknown places of my Afghanistan to flee to Quetta, Pakistan, where my father, like many other Afghans, chose to settle. As I grown-up, I got to listen to the news about different Human Rights’ violations in Afghanistan; particularly women’s oppression. Besides, I was a listener to my parents’ good stories on belonging to a minor ethnic group, my great grandparents lived in peace with all the other ethnics in neighborhood for decades. They shared the fruits of their trees, the green vegetables of their gardens, the holy celebrations’ feasts, and isolated breaking communications all the time. It continued till my mother came as bride to my grandparents’ family. My mother usually says that Zarghoona, one of the neighbors’ adult daughters, used to pass baskets of walnuts through the wall between their yards and my mother used to give them back the baskets of fresh blackberries from our yard. Alongside the news and my parents’ stories, I became a critical observer of the bitter realities in my country and Pakistan. I came to know that later the barter of fruits usually used to take place secretly, since the men didn’t allow their women to communicate with other ethnicities’ women. If they would catch them talking, they would suspect them for being disloyal to their own group and beat them [sometime] to death. I believe that it was the time, when the Afghan women’s attitudes changed toward their neighborhood friends. As they lost their sense of communities, their rights to communicate freely were violated too.
Since my familiarity with the world of change and dreams, I also utter I have a dream like Mr. Luther King. I have a dream for a day when Pashtun, Hazara, and Tajik Afghans hold each other’s hands and build our untied Afghanistan by establishing a better and just government, which can hold my people’ harmony through a real democracy and liberty all over my country. Religious and ethnic discrimination is a widespread and serious problem for Afghanistan and now for the United States, since both are struggling to eliminate the Taliban. Therefore, indeed, I, as an Afghan citizen, believe that finding solution for eliminating inner conflict can solve this issue of terrorism and other issues in Afghanistan particularly violation against women. Afghans need a space where they can learn about each other, where we can clean up Afghan people’s mind from discrimination, ignorance, and disrespecting each other’s rights, beliefs, and freedom. Thus the International Communities should give my Afghans a way of education about learning and accepting each other’s beliefs rather than carrying the set-up mentality on belonging to Shia-Hazara or Sunni-Pashtuns for centuries. I also believe that if we solve this problem of discrimination in Afghanistan, other problems such as women’s oppression will solve themselves.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.