War is A Loss of Decency

I remember the image of a bare child on a road, running for his life, followed by other images of desperate families fearfully running away from their homes to unknown destinations.  I remember asking my father about those images of the Vietnam War, trying to make sense of it.  His only explanation: “No one can understand wars but through the experience of the victims.”

Since that moment I wanted to have a greater understanding of what war inflicts on humanity as I was quickly confronted with a conscious question, “What if a war is imposed on my country and this happened to me and my family?”   

No, I thought, we are living in one of the safest and most comfortable places on earth.

And in August of 1980, there I was, running away from one of the safest spots in the world—a top tourist destination—while watching Russian soldiers take over the streets of my birthplace.  I left behind a huge family, my friends, and my beloved peaceful country.  It was the most distressing and horrific feeling of my life, and I was filled with anger, disappointment and betrayal. 

On August 20th of 1980 I had made it to Frankfurt’s international airport and found myself standing in front of a German police desk, seeking asylum.  Yes, another victim like millions of others who had nothing to do with the conflict and had no intention of leaving for unthinkable and unfamiliar territories. 

While riding a bus towards Shoenick refugee camp, I realized that it wasn’t just me (an Afghan) but faces of various nationalities.  I recall mutual sad expressions and feelings of disgust and anxiety. I was however more interested in talking to a fellow refugee across the aisle, who looked of Asian descent.  I struck a conversation with a “Hello” and asked, “Where are you from?” I was overcome with a feeling of curiosity, recalling the image of the Vietnamese boy running from war.  

“Vietnam” he indicated.  I was caught with extreme emotions and sense of further frustration—what now?  It had been years since the end of the Vietnam War

Thirty-five years from that moment, I would not dare to ask anyone as to why and how people leave their homelands.  There is no real logic or answer for wars!  The inhumane growth of arms race and waging wars has turned into a competition for victory at the expense of human lives (“collateral damage”) without regards for human rights, social justice and respect for human dignity

It is also important to remember that none of these victimized citizens have had any capability of producing armament—but natural resources such as oil, mineral and other goods. These victims have been immorally manipulated to exchange natural resources for modern weaponry and use against their own citizens throughout the course of modern history. 

War advocates and profiteers have also done a very good job through propaganda by persuading the young, the innocent and needy in the name of common good, or so-called noble causes like Democracy, Liberty and “Love for the Country.” 

The majority of casualties are the innocents.  In World War II, 65% of the dead were civilians; in more recent decades—the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars—90% of casualties have been civilian deaths.  These wars have and continue to destabilize the world, while sending millions into mental despair and exile away from their homeland.

At last, wars are waged to:

Terrorize, oppress, kill, dominate, destabilize communities/countries and bring the worst in humanity.  Wars do nothing but bring misery, corrupt minds and demonize.

War is a Loss of Decency.

My life...My Afghanistan...My story.

From the terrifying moment our plane left Afghan soil and entered the Iranian airspace on August 20th, 1980, I promised myself that if I lived through the ordeal I would recount my story in a memoir and share my personal journey, experiences and impressions of an Afghanistan that is often misunderstood and discounted. My memoir is a true account of the Afghanistan I knew and recently visited again since my departure nearly 30 years ago. It is the true story of the Afghan people that has never been truly portrayed.

The Afghanistan I grew to love as a boy; its rich culture, social dignity, and proud heritage has been forever scarred and betrayed by 40 years of foreign aggression, missed opportunities and ultimately the “loss of decency.” Countless historical perspectives chronicle Afghanistan’s journey towards the 21st Century and I am neither meant to provide a historian’s perspective nor represent a political agenda. With the encouragement of friends, family, educators and respected authors I have written my memoir, which revolves around my passion for Afghanistan, my obligation to rescue as many of my family members as I could; my pursuit of a “home away from home,” as a refugee and my need for “truth” and “transformation” as I continue to watch and hear suffering and misunderstanding in and about my native land. 

I have embarked on this path of telling a story about Afghanistan that has never been told before, because I hope that something truly beautiful can emerge from the misery that has blurred the world’s image and that now threatens its future generations. My life… my Afghanistan…my story; are woven together as part of a vivid tapestry of images from my personal journey. My book chronicles my innocent and wondrous life as a boy growing up in Afghanistan and the death of innocence and birth of chaos that began with the invasion of the Soviet Union on December 24th 1979. Many of the accounts in the book are “laugh-out-loud” funny, while others are tragically heart-breaking.” My story…my flight as a refugee; and my subsequent re-birth as an immigrant in the “post 911” United States, is an excellent “read” for a broad market wishing to “peel back” the obvious images in the nightly news, and see an image of Afghanistan that has not been shared or is widely known. This work is an introspective look into the true beauty of an Afghanistan that was once the “darling” of the western world, and has fallen victim to the harsh realities of imperial aggression. The promise of the Afghanistan of my youth has given way to images of war, corruption, and violence and has ultimately resulted in the “lost decency.” 

My objective in writing my memoir is to “set the record straight” from a social and anthropological perspective. Afghanistan was once a peaceful and prosperous society with a unique and vibrant culture at the crossroads of Central Asia. Today, the lasting impact and the forces of change that has shattered her progress are at the heart of understanding what Afghanistan can be again. 

I am proud to have written a book that not only details true eyewitness accounts of the modern social history of Afghanistan, but also provides a story of unforgettable determination, courage and perseverance. My life today has been shaped by these events and as successful financial services professional and a leader in the Afghan-American community, I wish to share my depth of experience to ensure that the sacrifices of generations past have not been in vain. Perhaps if my work is read; these last four decades of war, uncertainty and violence will not erase the beauty of a culture that spans more than 1,500 years for generations to follow. 

In order to validate my opinions and provide a timely retrospective of the events that have shaped the current social landscape, I recently returned to Afghanistan and found a genuine sense of frustration and despair that left me greatly disturbed and in fear of the future. There have been so many unrealized opportunities and misguided policies that the country may never experience the peace and prosperity it richly deserves and that we have “all” been fighting for. Rampant with fraud and deceit, the nation teeters on a precipice…at the crossroads of “what is” and “what could be.” My work is at the leading edge of Afghanistan’s current crisis, and is not only a “look back” at what “once was,” but also a “wake-up call” to what “is.” Perception is not always reality, and reality is not always obvious. My story uncovers the myths and provides a living truth about the country I love. 

Happy Holidays,

Atta

Memoirs must be a certain length?

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Thirty years after having to leave Afghanistan, my native land, I felt inclined to write about what was once known as the darling tourist destination of Asia. After many years of establishing my career and securing a good life for my family here in the United States, I wrote Lost Decency -The Untold Afghan Story.

In writing my memoir, I also took on the path of self-publishing by taking various courses, which helped me develop a project that became a labor of love, crafted carefully and authentically. I had been apprehensive and frankly shy about talking about myself as I wanted to focus on the plight of Afghanistan. After considering creating another historical opinion piece, I decided it would be better to write from first-hand experience. This approach engaged my natural storytelling abilities and enabled me to communicate with a sense of pride and passion for the innocence of a country caught in turmoil.

The decision to write in first person was certainly one of the best decisions I have made in life. I became more and more interested in writing, asking questions of my mother and sisters to validate certain events. This helped me further appreciate the joy of writing authentically about my roots, the family I dearly loved who lived an honest and decent life in what once was our dear Afghanistan.

Then came the request I never anticipated. The first manuscript was 135,000 words in length, and my editors advised me that memoirs were typically much shorter. As a first time writer I was stumped as to what to say or do next. I tried to convince them to keep my writing details intact but was told that I must shorten it or consider publishing two books. 

I realized that I did not have time and resources to consider a second book and reluctantly started to trim my writing. I felt sick to my stomach as I tried to take a way so many valuable details and at times just thought of giving up. But I had already set a goal for myself with my family and did not want to let them down. 

It was all worth it because my book Lost Decency - The Untold Afghan Story once published, ultimately became a finalist for IBPA’s first year Benjamin Franklin Award. 

Readers contacted me and expressed a desire to learn more details about certain stories contained in the book. I have noticed quite a few powerful memoirs that contain more than 100,000 words. 

I would appreciate hearing your viewpoints on the appropriate length of a good memoir. Also, what kind of stories would compel you to invest more time reading a lengthier work?

Gratefully,

Atta

Denpai Kyareng's Article on Lost Decency

Lost Decency: The Untold Afghan Story

By Atta Arghandiwal

A simple but very precise book for anyone who wants to know what happened in Afghanistan and what made it as one of the most dangerous regions on the earth today. After it attained independence from Great Britain in 1919, the country was ruled by liberal but weak Monarchs. Afghan people were proud of their culture and their sense of decency. Both men and women folks worked together without much discrimination to build the new Afghanistan. The girls could be seen wearing skirts and jeans, and going to school and colleges. Burqa system was not imposed harshly on the womenfolk as a law. People looked forward to a promising future with strong and stable government.

After the rule of King Zahir Shah for forty years without any significant upheavals, the country caught itself in the quagmire of the cold war in 1950s. Both Soviet and USA and their allies were trying to gain access into the land by outdoing each other in development work of Afghanistan. Soviet Russia and Chinese communist ideology was gaining access in people’s mind. Ideology of religious fundamentalist from Middle Eastern groups also began to influence the direction the country was headed to. In 1978, the local communist leaders supported by Soviet government launched military coup and toppled the people’s government. This was followed by the Russian invasion and the Afghanistan, the peaceful land turned into a land of oppression and violent fighting. Different faction of people fought bravely on their own with the support of U.S. and its allies. “By 1984 the United States was authorizing military supplies to Mujahideen of nearly $250 million per month,” writes the author. Russian invaders dealt harshly with the people, more than five million Afghan fled the land and took refuge in the neighboring countries.

One of the Author’s brothers, Zia was among the resistance fighters, and fought with the Russian invader bravely. Atta, the author fled to Germany along with other Afghans. From Germany he sought asylum in the United States, where he built a career in banking and ultimately had his family join him later.

Afghanistan remained under Soviet occupation for nearly a decade [1980 – 1989], during which the people and the land suffered irreparable damage. It has not been easy for Soviet Russia either, it’s said that more than 4 billion dollar a year was spent to maintain the puppet Kabul government, and thirty times this amount was spent on the cost of running the war for those years. Now that Russians were gone, the people were looking forward to a peace and stable life under their own government. But during the course of resistance against Russia, various Afghan factions with direct help from the United States and the Western allies, and from the Arab world have established their own territories of control. With the fall of Dr. Najibullah’s government in 1992, these factions came up to form an interim government. “But despite UN attempt to broker peace and bring the warring groups into a coalition government, Afghanistan remained at war.”

Amidst this uncertainty and instability, when a convoy of an influential Pakistani businessman was stopped by bandits in Kandahar, Pakistani government urged the students from fundamentalist school at the border to intervene. The student group not only released the convoy, but went on to capture Kandahar city. They soon began to take the role of disciplining the land, and many at first welcomed the change to have peace and economic stability denied by the warring warlords. Pakistan and ISI funded and supported this group, which came to be known as Taliban. Talib means ‘religious students’ and their core leaders were from Pakistan and other Arab nations. By 1996, Kabul was under the full control of Taliban. “They introduced religious police, a rigid military campaign against their opponents, and the use of non-Afghan forces.” It is estimated that 45 per cent of the Taliban forces were non-Afghan. The brutality with which they controlled the region and the use of non-Afghan forces from Middle East Arab countries led by Osama Bin Laden, gradually infuriated and earned the doubts and misgiving of the local populace. The United States initially thought Taliban as source of stability in the region and ally in sharing anti-Iran stance, and misjudged Taliban’s total hostility toward foreign values.

Then came the 9/11 incident in 2001 attack on World Trade Center building and Twin Tower by the Taliban terrorists. This was followed by the U.S. retaliation, and active involvement in the region. The author felt very bad that the Afghanistan has been turned into terrorist den by the non-Afghan militants from Middle East countries. He, his family and many Afghan people have been so affectionately received and provided for by this land and the fact that his own people attacked the United States made him feel very bad and sick. He made his best to explain to the people here that the attack was not done by the Afghan people, but by the non-Afghan militants who had made Afghanistan their activity base.

In 2011, the author visits Afghanistan, and was devastated to see that once peaceful land with pride and decency has been turned into violent, and corrupt with no trace of decency. The government is formed by the vested warlords who are least bothered about the people’s welfare; they are only interested in making themselves richer and richer. Factional fighting among the warlords has been exploited by the religious fundamentalist, which has caused the presence of foreign troops and dependency on them. All the funds from the United States and its allies are sabotaged by the few elites and the vast majority is languishing in poverty. Old Afghanistan of proud people with honesty and decency is lost. 

As a closing thought, the Author finds himself asking, “What if the Soviet Union had never invaded? What if Afghanistan had never been deserted after Russian withdrawal? Do you think 9/11 would have happened?”

This is difficult to say, but reading the book I can’t help thinking about Tibet and Tibetans. We must preserve and maintain our decency, moral integrity and unity so that when the time comes for the Chinese to leave Tibet, we are ready to take over the administration without internal feud or factional fighting. Till date, because of the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his vision, we have been able to maintain and promote our positive values, cultural integrity and unity among all the Tibetans. The book is a clear mirror to warn us that we all must cherish and maintain this unity and cultural values so that Tibet don’t become Afghanistan of today in future.

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Immigrant Communities and Notables Come Together For Launch of New Resource Book

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This past Sunday saw the heartwarming gathering of many notables and members of immigrant communities for the launch of a new resource book, Immigrant Success Planning – A Family Resource Guide. Held in the beautiful Canyon View Hall atop a hill in San Ramon, California, the event had over 320 guests in attendance despite a rainy day.

The author, Atta Arghandiwal, was born in Afghanistan but left shortly after the Soviet invasion and became a refugee in Germany. Two weeks after his arrival in the United States, he started work as a bank teller, and built a successful twenty-eight year career, eventually being promoted to senior vice president.

The making of Immigrant Success Planning was born in Atta’s own struggles as an immigrant. Not being able to find an immigrant resource guide that fit his needs, he eventually created one, bringing together all of the useful information he had learned through experience and time. Immigrant Success Planning is a condensed lifestyle guide for immigrants—a road map for the whole family, filled with proven tips and strategies that can be used from the birth of a child to retirement and beyond.

Guests at the event included representatives from such organizations as USA International, Rising International, various social services, and the Afghan Coalition. A number of immigrant authors and poets attended, as well as community leaders, scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and, of course, the dear friends and family members of the author, Atta Arghandiwal. The event drew people from as far as San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, and San Jose, including well-known radio host Dr. Michael Krasny of National Public Radio, television host Robin Fahr of Tri Valley Television, and UN Ambassador Dr. Waheed Waheedullah, who also wrote the foreword for the book.

The guests enjoyed traditional Afghani refreshments and music. The event was filled with socializing, wonderful speakers, and book signings by the author, for which there was a long line. Publisher Julie Salisbury charmed the audience as MC with her British accent, presenting many interesting speakers to the crowd, including:

Dr. Waheed Waheedullah of the UN; Mr. Quasim Tarin, CEO and Chairman of Afghan Business Network and Chamber of Commerce NC division; Nancy O’Malley, District Attorney of Alameda County; Marla Markman, editor of the book, and Eileen Sandlin, the co-author;
as well as the author and his son Edreece.

Immigrant Success Planning is the resource that immigrants have been waiting for, and now they finally have it.

Source: Influence Publishing