Jonagha arrives in Khorasan Province of Iran which is bordering Afghanistan. It’s a Friday afternoon, a holyday and a holiday for Muslims. On a Friday the blessing of every good deed is multiplied many times; on a Friday Muslims are generous to the poor and forgiving of others shortcoming. Its not a vindication to be an imbecile the rest of the week, but in reality that’s how it is. Similarly a journey taken on Friday is blessed by God and in his infinite grace will remove obstacles and hazards from travellers path. Jonagha does settle only for God’s grace and for good measure carries a small chapter of Quran in his pockets wrapped in a silk cloth. This is the traveller prayer and will grant you safety and blessing on your journey. Quran and all its verses are holy and will add blessing to any object its written on and any person that carries it, BUT, you have to be able to handle it with reverence, that’s why Jonagha has it wrapped in precious silk. He keeps it on his top pocket, and never to be placed in his trousers pocket as placing it in the lower part of body is sacrilegious. He will not take it out of his pocket unless his hands are washed and he is sitting in a respectable position and place.
It is not something
for the weaklings, for instance the menstruating woman. Yes, they are not
allowed to touch it. Its in the Quran “None shall touch it except the
purified” (Waqiah: 79) to restore gender balance women can carry Quran to have a
blessed journey, I mean menstruating women, of course it should be wrapped in protective
cover. If you are unhappy with this archaic rule, you can go and pick it with
the scholars to redefine “purified”.
Jonagha arrives at
an Iranian Guard border post where a dozen other Afghans are waiting too. Its
40 degrees and sandy, that’s not something you hear on weather forecast “today
is going to be 40 degrees with sand fall and high chance of mirage”. The
outpost is manned by Basiji which is like the youth wing of the Revolutionary
Guards, a bunch of zealous volunteers. They gave Jonagha water and sits him
down in a shade. In a little while a second guard comes to him and reassures
him that he will cross over today but they have to wait for the right moment.
You might be
thinking that you have totally misunderstood the IRGC and corrupt governments
in poor countries!
No you haven’t!
You see this was
the 80s and Afghans returning from Pakistan and Iran were considered
insurgents. Jonagha went to Iran for adventures, learn Iranian culture and work
nevertheless the soviets considered him an insurgent. Anyone caught crossing into
Afghanistan was shot on the spot. twenty years later Americans came to the same
twisted conclusion but they dispensed with shooting on the spot because they
are squeamish about blood; they are more into prisoners abuse. The Islamic
Republic was helping their Afghan Brothers defeat the infidel Soviet Union.
Once the Soviets were defeated tens of thousands of people fled the wretched Mujahideen
but they were pushed back by the Iranians at the border. So much for Iranian
brotherhood, Trump is right about not trusting the Iranians.
Jonagha waited for
a few hours and then he is told now is the time. Its dark and they are walked
to a truck and loaded in the back of the truck and it drives off without the
headlights. After a few hours of driving in the desert and mountains the driver
asks them to get off and tells him the nearest village is behind the mountain
where they can get on a bus. Jonagha starts walking and now has a companion; he
had lived in Iran for five years and now going back with all his savings to see
his five year old son for the first time. You might have questions about the
child’s conception but to keep the story on track we will leave that out.
Suddenly a soviet BTR roars as it kicks of massive dust trail. It flies a red communist
flag which is one of the last things you see before death. unless, your parents
own a mansion in Surrey and financed your way to a good university and you are
use the red flag as a way to give them the middle finger. They have no chance of
getting away and are captured, the companion is shot on the spot and robbed of
his possessions. They searched Jonagha and found the chapter of Quran in silk
wrapping; they also find a copy of Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy, a phenomenal
Russian writer. In total shock and disbelief they ask:
It’s a book
What kind of a book?
It’s a novel called Anna
Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
I know that but I am not
sure you know that!!
It’s considered the world’s
best novel and tells of the doomed love affair of the sensuous and rebellious
Anna in a changing society.
Blyat! (the Soviet swears)
They don’t know
what to do with him. The patrol commander is given the books and asked if they
can shoot him. He doesn’t know either so he gets on the radio and was asked to
describe him, “ he is wearing blue jeans and a yellow shirt” then comes a pause
probably a surprise to the person on the other end of the radio too “yes sir,
not traditional Afghan Shalwar Qamis” the soviets were of an Estonian battalion,
they were known to be more lenient than Russians or Ukrainians. They were
impressed with him and thought he was a secret agent for the Russians so they
set him free but keeps his Quran and tells him “No, No, No, this is bad.” and
takes it away.
As he walks away a
young soldier ask the other, are you sure I can’t shoot him because I really
like his Jeans?
In all of
Christendom Nazis communists and the new Ultraright wings have the best
understanding of the sanctity of Islamic scripture.
No? you disagree?
Let me put it
another way, hatred could be very insightful.
Ok, let me first
clarify Jonagha’s belief; Quran is the word of God and the word of God cannot
be separated from the self of God which means the word of God is God in written
form. that’s why while his mother tongue is Pashto and his spoken language is
Farsi, (also known as home language and school language) he carries the book of
traveller in Arabic and reads it in Arabic. Jews have the same tradition and
that’s why no matter what language they speak they read Tora in Hebrew even if
you don’t understand; it’s the reverence to the powerful that gives the
incomprehensible words the power to mesmerise.
This is a strange
idea to Christians, they think that Bible and its chapters communicate ideas
and it’s the content of these ideas that help us better our deeds and spirit.
But not the Nazis and communists – they get it, hence the Tora and Quran
burning whenever they get a chance.
You are obviously
curious to know how was Jonagha able to communicate with the Soviets, simple
Russian is the official language of Afghanistan. Joking, but occupied people
quickly learn key words of the liberating army for instance Jonagha knew how to
beg “please don’t kills me” in flawless Russian other words included “in the
name of God, I mean Karl Marx, please
don’t kill my family – god is the worst”. the soviets learned the basics of
Farsi and Pasho too. By comparison Nato armies which liberated Afghanistan,
again, some 20 years later had translators with each combat unit. They paid a
lot for this service which incentivised the creation of a translator class, hated
by the Afghans and the source of much misunderstanding; most importantly Westerners are too lazy to
learn the basics of the people who they liberate. To be fair you expect the
liberated population to be so grateful that they keep their mouths shut. You
are laughing but if you are liberated enough you learn to be grateful and it
becomes part of your ontology to wait for the next liberator. In the last 40
years Afghanistan was violently liberated six times. Taliban haven’t been in
power for long and now they are hoping for the Chinese to invade. A moderate
change from a conservative to liberal which is boring for westerners is a
wetdream for Afghan.
My dad asked me:
how is the British election
I don’t know. OK I guess?!
Oh yeah, (with an excited
tone) tell me more. Are there policies pretty much the same
Yes but worded slightly
Oh yeah!! This is so
complaint they don’t understand Afghans.
That’s because we
don’t share and I do hope you still think I am joking.
presents and stories for all the family and friends. he is wearing Western
cloths which is really uncommon in the village but he can carry it. But the
weirdest of all is when he talks; he sounds different. He speaks Farsi with an
Iranian accent. In the village they speak Pashto but written communication is
in Farsi. It’s the same language people speak in Kabul when written, but when
they speak its laughable for people from Kabul.
Jonagha recites the
story of Soviets sparing his life. The family was pleasantly surprised as they had
been witness to their atrocities, they burn down entire villages to the ground
and erase orchards. They put this down to the power of Quran looking over him.
He tells them that it was actually Lev Tolstoy that saved him. They disagree
and ask him how do you know that to which he responds they said so and they say
do you really believe the words of Genocidal heathens? That’s the problem of belief, you can’t
really understand facts and reality unless it bends to reinforce your belief.
The question it
should raise for you is; at this point in time male literacy is around 5% and
near zero in rural areas, how could he read? When reading is associated with
characters like Jonagha, the eccentrics and mavericks, it makes it inaccessible
for the ordinary and stigmatises literacy. This is a conversation I had:
I have read books
You read a book?
But you look so
was with my mother and she is cross with me for not keeping her in the loop.
Yes, but you won’t believe me.
Speaking of my mother, Jonagha was in love with her but he
is not my father. Why wouldn’t he be, she is pretty, smart and educated but
most importantly his cousin. Despite
this familial attraction which brings assurance of harmonial matrimony, my
mother chose a stranger. She didn’t stop there, she chose someone from a
different ethnicity – who spoke a different language. Jonagha couldn’t compete
with my dad. He was a Sergeant in the army and in the afternoons, he would drop
work to drive in his army jeep to the university to give my mum and her friends
a left to the ice cream shop. Ice cream was the latest craze back then, the
crack of 80s. to top it up he would turn up in his workshop dungarees, all
dirty and greasy. It was the coolest thing then, a real proletariat in action
and showing it off with pride.
Jonagha is heartbroken after his city girl cousin rejects
him. He is also bored with the life in the village, continuous fighting with
the Russians and insistent violence. In an attempt to create positive forces in
his life Jonagha takes interest in his younger siblings and nephews. One of the
nephews who was particularly influenced by him is Sardar but that story comes
later. All this is well and good but his adventurous spirit remains restless so
he starts thinking about leaving the village again. He wants to go to Iran, I
mean why wouldn’t you? It’s a sexy place - except music is censored and free thinking
He is making
preparation to leave. He packs his suitcase, and doesn’t book his tickets. Tickets
don’t exist also he doesn’t need a passport because no authority exist to issue
one. One of the exciting things he does on arrival at destination is intercity
bus rides, particularly the ticket purchase part. His trip will take a
combination of trekking, mini van rides, pick up trucks and mountain hikes to
travel abroad. Jonagha doesn’t see this as a trip but a journey, an adventure
where he parts with one place and part of himself to go and create roots in
another in order to prepare him for this transformation He has to learn lessons
during the journey that adds to his personality.
Word of Jonagha’s looming departure gets out and his friends
get together to decide on doing something together for his farewell. After some
deliberation they settle for a fight with the Upper Village; its very
convenient as they are on the other side of the river. They fight mostly from
their banks by hurling stones at each other or slingshots but every now and
then it would escalate and a musket is brought into fight. there is also a tale
of both sides attempting to cross and a knife fight broke mid river, nobody can
tell you when exactly it was but everybody is certain that it happened.
I am sorry to bring this up again but I do think we should
give Ultra-right less grief, we are half way through the story and they are
right again. It seems like Afghans, Muslims, poor people (you pick the way you
want to frame it) are inherently violent and amenable to civilisation.
Jonagha in an attempt
to make it more memorable brings his musket but the thing with musket is once
you fire you have to spend five minutes reloading it which is really taking the
fun away from the fast-paced excitement of the fight. The typical thing that
happens in fights unsurprisingly happened; it continued to escalate and one of
the guys from the Upper Village brought an Assault Rifle he had captured from
the Soviets. You know the old saying, never bring a musket to a rifle fight.
Jonagha is shot in the leg and arm and his friends bring him home. His mother
spent two nights soaking up blood from his wounds and staying by his bed,
weeping and begging him to get better but on the third day he was dead. That’s
it for Jonagha, it’s a bit of Game of Throne ending but I love game of throne
especially for the service it has done to western culture. Grotesque violence
is more acceptable and no more causes a nauseated response.
Back in 2006 when I was a student I told this story around
fire to a group of Europeans and they asked:
Did he really die?
Yes, it’s the most natural
thing, easiest thing ever; but there is a lot more about him than death, such
That was romance? There is
romance in Afghanistan? seems kind of gross.
Its not just romance and
death, it’s a story of a journeying life.
Are you sure its not a
Sardar is in the Palace of Kings, he is not dead. This is
not pagan Viking story but I have to start this somewhere smooth just so it
doesn’t cause anymore upset to create a disconnect. The Palace of Kings is a
building, of course, that’s now the National Gallery. It is grand with high
ceilings, some forcefully thrusted upward by gigantic gold plated columns. The
windows are large and tastefully decorated, outside you can see the
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral featuring a series of onion domes
mushrooming over the entire upper part of the building, on the other side is
Ivan Vazov park with a sprawling population of street dogs.
Have you wondered how old buildings are more tasteful than
the modern equivalent? It’s the effort they placed into making it pretty that
we experience appreciation in the art of creation. In the Gallery just like
other public cultural venues particular emphasis is placed on the gift shop;
boasting a selection of take home artwork as well as exhibition items that adds
to the ambience such as an early copper coffee distilling contraption.
Europe is a funny place, and I am not talking about gift
shops or cliché souvenirs. Its
prosperous but it co-exists with extreme suffering. This is really odd for
Sardar since in Afghanistan everybody is suffering. Not only that but what
Sardar can’t get his head around is how the prosperous are so oblivious to the
suffering. Most people live a satisfying life and will never experience
inhumanity at the level Sardar did. In order to enable them to maintain
cognitive dissonance they are equipped by an ideology which tells them things
are fantastic. The other side of such a positive outlook is that you will never
be intellectually prepared to sympathise with Sardar. Some people do slip below
this veneer of prosperity and justice and they will find it very hard to climb
back. Nothing illustrates better this point than the Strandzha Forest. Not
really because the forest is a national park with a great biodiversity and a
healthy population of wild life. it’s a wonderful place for woodland walks and
spotting animals. Those living above the veneer will just see that, the
wonderful forest but there is another menacing presence in this forest. To find
out you just need to ignore the scary signs such as “NO ENTRY BEHIND THIS
POINT” OR “trespassers will be shot on the spot” or “DANGER!! LAND MINES”.
If you are not dead or detained yet you will soon arrive at
a sight of horror. There it is right in front of you a three meter tall steel
structure with razor sharp wires and electrified to cause pain on contact.
There are towers with armed guards, attack dogs and CCTV. This monstrosity
splits Strandzha forest into half and runs 240 kilometres.
Yet you haven’t seen much; the threat comes from the other
side of this fence and it comes at night. Its not the White Walkers but
something far more menacing. Well there is two schools of thought on the
matter, the first is obviously that menace is the fence and the second is the
immigrants who are stopped by the fence. What happens in European cities is The
Oblivion, the average joe who can’t see suffering, accepts both the fence as necessary while
sympathising with the people who are trying to overrun it. This is what I mean
by an overarching ideology that require a positive acceptance of all menaces
and dismisses the need to understand them.
One of the key architects of the prosperity in the West once said: There are no
constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to
our progress except those we ourselves erect. What a load of utter
nonsense and the answer is the Stradzha Fence. In case you are wondering it was
The question you should ask now is; why is this over 500 km
border between Turkey and Bulgaria important? To which I would respond that you
are asking the wrong question. The right question to ask is why thousands of
refugees take the much riskier journey from Turkey to Greece in rough seas on
tiny dingies rather than just walking through the nice forest? The answer to
which is your money its used to finance
a giant fence on the land and has directly resulted to thousands of avoidable
I can see that you will argue why should Westerners care for
poor people or we don’t take moral stance to which I will response and say
that’s not true but lets return to this in awhile.
Sardar is in Sofia, as you probably have already gathered,
he is a British Citizen and retracing his journey as a teenager. Remember Sardar
grew up in a context where one of the most influential people in his life
sought prosperity abroad. He is of a generation who believes the place they
were born to have beauties and meaning but he should seek riches and adventure
abroad. Sardar, just like Jonagha, had this crazy dream of escaping war and
poverty, but there were many barriers to hurl including a fence on the border
between Bulgaria and Turkey.
Sardar has seen a lot of brutality but he is also informed
by intergenerational trauma of forty years violence and hundreds of years of
poverty but nothing haunts him more than the cruelty and inhumanity he
experienced at this border crossing.
Sardar is cold and hungry, he has been travelling for days
in mountains and forests and arrives at the fence, it is crawling through the Strandzha forest. It’s a
sight to marvel but also intimidating; he might die here of cold and hunger but
its beautiful. Then he notices a plank that reads “project is funded by the EU
for securing external borders” he is so pleased to see he has made it to EU and
loves its self promotion.
Soon his euphoria turn into a nightmare as Sardar was caught
very close to the place he is visiting now some ten years ago by the Bulgarian
police. They stripped him of his clothes and whipped him with wire. They left
them outside in the snow all night long as their dogs attacked them frequently.
At around midnight one of the guards brought him some water and sat down with
them for awhile.
Why are you coming to
I am only passing through Bulgaria
to Western Europe.
That’s cool, my wife is in
Germany, working to make some money. ( he said enthusiastically)
That’s what I want to do
You seem like a good guy
(or started with something similar)/no offense to you/ or something else, but
we are protecting our country from criminals, rapists and terrorists.
They chatted for awhile and turns out that the Guards uncle
was shot dead at the fence and he wasn’t a criminal, rapist or terrorist. Sardar
said what a meaningless way to take a life and told him how his uncle too had a
meaningless death. The guard said the fence was very much on the same place but
different colour; it was for the same purpose but instead of rapists and
terrorists it was to stop traitors and cowards.
That fence was erected in the late 1940s and early 1950s by
the communist government along the border with Greece and Turkey who were then
Capitalist enemies. It was an intricate system of defence fortifications,
patrolled by conscript soldiers, backed by tanks, under orders to shoot to kill
anyone trying to cross either way. it was actually two fences, with a 500-meter
minefield between them, that was the designed kill zone.
Then communism collapsed and Eastern Europeans became just
Europeans and there was no need for walls and fences. The fences had become a
symbol of communist oppression. it was actually John F. Kennedy who said in his
famous Berlin speech “While the wall is the most obvious and vivid
demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to
see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, an offense not only against
history but an offense against humanity…”
It wasn’t just Kennedy but the wider West acknowledges Fences
as a symbol of communist moral cowardice. But get this, since the end of the
cold war while the communist fences were toppled but over 50 new walls and
fences are built, most of them by the West and while we do hide behind it I
don’t think its an offense against the history. It’s a necessity of our times
to protect the Welfare State from the hoards. The real offense is the moral and historical amnesia;
choosing to be oblivious to a structure of oppression that’s rapidly expanding
and causing many deaths and suffering.
But are we really responsible for poor people es poor decision
that leads to their death? The main reason that I left Afghanistan is because
every day there was several suicide attacks and it was a nuisance; roads were
blocked, offices were closed … they invented the most flamboyant way to kill
themselves and for the whole world to take notice. They think if they kill
themselves and a bunch of innocent people then they will go to heaven. That’s
the dumbest thing somebody can come up with. And from the above couple of
sentences lets concluded that all Afghans are suicide bombers, they are on a
mission to inter into your under the cover of refugees and draw the following conclusion
but phrase it like a question. “do you really want people like that in your
Sardar doesn’t struggle with this, he is struggling with the
high rents in England. One struggle at a time. He doesn’t struggle with this
because he maintains faith which requires him not to remain bitter about his
misfortunes and injustice because they are the pathway to salvation. Justice
will ultimately prevail and it might not be apparent to him but God works in
mysterious ways. A belief in the divine has helped Sardar console himself that
even if things are not set right in this life it will be corrected by Gods
grace in the heavens.
Sardar considers himself a Mahajir, its somebody who had
undertaken a Hijrah, its considered one of the holiest undertaking and not for
the fainthearted, somebody who can’t be deterred by a fence or attack dog or a
minefield. Its dated back to the journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and
his followers from Mecca to Medina.
The year in which the Hijrah took place is also identified as the epoch of the Islamic calendars.
The Arabic word hijra means "departure" or
Muhammad and his followers were persecuted in Mecca and they
suffered until their was a divine revelation for them to leave. To this day its
a holy duty to migrate if you are persecuted by the tyrants and the wicked. The
wicked like the Taliban and their legion of suicide bombers who would murder in
dozens for 72 virgins only. Hijrah is a spiritual journey where Mahajir face
obstacles and hinderances but they are the crucial elements in transformation.
Without the walls and fences you are not going to reach the spiritual
destination. The new home is Sardar’s spiritual destination; he had reached his
symbolic Medina a transformed person with reverence and appreciation of paved
street, lit and warm home, cold drinks, warm food and constant rain as well as
gentleness and forgiveness to enemies and those who committed transgression
against him. If anything we should be
building more walls, so the journey can be more transformational.
During the Journey Muhammad hid in a cave for three days to
evade the Quraysh huntsmen. They were pursued by horsemen and they had to turn
to the Red Sea,
following the coastline up to Medina arriving at Quba.
He waited there for fourteen days before continuing to Medina. These challenges
the Prophet faced are crucial part of Hijra.
Except its false, you would be mad to believe that migration
is a journey of transcendence. You didn’t really think about it until I
mentioned it here. I have sponsored and supported refugees in the UK and
believing and shaping their destiny they have lied motionlessly and helplessly
to be fed and housed by the council. But
don’t take it from me, the Taliban call them “sagshowy” or dog washer and argue
they are cowards who had fled a hard life at home instead of contributing to
improve their country; they seek comfort and shelter from those who had caused
all the problems, interestingly it’s the same line that the Communist
Government of Bulgaria used.
This is what makes Sardar a Mahajir. Reaching higher places
and transcendence despite the overwhelming obstacles and disbelief. Most won’t
make it will fall into familiar human feeling of greed, hatred, doubt, self-pity
and fear. Sardar returned to Bulgaria to make peace with those who had done him
wrong and rest his sorrows. If we don’t create a good shelter for our sorrows
and instead hold on to hatred and thoughts of revenge from which new sorrows
will be born for others then sorrow will never cease and multiply. If you have
given sorrow the space that its gentle origin demand then you may truly say
life is beautiful. You can acknowledge your sorrows when you are with friends
and laugh at it.