Something jostled me out of sleep in the middle of night. As a habit, I checked my Facebook; it was full of images of the carnage of the Kabul attack on demonstrators. I thought it must be a dream, a bad nightmare. The more I scrolled, the surer I got that it was a reality. I saw people with their faces and clothes smudged with blood. A shiver ran through me, I had friends there, I frantically called them but there was no answer.
Lying in my bed, robbed of sleep that night, I followed more news. I saw Demanzang square, covered with blood, human flesh, limbs of various sizes and shapes scattered everywhere, bodies riddled with shrapnel, blood gushing. It was too graphic to watch. It happened at a peaceful protest by Shia Hazara, a minority group asking for justice, peace, and an end to discrimination. Islamic State (Isis) took responsibility for these heinous attacks on peaceful protestors on 24 July.
At least 87 people were killed. Over 300 were wounded.
How is it possible to contemplate the Kabul attacks without acknowledging something savage about this group that religion alone can’t explain? The Hazara, as Shia, share the same faith, the same book, the same God. And it must be an error in their ideology that contours their thought to kill people in such a callous way.
The attack on Kabul was not only an attack on Hazaras but also an attack on democracy and freedom of assembly. The “enlightening movement”, designed to bring better infrastructure and service to Hazara areas, started about three months ago and was born out frustration with the Afghan government not delivering services to the impoverished Hazara areas, due to entrenched discrimination.
Later, I spoke with my friends and relatives in Kabul. I felt relieved, they were safe but they were shaken by the event. One friend spoke of losing his friends, and there were long silences. The whole city was in grief, and the grief transcended race and sectarian divisions.
The next night, I joined a crowd of Hazara mourners who felt the ripple of the twin bomb blasts in Kabul, gathered in a park in Merrylands, in western Sydney. About a thousand men, women and children, bracing a cold night, clustered around a sign saying “Kabul” painted with candles. Some were survivors of the Taliban that came as refugees and were now Australian citizens, some were asylum seekers whose cases were yet to be processed. The mood was sombre, each was holding a candle – everyone was touched. Almost everyone knew somebody, a cousin, a brother, a person from his village, who faded from this world in such hurried way. The speakers were in tears, so was the crowd.
“It took me a lot of courage to come here because I have pain that tumbles like ants on my body,” said Habiba Rawshan, a young Hazara girl, while battling choking tears. “No one understands my pain. Everyone is silent.”
“Let me ask you what are the tears that roll down on my eyes? What it means? I don’t have any meaning for it. Can you tell me what does it mean?” Again the sobs scrolled down people’s face like candles shedding tears.
No one was prepared for this contagious grief. Nobody brought tissues; they cried in their hands and wiped away their tears some with sleeves; the women with the hems of their chador.
The incident in Kabul has shattered the Hazara community in Australia and in communities around the world. Vigils have been held in other cities in Australia. The parks and iconic places, such as Federation Square, have become public space for mourning.
However, our grief maybe not be shared so by many Australians apart from a passing news story. And yet our presence and arrivals as refugees here create controversy and fear. We have been portrayed as threats rather than victims of terrorism and the death of the Hazara seems a distant tragedy. And thus the solidarity and empathy are largely restricted to the victims in the west.
But for us, it’s equally painful as the tragedy that struck in London, in Paris or Bali.
We have been the victims of terrorism for a long time. The attacks by Isis are the most brutal since the collapse of the Taliban and the attacks have become systematic. These attacks are too common and they are old stories. That was the reason I left over 16 years ago, during the Taliban, and since then members of my own family have been killed and attacked.
The Kabul attack reflects the danger the Hazara still face in their country. And it also demonstrates the Afghan government’s incapability to protect the Hazara.
While the security of protestors in Kabul has been the responsibility of the Afghan government, the Australian government, which funds the Afghan government, must take responsibility too. Since 2001, Australia has spent a total of US$1.5m (apart from $7bn on military) in as to “to build the capacity of the Afghan security forces to defend the Afghan people against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.”
And at the Nato Leaders’ Summit in Warsaw in July this year, Australia committed US$100m in an annual fund to the police and the Afghan army until 2020. On top, it has 270 Australian defence force personal on the ground in Afghanistan providing training and advice for Afghan security forces.
Yet, the Australian foreign affairs department has not even released a press release in the wake of Kabul attack as it has in in relation to attacks in Istanbul and Nice and Paris.
Not recognising the plight of Hazara fits generally to the approach of the Australian government in the context of refugee policy because such recognition would give weight to our claims that the Hazara face danger in Afghanistan.
In February this year, the department of foreign affairs on the Hazara (prepared for refugee status determination) in which it claimed that Hazara face no greater risk than non-Hazara. However, William Maley, professor of diplomacy at the Australian National University and expert on Afghanistan told me the report does not reflect the reality on the ground for the Hazara who face systematic threats based on their “religious identity”.
“The disposition of extremists to strike at them has not disappeared. So, it is a serious mistake to conclude that Afghanistan is safe for the Hazara, including the capital,” he said. “The implications of this attack on Hazaras is very profound, it highlights particular danger for the Hazara, who are physically distinctive.”
Not feeling safe on the street of Kabul and feeling ignored by their own government, thousands of Hazara at home and in the diaspora, including Australia, took to Twitter recently with #enlightenment, sending more than 380,000 posts to globalise their sufferings – to demand justice, better security, better service and end to discrimination against the Hazara. “The attacks on Hazara made us stronger to fight for justice” said one. “Long live justice, long live enlightening”.
The aftermath of the event is fraught with a lot of questions blaming the organisers of the protest as well as the Afghan government for such a tragic event. The Afghan government has appointed its own committee made up mostly of the government members, which are not considered independent and thus are rejected by the enlightening movement, requesting international observers.
Australia could play that role. The lives lost can’t be brought back but at least their families – some of whom are Australian citizens from Hazara backgrounds – should feel sure that they lost their love for nothing. And the Hazara community in Australia can’t bear anymore tragedy.