Introduction: Dr. Farid Younos is an Afghan-American television personality, author, professor, and prominent figure in the international Afghan diaspora. As host of "The Dr. Younos Show" and "30 Minutes" on NOOOR-TV, he is considered by many to be one of the most outspoken and independent thinkers in the Afghan-American community. He is a strong advocate of women’s rights and empowerment in Islam. His ideas on politics in Afghanistan and the Islamic world have attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers and readers.
Dr. Younos is a prolific author and speaker, and is frequently invited as a guest lecturer at conferences in the U.S., Canada and internationally. His books include “Gender Equality in Islam” (2002) “Democratic Imperialism: Democratization vs. Islamization” (2008) and “Principles of Islamic Sociology” (2011). His upcoming book “Islamic Culture: A Study of Cultural Anthropology” is scheduled for publication in summer of 2013. He also is a professor at California State University-East Bay, where he lectures in human development and women’s studies.
As a media personality, Dr. Younos has been interviewed on Afghanistan and Islamic issues by many major newspapers, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and the Associated Press. He also has done a variety of radio appearances, including Voice of America, Freedom Radio (Prague), CNN, and NPR on Forum with Michael Krasny.
Dr. Younos is very active in local, national and international Afghan communities, and has received multiple honors and awards. He is the founder of Afghan Domestic Violence Prevention, a charitable and service organization associated with the San Francisco Bay area’s Afghan Coalition. He has been awarded the “Peace at Home” Award from the California State Senate and the prestigious Rollie Mullen Award from Stand! Against Domestic Violence. In 2010, he was awarded the “Distinguished Ambassador of Islam and Visionary of Peace Award” in Dublin, Ireland by the International Islamic Conference of Peace and Justice.
In July 2010, he presented his plan for achieving Afghan peace and diplomatic conflict resolution to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, after being asked by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to testify before a Congressional committee on an Islamic political system for Afghanistan. Most recently, he spoke in February 2013 on “Islam and Politics” at an international conference in Madrid for establishing the “Experts’ Council of Afghanistan” to help bring an end to the war in Afghanistan and usher in peace and reconstruction.
Film Annex: Dr. Younos, you’re a thought leader in the Afghan diaspora and have spoken before Congress, at many national and international conferences, and have a weekly television talk show on NOOR-TV. What is it about your views on solving the crisis in Afghanistan that some Afghans find controversial?
Dr. Farid Younos: As I said recently at an international conference in Madrid, every era and every century has its own demands and expectations. In a global village, we are experiencing a movement of equality with democratic ideals. This entails equality between genders and races, freedom of mind and expression, and sharing of political power. I don’t see anything controversial. However, the crisis of Afghanistan is regional as well as domestic. My thought to solve regional problems is to sit down with Iran and Pakistan and create a "triangle of peace." On domestic issues, unfortunately, we have three problems that really plague the country: tribalism, sexism and gender inequality, and moral issues (such as “bacha bazi” or pederasty). We have to resolve these problems by enforcing laws and at the same time educating the public.
Dr. Younos is in high demand for speaking and media engagements on Afghan issues
Afghanistan has over an 85 percent illiteracy rate. My opponents believe we should not touch on the issues of tribalism or sexism because the first one is part of the fabric of Afghan culture, and the second is an issue of touching Islamic law, which my opponents would consider heretical and unacceptable. What I say is that Islam sees everybody as equal before the law, regardless of gender, tribe, religious affiliation, and economic status. We cannot have a civilized society without equality and citizenship. As I have said in previous articles, there is no true citizenship yet in Afghanistan politically, meaning there is not yet equality amongst people before the law.
زن بلا است و خدا هیچ خانه را بی بلا نکنه
Of course, this is a funny and perhaps controversial proverb, as it translates to “A woman is a devil, and may God not make any house without the devil.”
In the West, Desiderius Erasmus had a different and well-known comedic proverb that expressed almost the same thing: "Women: you can't live with them, and you can't live without them."
In a gently humorous way, these two related proverbs of East and West underscore the absolute importance and equality before God of women in all societies. Men and women should be able to laugh a little bit at themselves too.
My research shows that women and men are equal from a civic point of view in Islam. My book illustrates clearly that they are equal in creation, equal in the family, and they are equal in society. Empowering women, both socio-economically and politically, is of vital importance to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development. Women’s empowerment in Afghanistan is vital because of the sobering statistics that exist regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan, including the literacy/education rate, access to health care, early or forced marriage rate, and maternal mortality rates.
Gender Equality in Islam (2002) Afghan women at a midwives' course
Many women in Afghanistan, especially in the rural areas, lack access to basic human rights, including access to education and health care. While there are significant obstacles that exist in women’s empowerment, enormous gains have also occurred and should continue to be encouraged. Without the empowerment of women, the country will not progress. Dedication to improving the lives of women is vital for its existence.
FA: How can the Internet and social media help improve the lives of women and youth in Afghanistan?
FY: As you and I witnessed, the power of information systems created political movements in the Middle East that some called the “Islamic Awakening” or “Arab Spring” or “Arab Awakening.” Information systems, particularly the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter, made the global village very small and accessible. Believe it or not, people are reading my thoughts in very remote areas of Afghanistan. A year ago, I had a phone call from Badakhshan that people are watching my shows through the internet in Badakhshan. They praised me for what I am doing for Afghanistan from this far corner of the world. One word is important, and that is "access."
A classroom built and supported by Film Annex's Afghan Development Project
The internet and social media empower women, youth, and everybody for that matter, by providing access to necessary resources and opportunities that they otherwise may not have access to. And they serve as an outlet for people to communicate and exchange ideas that they otherwise may not have exposure to. This access provides a means to not only learn more about the world, but then also - more importantly - provides the access to mobilize people to make a change in the world. For what good is a thought without action?
We have seen evidence of the magnitude of these two forces at play most recently in places like Egypt and Tunisia, where events like the Arab Spring were largely fueled by social media. I think it is safe to say that without the advent of social media, these events most likely would not have occurred. This portal provides access to the key component to advancing a society: access to education. To quote Mr. Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
FA: You’ve said and written that “Afghans should learn from American pluralism.” What do you mean by that?
FY: Well, I am an Afghan American. I’m a Muslim. I speak Farsi at home and English at work. I practice my religion freely without fear and apprehension. I write what I like to write. It doesn’t matter if it is accepted by society or not, but the law gives me this opportunity to be whom I am. In this country of the United States, despite the fact that I don’t agree with American foreign policy in the Middle East, everyone comes from somewhere else and we have immigrants from all over the world. And everyone, with their cultural differences, religious denominations, political ideas, personal norms and values, generally accepts each other without bothering each other.
At a record store in 1950's Kabul
In Afghanistan, we have different tribes, two major religious schools of thought, and varying languages. Who are Afghans to see each other above one another? Afghans are one nation under God, too. Afghans should learn from American pluralism that you can be who and what you want to be but you are equal before the law regardless of your tribal, religious, and/or gender affiliation. Afghans should learn to respect each other and ideas.
When I wrote against the Durand Line and said that it is not in the benefit of Afghanistan anymore, there was a fury around the world against me that I was a traitor. I’m not a traitor, I just expressed my opinion that the Durand Line is a lost territory that we cannot get back. This tribalism is an obstacle for progress and for becoming a civilized society.
The Durand Line and Afghanistan's National Emblem
FA: If you woke up one morning and found yourself the President of Afghanistan, what would be your top three initiatives to make Afghanistan a better place, and why?
FY: (laughs) Here you go again. You want me to throw another proverb? There is a risqué proverb, well it is not that risqué, but it is not polite, that we Afghans say:
Morda guz na-meyzanaa, wa agah guz zad, kafoon-ra paramee kunah.
مُرده گوز نه می زنه و اگه گوز زد ، کفن را پاره می کنه
It means, "A dead person does not fart. If he does, tear open the coffin."
This means that some things are just not going to happen! (laughs)
I know I won’t become the President of Afghanistan. But if one morning I did wake up as the President I would say this. We witnessed in history that monarchy failed; tribalism, especially Pashtunized tribalism, failed; democracy in the sixties failed; communism failed; and Islamic radicalization failed.
What is left is that Afghans need to come up with a political thinking that fits our values, norms, and cultural principles. In other words, they all need to “bake a new cookie” and I propose Islamic democracy. In this democracy, no one is above the law, no man is superior than a woman, natural resources belong to the people, everyone cooperates to rebuild the country utilizing the vast natural resources, and the main goal is eradication of poverty, illiteracy, nepotism, favoritism, sexism, and tribalism.
With the University of South Florida's Dr. Mohsen Milani
First, to bring peace in the region, I would set up a meeting with Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany and the United States to demilitarize Afghanistan. Afghanistan should not have a military establishment nor buy or purchase weapons, import or export weapons, and live like Switzerland in Europe so that people would refer to Afghanistan as the “Switzerland of Asia.”
We need a strong security force to keep law and order but we do not need to militarize the country. Militarization is not in the benefit of Afghanistan at all. Second, I would enforce the law to the fullest extent based off Islamic principles. That means if an Afghan father bans his daughter from attending school, since the Prophet Muhammad said, learning is mandatory for all men and women, then he should be punished. Lastly, I would tap into our vast abundance of natural resources for investments, education that is culture based with Islamic and Afghan values, and to boost the economy. All natural resources belong to the people and should be utilized to help the people.
Zainab, a female officer of the Afghan National Police (ANP), at a police recruiting event
FA: As an Afghan-American television personality and celebrity in the Afghan diaspora, what is your advice to Afghans living outside Afghanistan on how they can help bring peace and development to their homeland?
FY: Afghans living outside Afghanistan should contribute through the preservation of cultural and Islamic values without discrimination. That means that a person from a northern region should help a person from the southern region and vice versa. Afghans need to teach unity and cooperation through Islamic values.
FA: You have a live viewer call-in segment on your weekly show, NOOOR-TV’s “The Dr. Younos Show.” That’s very bold, given some of the controversial topics you cover. Can you describe a few of your most interesting call-ins, and what they wanted to talk about?
FY: Most viewers call in regarding women’s rights and know that I am a strong advocate of women’s rights. Non-Pashtuns highly praise my shows because of the notion of equality between all tribes. Another controversial issue is that some Afghans, including even an educated circle, see the Jews and Christians as infidels and I say no, they are not infidels or polytheists but “People of the Book” that should be respected. For your information, I have just published a research paper in Farsi that I co-authored with another professor, Abdullah Samandar Ghoriani, on “People of the Book” (Ahl Al-Kitab) meaning the Jews and Christians. Dr. Ghoriani is a former professor of Islamic Law at Kabul University and is one of the top Afghan intellectuals in the world. He co-authored with me a new research paper entitled "Muslims' Symbiosis with People of the Book." Again, they are not infidels but people of faith that should be respected.
Thank you very much and I hope to see you in California sometime!
FA: Dr. Younos, thank you and zenda bosheyn زنده باشین (Long life to you!)
More of Edward Zellem's interviews with Afghan celebrities and thought leaders are coming soon on Women's Annex.