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Author explains life as Afghan-American

Nov. 18, 2004

By MEREDITH AMOS, reporter

Tamim Ansary, author of West of Kabul, East of New York, spoke to a packed house at McLennan Community College Tuesday about his experiences as an Afghan-American in the post-Sept. 11 world.

As the third reading selection for the One Book One Waco program, West of Kabul, East of New York, explores the implications of biculturalism on both a personal level, through Ansary's own experiences, and on a global scale through the eyes of native Afghans living in the current turmoil.

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Robert Shaw | Lariat staff
Tamim Ansary, author of "West of Kabul, East of New York," spoke to a packed house on Tuesday at McLennan Community College about his experiences as an Afghan-American in the post-Sept. 11 world.
"We chose the book because of its themes, the Muslim versus Christian and East versus West," James Karney, director of Waco McLennan County Libraries, said. "We wanted something that people would find interesting on many different levels."

Born out of a private e-mail to 20 friends in the days following Sept. 11, his memoirs delve into the events and their repercussions from an Afghan-American standpoint.

"This is a bi-cultural issue, a melding of two worlds," Ansary said in his talk. "And this [dichotomy] has always been of interest to me."

Ansary's life presents its own blending of cultures. The son of an Afghan father and an American mother, he grew up in Kabul and moved to the United States to study at 16. But after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the United States' action in Afghanistan, he returned to his native country to get an Afghan perspective.

"You must establish peace and stability before democracy," he said. "It's about getting on the train of building a country, instead of tearing it down."

Kristin Kan, member of the One Book One Waco Committee, said these kinds of topics are meant to spark thought and bring people of all backgrounds together in conversation.

"Our goal is to unite the community in an open dialogue with discussion groups," Kan said. "We want Baylor students to be a part of that community, too."

Ansary's presentation drew people from across the city.

"It's great to see something like this in Waco, to hear [Ansary's] stories from Afghanistan and his insights from his return after 38 years," said Sarah Morris, a Baylor alumna.

The process of choosing a book and arranging the lecture began last summer. After narrowing a list of 20 books down to four, Karney said, the decision to choose Ansary's work hinged on its timeliness.

"The topics he covered were especially good because of what was going on internationally with the invasion of Iraq and the presidential elections," he said.

In the question and answer session following the lecture, Ansary offered his insight into the Iraqi conflict and its effects, explaining the "complex psychological history of the region" as the result of its British colonization. He contrasted this idea with Afghanistan as an "other world of Islam" free from the injury of Western imperialism.

"I think Afghanistan will be a friendly nation," he said. "Most Afghans don't feel any anti-Americanism. The extremism [in Iraq, however,] stems from 200 years of colonization. Hatred is the effect of war and violence, not the other way around, and I would say there's more hatred in Iraq now, than two years ago."

Ansary also emphasized the need for cultural understanding, at which his original e-mail, that shaped his memoirs, was directed.

"Although much of what he said seemed to be common-sense, it was nice to hear themes of tolerance reiterated because, sometimes, they don't strike you," Melissa Mathias, an Oklahoma City sophomore, said.

Coupled with his contact with the people of war-torn Afghanistan and his perspective as an Afghan-American, Ansary examined the impact of biculturalism both domestically and abroad and its ramifications for coming generations.

"Problems in the present plant the seeds for problems in the future," he said. "The ideal would be a world of peace where things work fairly for everyone."