Student speaker shares personal struggle with Taliban’s recent invasion

Elizabeth Worthington, Staff Writer

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“To see such a confident female leader in the University community speak, in such despair on an issue so personal to her, presented an opportunity to pursue our mission of women’s empowerment,” Bucknell ATHENA President Caitlin Maloney ’16 said.

ATHENA, a female empowerment group on campus, hosted a discussion in the LC Forum, led by student Fatima Arabzada ’16 on Nov. 5. Arabzada, who is from Kunduz, Afghanistan, shared her traumatic experience as a result of the Taliban’s recent invasion in her town. ATHENA hosted the event to help Arabzada in her efforts to bring aid to her community and family.

Arabzada began her talk with a brief background of the Taliban’s terrorizing presence in her country. A sub-group of al-Qaeda, the Taliban has had a long history in Afghanistan. It took control from 1996 to 2001 and as a result of poor strategic planning and the corruption within the Afghan government, not much has changed since.

Arabzada said that the Taliban’s mission is to suppress and control those under its power. The situation is especially grave for women. The Taliban essentially brainwash women through religion. The women mistakenly believe they still retain basic rights and are recognized by the Taliban as human beings. Under the guise of religion, the Taliban severely mistreat women and impose harsh restrictions on them.

“They have more in common with the KKK, than with me, a Muslim,” Arabzada said.

In her talk, Arabzada discussed the recent resurgence of the terror group in her hometown of Kunduz, where her family still resides. Kunduz was the last province that the Taliban was removed from.

Arabzada pointed to Kunduz’s location as a major factor that incited the Taliban’s takeover. The town is the central point of the nine other provinces to which it is linked, so it acts as a storage center for the surrounding provinces.

The Taliban took over control of Kunduz on Sept. 28. It took a mere three hours for the group to secure its power. They cut off the people’s access to water, food, and electricity. They raped and tortured families doing “every inhuman thing possible,” Arabzada said.

The group has a new leader, who wanted to demonstrate his power, strength, and cruelty by taking hold of this strategically-located province. Arabzada said that Kunduz’s governor knew about the attack prior to when it happened, and fled to the United Kingdom the night before.  

“They were in every single home. Someone’s house served as a storage space for the Taliban,” Arabzada said.

Arabzada explained how difficult it was to be here at the University while she personally suffered and worried for her family’s safety. She shared with the audience that she’s spent a lot of time crying and that her suffering caused her to fall behind in her studies, joking that she had to force herself to do her calculus homework.

The third day into the Taliban’s attack, Arabzada’s father called and asked her to help her family flee Afghanistan. At the time, her family was hiding in the basement of their home in Kunduz. Her father’s request, she said, caused her a lot of pain because she knew she had no means to get her family out of the country and it was impossible for her to help them.

Arabzada also became responsible for her younger sister, who attends school in New York. She would secretly log into her sister’s Facebook and filter everything she could see to protect her from the pain and anxiety she would likely suffer if she knew what her family was going through back home.

On Oct. 13, the Taliban withdrew from Kunduz. Still, the country is far from achieving peace and safety. Pointing to the United States’ advantage of being a world powerhouse, Arabzada called for a change in U.S. strategy in order to help Afghanistan finally be free from this terror. She also called for Pakistan to be held accountable for its role in the cultivation of the Taliban and for the United States to destroy Pakistan base camps, which are home to Taliban headquarters and training camps.

Arabzada’s humbling story resonated deeply with Bucknell ATHENA leaders and members. Arabzada is a member herself, making this issue personal for the group.

“Bucknell ATHENA decided to get involved in helping her through her struggle after hearing the story of her family and how heartbreaking it was for Fatima to be at Bucknell, powerless in her efforts to aid her family and her community … Through continued conversation with Fatima, it became more and more clear that the Taliban’s methods of limiting and controlling women’s freedom also related to our cause as Bucknell ATHENA,” Maloney said. “On a personal note, I have had the good fortune to be close with Fatima for two years now and the way she lives her life is truly inspiring and so I decided to use Bucknell ATHENA as a platform to empower her to share her story and as a tool by which others could hear and understand her great struggles.” 

Attendance for the event was reported as very strong, with about 300 people filling the LC Forum. 

“Everyone was so moved by Fatima’s talk and wants to hear more and contribute to the cause which was exactly the purpose of the event,” Maloney said. 

“After her speech, when I went up to meet Fatima, I realized I was shaking hands with the strongest Bucknellian–and woman–I have ever met. Fatima maintained incredible composure as she talked about experiences many students here can hardly imagine–the loss of three siblings, her family’s life threatening situation, and the inconceivably difficult task of having to tell her family she has no way of getting them out of the country,” Carly Robb ’16 said.

“I loved how many people came to Fatima’s talk. We hear a lot about third world issues, but here at Bucknell we are privileged enough to rarely see it first hand. Fatima’s talk was so powerful because it made something that is fairly difficult to conceive of more easily understandable to Bucknell students,” Rosalie Goldberg ’18 said.

For those who want to do something more to help, contributions can be made to Save the Children at http://www.savethechildren.org/clubs/bucknellathena. These donations will go directly to families in Kunduz help them rebuild their lives after the Taliban attack.

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