June 25, 2016


Blaming Muslims, at First, in Norway (As told to WILL BOAST JUNE 24, 2016,NY Times Magazine)

As I was hanging my clothes, I saw my neighbor down in his driveway. He was just coming home from work, and he looked up and saw me. And then he was shouting.

"You people, you come here and ruin our country!" he yelled. "Norway is peaceful, and now you're destroying it! Go home. Make your own country crap. Leave ours alone!"

Actually, he said a lot worse than that. He kept shouting and shouting. But I stayed quiet. I just went on hanging my clothes. My hands were shaking.

I went inside, sat with my roommates and told them what he said. We kept watching the television, scared and upset, wondering what would happen. Back in Kabul, I had a good life, family, friends, a community. I had published a book on the Taliban, condemning terrorism. That made me visible, a target. A gang kidnapped me, held me ransom, beat and tortured me. I escaped, and we went to the police. They arrested some of my kidnappers.

But the threats kept coming. The gang found my home. They killed my father, my brothers and my sisters. My mother and I fled. We moved in with some friends. But it wasn't safe for me to stay in Afghanistan. So I went to Norway to apply for asylum.

I was glad to have an apartment and roommates from home. But no one knew us in Kongsberg. They didn't care if we were educated or what we'd been through. That afternoon, my roommates and I just kept watching the TV, waiting for the police to come for us.

Suddenly, all the headlines changed. There had been another attack, on an island outside Oslo. A man shot more than 60 people, many of them children. They were saying it was the same man responsible for the bombing. A name came on the screen -- Breivik -- a Norwegian name. He had surrendered and confessed. My roommates and I were shocked. Everything that happened, to those children especially, was just too horrible.

Then there was a knock on the door. We didn't know if we should answer. But we thought, No, it's O.K. They know it wasn't a Muslim who did these attacks. I opened the door.

It was my neighbor. He was speaking very quickly, apologizing, telling me how ashamed he was for what he'd said. He was crying. This big, pale, redheaded Norwegian man who worked in an office and sometimes on his car on the weekends, he had tears all down his face. He hugged me. He insisted that my roommates and I come to his apartment that night for dinner.

I remember we had fish and potatoes, a very Norwegian meal. His daughter was very bright, very intelligent. Three years in Kongsberg, waiting for the final decision about my asylum application, and I had never spoken to this man or his family. From that day on, he opened his heart to my roommates and me.

Posted by at June 25, 2016 12:17 PM