I came across the word 'Kharijee' again, from the title of a book by Malcolm Garcia about a journalist who travelled to Afghanistan and discovered something. I am intentionally vague because I am weary of what people discover when they go to Afghanistan - do they discover themselves? People? Cynicism? Faith? But the word stays with me and I bring it to my own mind very often, as the outsider trying to enter the phenomenological world of Afghan immigrants in the U.S.
The history of Afghanistan that has been written in English has been written by Khaarijees like me, Afghans have been represented in the written and visual media by Khaarijees like me and we have frequently just caught fleeting shadows of this reality that reveals itself but also hides. There is an entire painting hidden behind those half-opened doors but we (academicians, researchers, intellectuals, novelists) have content ourselves with the partial views we see. We know very little about Afghanistan and calling her the graveyard of empires is the closest thing that comes to describing our sense of awe. But like Fariba Nawa points out when citing Thomas Barfield, perhaps Afghanistan is not a graveyard but a cradle of empires because it has been a site for varied conquests and an opportunity for myriad cultures to mingle. Perhaps its time for us to bring a sense of awe and humility as we try to understand a country and its people beyond the frames of war and destruction within which they have been forever framed.
Even as I frequently describe my Afghan participants as survivors of war, there are parts of me that cringe and simply say 'I'm interviewing people who migrated from Afghanistan and U.S.' and delete the reference to war. When I hold a microphone to the lips of Afghan Americans I meet, and ask them what they would like me to see, I'm attempting to write about who they are out when they are not simply survivors of war. I go with a small bag of questions so that I don't look dumb and fumbling. I ask about culture and identity, and in whatever half pieces I am offered as answers, I accept as tools for my painting. The effort to represent how Afghans represent themselves, that is the attempt.