By Parag Dass
Last Wednesday, AUC hosted a panel of speakers for a discussion on the past and present of Afghanistan. The event was convened by Dr. Hilla Dayan, lecturer of Political Sociology at AUC. Forming the panel were Daniel Pinéu, Angela Barez, Sahar Afzal, and Jawed Neshat joining over Zoom. Dr. Daniel Pinéu is an International Relations lecturer at AUC, with a special interest in international security, foreign policy, and global political sociology. A prominent activist of the Afghan diaspora in the Netherlands, Angela Barez is a project manager at the Nawien Foundation which works towards fundraising for aid in Afghanistan. Barez is also currently pursuing a Masters degree in International Relations at the VU. Sahar Afzal is a lecturer of Political Science and Conflict Studies at the UvA, and works as the International Affairs Manager at the Dutch arm of UN Women. Jawed Neshat is Chief Operating Officer at Citizens UK which works to empower local communities in political organisation. Being a civil society activist, Neshat also has experience working with Afghan refugees.
The recent takeover of the Taliban was the theme discussed, digging into the formation of the Islamist group from the Mujahideen and their call to power in the late ‘90s. The current military overthrow of the sitting government, and the insufficient action of the international community were also points of concern. Of particular attention were the role of Afghan youth in the community, inhumane conditions of air evacuation, and arbitrary refugee policies of states when faced with calls to humanitarian action. The discussion yielded an unpacking of the moral and political dilemmas that accompany the war in Afghanistan – such as the political interplay between self-determination and democratic functioning, and the social priority of peace and the feminist movement. A clear cut explanation for any topic within the subject is scarce to come by, but as Pinéu said, an analysis of the conflict should question the obvious and not be afraid to hold two contradicting ideas at once.
The two hours of rendering the complex situation in Afghanistan more palatable brought forth a packed common room of curious students – for the first time since COVID measures were lifted – making for a highly question-driven discussion. Many others joined via Zoom and the YouTube livestream, the recording of which will be uploaded shortly. This hybrid event marked the beginning of a series under construction – Live at AUC.
The Live at AUC project was conceptualised by Dr. Hilla Dayan after having identified the need to revive community engagement at AUC following the hiatus caused by COVID. Dayan wanted to find innovative ways of doing events in our post-COVID world, hence ‘Live at AUC’, a hybrid series of events that people can attend in person or choose to log into online. The intention is to involve the AUC community in difficult discussions once more, exploring the connection between the educational institution and society at large. Future events hold promise for more controversial conversations to be had, with topics on the tentative list including Israel-Palestine, migration, and the anti-vaccination campaign.
Dayan believes that involving controversial topics in democratic discussion is crucial to understanding people instead of merely distancing them. Often, our understanding of such phenomena is limited to a passive experience of watching the news, which needs to change. Dayan underscores that AUC needs to lead by example in learning more experientially by engaging in difficult conversations through involving its diverse student body. In this manner, AUC can carry forward the push to diversify its curriculum and innovate in how we learn.
“This is a place where we as teachers have something sacred going on with the students, in which we tap into your experiences and intellectual needs and try to grow you – not just in terms of stuffing more and more materials but really being more engaged. Your personal growth is very important to us.”