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Afghan blogger teaches others his craft
Washington — Tech-savvy Afghans increasingly are turning to blogs for information about their country and the world. They also use blogs as a platform for telling their stories about Afghanistan to the world, says Nasim Fekrat, one of Afghanistan’s trailblazing bloggers.
Although Internet penetration is not high in Afghanistan compared with other countries, since 2002, some 20,000 Afghans have started blogging, Fekrat told America.gov. Fekrat, who blogs under the moniker “Afghan Lord,” estimates that at least 1 million Afghans access the Internet through Internet cafes and at local schools and universities.
Fekrat discovered blogs in 2000, when only two Afghan expatriates — one in Canada and one in the United States — were blogging in Farsi. He e-mailed them requesting more information and then taught himself how to use the medium. In late 2002, he launched his first blogs featuring his poetry and discussions of classical music. Later, he included discussions about events in Afghanistan as well as philosophical issues.
In 2008, Fekrat taught blogging workshops in Kabul and Bamyan. Approximately 40 people attended the three-day workshops. They shared 10 computers Fekrat was able to rent with funds he raised from donors over the Internet. He hopes to raise enough money to repeat the classes again this year, sharing what he learned during his recently completed three-month fellowship at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University in North Carolina.
Barack Obama’s deft use of Internet tools to send his message to voters, raise money and ultimately win the U.S. presidential elections profoundly impressed Fekrat. “This can be a model, a lesson to Afghanistan for presidential elections which are coming in a few months,” he said.
Afghanistan’s presidential elections are set for August 20. According to NATO officials, nearly 16 million voters have registered to vote — about half the country’s population.
That an African American won the U.S. presidential elections is “a big lesson” for Afghans,” Fekrat said. Afghans, he said, “should build up the determination to end inequality and hatred toward each other.”
“When I go back [to Afghanistan],” Fekrat said, “I will tell [my blogging students] about the media and morality. I’ll tell them how we can’t have exactly the same thing [as in the United States]; but with what we’re able to learn, to transform in [an] Afghan way; not in a very traditional way.
“We can change,” he said. “We can bring a picture of different models of Afghanistan.”
Many Afghans never learned about democracy, according to Fekrat. “Rather they heard communism, socialism, equality, Marxism, those ideas based on Marxist theory.” Compounding the problem, he said, is widespread illiteracy. “Those people, who never heard democracy, freedom, freedom of speech and human rights … they have to have an idea, a description of democracy that they never had,” he said.
“The meaning of democracy was not transformed in the context of Afghan meaning, Afghan knowledge, Afghan language,” he said. For many of the uneducated people, he said, democracy means little more than women discarding their head scarves.
AFGHANISTAN’S NEW GENERATION: GENERATING CHANGE
“The new generation is not the generation of Taliban,” Fekrat said. “The new generation — they are simply about learning. … They want to connect themselves to the world.”
Blogging and the Internet won’t reach Afghanistan’s illiterate poor, and Afghan society, Fekrat acknowledged, is highly controlled by tradition, religion, differing tribal customs and fear of retribution. Even so, there is a core population of young people interested in change, according to Fekrat.
Afghans who blog enjoy a lively forum for discussion, Fekrat said. “They’re talking about elections, presidential elections. Hundreds of articles are published in Web sites. There is debate among them. They’re discussing the issues,” he said.
“I’m sure there are lots of misunderstandings, misconceptions and biased information from Afghanistan,” Fekrat said. If given the proper tools, young Afghans could provide a more accurate picture of their country, Fekrat said.
Although Fekrat blogs in both English and Farsi, the vast majority of Afghans blog in Farsi. But Fekrat would like to see the viewpoints of the Afghan people reach a wider non-Farsi speaking audience. His plan is to teach Afghans to do video interviews and podcast interviews with subtitles in English. Once again, he’s hoping to raise the funds for the video camcorders by soliciting donations online.
“You can find lots of Nasims like me in Afghanistan; lots of people will contact you and talk to you. You can learn a lot from Afghan society,” Fekrat said.