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The Misfit Radical: An Afghan boy's anguished journey

The Misfit Radical: An Afghan boy's anguished journey

May 04, 2016 - 09:26

KABULinfo-icon (Pajhwok): Penned by Peyman Pejman, the Misfit Radical is a gripping story of a young Afghan boy named Hassan, who grows up in an upper middle-class familyin Kabul. Following umpteen rounds of militia fighting in Kabul, the boy’s family takes the tortuous road trip to the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar -- home to countless Afghan refugees.

In fact, this current affairs thriller -- published by -- is an insightful account that could apply to any of the thousands of South Asian young men who stream to America each year, not knowing what to expect from the “land of milk and honey,” only that they want to “make it”. The socio-cultural gap builds up to the point that some fall prey to the dark forces of radicalism and even terrorism.

The bustling streets of Peshawar, a hotbed of fundamentalism, were not a safe place for raising a son whose parents adhered to more liberal ways of life. Thanks to a school friend, Hassan becomes acquainted with a young Ahmad, who frequents one of the many madrassas in the city, at first not even knowing what they are. But soon he develops an innocent sense of curiosity for them.

Despite his will, Hassan’s parents soon put him on a plane to Washington, DC, to force him away from what they perceive to be his penchant for more conservative traits of Islam. In Washington, Hassan stays with his uncle who, despite having lived in the US for many years, has not found his own place in the American societyinfo-icon either.

After a brief stay, his uncle forces Hassan out of his house but helps him get a room at the residence of a female friend. And that is when his real American journey starts. Like almost every other immigrant, Hassan does two jobs, including an overnight “graveyard” shift at a fast food restaurant. After months of getting by on catnaps between a night job and a daytime one, he finds a job as a Dari-Pashtoinfo-icon (Afghan languages) translator at a DC contracting company.

The owner is a former Marine. His business partner is a former employee of the National Security Council. This is post 9/11 and they have all the contacts needed to do good business in places where adventurous administrations want to do things Congress and US laws raise eyebrows about. Hassan becomes enamored with the promise of America as a country of milkandhoney. He aspires to become an American, and a “good” one at that.

His foray into the worldinfo-icon of espionage is purely accidental, and part of yet another attempt to attain “success” as an American immigrant. The US government has asked Hassan’s employer to gather information on fundamentalist and radical groups in Afghanistaninfo-icon -- a request that results in Hassan being sent to Kabul to work as a translator at the American Embassy’s security section. There, he becomes reacquainted with Ahmad, the childhood friend from their days in Peshawar, a man now suspected of ties with radicals.

The more Hassan tries to acquire inside information from Ahmad, the more he becomes absorbed in the movement’s anti-American sentiments and arguments. Between seemingly genuine affinity for what he sees as America’s aggressionagainst Afghanistan and a system-wide injustice he blames for his inability to reach the “pinnacle of success” while he was in the States, he decides to join the jihadinfo-icon. And after a lot of convincing, Ahmad helps him become a recruit at a terrorist training camp in Pakistaninfo-icon.

But once the masterminds involve him in an operation to attack a police station in the heart of Kabul, he falls short of carrying out orders to kill. His bosses realise that he could better serve as a spy, feeding information to the movement.

They give him cover to return to his embassy job, which he had left faking sickness, the need for treatment and family care in areas near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Back at the embassy, he feeds terrorists with US secrets, Hassan’s journey ends quickly when CIA agents arrest him at the embassy compound and transfer to the Bagram air base for interrogation.

PeymanPejman is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with more than two decades of experience of working with media organisations such as The Washington Post, The Associated Press, United Press International, Voice of America Radio, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

He has covered many of the events that have marked the political scenery of the Middle East -and affecting other parts of the world - ranging from the Iranian revolution and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon to the rise of Hizbollah, Hamas and the Talibaninfo-icon. He now works as a communications and public information officer for international organisations and UN missions and agencies.

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