Thursday, September 25, 2014

My talk about public sector ethics in Afghanistan

This week the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University in the City of New York, my alma mater, hosted Presidents and Prime Ministers from Japan, Norway, Poland, The Philippines and Tunisia as they do every year when the UN General Assembly meets. Not long ago, in a different part of campus, at the School of International & Public Affairs, I gave a talk about public sector ethics in Afghanistan to a captivating audience. After my presentation, I was asked a number of questions and here are the highlights:
1. Do you worry Afghanistan will move ahead and forget about you?
-The better question to ask is, will Afghanistan catch up with me in my lifetime. I’m light years ahead of Afghanistan and most people know that. Having said that, I’m patient for Afghans to catch up and reach my level. I won’t sit idyll though. I will continue my struggle and remind my compatriots how to live a better and more dignified life. Even in my death, my actions and words will transcend time and inspire future generations to come. Of that, I am sure.
2. How did you have the guts to do all that you did, in one of most religiously conservative countries? Weren’t you scared you were going to get killed?
-Great question. Afghanistan has many poisonous snakes. But, by nature and profession, I am an astute snake charmer. Once the snakes surrounded me, I had no choice but to mesmerize them to clear the path for me. It was a delicate balancing act to stay true to myself and principles but also stay alive. I managed to pacify the enemy and when I knew they were ready to strike me with their venom, I had already left the country.
3. Why is LGBT rights linked to corruption and democracy in Afghanistan?
-Homosexuality is a crosscutting issue that opens the narrative to a host of other closely related economic, political, and social issues. Gay rights is the gateway to everything. It questions the role of religion and science and the state. It relates to a number public health issues. It deepens the discussion about development, gender and human capital. It upturns the tight grip that patriarchs have on defining masculinity and imposing a dysfunctional and hypocritical culture that clashes with the will of an entire nation. If being homophobic and corrupt is part of Islam, then religion shouldn’t be the system of governance in Afghanistan. However, if homophobia and corruption is against Islam than why is it permissible that homosexuals have no legal status and a culture of bribery and extremism persists. Afghanistan pride itself for being virtuous but they have the most ills and cannot even take care of their own basic needs without the support of the international community.
4. Do you consider yourself a future leader in Afghanistan?
-I am already a leader of Afghanistan. A transformational leader who puts passion and energy into everything and takes a visionary position to inspire people to follow their dreams and live with honesty and nobility. I don’t need a title of bureaucrat or statesman to be a leader. Through my original ideas and critical thinking as a Professor and with my innovative activism and creative writing, I’ve done more than a politician can do to create social change. And I don't need to committ violence or go to war to accomplish my goals and objectives. As a member of civil society, I haven’t been restricted by the need to show decorum or diplomacy. As a result, I’ve been able to provoke the minds and lay the groundwork for social change. I’ve introduced new ideas in Afghanistan that were previously off limits. After I came out, my gay-affirmative message broadcast was a first in the nation’s 5000-year history. My initiatives have engaged millions in Afghanistan and the Diaspora in a national conversation, raised the collective conscience and encouraged so many others to come out of the woodwork to speak up for themselves and the rights persecuted gender, religious and sexual minorities. That’s something that cannot be undone. Its now part of the collective memory and part of world history. And I owe that to the beauty in my art and passion.
In the past couple years, thousands have connected with me. Everyday, I get messages from people who share with me their stories about how I gave them the courage to be human, be comfortable with who they are and speak their mind. All I want in life is for my fellow compatriots to have the dignity and desire to pursue their dreams without fear of retribution. To reach their full human potential. To have the chance to get the kind of world-class education like I did. For all these reasons I endorsed Dr. Ashraf Ghani and nine months before last April’s election, I started mobilizing Afghanistan’s rainbow/secular coalition to vote en masse for Dr. Ghani. Many Ghani supporters say when they listen to him, they feel motivated and inspired to take action, to better themselves and work towards the common good. I’ve heard this from so many young Afghans who feel empowered when Dr. Ghani shares his promising vision for Afghanistan. I’m not a technocrat or President like Dr. Ghani, but as a social engineer (who uses civil means to change minds), my goal, day in and day out, is to respond to the needs of my individual followers by helping them reach their life goals. They may not always agree with me but I know they admire my charisma, dedication and optimism and hope for the future.


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