Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes and felt a profound sadness and wondered what they tucked deep in their soul?
When I met Laily Azizi, a fellow Afghan American, for the first time in 2005 at Mission Viejo mall in Orange County, California I saw a striking woman, with a tender heart and mesmerizing eyes, yet shielded by a ghostly mask. The last time I saw Laily jaan was weeks later when I promoted Lapis Lazuli Production's AFG Renaissance concert featuring Mamoon Eshaq at the DoubleTree Hotel in Anaheim, and she and her lovely mother came as VIP guests.
Since then I lost touch with Laily jaan and over the years I wondered what happened to her until I saw her last weekend on the Sajia Kamrany show, which is based in Greater LA but watched by millions of Afghans around the world on satellite TV and on the web. Decades after Laily jaan suffered a childhood of physical, sexual, and verbal violence, she candidly confesses how her sadistic monster of a father, Abdul Waheed Tawakulzadah, beat her from age three onward when he reunited with the family, how he raped her nightly at gunpoint starting at age thirteen and terrorized her, her mother and brothers into total submission, by punishing them with weapons like hot irons.
All of this happened not in Afghanistan, but in Northern Virginia and later in Southern California. Laily jaan ended up in Orangewood foster care until her father was arrested, sentenced to prison, and later deported back to Afghanistan where he now freely roams and is suspected to have remarried and started a new family. I watched this segment with seething agony and anger. Many viewers who called in from as far away as New Zealand equally expressed their boiling rage and showered Laily jaan with loving support.
After the publication of many abuse and survival memoirs and decades of the Oprah Winfrey show, sob stories are nothing new in America. But for a closed, Islamic, and tribal society like Afghanistan, deemed the worst place in the planet for women, where incest and pedophilia is turned with a blind eye and it's taboo to confess secrets out of fear of retribution and societal judgment, Laily jaan has made revolutionary strides in the history of our beleaguered nation.
I don’t regard Laily jaan as a victim. She was robbed of her innocence and youth, lost her anonymity, her blanket of security, her belief in a protective God, her peace of mind, and her desire to live. But her life will never go in vain. There is a reason why she is still here with us. Today, Laily jaan is a brave hero for the destitute and deprived girls of Afghanistan, throughout the Muslim World and elsewhere who are forever trapped in a lifetime of suffering and unable to escape the hellfire. I trust Laily jaan will always be remembered, respected, and revered for taking the bold step to move our nation forward, from obscurantism towards enlightenment. She's a strong fighter and a force for social change.
Thank you Laily jaan. Stay strong and know that there are countless people around the world who've heard you and honor you. I’m confident when all the women of Afghanistan are free and liberated that you will live to see the day of triumph, even if it is in old age. Regardless, you will always be cherished by so very many. I love you.