Ariana Delawari is a multimedia artist. She a musician, director, actress, and photographer. A graduate of USC School of Cinematic Arts, she just finished directing We Came Home, a documentary about her journeys to Afghanistan since 9/11, the making of her album Lion of Panjshir, and her family story. The film just won the jury prize for Best International Documentary at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival. In this interview, she and I discuss what she sees in her country's future.
Malik Achakzai: Elaborate a bit your journey from Afghanistan and to Afghanistan.
Ariana Delawari: I started traveling to Afghanistan in October 2002. I had just graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts in California. I was born in Los Angeles 10 months after the Soviet invation of Afghanistan. While Afghanistan was always a big part of my life, I had never gone there because of the war. When I was finally on a plane traveling there I remember looking out the window and seeing the mountains, and knowing in that moment that Afghanistan was the purpose of my life. I knew I was supposed to tell the story of the land through my art, and I knew that somehow I was going to have to help heal the land.
I fell in love with Afghanistan. I was so excited about how beautiful everything was. I did not see the destruction. I saw the beauty of our people. I was fascinated by the diversity of our culture, something you can only really understand by traveling there. I was in awe of the landscape. I continued to travel back and forth for the next 11 years. I visited to Bamian, Band-e-amir, Logar, Panjshir. Everywhere I went my heart grew a deeper love for our heritage. I spent a decade making art about Afghanistan, my album and my documentary. Now I am traveling to Afghanistan to play music shows, speak and perform at TEDx Kabul, share my film there, speak to youth about art. My role is evolving along with my art. I am also being called on to be a cultural ambassador for our people, and also between my two nations — Afghanistan, the country of my blood and soul, and the United States, the country of my birth and lifetime. I do believe my music and film do this best, but I am also happy to discuss the larger themes of my work and what it may mean for our people and for the world.
Malik Achakzai: Do you feel Afghanistan is secure now that it's in the control of Afghan National Security Forces?
Ariana Delawari: I would rather not answer this question without knowing the facts. I have heard that they have improved, which I noticed with the incident at the Kabul airport. Other than that I am not sure. I don’t like to answer unless I can really back up my information with facts.
Malik Achakzai: The dialogue process between Afghani govt, Taliban, and U.S. government will be kicking off. Will that affect the peace of Afghanistan?
Ariana Delawari: None of us can know for sure what will happen. I believe that it is very dangerous to negotiate with anyone who is declaring “peace” but acting violently. Just two months ago 100 school girls were poisoned and there is speculation that it was the Taliban. Just days ago the airport and Massoud Circle were also attacked. These are acts of violence. I believe in peace and want peace. I do not condone war and feel a lot of love for all of the people in our world. I also am very concerned about the rights of women and girls, and I am concerned about the actions of the Taliban. When we validate violent behavior we diminish ourselves as well as the people we are validating. True love and peace comes when we hold each other accountable for our unkind behavior. This is integrity at its base value. When the Taliban truly live peacefully and not only tell but SHOW that they are ready to live peacefully and respect women, then we can talk about peace. Additionally, I believe that those among them who are living peacefully should change their name. We should not accept this label, as it bears with it so much pain and abuse of our people.
Malik Achakzai: Most of the Afghans are not happy with the Taliban being part of their system. What will make them believe in the Taliban after the reconciliation deal?
Ariana Delawari: As I said above, the Taliban speak of peace while acting violently. Until there are visible, honest efforts toward peace and respect I don’t think that Afghans will feel comfortable with any sort of negotiation with the Taliban. I think it is the responsibility of all Afghans – our elders in government and outside of government, our men, our women, our youth, our brothers and sisters living in other parts of the world – it is our collective responsibility to make sure that our human rights are protected as we move forward. We must be united and peacefully make a stand for equality, unity, and mutual respect. I do believe in forgiveness. I do believe in positive change and transformation. But I also believe in boundaries. And I will not allow our culture to be warped into something that is violent or misrepresentative of the beautiful nation and religion of our ancestors. Islam is a peaceful religion. We must live peacefully and honor this heritage we were born into. We must display this kind of peaceful behavior so that the rest of the world can learn about our culture and heritage at its very best. I welcome and invited the Taliban to surrender their acts of violence and to live peacefully. Until they do this, anyone associating themselves with a name that represents violence, child suicide bombers, and the mistreatment of women and girls should not be given privileges in our society. If they choose this higher road and actually LIVE that choice, I believe they can gain the trust of Afghan society. But the action must be genuine.
Malik Achakzai: The Afghan government has given 27% of its seats to female candidates in Parliament. Is that share enough for the betterment of Afghan women ?
Ariana Delawari: It is a start. But no, it is not enough for the betterment of Afghan women. I will add that I believe the younger generation of women should be part of the government. They have grown up in a different Afghanistan with more access to education, so they can bring new views and collaborate with their elder women and with their brothers to bring a more balanced perspective to Afghanistan today.
Malik Achakzai: How do you see the Afghan government post-2014?
Ariana Delawari: I see the future government embracing more youth. With 68% of the population being under 25 and almost 50% being under 15 years old we need some more young leaders as part of the government. I truly respect and love our culture so deeply. As an American, I recognize how beautiful and rare it is that we profoundly respect our elders. It is something that I never want to see change about our culture. However, I also see how our elders don’t really consider the voice of youth as an important aspect of our society. I think this needs to evolve. With such a young population, it will be absolutely vital to include the voice of youth in policy making and creative solutions. It could really bring about solutions. Also, I believe that the younger generation is less caught up in tribal division. It is 2013. It is time for Afghans to be united and to see each other as “AFGHAN”. Not just Tajik, Pashtun, Hazara, etc. but Afghan. This is extremely vital for the present and future government of Afghanistan.
Malik Achakzai: Are the poppy trade and high drug production undermining humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan?
Ariana Delawari: Drug production always creates crime and divides society. We see this in Afghanistan and in any country where there are drug exports. I have empathy for those farmers who are poor and trying to feed their families. I understand where they are coming from. We need to come up with other healthy ways to give them new opportunities so that they don’t have to rely on this income. I am even more concerned with drug use among Afghans. We can talk all we want about peace, but a society that is high on drugs is a society that is defeated. There is no greater defeat than self-defeat. So opium and heroin in my opinion are the greatest enemy of Afghanistan today and will undermine every effort and every aspect of our beautiful society. Just look at the indigenous people of America. Drug use and alcohol completely disintegrated the remnants of their amazing culture. Their societies are currently plagued with violence, domestic abuse, and incest due to this kind of disease. It is so tragic. We must not allow this to destroy our people. We must encourage Afghans who are addicts to seek help and we must bring more rehabilitation to our people.
Malik Achakzai: Your message for the world as an Afghan artist and as a cultural representative?
Ariana Delawari: I feel like my art tells my message to the world more than any answer in an interview. If you listen to my music or watch my film you will feel what I feel in my heart for Afghanistan. The love, the sadness, the hope, and the burning desire to heal and unite our magnificent people. When I share my work with the world people always say “I want to go to Afghanistan! It is so beautiful! Your culture is so special!” And that is what I want. I want us to restore our people’s land to that magical place that so many foreigners called the most beautiful peaceful place on earth. It isn’t too late. It is never too late. We can do it, and we will.