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New York Afghans Maintain Strong Ties with Homeland - 2001-12-07

Nearly 10,000 Afghan immigrants live in New York City, and many have been deeply affected by the deadly September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. New York's largest Afghan communitiy has strong ties to the homeland.

A call to prayer rings through the Jamal Ud Din Mosque in Flushing, Queens.

Then, six elderly men with long white beards and traditional Afghan dress take off their shoes to pray.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is drawing to a close. After the sun sets, the men sit on the mosque's blue carpeted floor to break their day-long fast with an Afghan feast of chicken, okra and rice.

It is one of two Afghan mosques in Flushing, the quiet neighborhood home to most of New York's Afghan immigrants. Community elders gather at the mosque to trade information about the current situation in Afghanistan.

Speaking in Pashto with the aid of a translator, the mosque's leader, or Imam, Mohammed Yusufi says he prays for innocent people killed both in New York and Afghanistan.

He says he feels very depressed about what is happening there. He knows that innocent people are dying. He knows that his family is there but he cannot get in touch with them, he does not know what is happening directly with them. So all the communication is no longer active, but he knows that his family is there, escaping bombers.

77-year-old Mr. Yusufi, immigrated to New York 20 years ago as a refugee from his war-torn city of Kandahar. Now, he says he is contributing to his home country by compiling a list of educated Afghan-Americans ready to return to Afghanistan to help rebuild under a new interim government.

One such Afghan-professional prepared to go back is Dawer Nadi, a dentist in Flushing who left Kabul for New York in 1982. Since 1989, Dr. Nadi and his Afghanistan Peace Association have spoken out for democracy in Afghanistan. The September 11 terrorist attacks along with the current war in Afghanistan have brought attention to his cause. He says it has also unified Afghans. Many from opposing political factions participated in a rally against terrorism in early October.

"Of course we discuss and debate, but the general agreement with all Afghans is we are happy for this," said Dr. Nadi. "At the same time, it is painful for us to see that some innocent lives are being taken because of this war that is going on there, but we understand that if we have to live in peace, if we have to live in democracy in the future we have to pay some costs and some of them are very unwanted, we just have to take it." .

Dr. Nadi is relieved that initial fears of anti Afghan discrimination in New York failed to materialize. Rather, his non-Afghan neighbors reached out to him in solidarity.

Like many Afghans in Flushing, Dr. Nadi says he is concerned that the west will abandon Afghanistan for a second time after the military campaign is over. "We fought against the Russians with the West. We got our freedom, there's no doubt about it. But as soon as we got that, we needed the west to help us and to continue the friendship and rebuild Afghanistan, but they left us alone. They kind of abandoned us and just left us at the mercy of the mercenaries and that's why even the Taleban emerged. And we do not want a repetition of this situation. We would like the West to stay with us," he says.

Even some Afghan-Americans without memories of their native country says they want to help, such as Imam Yusefi's youngest daughter, Afifa. The 23-year-old university student dresses in the latest fashion with thick black eye make up. She says since the current crisis, she has looked for new Afghan-American friends who understand her country's history. She also sent a letter to UNICEF, offering to volunteer. "I definitely do want to go back to Afghanistan," she said. "And that's one thing I definitely wanted to do even before the attacks. Now I just feel like they need, the innocent people need people there now, because now it is just the time when they are hurting the most. Probably my little bit of help will matter a lot more now than before or after."

Afghans in Flushing, Queens says they remain glued to the media's intensive coverage of Afghanistan. They only hope that when the war is over, the international community will continue to pay attention to their country, which has endured 20 years of suffering.