The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is threatening the lives of scholars there. This comes after years of new freedoms and an expansion of educational rights in Afghanistan.
Some UCLA faculty members are hoping to send their Afghan colleagues a lifeline. They’ve launched an initiative to place some Afghan scholars at UCLA. But the plan will require raising $100,000 by September 30.
“[Afghan scholars] are facing tremendous repression and possibly expulsion from universities,” says UCLA Professor and Center for Near Easern Studies Director Ali Behdad. “I think that scholarship and scientific inquiry are, by definition, secular practices.”
Behdad is leading the effort to help fund visiting scholar positions for Afghans on the Westwood campus. He says the United States has a moral duty to help get academics out of the country now that the Taliban has taken over.
“The situation in Afghanistan is man-made. It is not something that was sort of created out of nowhere,” says Behdad.
Taliban leaders have claimed they will respect women’s rights to education and work, but they have already taken steps back on their promises. New restrictions are already in place for private Universities, like what female students can wear.
“I'm worried. We all know for a fact that … some of the colleagues have been harassed, some are expelled and others have been receiving death threats from the Taliban.”
Behdad and fellow UCLA colleagues say their movement is a matter of academic solidarity, and they’ve done it before.
Following a military coup in Turkey in 2017, they worked with organizations like Scholars at Risk and the Scholar Rescue Fund. They used private donations to bring Turkish scholars, who were expelled from their universities, to UCLA for teaching positions. They are doing something similar for those in Afghanistan.
Behdad says the biggest hurdle is securing funding to place the scholars at UCLA.
The current goal is to bring two scholars to the United States as soon as possible, and ultimately bring up to four other scholars.
Aside from hitting that $100,000 requirement, another big challenge for UCLA is getting visas for Afghan academics.
“We are very optimistic that [it] will work out,” says Behdad.
Then there’s the issue of finding the best department on campus to showcase their work.
“We want to bring them here for a couple years, so that they network and get to know the American academic system in order for them to be able to secure more permanent jobs in American universities,” Behdad says.
He continues, “I believe assisting these scholars to maintain knowledge production in the face of repression … serves an important service, both in terms of their valuable scholarly output and ... as an expression of academic solidarity.”
You can learn more about the UCLA campaign here.