Gen Z Afghan influencers use social media to keep the world’s eyes on Afghanistan

Crystal was 5 years old and was bathing in a barrel at her home in Herat, Afghanistan, when her aunt decided to pour the water out and turn the temporary bathtub into a temporary lash line.

Playing on the barrel-turned-toy was the best day of her life, Crystal said, now 22. Her memories of Afghanistan are filled with beautiful moments like that. But they are now marked by sharp flashes of fear as she recalls her family’s encounters with the Taliban, including an incident in which she tried to board a bus with her mother and a member of the Taliban broke her mother to pieces.

“It’s an example of so many situations that had happened,” said Crystal, who asked NBC News not to use her last name to protect her family’s safety. “Body on the floor was nothing for people. … It’s something that should never be normalized for anyone. “

Years later, Crystal relives the bad memories as she watches the Taliban re-establish their regime in her home country. This time, she is thousands of miles away in El Dorado Hills, California, where she immigrated shortly after meeting the Taliban on the bus.

To process what’s going on, she has turned to social media, where she has shared content about Afghanistan to her more than 73,000 followers on TikTok. She is among the many Afghan influencers around the world who channel their emotions to online postings in hopes of raising awareness and keeping people informed about the bedlam unfolding in their home country.

“I think social media is probably the biggest blessing we have right now,” Crystal said. “There are definitely disadvantages to everything. I do not believe that everything on social media is good, but it is the only media that is unfiltered.”

So far, Crystal has posted on Instagram about ways people can donate to Afghanistan, a cartoon of Afghans falling from planes and turning into angels, and photos of tweets describing the pain of watching the unrest from a distance.

Thousands of Americans and Afghans who helped U.S. efforts remain trapped in the country. As the United States has withdrawn its presence in Afghanistan and the Taliban have claimed power across the nation, chaos unfolds at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where the Pentagon said on Thursday that more than 5,200 soldiers were stationed. On August 19, the United States evacuated approximately 3,000 people, including 300 U.S. citizens and their families and Afghans eligible for special visas.

Some Afghan influencers are urging their supporters to act by urging their members of Congress to help those trying to flee Afghanistan and to take in more refugees.

Zahra Hashimee, 22, who walks past @Muslimthicc on TikTok and has 3.1 million followers, posted a video on Thursday urging those who watched to “help save Afghanistan” by contacting their local member of Congress and ask them to take refuge in those trying to evacuate the country.

Crystal during her childhood in Afghanistan.Courtesy Crystal

In her video, she gives a script and shows herself when she chokes tears while calling the rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., And leaves a message using the manuscript.

“The United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s powerful resurgence are regrettable and a disgrace to the United States. that, Hashimee says in the video as she wipes the tears away.

Others provide updates to those who may not check the news regularly.

Ayeda Shadab, 28, from Afghanistan, who has nearly 300,000 followers on Instagram, has used her Instagram feed and Instagram stories to share the latest news from Afghanistan.

“Proud of you Afghans to stand for our country,” Shadab wrote in a video of an Afghan climbing into what appears to be a lamppost to wave an Afghan flag.

Afghan American influencers like Aisha Barakzai, 19, who has more than 367,100 followers on TikTok, said it is important to share content with a younger audience who may not be aware of what is going on in her home country.

“We have no power to do anything other than write on social media,” Barakzai said.

“I do not have a good memory from my home country, Afghanistan. All in all, ”she said, recalling her flight to Pakistan and then to the United States.

The Afghan American women who spoke to NBC News said they have a kind of survival guilt, knowing that they are going to grow up with the freedoms promised in the United States that their colleagues in Afghanistan can no longer enjoy.

Barakzai said her sister in Afghanistan was too scared to go outside. “She’s a midwife, but right now she’s not going outside and doing absolutely nothing. She has four daughters,” she said. “She’s very scared of them.”

Even writing on social media is a privilege, the women told NBC News.

Residents across Afghanistan are raving about deleting photos from their mobile phones and social media accounts that could somehow connect them with people from Western nations, international human rights groups, the Afghan military or the recently collapsed Afghan government.

Asina Wahab, 22, who is a first-generation Afghan American with refugee parents living in New Jersey, has two aunts and many cousins ​​who still live in Afghanistan. Wahab said she has thought of little else but her female relatives who could risk losing their most basic rights.

“The fact that I have family there is very overwhelming this week … especially because I have aunts and many girl cousins ​​there,” Wahab said. “When the Taliban come to power. That means all the progressive reforms that happened in Afghanistan are in jeopardy.”

Crystal said she has family still living in Herat, Afghanistan. She said she has been thinking about the cruel irony that as she approaches her degree at California State University, Sacramento, with a degree in civil engineering, her cousin in Afghanistan, who should be taking her own degree, cannot leave the house.

“She was the smartest boy in my school and I grew up with her. She wanted to study medicine and she wanted to be a doctor. The fact that she can not go to school for it now just breaks my heart,” Crystal said. .

Although she has lived in the United States most of her life, Crystal has felt displaced, watching Afghanistan fall into the hands of the Taliban.

“I’ve considered America my home for 18 years, but still when I notice that my own country, in which I was born, is being taken over, I feel homeless in a way,” she said. “I do not feel like I have my home with me.”

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