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Salma Alokozai, a graduate student studying public administration, poses for a portrait outside Alden Library in Athens, Ohio on September 8, 2016. (OLIVER HAMLIN | FOR THE POST)

Graduate student explains significance of attack on Afghanistan university she attended

Salma Alokozai had just woken up and checked social media on Aug. 25 when she learned of the three armed men who took hostages at American University of Afghanistan.

As an alumna of the university, Alokozai was immediately worried about her friends who were still attending the school. For the duration of the attack, she sat in front of her laptop, attempting to find them.

Thirteen people were killed in the attack at the university, and dozens were injured. According to a report from NPR, the Afghan government suspected the Taliban was responsible for the attack on the university, which is one of many international institutions using the American education system to teach students.

American University of Afghanistan was not the first school to be allegedly targeted by the Taliban. In 2013, the Taliban organized at least seven attacks in Afghanistan, targeting girls attending school and killing more than 160 people, according to the Global Terrorism Index.

Afghanistan had the second-highest number of deaths resulting from terrorism in 2014, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index.

Alokozai, an OU graduate student studying public administration born in Kabul, Afghanistan, has been coping both with the aftermath of the event and the lack of sympathy she has found from other students.

“(The news) was shocking, and it was painful,” Alokozai, said. “I was in love with (American University), and every student was in love with it.”

Alokozai said she remembers her school fondly, and that American University taught her to think critically and look at topics from different perspectives.

“That kind of education is a threat to (the Taliban’s) religious beliefs, and to fundamentalism and extremism,” Alokozai said. “They know that the students in that school are going to change so many things in that society and … the way people handle terrorism.”

Seven of the 13 people killed were students, according to a news release from the Afghan president’s office. For some, it was their first or second day of school, Alokozai said.

“They were at an age where they had the right to live, the right to have a future, to see their dreams coming true,” Alokozai said. “But (the gunmen) killed them.”

Nobody offered Alokozai any sympathy, though, she said.

Because of a lack of global attention to the attacks in Afghanistan, she said she feels as though the lives of her and others are “not as valuable” to some.

“I didn’t hear anything from anybody, so I think no one even knows about it,” Alokozai said. “Especially in our country ... it is (seen as) something normal. … It happens every day there. No one pays much attention.”

Hashim Pashtun, the president of International Student Union, said he thinks people are accustomed to terrorist attacks occurring in the Middle East, causing them to not care about further carnage.

“As a whole, I think domestic students can have a vital role and (should) be thankful for what they have,” Pashtun said.

Steve Howard, director of the Center for International Studies, said many young Americans only read or learn about the niches of news that are of interest to them.

“Expand your horizons,” Howard said. “Move out of your comfort zone. Go listen to a talk about something you don’t know anything about.”

Pashtun, a graduate student studying civil engineering, said his sister graduated from American University and planned to attend an alumni meeting the same evening the school was attacked.

“What if my sister was there?” Pashtun said.

Alokozai said she does not wish for anyone to experience terrorist attacks, adding that it is difficult to have a personal connection to such violence.

“I was there,” Alokozai said. “I wasn’t there physically, but mentally, my heart and mind, I was there.”


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