From Chaos to Fair Observer: The Unexpected Path to Becoming a Voice

A native son of Afghanistan, Ali traveled through authoritarian societies in Iran, Russia and Turkey. Fair Observer gave him a place to speak his mind.

March 20, 2024 06:31 EDT
Dear FO° Reader,

My earliest memories are like a jumble of bright colors — the burqas flowing in the streets, the orange fire of sunsets over buildings damaged by war, and the bright hope that people in Afghanistan held onto tightly. I was born right when the Taliban’s harsh rule was ending, so I never lived through that dark and controlling period, but it still loomed scary and large. Extremism, like the sandstorms that cross our flat lands, was all around us.

Afghan village

Tragedy struck early. I lost my sister to the violence that still plagued the country. Grief, sharp and raw, mingled with a burning question: Could I be a force for good in this land, a beacon in the darkness, a… Batman for Afghanistan? It felt like a fantasy in a society grappling with its own harsh reality.

Young and powerless, I knew I needed knowledge, a deeper understanding of the world and the forces shaping it. So, I set my sights on the rich philosophical traditions of the Persian world — Iran, to the west, beckoned.

In the halls of Iranian academia, I found myself adrift. Though the allure of Persian philosophy had drawn me across the border, a sense of displacement lingered. Here, too, religion cast a long shadow, a chilling reminder of what I’d hoped to escape in Afghanistan. The calls to prayer from mosques felt like echoes from a nightmare. Yet my loneliness propelled me deeper into the world of philosophy.

Imam Khomeini Street, Teheran, Iran

Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus — these were the heroes of Iran’s intellectual elite. Their works resonated with the darkness of Iranian reality. Sartre and Camus reflected the existential anxieties of those who witnessed World War II firsthand. I learned their philosophies, searching for meaning amidst the chaos, with the darkness of Iran mirroring the post-war Europe of these existential giants. Fyodor Dostoevsky, with his surreal worlds and tormented characters, became my obsession. Talking clubs became my battleground, philosophy my weapon. Debates raged, ideas clashed and friendships with Iranian youth formed. We were united by a yearning for understanding.

But politics, I soon realized, was the crucible where philosophy became reality. Driven by a desire to understand the mechanisms that shaped these systems, I set my sights on a new horizon. So, I left sunny Iran for the cold embrace of Russia.

The messy art of politics in Russia

Russia. The land of the tsars, the hammer and sickle, and a brand of political education unlike any other. It wasn’t a world of theories neatly aligning with reality. No, it was something far more peculiar. The harsh realities outside rarely matched the ideals of textbooks. The political climate, as they called it, was totalitarianism, often in the opposite direction of what the pages declared.

But this dissonance wasn’t entirely negative. It was a lesson straight from Otto von Bismarck — politics, I learned, wasn’t a cold, sterile science, but a messy, dynamic art. Here, I grasped the distinction between imperialism and colonialism. One wasn’t simply about brute force and subjugation, but about wielding a specific perspective across a multi-ethnic landscape. Language, traditions, even the very climate — everything was filtered through a distinctly Russian lens. Russification wasn’t just a political doctrine; it was a way of life, a totalitarian grip on thought and identity.

The Kremlin, Moscow

All the same, I eventually became exhausted by the suffocating political atmosphere. I craved a fresh start. Turkey, a nation at the crossroads of East and West, became my new home. The Middle East, my birthplace, called to me once more. But this time, I returned not just with a heart heavy with memories, but with a sharpened mind. Years of philosophy had honed my critical thinking, political disillusionment fueled a desire for a different kind of power — the power to understand the economic forces shaping the region. With newfound purpose, I set my sights on a degree in economics at a Turkish university.

Turkey. A land of bustling bazaars and ancient mosques, it’s a fascinating cultural tightrope walk between East and West. Here, I witnessed multiculturalism, making a stark contrast to the experiences that shaped my earlier years. Every corner pulsed with the energy of people from countless backgrounds. It was exhilarating, yes, but also a cultural shock of epic proportions. Learning Turkish, a language that my native Persian had influenced heavily, felt both familiar and refreshingly new.

View of the Bosphorus, Istanbul

Fair Observer, my unexpected oasis

Living in Turkey opened my eyes to a world divided — a constant clash between tradition and modernity. This dichotomy permeated every aspect of society, a fascinating yet sometimes frustrating tension.

After I had arrived, the unthinkable happened back in Europe. Russia invaded Ukraine, another gust of the authoritarian winds that had once buffeted me. The banality of evil unfolding on the Ukrainian battlefields demanded a response. I poured my analysis into a piece. Rejection after rejection followed, until finally, Fair Observer, a beacon of independent thought, took a chance. Atul, the editor-in-chief, accepted it, and Peter, the chief strategy officer, polished it further. That was nearly two years ago. Since then, Fair Observer has become my intellectual home, a platform where my voice can be heard.

An Erasmus scholarship paved me away to Germany for six transformative months. Living in a true democracy was a revelation, a stark contrast to the shadows that had loomed large in my past. Germany was a breath of fresh air, a testament to the power of open societies and the pursuit of knowledge.

My journey continues, fueled by a thirst for understanding and a yearning to make a positive impact. Where will the road take me next? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain — the lessons I learned and the experiences I gathered have shaped me into the person I am today.

Sincerely yours, 

Ali Omar Forozish
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