Thoughts for a female Muslim student in Afghanistan

Since a few days, in my Facebook, there was a pending friend request from someone in Afghanistan. When I looked on her profile, I didn’t understand much of what I was looking at, but I couldn’t think of a valid reason why I should NOT accept her friend request. So that’s what I did and some time later I found myself chatting with a female student from the Balkh University. She chose me to practice her English skills and, although I know that anybody can fake anything on the internet, she feels as a real and honest person. It is my basic principle to believe what somebody says and to never take things for granted. I must say that I see it as a huge privilege in the first place. From now on I’ll call her my new Muslim neighbour.

During the first twenty minutes of my chat, I worked hard to improve my knowledge of Afghanistan, which appeared to be embarrassing. But Wikipedia is always there to give me a boost and I never do anything without virtually going there using Google Maps. In a matter of seconds I’ve traveled ten-thousand kilometers and I was exploring an ancient city whose existence I didn’t know a few minutes ago. And at the same time I was talking to someone local. Isn’t that lovely? Doesn’t that make our world look small?

Google Maps shows the city of Balkh. At the North side the ruins of the old city.


Next day my Muslim neighbour posted a general message in Persian, for me unreadable, but it looked nice. Normally I can put Google Translate at work and it’ll recognize the Persian language and give me the English translation. I know I shouldn’t take it for correct, but it doesn’t do bad either. Compared to understanding nothing, understanding 80% opens a new world.

But this was an image with text, not a true text, and then of course the Google Translate show stops. Some genuine human interaction was required next. So I used the comment box to ask what exactly it meant and my dear Muslim neighbour was so kind to tell me it was a praise to the Prophet Muhammad. She also added she wanted to show her love for the Prophet to express her dislike of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. She also wanted the magazine to stop publishing cartoons that insult people’s belief. On that point I disagreed, so that triggered me to write the following text.

I agree it isn’t nice to insult people. But I cannot forbid you to insult me. Nor can anyone forbid anyone else to insult somebody. Insulting people just isn’t nice, but it is impossible to define rules that tell you what is a forbidden insult and what is not. An insult can be very funny if it is a joke and it isn’t about yourself or your belief or your mother or father or brother or sister or someone or something you love very much.

When my children were young I tried to teach them to think first before they tell a joke. They should think if that joke is funny. If you make a joke insulting the Balkh University in front of your teacher, he or she will not like that joke. Then it’s a bad joke. It’s not nice and not funny to make bad jokes insulting people. But if you are in a room with your brothers and sisters and you make the same joke, it might be very funny and you’ll insult no one in the room.

Suppose somebody comes in my house and starts insulting my cat. I will not be happy, because my cat is a very sweet animal. If he starts insulting my wife or my mother, I will ask him to leave the house and never come back again. When I do business and I insult my business partner, I will lose him or her.

Suppose somebody insults me in public, I will ask him to stop. If he doesn’t stop I will ignore him. That’s all I can do. If he enjoys bullying me, that’s a problem. Unfortunately the problem of bullying can be found on many places where people work together: on schools, in companies and in retirement homes. It happens everywhere.

Now about public magazines. Anyone is free to publish a magazine about nearly anything. Even obscene content is allowed, but only for people above the age of 18 years (adults). In Holland we are not allowed to promote hate or racism or violence or criminal activities and we are not allowed to tell lies about other people or to reveal details about someones private life (privacy protection). Maybe there’s more. If there is a publication and you (or the government) think it should be forbidden, then you (or the government) can go to court where the independent judge can decide if you are right or not and the magazine can be ordered to call back it’s magazines from the stores or from the internet.

In Paris I think the mosque has tried to stop Charlie Hebdo from publishing those insulting cartoons, but the judge decided that it’s allowed. Then you have the same situation like that of the bullying schoolboy. You best ignore it. Don’t buy the magazine. Now that Charlie Hebdo people were attacked they got so much attention worldwide that the bad feeling for Muslims is millions times more than it was before the attacks. Ignore the bully is always the best you can do.

In Dutch we call it “stand above it”, which means: stand above your bully. Your belief and your love for the Prophet are at a much higher level than the low jokes of the bullying magazine. If it’s true belief and true love, no one can bring that down.

Thank you for allowing me to talk to you about this difficult subject and I hope you can understand my English. I don’t ask you to agree with me, but it’s great to exchange thoughts with the people from Afghanistan. 🙂


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