Protect the Afghans rally speakers

Rally speakers holding the Afghanistan flag during the "Protect the Afghans" rally in Market Square on Sept. 15, 2021.

People gathered in Market Square on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 5 p.m. to rally together in support of Afghan refugees and to speak out against the Taliban occupation in Afghanistan.

Husna Iqbal, a freshman nursing major at UT, was the main organizer of the rally and was inspired by the other protests with similar goals going on across the country.

“We just saw the protests that were occurring, and we thought it was our duty as well as Afghans to hold it in our city since we had the ability to do that,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal’s primary goal in organizing the rally was to signal to Afghan refugees that they are welcome in East Tennessee. Advocating for Afghanistan since she was 11, Iqbal feels the need to change the narrative surrounding Afghan people that floods the media.

“Just having a demonstration like this with or without a lot of people attending, I just feel like it’s a symbolism of, ‘we support Afghan refugees, and we want Afghan refugees to come to Knoxville,’ and that rhetoric about like, ‘we don't want refugees,’ we don't want them to feel like that,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal expounded upon this idea in her speech at the rally, explaining her personal connection to the country and how it feels to see its beauty misconstrued in America.

“As an Afghan-American woman growing up in the United States, I always felt like I was in this constant cycle of begging,” Iqbal said. “Begging the media to see Afghanistan for more than it narrates it as, to see Afghanistan in the stories my mother would tell me growing up, to see Afghanistan for all its good.”

Isabella Ansary, a junior majoring in psychology at UT, also delivered a speech at the event explaining the history of occupation by foreign countries in Afghanistan and her own personal experience as the daughter of an Afghan refugee.

“We left Afghanistan in a time of dire need and now we must help support the hundreds of thousands of Afghans seeking to escape their harrowing conditions in any way we can,” Ansary said.

Additionally, Ansary values the importance of awareness when it comes to global humanitarian issues, as many people ignore or misunderstand situations like what is going on in Afghanistan.

“I just think that people should understand that there’s so much suffering going on in these other countries that we don't really pay attention to until it becomes some big headline,” Ansary said. “I think it’s important for people to just be more aware of the other situations going on around the world instead of focusing on just domestic issues.”

“To support would just be being welcoming to refugees and shutting down any anti-refugee rhetoric that comes our way and just supporting and being informed about the issue in Afghanistan and the Afghan refugees and setting up resources for those refugees when they are here,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal suggests increasing knowledge and awareness of the situation in Afghanistan by reading Afghan news sources like Tolo News and volunteering with local organizations in order to help Afghans both inside and outside of East Tennessee.

“Obviously there is always going to be that feeling of hopelessness but just community outreach and awareness are just the most important things,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal is hoping to start an organization at UT in the near future that focuses on global and social issues. For now, she is attentive to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and supporting Afghans in whatever way she can.

UT Sponsored Content