In Their Own Words – Winter 2017

Stand for Humanity.

Muhammad Ali Shahidy ’17.

This past summer in Kabul, Afghanistan, Muhammad Ali Shahidy ’17 was nearby a peaceful demonstration when a twin ISIS attack turned it into a bloodbath. With the help of some friends in the U.S., he started an online fundraiser, and every day he visited the victims, “hearing their stories, pains, sorrows, yet trying to be of some support.” He says it was the least he could have done.

At one time, Ali accepted the status quo that subjugated women in his country. It is much harder to see a wrong when the dominant culture condones it. But Ali did see it, and and decided to take a stand.

Following is an excerpt of the speech he gave at the Partridge Society Lunch and Year of Leadership Launch at last fall’s Homecoming.

 Ali Shahidy ’17 addressed women’s rights and human rights at the Year of Leadership Launch, Homecoming 2016. In 2012, a year before he came to Norwich, Ali was asked to give a seminar to raise awareness about violence against women in Afghanistan. He had prepared for 50, but 80 attended. Here, a mix of men and women hold signs pledging to end the violence. Photo by Mark Collier.


Ali Shahidy ’17 addressed women’s rights and human rights at the Year of Leadership Launch, Homecoming 2016. Photo by Mark Collier.

I came to Norwich from Afghanistan in 2013 after a long and challenging journey. Six years ago I made a very difficult decision that changed my whole life. Growing up in Afghanistan, my culture taught me that women are men’s properties and it is men who decide for women. But when I found out that my younger sister was in an abusive marriage and was being tortured, I decided to rescue her. That was against the norms. I loved my sister, but I did not have any support to save her; everyone was against me. I did not give up, and after a year of effort, I brought her and my nephew to our home where she would be safe forever.

But it wasn’t only my sister, and when you look at the plight of women in Afghanistan, it’s a lot worse than what you see on the surface. The violence is a lot worse. Since then, I have stood up for all women and I have worked hard to fight for their rights. It is not an easy job going against the stream and challenging patriarchal norms and values. I was ostracized by my society, mocked, and humiliated. But I always knew I was doing the right thing by speaking up for our women.

Two years after I began this work, I was accepted at Norwich, where I have found new hope. Norwich, its faculty, staff, and alumni, opened their arms and stood behind me with full support. By recognizing my activism for the Afghan women, Norwich taught me that not only standing up for [the] rights of the oppressed is the most ethical thing to do, it’s also our responsibility. My professors became my new role models. They echoed values such as equality, respect, and tolerance. At home, I felt rejected. At Norwich, I felt accepted, encouraged, and inspired. And I became more determined than ever in my fight for gender equality in Afghanistan. Leadership is about courage to stand up for what is right, even if others disagree.

In 2012, a year before he came to Norwich, Ali was asked to give a seminar to raise awareness about violence against women in Afghanistan. He had prepared for 50, but 80 attended. Here, a mix of men and women hold signs pledging to end the violence.

In 2012, a year before he came to Norwich, Ali was asked to give a seminar to raise awareness about violence against women in Afghanistan. He had prepared for 50, but 80 attended. Here, a mix of men and women hold signs pledging to end the violence.

This past summer I visited my family in Afghanistan. On July 23 a series of attacks by ISIS during a peaceful demonstration in Kabul killed over 80 and injured about 300 people, among whom were my family members and childhood friends. The demonstration and movement were against my political values. But I couldn’t stay indifferent toward the victims of the attacks. They were all innocent people.

My Norwich experience reminded me that I should not be a passive bystander, but an active citizen. Norwich taught me that no matter what happens, we stand for humanity. My interaction with my professors taught me about respect and equality. The fellowships I won at Norwich taught me how to imagine, to create, and to lead. Norwich gave me the skills to view things critically. To stay unprejudiced yet maintain my integrity, honor, and values. The heart of integrity is the ability to act beyond your own emotions to do what is right. Ethical leadership means doing what is right no matter where the challenges come from. And that is a skill that Norwich has instilled in me.

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