Women walk in shapeless forms, every inch of flesh covered, hidden from prying eyes. Men and donkeys pull wooden-wheeled carts through the streets. A minaret stands against the skyline. Remains of the Soviet occupation peak out like dinosaur fossils in the earth. This was Afghanistan.
Thursday, Nov. 10 in the UVU Library auditorium, professor Scott Carrier of UVU’s Department of Communication expressed similar ideas about fear, introducing and reading from his newest book Prisoner of Zion which chronicles his experiences traveling to Afghanistan after 9/11, learning about others and, inevitably, about himself.
Carrier, a well-known author, journalist and winner of the prestigious Peabody Award, took the stage wearing hiking boots, jeans and a simple button-up shirt. Though soft-spoken, Carrier soon had the audience listening pensively.
He shared readings from his book both through NPR recordings and live readings. Afterward, he answered audience questions about topics ranging from his beliefs to lessons he’s learned through his own experiences.
Catering to the UVU audience, Carrier focused on the final story in his book, that of Najibullah Niazi, a young Afghan who became Carrier’s friend and a UVU graduate.
Carrier met Niazi in 2001 when traveling to Afghanistan at his own expense and with little money.
Niazi, who had little formal education but had learned English through movies and other means, became Carrier’s guide. After leaving Afghanistan, Carrier still kept in touch with Niazi. They communicated via telephone as Afghanistan had yet to have a government stable enough to provide a postal service.
One day, Niazi told Carrier his life was in danger for helping Carrier and for being affiliated with Westerners.
With connections at UVU, Carrier instructed Niazi to write an application essay to the university. Though using imperfect English, Niazi’s essay chronicled his unique life growing up in war-torn Afghanistan. Carrier forwarded the essay to UVU and Niazi was almost immediately accepted, becoming UVU’s first Afghan student.
Niazi, whom Carrier described as brilliant, expanded his views while at UVU and became a more “liberal thinker.”
He changed his views on the tradition of honor killings and decided he would no longer be willing to kill his sister for his family’s honor if tradition so dictated.
“I really think the university system works,” Carrier said, reflecting on Niazi’s growth.
Niazi wasn’t the only one changed by UVU. When Niazi was accepted as a student, Carrier was also offered a job as a professor.
Carrier admits that at first he hated teaching. He clashed with his students’ views, finding them to be close-minded. Overtime, he altered his views, finding that his students’ minds were also beginning to open.
“I’ve learned that teaching is an honorable profession, and that it’s hard,” Carrier said.
He also learned that he had to stop acting out of fear.
During the Q-and-A session after his readings, Carrier expanded on the concept of fear.
Audience members noted a rise in tension in the room as Carrier shared his views on America’s post-9/11 wars. Carrier believes that America’s actions were a backlash of fear and “a huge mistake.” He feels these actions have only “made things worse.”
“We’ve got to stop acting out of fear,” Carrier said.
Encouraging people to think and act on ideas rather than acting on fear is one of Carrier’s goals for his new book.
Written by Sierra Wilson