Afghan-American TV Host Informs, Provokes Community

Afghan-American TV Host Informs, Provokes Community

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FREMONT, Calif. – Farid Younos is not afraid to make enemies, even when they send him death threats. Each Saturday afternoon, the Afghan-American dons one of his many bow ties and heads to the studios of NooorTV, where he hosts The Doctor Farid Younos Show.

“I’m very controversial because I speak my mind,” Younos said as he settled comfortably into his anchor’s seat. Monitors from the several cameras in the studio reflected his image back to him.

The East Bay resident said he believes in human rights, in Sharia Islamic law serving humanity, in criticizing American involvement and corporate dominance of his native country – all subjects that stir debate within the broader Afghan American community.

The largest of these is in the Bay Area suburb of Fremont, about 30 miles east of San Francisco. Dubbed “Little Kabul,” the area is home to some 60,000 Afghan residents. A strip of shops and restaurants on Fremont Boulevard routinely tune into NooorTV to watch Younos’ show.

Younos’ outspokenness has earned him both respect and disdain from fellow Afghans, many of whom remain divided between fully embracing American values while preserving their Afghan traditions.

An Afghan-born scholar and immigrant, Younos, 62, got his start in media 20 years ago when he was asked to do a weekly Afghan show on a public access station out of Fremont. When NooorTV aired nearly seven years ago, the station invited him to host a show. Younos agreed under the condition that he would be allowed to speak his mind.

Since then, Younos has appeared in a number of mainstream outlets including The New York Times. As a professor of cultural anthropology at Cal State University East Bay and the author of six published books, he has become a recognized voice of the Afghan community.

Younos fled Afghanistan nearly 30 years ago following the Soviet invasion. Ironically, it was in the United States that he rediscovered his Islamic faith, a topic to which he devotes considerable time on his show.

“He’s one of our top shows,” said Anwar Rasooli, the stage and control room manager at NooorTV. “People watch him because he’s involved in the community. He helps people in his own community.”

Ghulam Akbari is a butcher at a halal market in Fremont. He recalled a time when Younos helped him personally, offering counsel on life in the United States.

“He helps give solutions for anything,” Akbari said. “Parenting, anger management, health management. He’s a fantastic guy.”

Still, not everyone is a fan. Critics say Younos’ reading of the Quran is less a modernized adaptation, and more a subjective interpretation catering to his personal beliefs.

Shafie Ayar, another Afghan TV personality based in Anaheim, California has publicly denounced many of Younos’ views.

“His ideology creates a hatred for America,” Ayar said, referring to Younos’ oft-stated position that American foreign policy has been hijacked by corporate interests. “Many young Afghans he speaks to have never seen Afghanistan. In Afghanistan … there are no rights. A cow has more rights than people.”

Ayar agrees with Younos on some points. Both, for example, put gender equality near the top of the list when it comes to issues that need addressing within Islamic communities. But even on this issue, Ayar says Younos’ inconsistencies confuse audiences.

“One day he says women have all the rights,” Ayar said. “The next day, he says women must obey their husbands.”

Younos take such criticism in stride. “Some [Afghans] who have become very Americanized say, ‘We’re living in America, why do you criticize America?’ Well I didn’t come here to be a slave of America. I’m a slave of my own mind.”

Over the years Younos has received a handful of death threats from listeners upset with his defense of women’s rights or reinterpretations of Islamic law. He wears these threats as a badge of honor. “If you don’t have the guts to make change, you better stay home.”

Taylor Reynolds studies journalism at San Francisco State University.