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Interview with Former FBI Special Agent and Yale University Senior Lecturer Asha Rangappa; Interview with Novelist Hari Kunzru; Interview with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel; Interview with "We Are Still Here" Editor Nahid Shahalimi. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 19, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to "Amanpour". Here's what is coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mister President. What's your message to your supporters, Mister President?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: As the pressure on former President Donald Trump's inner circle intensifies, we get the latest with former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa.
Then, authors unite to read the work of Salman Rushdie and defy attacks on free speech. I speak to the head of PEN America, Suzanne Nossel, and the
novelist Hari Kunzru. Also, ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAHID SHAHALIMI, EDITOR, "WE ARE STILL HERE": Listen to these women. See them. Give them the spaces that they deserve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Author and artist, Nahid Shahalimi talks to Hari Sreenivasan about the Afghan women fighting to be hard.
Welcome to the program. I am Sara Sidner in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
This week we've seen an escalation in several of the investigations into Donald Trump and his businesses. Momentum has been gathering since the
search on the former president's Mar-a-Lago home less than two weeks ago. We know the FBI seized 11 sets of classified material during that search,
but we don't know the evidence used by the Justice Department to get the warrant required. Now, that could change soon. A judge starting the process
to potentially release some of that information as early as next week.
Meanwhile, one of the former president's most trusted executives has pleaded guilty to helping the Trump organization engage in a 15-year-long
tax fraud scheme. Former Trump CEO Allen Weisselberg agreed to testify against the Trump real estate company as part of a deal. So, there is a lot
to digest. Here to make sense of all of this is Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent. She joins me now from New Haven, Connecticut. Thank you and
welcome to the show.
ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT AND SENIOR LECTURER,YALE UNIVERSITY: Thanks, Sara.
SIDNER: Asha, I just want to run down the multiple things that Donald Trump, the former president, is facing. Federal state, local criminal and
civil, legal investigations. He is looking at congressional hearings and congressional investigations. His alleged abuses include everything from
espionage, to election interference, to financial fraud at the Trump organization.
Now, Trump and his supporters say it's all politically motivated and an abuse of the judicial system. And I know you've heard it over and over.
Trump opponents say, hey, look. No one is above the law. Former president, current president, or not. From your vantage point, when you look at the
total picture, do these investigations, from what you know, look like prosecution, or do they live with persecution?
RANGAPPA: Well, Sara, as you know, when -- once you enter the criminal justice system, the government has to undergo many different obstacles to
pursue a case or has to overcome many hurdles, I guess I should say. And they have to prove their case, whether it's getting a search warrant, they
have to show probable cause to a neutral judge. Two, going to trial, they have to present the evidence and persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
So, there is always a third-party independent entity that serves as a check on the government. And so, I think it would be hard to argue that this is
persecution because if it were, this -- all of these investigations would be nipped in the bud at very early stages.
SIDNER: Can I ask you about this search and, sort of, what is happening in this search, just quickly? And that is that, you know, when you look at the
search, everyone is using this word unprecedented. Now, is it unprecedented because it's a former president whose home has, you know, been searched by
FBI agents, we haven't seen that before in U.S. history, or is it unprecedented because this sort of thing would not necessarily happen to
your average citizen if they had some of the documents that the FBI and the DOJ say were left in his home?
RANGAPPA: Yes, Sara, this is unprecedented because it's a former president. In any other case involving any normal citizen who took home
classified documents, government property, try to obstruct justice, these same charges and same steps would be taken. In fact, I think they would
have been taken more swiftly in the case of an ordinary citizen.
What we see with the search warrant that was executed on former President Trump at Mar-a-Lago is that it took a long time for the Department of
Justice to get there. And what it appears is that they went through a number of intermediate steps from trying to request him to return these
documents to issuing a subpoena, which is an order to voluntarily returned these documents, and really resorted to the search warrant as a last
So, I would say that he actually got more deference and courtesy than an ordinary person. Maybe that's what makes it unprecedented in some ways, as
well. But it really is about who the office that he held, more than the conduct that he has engaged in, which would be criminal in any
SIDNER: The FBI search certainly lit a fire of controversy because his supporters, obviously, feel one way and he does in, you know, his
detractors and critics feel a completely different way. This week, a federal judge indicated that he planned to release a redacted version of
the affidavits, that gives you some sense of why the search was needed. He is responding to a request by many of the country's largest media companies
to assert that it is in the public interest for the affidavit to be released.
What is actually in the affidavit? What would it say? What do we expect to be able to see to give us an idea of why the DOJ and why the FBI went in
and searched and took out these papers?
RANGAPPA: Yes, the affidavit would really lay out all of the evidence that they have collected so far, that would justify going into a private
residence to search for these documents. A search -- affidavit for a search warrant basically is trying to prove to a judge that there's probable cause
to believe that evidence of a crime is going to be found in the locations that they want to search.
And the crimes, in this case, include a willful retention of classified information, this is under the Espionage Act. It includes potential
obstruction of justice, which means that there was an attempt to conceal these documents. And also, retention of government property.
And so, they need to show what things that they -- what evidence they've collected so far. It's a later stage of an investigation. So, I would
expect to see if you were to show the unredacted version, evidence from interviews with witnesses, surveillance footage, you know, their own
observations from other methods and sources of people coming and going from the storage room, for example, or knowing that there was material
thereafter the FBI had been told that it was returned.
What the government is really concerned about in releasing these affidavits at this stage is that it could tip off potential subjects and defendants,
evidence could be destroyed, and it could also put witnesses in a danger. And we've already seen a lot of escalating violent rhetoric against agents,
against this judge. So, I think that those concerns are very much justified.
SIDNER: I want to read you how Donald Trump has talked about this to his supporters, and frankly detractors if they're on his social media sites
through social. And we're going to bring that up now. This is Trump's response to what has been happening to him in the wake of this search.
America has never suffered this kind of ABUSE -- he put in caps, in law enforcement. For the FBI to raid -- as he calls it, the home of the 45th
president of the United States. or any president for that matter, is totally unheard of and unthinkable. It was for political, not legal
reasons, and our entire country is angry, hurt, and greatly embarrassed by it. And then he had his, you know, typical slogan.
He says all these things. And when you look at the breadth of what is happening here, civil, congressional, and federal charges that he could
face in all of this. Is any of what he has said correct? In other words, he talks about the country being angry and hurt. Well, a good number of people
are angry and hurt.
RANGAPPA: Well, Sara, you know, what I notice about the statements that he puts out is that he never actually defends the conduct that he's engaged
in. Whether it's the tax fraud that is going on in his private organization, to the violence on January 6th, to the fact that he doesn't
deny, for example, that he had classified documents in his unsecured hotel and private residence.
It's always about, you know, how people are reacting. And I think that we need to be concerned about that. Because in this, you know, in the United
States, we do not base the rule of law on whether it hurts people's feelings or not. We base the rule of law on whether a violation has
occurred, and whether the government can, you know, demonstrate evidence again, ultimately, in front of a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
And I think in the Mar-a-Lago instance, I want to emphasize for the viewers that this also involved issues of national security. That these potentially
involve some of our most closely held secrets that could be damaging to the citizens of the United States. And all the more reason that you know,
emotional feelings really don't matter in this when the security of the country is at stake.
SIDNER: I want to move on to the issue in state court, which a lot of, you know, legal analysts will look at this and say, this could be the one that
is most difficult, potentially, for Donald Trump himself. There is this investigation into the overturning or the attempted overturning of the 2020
election. And in Georgia, the district attorney is going full steam ahead, leading a criminal investigation of the Trump team's activities after they
learned -- as the count was going on and after they learned that they were going to lose the 2020 election. Here's a clip likely to be evidence in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: All I want to do is this, I just want to find 11,780 votes which is one more than we have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: He is talking to an election official at that point. And would that tape conversation make this an open and shut case? He's literally
asking them to find, it's like, one more vote to make him -- push him over the edge in that state to help him win?
RANGAPPA: I wouldn't say that that call is an open and shut case in and of itself. Again, I think we underestimate the burden that is on the
government to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. In making that call, however, Trump has really put himself at major exposure for criminal
liability in the State of Georgia. Because that's the -- a direct contact between him and a state government official.
And this is what the Georgia case, which is starting to, you know, hone in on his close advisers. People like Rudy Giuliani is really important.
Because when they can start targeting and, you know, potentially bringing indictments and charges against his closest advisers, those people may have
incentives to then provide information about the scope of Trump's involvement behind the scenes.
What was behind that phone call? Was there an agreement to pressure government officials to -- was that a part of a larger scheme to, you know,
create fake -- a fake narrative about voter fraud, and submit a new slate - - a fake slate of electors? That's the kind of evidence that they would need. And, yes, that call would be a part of that evidence but they would
need to create the story around that to justify, bringing charges against him personally.
SIDNER: Asha, you touched on this a bit earlier and I want to go back to it. Yesterday, Allen Weisselberg, which is one of Donald Trump and the
family business's most trusted advisers, the CFO of Trump -- the Trump organization, pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other crimes. He admitted
that he conspired with the Trump organization to commit multiple felonies. But in this plea agreement, Weisselberg agrees to testify against the
company but has refused to cooperate in an investigation against Donald Trump himself, personally. What is the significance of this and has this
kind of deal ever been offered -- ever is a hard one, but to your regular Joe?
RANGAPPA: So, Sara, I don't know about the historical, you know, precedents of this particular case. I suspect that there have been
instances where a high-level financial officer of companies have testified against the organization. The significance here is that in testifying
against the Trump organization, the Trump company can be held criminally liable which could incur significant financial penalties on the company.
And, you know, though that may not seem like a big deal. I think, at least for Donald Trump, I think that hitting him in his pocketbook is something
that he doesn't like. But the fact that Weisselberg isn't willing to flip on Trump himself really gets to the issue I mentioned before about needing
his close advisers to provide the context of what was going on behind the scenes. Because, mostly in criminal cases, where the hardest part to prove
is the defendant's intent. What did they intend when they engaged in this conduct? What did they know?
And Donald Trump is notorious for not leaving a paper trail. He speaks in code, you know. So, really, we're reliant on these close advisers, people
like Weisselberg, people like Giuliani to provide information. So, Weisselberg not being willing to cooperate on that front does provide Trump
some degree of protection from criminal liability at a personal level even though his company is at risk.
SIDNER: I've heard many times from Republicans and some Democrats, watching all of this. Donald Trump could potentially run again, and there
are a lot of people saying he will. We haven't heard that directly from, he, himself but he says he made some decisions. When you look at all of
this as a whole and how divisive these cases have been and how divisive Donald Trump's presidency has been. What impacts is this going to have on
democracy? Either way, one, if no charges are brought or if there are no consequences to Donald Trump and his organization. And two, if there are
indeed charges brought and he is -- has to either testify or be arrested. I mean, what is this doing to the democracy of this country?
RANGAPPA: You know, it's -- it basically puts us in a crisis situation no matter which way you slice it, in my opinion, Sara. Look, if he's never
been held accountable for any of this, I think it really fosters distrust in the government, in the justice system. It makes it seem like, you know,
there are some people who are above the law. So, I think there would need to be transparency on why charges haven't been brought or won't be brought
But in many ways, if he is charged, this puts the United States in a very difficult position. I mean, it's not just unprecedented for a search
warrant to be executed at a president's home. It's certainly unprecedented for a president to be charged with a crime and put in jail. I don't even
know what that would look like and how we would manage that as a nation.
And I should add, the other piece of this is that being charged with a crime or even convicted of it, does not preclude you from running for
president. So, it doesn't disqualify him. The qualifications are listed in the constitution. And that would create a whole other pandora's box of
craziness in terms of the issues that we would have to face.
So, we are really in uncharted territory. But I think ultimately the -- in my view, the Department of Justice and the January 6th Committee should
follow the evidence where it leads. And, you know, we -- I think we can make it out fine at the end of it.
SIDNER: There is that January 6th Committee that is still going and still doing its investigation as well. Asha Rangappa, I took you through the
gauntlet. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.
RANGAPPA: Thank you, Sara.
SIDNER: Coming up after the break, standing in solidarity with Salman Rushdie as he recovers from a brutal attack. Friends and authors gather in
New York to defend the freedom to write.
SIDNER: Welcome back. Exactly one week ago, famed author, Salman Rushdie, was stabbed repeatedly and another speaker injured while Rushdie gave a
lecture in New York State.
The 75-year-old has been the target of death threats and a fatwa in Iran for more than three decades over his satirical novel "The Satanic Verses".
Rushdie was seriously wounded in the attack. But days later, he's reported to be awake and articulate in hospital. Today, friends of the author came
on the steps of the New York Public Library to defend the freedom of speech and the written word. This is what veteran journalist Tina Brown had to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA BROWN, JOURNALIST: Salman, my dear old friend, I'm proud to stand here for you today as you've stood up for so many in the last 33 years. You
never asked for the role of a hero, you just wanted to be left alone to write. But in the tenacity with which you've defended free speech, you are
a hero, and have paid a terrible price.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: He has paid a terrible price. I am joined by two formidable writers, Suzanne Nossel is the head of PEN America and novelist Hari
Kunzru, welcome to the program to you both.
SUZANNE NOSSEL, CEO, PEN AMERICA: Thank you.
HARI KUNZRU, NOVELIST: Thank you.
SIDNER: So, I want to go down a little bit about, you know, the person that is behind this, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, is accused of stabbing Rushdie
multiple times. And he said he had only read two pages of "The Satanic Verses" and that Rushdie is someone who attacked Islam in his mind.
First, I want to hear from you how you reacted when you saw what happened, this vicious attack as Mr. Rushdie was doing something as peaceful as
possible, giving a lecture.
KUNZRU: I heard about it very, very soon afterward on the internet and it was unclear how badly he had been wounded. There were reports that he had
just been able to walk off. So, I texted him in the hope that I would get a text straight back to say that was scary and it's over. And then it became
rapidly apparent that it was extremely serious.
SIDNER: Suzanne, what's your --
NOSSEL: You know --
SIDNER: -- what was your reaction?
NOSSEL: -- you know, from my part, I had a sense from right away because we heard from people who were there in the audience that it was very
serious. That they've gone after his throat and his abdomen. And so, it was a terrifying feeling. I kind of felt immediately, having led PEN America
for nine years, that we had never seen something like this on U.S. soil. That this was unprecedented. This was a cataclysmic moment for the literary
community, for our organization, for the cause of freedom of expression. And that feeling has not lifted over the last week.
SIDNER: You know, for so many, because it had been so many years Salman Rushdie was in hiding. And it's been, you know, it's been several decades
since that happened. And he's been on the circuit and he's been out there, and then to see this, coming from the very thing that the fatwa is all
about was shocking to most people. You both decided to do something about this, along with other writers. You stood together. You came together. And
you read some Rushdie excerpts. You also did this publicly on the steps of the New York Public Library in the week after he was killed. And you
labeled it, "Stand with Salman." I'm going to let our viewers see and experience what you said, Suzanne.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOSSEL: Not even a blade to the throat could steal the voice of Salman Rushdie. Not for a minute. Certainly not for a week. Just yesterday we
heard from Salman, who knows about this event, and was intending to watch it on the live stream. He offered some ideas of what readings we should
choose. Take that Ayatollah.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Wow. That is -- those are some strong words to the Ayatollah. By the way, the fatwa is still in place. Does it make you fear a bit, Suzanne?
NOSSEL: You know, something about Salman is that he really is somebody who has lived his life in the time that I've known him without fear. He has
been outspoken. He has been right by the side of other writers who are targeted, and that is inspiration to me. And it fuels the work of PEN
America. It's, sort of, our job, I think, to go out publicly at a moment like this and say, we're not going to shy away. We're not going to refuse
to read from his work or even from "The Satanic Verses", as Hari did.
And that, you know, this is a principled stand that we take. And the fact that this attack has happened, it makes it imperative for us to stand
together publicly and say these words and refuse to be cowed.
SIDNER: Hari, you were the only one to read from "The Satanic Verses" as we just heard Suzanne say. What did the book mean to you? And why did you
choose the specific excerpt that you read out?
KUNZRU: I read from the opening of the novel. And it's actually a wonderful example of Salman's style. He's a prever writer and he's a comic
writer. And I think it's very important for us to remember, as Suzanne said, he's not somebody who asked for this.
He does not want to be defined by the fatwa. He's somebody who wanted to write and he wanted to give joy and pleasure and tell stories. And even in
this book, which has become so notorious and it's so little read, frankly, and so misunderstood, it's a comic novel. It's a novel which is full of
literary pleasures. And that opening is typical of that style.
So, it doesn't contain the kind of, passages that people have been offended by. It's just a way of reminding people that he is a writer first and
foremost. He's a, you know, he's somebody who wants to make literary art.
SIDNER: In that vein, he's also in some ways, I don't know if he'd like this, but an activist, because he was the president of the organization you
now lead Suzanne, PEN America, from 2004 to 2006. Can you tell me how Rushdie has fought for the freedom of expression? Fought for the freedom to
write as you please?
NOSSEL: Yes, absolutely. He is stalwart. I mean, I think, first of all, you know, just a few years after he came out of hiding himself, he stepped
forward in this public role to lead an organization that had stood by his side while he was in his darkest days. And ever since, I mean I have to
say, we have wonderful past presidents of PEN America, who I am in touch with, but you know, he above all has been such a consistent presence.
When he was president of PEN America, he founded the PEN World Voices Festival, and he remains deeply involved when we put that on every year. He
was committed to creating a bridge between American writers and their counterparts all over the world. Bringing people to New York for dialogues
and readings and conversations. And he has remained steadfast. When we have individual cases of imperiled writers, he will step up, he'll lend his
name, he'll write a letter. You know, he'll get personally involved in certain instances.
And so, he's just an absolutely indefatigable champion who has been an intimate part of the organization, you know, for decades. And so, that's
why this hit so hard. And why it was so important for us to step forward.
SIDNER: Hari, the day after the attack, I want to pull up your tweet with a quote from "The Satanic Verses". You tweeted this, for obvious reasons, I
am sitting here thinking about Salman. I pulled "The Satanic Verses" off the shelf and this fell out. I think it was at my place. At his birthday
dinner a few years ago. And here's what it says, language is courage, the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it. And by doing so, to make it
true. How was this language of courage given you courage personally?
KUNZRU: Well, you know, what's happened to Salman has defined my life as a writer. You know, I was 19 years old when the fatwa was handed down. And
coming up with Salman as an example of courage and of somebody who is -- who, as a writer, opened his face for so many of us to come through. You
know, I've always felt grateful for that.
And I've been very proud to call myself his friend in later years, and you know, remembering that -- it was a birthday dinner. And remembering -- I
mean, I'm thinking about my friend here, rather than the symbol of free speech. I'm really, really here standing up for somebody that I care about
on a personal level. And, you know, that's always going to come first for me when I think about him.
SIDNER: You know, people -- just as you have said so eloquently, talk about being strong, talk about having courage, talk about standing up
against terrorism. But it's frightening for a lot of people to think about something they say or write to come back on them and end up, you know,
being hurt, injured, or killed.
Suzanne, do you think writers will start thinking about or would this have some, sort of, chilling effect on those who write words they know can be
NOSSEL: Look, I think we see that chilling effect today. You know, we see it because of threats of violence and, sort of, the escalation of violence.
The unloosening of hateful speech and attitudes here in our own society in the United States. Book bans. Curriculum bans.
And so, I think that sense of having to be cautious about what you say, that somebody could try to suppress it or might even come after you, is
there already. And I -- what I hope is we're -- as PEN America, we're celebrating our centenary, we've been fighting the good fight for free
speech for 100 years. And I hope this becomes a galvanizing event into our next hundred years. Because what's clear is, it doesn't work to give been.
Censoring yourself is not the answer.
Those who are coming after ideas and books and words are not going to relent. And we need to stand up and we need to defend all of those who take
the risk of expressing controversial ideas, whether they are from the right or from the left and regardless of their ideology, and their religion. And
so, I hope this becomes a catalytic moment where we can unite behind that.
SIDNER: You just hit on a bunch of things that is happening right now, before the stabbing of Salman Rushdie. The banning of books. And you are
also hearing a huge chorus of people from all sides of the political spectrum, who have the access to us. Have the sort of, loudest voices,
saying we stand up for freedom of speech. And at the same time, there are bans on books in schools, books that I've read when I was a kid.
Hari, I'd like to hear your take on that. I know that your wife is also a novelist. What is this meaning for you? What meaning does this have for you
to see this country going through this again?
KUNZRU: Well, I'm a new American. I became a citizen this year. And so, I care very deeply about the rights that Americans are given by the
constitution. And it's extremely shocking to me that in 26 American States we have book bans right now. And that seems to me to go against everything
that this country ought to stand up for.
You know, there are calls for censorship that come from various different political positions. But I think it -- for all of us, it's really worth
remembering that freedom of speech is the right without which we have very few others. That without freedom of speech, you don't have the right to
dissent. You do not have the right to speak politically. It's fundamental to democracy. And so, as an American, as a -- I want to fight for that
democracy and I feel that freedom of speech is absolutely central to that.
NOSSEL: Yes, and just to build on that --
SIDNER: So, I -- yes.
NOSSEL: -- I mean, whether you care about immigrant's rights or civil rights or racial justice or women's right, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights,
freedom of speech underpins your ability to advocate to defend those rights, to build movements. And so, I hope all of those activists can get
behind this cause.
SIDNER: Hari, I want to congratulate you on becoming an American. Welcome.
KUNZRU: Thank you so much.
SIDNER: And Suzanne, lastly. I think you said, if I am not mistaken, that you spoke to Salman Rushdie after this horrible attack. Is there any way
you could share some of what he talked to you about? What he said to you or what you said to him?
NOSSEL: I have not spoken to him since the attack.
SIDNER: Oh, you haven't. OK.
NOSSEL: I was in contact with him the morning of the attack.
NOSSEL: Roughly a short couple of hours before. But I did hear and I think I can say that he did watch the live stream of this event and was very much
heartened by it. We heard that from his family. So, that was very gratifying to hear. That he was present with us and heard those words and
felt them as a source of strength.
SIDNER: Thank you both so, so much. Hari Kunzru and Suzanne Nossel, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking about this, what has
turned into a really difficult issue, writing and freedom of speech.
NOSSEL: Thank you.
KUNZRU: Thank you.
SIDNER: Still to come tonight, bold, brave and courageous. Author Nahid Shahalimi on Afghan women's fight to be heard a year into Taliban rule.
SIDNER: Welcome back. This week's anniversary of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has seen defiant protests and a deadly attack. As Kabul fell,
so did decades of progress for women's rights in the country. Nahid Shahalimi is fighting for the freedom and respect of Afghan women. Editing
a collection of firsthand accounts for her book, "We Are Still Here". To discuss why Afghan women should be involved inside policy for their
country, Nahid speaks to Hari Sreenivasan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks. Nahid Shahalimi, thanks so much for joining us.
You know, we're having this conversation about a year after those images that are now seared into our heads. The last lights leaving Afghanistan.
Since then, there's been basically an economic collapse. What are the consequences of that for families and people living there today, from
people that you speak to?
NAHID SHAHALIMI, EDITOR, "WE ARE STILL HERE": Well, I would add drought, I would illness, I would add many, many other things on top of what you just
said. What is it like? We have millions of people that are not only devastated, but they're on the brink of starvation. And in a system that is
almost collapsed, it is collapsing.
And again, you know, almost 50 years of these regime changes, have also had these enormous traumatic residues that we will see in the next generations
to come. And these are just -- we're just talking about the surface of the ice. There is absolutely, you know -- to say that it's hopeless, I'm not
going to say that. Because if we don't have any hope, we always have -- had to have hope. So, it's hard. It's very hard to watch from outside, but the
people are suffering by the day and they're losing their loved ones by the day.
SREENIVASAN: Paint me a picture, if you will, of just the level of food insecurity and how widespread it is.
SHAHALIMI: I mean, we have the reports that are from the ground. These are data. These are not opinions. These are facts that we have from World Food
Programme, from UNICEF, from a lot of NGOs that are gathering this data, also Afghan NGOs that are based on the ground. And somehow these numbers do
not scare us, in a way. You know, they have over 20 -- close to 25 million people that are in the brink of starvation and we have millions of young
girls that are not going to school.
And just because there is not any, you know, huge bombs or attacks that are happening from the Taliban side does not mean that there's peace. People
are really in bad shape in Afghanistan.
SREENIVASAN: I want to get to your book here. And this is really an anthology of essays of your conversation with 13 dynamic incredible women
in Afghanistan who'd worked there and how their lives have been impacted by what is happening. And I guess one of the conversations struck me, I think
it was Mariam Safi, one of the women you profiled. She'd been involved in so many different peacebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. And how crucial was
it that women were just not at the table when it was decided that there was going to be a negotiation with the Taliban? I mean, what are the ripple
effects of that?
SHAHALIMI: Mariam Safi is the expert. Not about peacebuilding and peace issues -- peace practitioners within Afghanistan, but in the region. When
it comes to policy building and policy developments and -- all of these things that are incredibly important for a woman to be involved in. For
example, she's been, you know, involved in giving her recommendations personally to the general assembly on several occasions, especially in the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIAM SAFI, FOUNDING DIRECTOR, ORGANIZATION FOR POLICY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT STUDIES: I said to the members that the International
Community is relegating the voices of women to the margins while treating the Taliban as the locals, giving them ownership of the process while
saying that women were as -- were posing as obstacles to political settlement. It didn't go anywhere. No one heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHAHALIMI: You know, we need each other. The International Community needs these women, and the Afghan -- Afghanistan needs International Community in
order to have -- be connected. You know, this connection has to be made. There's -- it is not about building bridges, but in a way, there is nobody
that knows this country better than the likes of Mariam Safi.
SREENIVASAN: There is a theme in the book that I find interesting, which is that there is a generation and you called the freedom generation, there
was a generation of women who grew up in Afghanistan not knowing life under the Taliban. And they are now coming into adulthood, into power or were
coming into positions of power when this happened.
SHAHALIMI: You know, Hari, there is one thing that I have learned while writing about Afghan women in the past few years and this one, especially,
which is very personal book to me. This is another level of courage and bravery that is being shown. I have interviewed woman from all walks of
life, not only in Afghanistan but in different places. When it comes to Afghanistan, in spite of all of these difficulties, in spite of all of
these obstacles, these young girls they still are working on the ground. They are still on the streets of Afghanistan.
You know, it's -- the protests were started, it was a young woman. Razia Barakzai is one of them. She was the first one that collected, literally --
and she knows a lot of people on the ground. And she collected -- at the end, there were only five. They stood on the 16th of August, they stood in
front of the palace and started the protest. That was the first wave of the protests.
And I remember that -- I actually spoke to her yesterday on the phone. And she has been changing her location literally by the week, from one full
year. And death threats and name it and everything. But she still is, you know, delegating and collaborating with different groups around the world,
now through online channels, thank God. And I remember, there is one thing that I remember that truly I had to hold my tears, and I'm a tough cookie.
She said, Nahid, what's saved us was the iPhones, because everybody was filming.
But she said, you think that I wasn't scared or we weren't scared, we only had a paper with shaking hands and we were standing in front of the barrel
of a gun. And the only thing that saved us is because of people were filming it and throwing it straight into social media. So, this is -- like
I said, it's a different level of bravery.
Now, these girls are still trying to get together. Although, they don't know anything about -- you know, the -- as you mentioned, they don't know
the Taliban firsthand, but they've read about. They've read about their atrocities. They've heard these stories.
SREENIVASAN: Tell me a little bit about Razia Barakzai. I mean, you spoke to her recently, and she is still in hiding for her safety?
SHAHALIMI: Yes. Yes, because she keeps getting texts that they know where she is. And she has been on the road, literally, since the 16th of August.
Changed every two or three days. Barely stayed with her parents because they were watching. And they had spies that were, you know, knocking on the
door for different reasons, every single day. And we found a way for her. She also found a couple of -- like a few people have found a way for her to
leave the country, back then.
But because she is a single child -- she's the only child and she didn't want to leave her parents. And the parents were not allowed to leave with
her. So, this is another thing, you know, that we've got to get our acts together when it is really people that are in danger and we have got to get
them out. And I am not saying that we have to evacuate 40 million people, that is not what I'm saying. We need to recognize who is really in danger
and give them a helping hand.
When we talk about solidarity, this means solidarity.
SREENIVASAN: You also profile a couple of different women in there, Roya Sadat, the filmmaker, Aryana Sayeed, the singer, and it is interesting
because the role of the arts is one of the things that is radically changed. That you point out that how core to the culture of Afghanistan
singing, for example, was. And yet, now, there are literally fought (ph) was against religious edicts against women who are practitioners in the
SHAHALIMI: I am an artist. I've been painting for over 33 years. My way of communicating is through these different formats, whether it's the books,
the film, you know, written word. I find that creativity -- using creativity is the best way to reach the audience. That is my point of view.
Now, when it comes to music and arts within the culture, it has always been there. Underfunded as most cultures in every single culture in the world,
arts are more underfunded. When it comes to music specifically, that has been something that I've always had to deal with within the community or
Afghan communities, it has been a conservative thing, you know, women are not supposed to be singing all of that stuff, but that doesn't mean that
they don't, that they didn't go forward with that beautiful, you know, universal language.
So, to have that completely banned it is truly Taliban are taking the soul of my country. They are stealing it completely. We are not a colorless
culture. Never have been. This is -- you are talking about thousands of years of culture. You know, so many civilizations passed through that. They
left their little marks in there, whether it is through the -- you know, the fine arts, whether it is through archaeological sites, whether it is
through music. We have had this in our culture in every single -- whoever that knows Afghans you need a reason to just have good food and lots of
people in there and good music in our gatherings and dance and sing.
And that is the culture that we know, and that has -- that have been, you know, through generations and generations, given to us. And for them to be
stealing that part of our -- the soul of our country, it is just unacceptable. And that is something that whether it is Aryana or the Roya
or Rada Akbar, for example, she had the plans to open the first national museum for women in Afghanistan. They're not very national -- women
national women museums in the world. A few countries have it. But that wasn't the plan.
You know, so these are the kind of -- again, I go back to the progress. Give these women the respect that they deserve that they achieved all of
this with an active war. That's what people forget. Before the 15th of August last year, that was not a rosy, all OK country. We have dodged --
like I personally have dodged suicide bombers, attacks, name it, we all have. All of these women have.
You know, Foze Koke (ph) couldn't even write her article, her chapter, I have to write it for her because she was shot a year before by the same
Taliban that are ruling today, and she couldn't move her arm. So, I had to write for her. I wrote her chapter.
So, these are realities that we don't really seem to take seriously in a way. But the artists, especially the artists were giving the soul of the
country to the next generations, and that is stopped completely right now.
SREENIVASAN: What are the steps that nation states should be taking to try to, I guess, re-empower the women who might understand this the best?
SHAHALIMI: First and foremost, see them, hear them and then, listen to them. They are there. They do the work. They still do the work. They are
working with the E.U.'s, with the U.N.'s, with all of these governments anyways. But when the time comes to give that space to the experts, we have
to do the due diligence. Take that five minutes and Google that. And if you can't find them, just -- it's just -- literally, you could just ask anybody
in this book and they will be able to connect you with anybody.
Soi, what are they supposed to do? Get them to sit with you on the tables. I've watched certain shows where there's absolutely not one single Afghan
in that show, speaking about Afghanistan. Why do we do that? Why do we make those decisions when it really matters? We should have learned, especially
this last year, that it doesn't get us anywhere. That, you know, this data and these narratives that are coming out, we have data that says the
So, listen to these women. See them. Give them the spaces that they deserve. Give them their spaces back. And the tiny little space that is
left, and that is due to a lot. It has a lot to do with Ukraine war, which is a war that is extremely, extremely important to keep in mind and give
the space and pay attention, because it is -- you know, as an Afghan, my heart goes to the Ukrainian people. But that doesn't mean that you don't
talk about the rest of it.
SREENIVASAN: You know, One of the threads that's in the book, it's interesting, I mean, you interviewed such a range of women from educators
to activist to artists to politicians that there seems to be also a savior complex that comes from the outside. And most of the women you're talking
to really, in their own way, are talking about how they are not victims, that -- you know, how should the conversation around Afghan women be
SHAHALIMI: See them as they are. I mean, we are looking at Afghan women and trying to romanticize it. We are trying to objectify them. I was having
a conversation with Mariam Safi actually a few weeks ago. And we were talking about this and she said -- you know, she was saying in this line of
thought, and we -- there are -- that the Afghan women are being romanticized to the point that they become exotic. And this exoticism, this
othering, that they're so far away that we don't have to deal with it in a way.
There's nothing exotic about me or any of the women in this book or any of the Afghan women. We are truly capable of talking about any other subject
but Afghan women or women issues as well. And this is really, really important to point, that you do not kind of, you know, limit our knowledge
and our beings into, oh, the war-torn countries women.
We are women, period. And we are very capable of doing that what we do best, which is, in this case, when it comes to Afghanistan, because we have
been so involved in Afghanistan, then we can analyze certain turn things, you know, because we have been there on the ground. We are still on the
ground in a way and we work on the ground.
And this is what is really, really important that we don't romanticize about Afghan women. There is nothing exotic about us. So, just see us as
who we are.
SREENIVASAN: The book is called "We Are Still Here: Afghan Women on the Courage, Freedom, and Fight to be Heard." Hahid Shahalimi, editor, thank
you so much for joining us.
SHAHALIMI: I thank you very much for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Afghan writer and editor Nahid Shahalimi had (INAUDIBLE) advice on Afghanistan's women in the face of being silenced again by the Taliban. See
them, hear them and listen to them.
Now, when we come back and incredibly moving performance. I have the honor of watching the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra perform here in New York. I
will share that with you, next.
SIDNER: And finally, Ukraine's soldiers of music.
SIDNER: Yesterday, we brought you my conversation with members of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra. A double bassist who has to head back to
Ukraine to help on the war effort and a viola player, who is a war refugee.
This newly formed orchestra made up of Ukrainian citizens is nearing the end of its 12-city world tour. The Ukrainian Canadian and conductor that
you see there, Keri-Lynn Wilson, told me why it is so important to stand up for their country through music.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERI-LYNN WILSON, CONDUCTOR, UKRAINIAN FREEDOM ORCHESTRA: What is extremely special about this orchestra is that it is made of these
musicians who have been given a voice back. They were silenced. Throughout the war, they are silenced. And suddenly, they have a voice and a very
powerful voice. And that is to galvanize the western world, to show that Ukrainian culture is alive and well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: I had the chance to attend their performance at Lincoln Center here in New York City. This is the moment when they closed their
performance with Ukraine's national anthem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
An incredibly powerful moment that I was lucky enough to witness. Defiance through music.
That is it for now. You can always catch us online, in our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from New