Haroon Abassy is safe from Taliban rule—he's been a U.S. citizen living in Austin for the last seven years—but his heart aches just the same to watch chaos erupt in his hometown of Kabul, Afghanistan, from thousands of miles away.
A husband, father, board member for the Austin Afghan community and former translator for the U.S. Army, Abassy's phone has been ringing off the hook from friends and family members, including his parents and two brothers, who are looking for guidance on how to get out of Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of Kabul just a few days ago.
"It reminds me of the 'Titanic' movie, when the ship is going down and everybody's trying to get off somehow to save their lives—right now that's what's happening in Afghanistan," Abassy told Austonia. "In their minds, the only thing is to get out of Afghanistan. It doesn't matter for them which country, or even in America which state or which city, the only thing on their mind is to get out of Afghanistan."
Every time Abassy turns on the news, he sees women's rights being stripped away and his neighbors desperately clinging to planes in hopes of safety. He said he can't help from breaking down in tears.
This is heartbreaking💔.
Afghan girls beg American soldiers at Kabul airport to save them from what they know is coming.... #Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/mClAaBwNle
— Fazila Baloch🌺☀️ (@IFazilaBaloch) August 18, 2021
When his three children ask what is going on, Abassy said he can't bear to break it to them. He tells them they will not be able to visit Afghanistan for a while because it is being controlled by "bad guys."
"They're insurgents, they're just trying to wait to resettle," Abassy said. "As soon as they settle in the country, and they have the full power, believe me, they will search home by home, they will find, one by one, the translators, the people who worked for the United Nations and their allies, and the news and the media people, the journalists and the Afghan military people, they will knock one by one on the doors and they will search the people, and they will kill them. I guarantee you the Taliban are not the people to trust."
Abassy left his country under similar circumstances—along with his family. Abassy fled to Pakistan to escape the Taliban in the late 1990s and lived there for 10 years, so he knows what Afghans are facing. Beyond that, Abassy worries that his family is in danger because he served the U.S. Army, which could leave them as targets for the Taliban.
Abassy said when American troops landed in Afghanistan, it brought hope and happiness of a normal life to the people living there. Now, after 20 years, all U.S. troops will leave the country by August. Abassy said he fears another 9/11 could be on the horizon.
"Why is a great country like America (making) wrong decisions by leaving a great country for a terrorist group? They could stay with us for at least a few more years and do their withdrawal, step by step, not leave altogether," Abassy said. "Now, thousands of people died, millions of people lost their jobs, millions of people don't have food, they don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Everybody's hiding in their home."
His family was waiting on an appointment with the U.S. embassy to secure their Special Immigrant Visas that never came. Now, the U.S. embassy is closed as the Afghan government collapsed. Abassy said his family is in hiding for now—they left their home in Kabul, locked the door, likely never to return.
Abassy is doing the best he can to assist everyone who is reaching out for help. He said if they are lucky, they might get approved within a year. If not, they could end up waiting for many more.
"I can't sleep—I sleep two hours and I wake up again to check Facebook, to see if anybody got killed, if there are any attacks or something," Abassy said. "I don't have mindset, like I'm not normal at this time."
Abassy is very worried for the safety of his family; they don't fit either category of who the U.S. is prioritizing getting out of Afghanistan: Americans and Afghans who worked with the U.S. government. For now, Abassy is looking forward to welcoming the 107 refugees coming to Austin with open arms as they land.
"This story is going to repeat again, Afghan people will rise again, Afghan people will stand again and they will fight against the terrorist group of Taliban," Abassy said. "They cannot control our country. We cannot do anything right now, but we will do our best. One day we will kick the Taliban back to the mountains and to Pakistan."
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.