Noo Runhaq has not seen or heard from his family in Afghanistan for more than six years. His friend, Noorana Muhammad, has not contacted his family for more than two years.
The last they knew, both families lived in Kabul, which has been under attack by US-led forces for more than the past week.
Both Afghans live in Cambodia, which was as far as they could get after fleeing their homeland. They say that despite their worries about their families, they support the US-led assault on Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government that supports him.
“America fighting with the Taliban—I am very happy,” said Noorana Muhammad, 25. “The Taliban is not good. They kill too many people, little people.”
One of those killed was his older brother. “They shot him,” he said, his voice harsh with anger. “The Americans are right to attack.”
He said force appears to be the only language the Taliban understands. “These people are crazy, and they will not listen.”
Noo Runhaq, 32, also fled from the regime, and is no fan of Osama bin Laden. “He is not from Afghanistan,” he said. “He is an Arab.”
Noo Runhaq and Noorana Muhammad are in Cambodia mostly by chance. Noo Runhaq was hoping to get to Australia when he ran out of money here, while Noorana Muhammad said he lost his passport soon after arriving in Cambodia. Both are seeking refugee status.
They spoke to reporters because they want people to understand that many Afghans do not support the Taliban and their austere form of fundamentalist Islam.
“There are two kinds of Muslim—closed and open,” explained Noorana Muhammad. “Closed means you cannot smoke or drink beer or watch TV.” So-called “open” Muslims tolerate such activities.
Afghanis are by nature and tradition tolerant and open people who like US citizens and Western culture, he said. But increasingly they are being forced into behavior they find repugnant.
“Taliban people are crazy people. All they allow you to do is sit at home. For young people, it was a big problem. If you don’t go to the mosque, they will kill you,” Noorana Muhammad said.
Millions of Afghanis have fled their homeland since the Taliban took power in the mid-1990s. More than 3 million refugees are living in Iran and Pakistan. Significant numbers have passed through Southeast Asia en route to Australia, until recently a favorite destination for immigrant smugglers.
In July, more than 250 central Asian refugees were arrested in Sihanoukville after the logging vessel they were being smuggled in was seized by immigration police. The refugees had been trying to get to Australia.
The alleged smugglers, who were charging between $5,000 and $8,000 per person, have been arrested, and all but 42 of the refugees have been returned to their home countries.
Noorana Muhammad and Noo Runhaq say the US-led campaign against terrorism is Afghanistan’s only hope. “Already, too many people are dead,” Noorana Muhammad said.
He said he would rather live in Afghanistan, but was afraid that the Taliban would kill him as they had his brother. He said many families send members abroad, hoping they can build safer lives elsewhere.
He has a cousin in New York, and when he saw the planes crash into the World Trade Center, “I was crazy with worry. I thought maybe he was hurt.”
He said the terrorist act was so wicked “I cried for two days. America and the United Nations have helped the Afghani people. Why do [the terrorists] hate them?”
The two men and their friend, an Algerian Muslim named Michel Carter, resent the way the Taliban are distorting the teachings of Islam and damaging its image worldwide.
“They say they knock down these buildings and God helps them? You kill people and God helps you? No! This is a lie! You kill people, you do not go to paradise,” Carter said.
“Maybe Americans think all Muslims are like this,” Noorana Muhammad said. “It is not true. We are not killers.”
He said the Taliban and the terrorists are killers, and they must be stopped. “If they can kill the Afghani people, they can kill others. And they will,” he said.