The Politics of Place and Memory: Exploring Human Rights with Homeira Qaderi and Asif Majid
Two intellectuals and lifelong human-rights activists discuss their work in literature and performing arts. From Kabul, Afghanistan, to Bradford, UK, to Smyrna, Delaware and more, they give voice to the memories and the stories of displaced communities, asylum seekers, and ethnic minorities, with a keen eye on the rights of women and youth. In writing, on stage, and through social and political engagement, Homeira Qaderi and Majid Asif denounce inequities, abuse, and oppression. They create symbolic and physical spaces that promote anti-racism and intercultural understanding.
Homeira Qaderi is a writer, women’s rights activist, and educator from Afghanistan. She studied literature in Iran and in 2003 she received the Sadegh Hedayat Award for a short story, the first prize ever given in Iran to an Afghan. Back in Kabul since 2011, she taught at Gharjistan University and worked as a senior advisor to two ministers in charge of education & labor, social affairs, martyrs, and the disabled. She participated in numerous international events as a vocal advocate of equal rights for women in Afghanistan. She was awarded the Malalai Medal—Afghanistan’s highest civilian honor—for exceptional bravery by Ashraf Ghani, the last president of Afghanistan until the overthrow by the Taliban in 2021. In 2014, she received her PhD in Persian literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, with a dissertation on “Reflections of War and Emigration in Stories and Novels of Afghanistan.”
In 2015 she was a writer in residence in the “United Nations of writers” program at the University of Iowa. In the 2021 fall of Kabul, she and her son managed to flee the country and she is currently Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Homeira Qaderi is the author of seven books, including novels, short stories, and literary criticism, all written in Dari Persian. Her first book in English translation was published by HarperCollins in 2020, as Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son. It was excerpted by the New York Times and chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best nonfiction books of 2020.
Asif Majid is a theater maker, educator, researcher, musician, and consultant, devoted especially to community-based participatory theater with youth, creating immersive, ethnographic, and multimedia performance. He uses a social justice lens in all his academic and public-facing work, and seeks to illuminate the intersection of Islam and performance. He has taught undergraduate, high school, and middle school students centering around topics such as transnational conflict and environmental refugees, model minorities in the United States, and anti-Muslim hatred in the UK and the US. Asif holds a self-designed BA in Global Peace and Conflict Management from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (2013) and an MA in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University (2015). He received his PhD in Anthropology, Media, and Performance from the University of Manchester (2019). Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of Theater and Human Rights at the University of Connecticut, with an affiliation with Anthropology; Indigeneity, Race, Ethnicity, and Politics; and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. He is also an Arts Research with Communities of Color Fellow with the Social Science Research Council, with a research project at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Detroit. While doing his MA at Georgetown he was also a Student Fellow at The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics.
As an educator, Dr. Majid uses online and theatrical simulations to develop youth’s understanding of historical practices of empire, state formation and national identity, and challenges faced by conflict and environmental refugees. As a consultant, he helps organizations have difficult conversations around racial justice, build structures that move them towards equity, and he ensures everyone can have fun while doing this difficult work.