The Mean Girls of Afghanistan

Published: October 21, 2015

I began to understand why Durrani may have tucked her Afghan ID under the Persian rug. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM

Recently, Afghan Americans tuned in to see the Instagram famous Afghan girl, Durrani Popal, an employee of DASH, the infamous clothing store owned by the Kardashian sisters. In the slew of Insta-famous-for-nothing girls, Durrani was given special attention from our community, for the sole fact that she was an Afghan, beautiful, and works for the Kardashians.

There are only a handful of fashion and makeup Afghan gurus, and with her big beautiful blue eyes and amazing fashion sense, it’s easy to see why Afghan Americans were eager for her to shed positive light on her ethnic background. We all waited for her to mention her roots. It would be great to have a beautiful Afghan girl working in the fashion and entertainment industry representing us, showing the world that Afghan women do not always need saving, and can achieve non-traditional career roles.

But instead what we saw was no mention of Afghanistan. Rather, we were given every ‘allusion’ that she was Iranian – mentions of Ghormeh Sabzi and Farsi class, her fondness of Iranian men, and an introduction to her Persian Jewish boyfriend. She and her Iranian co-worker and roommate, Nazy Farnoosh, spoke of their close friendship because of their similar backgrounds, but again, there was no distinction made between Nazy being Iranian and Durrani being Afghan. It almost seemed as if Durrani was hiding being Afghan, and trying to pass off as Iranian – a community already introduced to reality TV through shows like Shahs of Sunset, and other notable reality stars.

Naturally, I was annoyed. For Afghans, we knew who she was. The names ‘Durrani’ and ‘Popal’ are not Iranian; they are uniquely Afghan/Pakhtun names, and quite popular ones at that. The Durrani Empire spanned all of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of Iran, and its ruler, Ahmad Shah Durrani is considered the founder of the modern Afghan state. Furthermore, ‘Popal’ from the longer name ‘Popalzai’ is a huge Pakhtun tribe of Durrani descent. Therefore, both her names scream Afghan, and are very patriotic, to say the least.

To an outsider, she can be confused for Iranian; Afghans look Iranian, speak the language and share the religion.

Social media conversations mirrored my confusion. Why was she hiding her ethnicity? What’s wrong with being Afghan? Why are you trying to blend in with the Iranians so bad?

However, Durrani quickly clarified on her Twitter account that she gets confused for Iranian, but is in fact, Afghan.

Interested if other Afghans felt the same way, I posted a Facebook status expressing my impatience and dismay with Afghan girls passing off as Iranians. My issue arises when Afghan girls are benefitting from their exotic looks but making every effort to hide their roots.

But quickly I realised why Durrani may be turning the cheek to our people.

Almost as soon as I posted it, a slew of negative comments followed, attacking her character, love and life decisions, clothing choices and even her mannerisms. She was name-called and her intelligence was questioned, and she was scolded for being a ‘bad’ Afghan and Muslim.

Woah. This wasn’t a community I’d be proud of. I was taken aback by how mean some of the comments were:

“We don’t want her to say she’s Afghan.”

“She doesn’t act like a true Afghan.”

Upon visiting her Instagram page, I saw identical comments under her photos, scolding her for her actions on the show and expressing dismay that she did not clearly state her ethnicity. She was repeatedly called a ‘b****’, ‘s**t’, ‘w***e’, and every other derogatory phrase under the sun. And these comments came mostly from Afghans.

That’s when it dawned on me, why say you’re Afghan? We’re not a welcoming and loving community anyway. We judge you on everything.

I myself have been on the other side, poked and prodded for my skirts or my makeup or my friends or my mannerisms and even this blog. I began to ask myself, are we an inclusive community? Why are people measuring ‘Afghan-ness’ and how can we pretend to be good pious Muslims if we’re judging girls left and right? Is there a barometer to being Afghan?

Yes, because being an Afghan girl is like being in a sorority. Follow the rules, or you can’t sit with us. Either please the big sister, or get kicked out. You can wear short skirts, but not too short. You can date a guy or two, but not a Jew on national TV. You can pursue fashion, but not under Kim Kardashian because she’s a sex-tape phenomenon.

I began to understand why Durrani may have tucked her Afghan ID under the Persian rug. I realised that I myself was judging her and felt horrible – how many times have people seen me and thought the same things? When your every move is being monitored under a ghayrat (pride) microscope, why not just give up? The community won’t accept you – so why accept them?

As a community, and I am including myself here, we have a huge problem with judging our daughters. There is a tremendous double standard between our boys and girls. And this double standard is seeping into the way our community is being represented in the media. Just the other day, I posted an invite to a pre-screening of Rock the Kasbah, a film directed by Barry Levinson, written by Mitch Glazer, and starring Bill Murray that takes place in Afghanistan. A number of people expressed their dismay that a Palestinian woman, and not an Afghan, played the lead role. Well obviously. Since when did an Afghan mom or dad say,

“Yes bachem, go ahead and enrol in acting classes and wear spaghetti straps and get your headshots taken and fly to Hollywood.”

How are you going to get mad that we don’t have mainstream actors when Durrani Popal can’t even play herself on a reality show?

And this isn’t the first time an Afghan woman has been measured on the Afghan barometer. Aryana Sayeed, an Afghan pop singer, is constantly getting threats of rape and murder for wearing tight clothing during her performances.

Aryana Sayeed, Afghan pop singer who faces constant criticism

Vida Samadzai, Miss Afghanistan 2003, was condemned by the Afghan Supreme Court and called a ‘w***e’, a ‘s**t’, a shame to our community for wearing a red bikini in an international pageant.

Vida Samadzai, faced death threats for wearing a bikini during beauty pageant

The irony of this all is that a lot of those criticising our sisters are the same people who say they’re non-judgmental Muslims. A big part of Islam and practicing the religion is being a humble and loving individual, and to worry about your own soul rather than the shortcomings of others. ‘Pious’ Muslims and Muslimahs post Islamic quotes stated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) along the lines that no one with the slightest pinch of arrogance will be able to enter Paradise, but they are the first ones to partake in bashing girls from our community that may not practice the religion as diligently, or as outwardly.

At the same time, however, I firmly believe that if you are a person of some importance, and have the ability to sway or influence people’s opinions about our community, then do so. If you were raised as an Afghan and as a Muslim, then it would be fair and commendable that one not bash their background or perpetuate stereotypes about our people. Either gung-ho represent, or don’t at all, because we get enough slack in the media. I don’t appreciate people using their platforms to belittle our community and make it seem like we’re all small-minded haters who are all snarky and judgy, because clearly my existence proves we’re not.

My family is an anecdotal piece of evidence that no, not all Afghans will ‘disown’ you for dating a Jew (on the contrary, my mom has always encouraged me to do so, ‘because you’ll be rich’ – joking of course). My parents have never told me who I can and cannot marry – only that they be good people. I literally have in-laws who are Iranian, Armenian, Sri Lankan, Mexican, and white. I couldn’t and still cannot relate to some of the things that Durrani was saying, like she went to a “Farsi school” where she would get hit, or that she would get disowned for her relationship with a Jew.

In my experience, it is Jews who are more exclusive about marrying within their community than Muslims. My family is not anything like what Durrani described hers to be, and so I felt defensive that they may get painted in such a light. I felt she was selling the same image of Muslims that is constantly sold, and wished more positive light was shed.

But if that was her experience, then I cannot impose mine. At the end of the day, I am immensely proud of being Afghan, but only because I learned to turn my cheek to ignorant individuals who say I’m a ‘w***e’ for wearing a bikini and focused my energy on the multitude of positives in my culture. Just because Durrani may not do so, doesn’t mean I get to smack-talk her for it. So be it.

So for all the other Durranis out there, I’m sorry your identity is being compromised because of your choices. I’m sorry you can’t sit with us because you’re not like us. I’m sorry your every move will be scrutinised and criticised and we will push you away because you don’t act the way we want you to. I’m sorry you can’t proudly say you’re Afghan without someone robbing you of your identity because you’re not “Afghan enough” for them. I didn’t know there were levels to this. I thought you were just born Afghan, I wasn’t aware there was an interview and hiring process. Last time I checked, no one could choose their ethnic background, besides Rachel Dolezal and we saw how that turned out.

Until the Afghan community learns to love and embrace each child as their own, regardless of their personal choices, we’ll continue to have pretending Persians.

A verse from the Holy Quran states that one should not spy on each other, as it is considered a sin in some cases, and should not back bite either. (Chapter 49, Surah Hujurat, verse 12)

I use Islamic quotes not to support bad behaviour, but rather to support people not judging one another as a whole.

This post originally appeared here.

Madinah Noorai

Madinah Noorai

A first-generation Afghan-American living in Los Angeles. With a degree in Political Science and a concentration in the Middle East, her blog covers politics, cultural taboos, and identity reconciliation. She tweets @madinahhh (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • pakhtun

    she was an Afghan, beautiful, and works for the Kardashians.

    Beautiful??? Really???Recommend

  • Vyoma

    well persian girls are some of the most beautiful girls out their and thats overall beauty and though beauty being a highly relative thing thing which can mean different to different people i find persian,indian and israeli girls to be the most prettiest of them all having dated 3 of them and now happily married to an iranian i.e persian national i can approve this factRecommend

  • hina

    Absolutely fantastic Blog ! I support you Madinah as an Afghan,Recommend

  • Humza

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and a lot of people are turned off by the behavior and artificial looks of women on DASH and Shahs of Sunset. They are not attractive to many people but just a joke. Also, a good number of Iranian women are also ashamed to reveal their origins. It’s not just Afghans but also Iranians in the US who try to hide their backgrounds because saying you are Iranian or Afghani brings up negative images to most Americans. I note in California that most Iranians try to pretend that they are Mexican or some other ethnic group and when they do accept their background, always say “Persian” but never Iranian. I know that since sexual abuse of young children and women such as Bache Bazi came out in US military reports, a lot of US people have started using more derogatory names for Afghans such as Assghans which may explain why many Afghans in US do not reveal their background. Yes Afghan people can be judgemental toward each other but it is more complex than that when you have a large refugee community of Afghans who have not integrated into life like other groups there.Recommend

  • Sami

    The midst of the article turned racist. Claiming Pakistani territories with the reminder of one family name. Kindly remember that Durranis are not known as rulers of this region, but they are known as Nomads and looters who used Islam to gain advantages along with the Mughals in the subcontinent.Recommend

  • stevenson

    I think the author should understand that these adult women who objectify themselves with layers of make up, half naked clothes, uncomfortable high heels, teenager behavior. and sleeping around with men ( not just Jewish men) is not seen as glamorous by lots of confident women.Recommend

  • KahnaKacha

    “The Durrani Empire spanned all of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of Iran, and its ruler, Ahmad Shah Durrani is considered the founder of the modern Afghan state. ”

    This is a fact of history. Would you also be offended if someone mentions other facts, such as what’s now Pakistan was also a part of Mauryan empire, Greek empire, Sythian empire, and several other empires originating in Central Asia. And all of these empires regardless of the religion they followed, plundered conquered areas.

    Author has made no territorial claim over modern political boundaries of Pakistan or Iran. And Ghilzai tribes are traditionally nomads (slowly that is also changing), Durranis are not considered nomads.Recommend

  • insaf

    Afghan girls are very pretty. Recommend

  • diamond

    Ahmad Shah Baba was a Saddozai and not a Popalzai. Afghani is currency. The people are Afghan. Go back to school and do something useful with your lives.Recommend

  • Anita Bryant

    The Kardsians are the scum of the reality world they have made millions selling the most intimate details of their personal lives, Kris Jenner will stop at nothing even if it means marketing a sex tape of her daughter they made money on Bruce Jenners transition from a man to a woman and now one of the daughter husband Odom was found in a brothel in Nevada overdoses with drugs any woman of whatever origin who decided to work for them at Dash does not have her respect in check. There is another reality show “Shah’s of Sunset” these are the rich Iranians that supported the Shah of Iran and managed to escape with their Swiss bank accounts they are the worst reality of Iranians bloated, constantly drunk and depict the lowest form of rejects well most Iranians in Los Angeles are very respectable decent class of people but are now viewed by America as a classless people!Recommend

  • insaf

    History 101 says Duranni Empire stretched from Samarkand to Delhi and Kashmir to Isfahan. That means all of modern day Pakistan, parts of Iran, India, and Central Asia fell under Duranni Empire. Also, the mighty Barakzai tribe chose Ahmad Shah Baba, a Saddozai, to serve as king. Popalzais are a different Afghan tribe. Recommend

  • Baoo

    That’s one ugly woman trying for cheap popularity just like the Kardashians.Recommend

  • Rumi

    That is why so many Pakistanis take pride in using Durani as their family name!Recommend

  • Feroz

    When we think about the status of women in Afghanistan, we need to weep. In that context this article is absolutely superfluous.Recommend

  • Sami

    The fact is that there was no country named Afghanistan during the Durrani time. Secondly All Afghans live in the past. So keep on enjoying the past with made up stories of grandeur.
    Also There was no Pakistan during the empires you have mentioned. But anyway keep on living in the past to have a happy feel for sometime.
    All i know they are all histories. And we are the future. And this time no nomads will dare to inflict any plundering to this region again.Recommend

  • lathi-charge

    She sure does look ‘pretty’ after someone used a bicycle tire-pump on her lips !Recommend

  • lathi-charge

    Majority of India women far from pretty. And many Iranian women get a nose-job for a birthday present these days. But, yes, Israeli gals cover the full spectrum of beauty.Recommend

  • sterry

    I don’t really care about some desperate Afghan American wannabe who dresses like a tart. She’s not pretty but Durranis in KPK would be upset to think she is using that name! I am sure there are more Durranis in Pak because Ahmad Shah Durrani was born in Multan. What’s weird is that Afghans forget that there are more Pashtun in Pakistan than Afghanistan. Afghanistan has more Tajik, Hazara and Uzbeks.Recommend

  • Anit Patel

    You’re a bonafide idiot. Who are you to say anything. Pakistan oversaw and engaged in the destruction of Afghanistan so that its Pashtun population does not secede. Your country the future! Don’t make me laugh. Pakistan’s terrorist exporting factory will never grow anything beyond the dump that it is. Pashtunistan and Balochistan will secede and we’ll take back what was ours.Recommend

  • Anit Patel

    The real pretty Persian girls are of mostly Turkic, Tajik or Afghan descent. Most Israeli girls are Polish or other nationalities, while indians are anything but good-looking. Top actors and actresses are of Afghan or Turkic descent. Others have some inkling of foreign genetic material. Invaders took many locals as concubines. Hence why they think they’re better than average indian.Recommend

  • Grace

    You too need to learn something if you don’t know that India helped Afghans cause their own destruction. Why else would Afghans be lackeys for India to cause mischief in Pakistan which backfired? If Pak is such a dump, why do millions of Afghan refugees not move to India or go back to Afghanistan? Could it be that they are both bigger “dumps”! The biggest terrorist exporting country in the region is India which has been terrorizing Kashmir since 1947 and the Afghans who willingly sided with the Indians to do the same in Peshawar but failed miserably. So Indians and Afghans themselves are responsible for poor state of Afghans all over the world.Recommend

  • FishSticks4Kimye

    Yeah, afghani refugees have a tough life around the world. But I’ve never heard of Iranians pretending to be anything but Iranians or Persians. Especially in California. Are you kidding me? Recommend

  • Humza

    If you live in the US, you’ll know that many Muslim nations are viewed negatively, not just Arab countries but also Iran which is viewed as part of the “Axis of evil” for a long time now. Iranians in the US desperate to fit it, understandably don’t want to be associated with an enemy of the US. Agreed Iranians in US, whether recent arrivals or those from the time of the Shah are against the religious government in Iran but they have to deal with the baggage of the negative label “Iran” and “Iranian”. Saying you are Persian and not Iranian is a way to obfuscate. That’s why they try to make their names less foreign, become more western in culture and shun ties with Iran to the extent of trying to sidestep the issue of being Iranian at all. You’ll see that the majority of Iranians in the US distance themselves from practicing religion too, although they celebrate pre Islamic rituals such as Nowruz. By using the old Greek name for the ancient empire of Persia, they avoid being labelled Iranian and all the negative perceptions that come from being part of a repressive theocratic state. Yes Afghans have to deal with the Bache Baze label but each community has its own problems of identity.Recommend

  • Oats

    If you find this girl pretty, you need to have your eyes checked!Recommend

  • insaf

    Who cares what women think. She is highly appealing to the opposite sex. Jealous? Recommend

  • insaf

    This is a fashion blog. Take ur unwanted views elsewhere.Recommend

  • GulSher

    I Agree with KahnaKacha!
    Durrani are known as former rulers and there decedents are still living in KPK and Karachi; this is a fact.
    @Sami – Not only Pakistan but some of what is now known as Northern India was part of it too, albeit for only some hundred years. We can only blame our self (I am Pakistani) for having forgotten these facts.Recommend

  • GulSher

    As a Pakistani I feel proud of Durrani legacy for directly or indirectly increasing the influence of Islam in this area.
    You should feel the same way and be happy about it. Durrani are us by association of faith and in many cases directly through lineage. Now let’s focus on leading by example in a responsible fashion. Peace and Respect!

    I forgot this was fashion blog….lol!Recommend



  • anon714

    ummm Afghanistan was NEVER called “Persia”. Recommend

  • Ze-yom-Duranai

    I don’t care how ignorant you are and I am not here to correct you but just wanna make a note that Ahmad Shah Durrani was born in Herat not multan, multan would have been a small deprived village around time time “same as it is now”. Also, about those so called durannis in kpk – they all happen to be Punjabis who fake their identities.Recommend

  • Ze-yom-Durrani

    There are no Durranis living any parts of Pakistan. Durranis were living in Loy Kandahar area that consisted of todays Farah, Zabul, Helmand, Qalat, Kandahar. Those Pakistanis that call themselves Durranis have personality disorder or live in a state of identity crisis.Recommend

  • Jimmy Smith

    Please do not bring these afghan to us.Recommend

  • Jimmy Smith

    It never went to northern India and was stopped when sikhs pushed them out. Recommend

  • Jimmy Smith

    Trust me after seeing what youare doing in America we aren’t interested.Recommend

  • Jimmy Smith

    Please do not include Pakistanis with these assghans and persians. Recommend

  • Jimmy Smith

    Majority of India is haplogroup M on their mothers end and R1a1, L, and H on their fathers end. Half of North Indians are Aryans invaders to begin with.Recommend

  • Jimmy Smith

    Hahaha a Persian pretending to be a Mexican? HahahaRecommend

  • Kubla Khan

    You want trust, you cant trust a person who purports what you do youRecommend

  • Kubla Khan

    “It never”, what kind of English is that?Recommend

  • Naina Patel

    your country is built on genocide of bengalis and an illusion and iran is built on arab-turkic islamic culture, they have no culture yet they act superior to central asians like afghans/uzbeks/azerbaijanis etc. most of pakistani land is afghan and baluchistani/ as well as indian. Recommend

  • Jamal Al-Afghani

    The Kardashians have ruined the mines of young women!Recommend