OU Visiting Scholar Speaks at National Security Symposium in Washington, D.C.
On March 7, a University of Oklahoma professor was a featured speaker at a high-level meeting of U.S. government and military officials, ambassadors and other key figures from around the world. Dr. Feroz Bashari, a visiting scholar in Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and Price College of Business, was selected to speak about Afghanistan at the National Security Symposium, held in Washington, D.C. Dr. Bashari, who is from Afghanistan, came to Oklahoma on February 16, 2022 and was hired by the University of Oklahoma through the College of International Studies Omar Khayyam Scholars-at-Risk program, coordinated by Dean Scott Fritzen with support from the Farzaneh family.
Bashari’s invitation to the symposium was arranged via the University of Oklahoma Center for Intelligence and National Security (CINS), which recommended Bashari due to his extensive 20-year career working with the Afghan government, the U.S. embassy and the U.S. military. An expert in the field of strategic communications, he worked for several years as the director of communications for the office of the president of Afghanistan and as the chief spokesperson for the government of Afghanistan. He also worked as country media advisor for the U.S Embassy in Kabul, head of strategic communications for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and interpreter/cultural and political advisor for visiting U.S. officials, including former President Barack Obama (when he was a senator), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Dick Cheney, among others. Bashari worked particularly closely with the late Senator John McCain, who he considered a friend.
“Until 2014, I was the face of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan communicating U.S. messages, narrative and policies to the Afghan audience properly,” he explained. “And then I got a job at the Office of the President, but I was still engaged with my American partners. I worked together with my international partners to promote democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of expression as well as supporting human rights issues.”
When the Afghan government fell to the Taliban in 2021, Bashari was evacuated by U.S. Marines on the last flight out of Kabul with his wife and five children. After a long journey with stops in Qatar and Germany, Bashari and his family were settled in Oklahoma.
“We left everything behind,” he said. “You live in a country for years and years and you make a living for yourself. So it was a very difficult decision for us to leave our country, but we were forced to leave our country – we could not live there. It was about my life, my kids’ life, and our future.”
Bashari was recruited by Dean Fritzen to join the Omar Khayyam Scholars-at-Risk program, which brings scholars to campus who have been displaced from their countries due to conflict or the curtailing of academic freedoms. For the past year, Bashari has been teaching courses in Gaylord and Price Colleges – drawing on his previous years of teaching experience at Kabul University – as well as doing research and giving lectures. Bashari was already acquainted with Gaylord College visiting professor and CINS Associate Director Mike J. Boettcher from Boettcher’s time as a journalist in Afghanistan, so Boettcher helped arrange Bashari’s participation in the symposium.
The National Security Symposium differs quite a bit from an academic conference. Instead of presenting papers, representatives of various countries give short presentations and spend most of their time slots answering questions and participating in dialogue with attendees. “There were people invited who are decision-makers, who work on Afghanistan,” Bashari explained. “And the goal of this symposium was to increase their knowledge of Afghanistan, to educate them on how things went wrong and what should be considered in the future if we are deciding to engage in Afghanistan and work on Afghan-related issues.”
Importantly, the symposium is off-limits to the media, allowing participants to have candid discussions about critical issues. It was the first time since coming to the United States that Bashari has had the opportunity to share on such a significant platform the knowledge gained from his 20 years working with the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.
“At the symposium, I went through every step – the mistakes we made together, things we achieved together, things we lost together,” he said. “How we promoted democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and why we could not preserve those achievements. It was a very interesting discussion, a discussion where media were not there, so we could say what we wanted to say, frankly and openly.”
Though the symposium was one day only, a lot was covered, with representatives of Britain, Japan, Ukraine and others all speaking. Though the conversations were difficult, Bashari ended his trip to D.C. feeling he helped provide crucial insight for the future. “Many of participants were actively engaged in Afghanistan and many still are willing to get engaged in Afghan issues,” he said. “So what I said was really being heard and will be considered in decisions in the future.”
Back in Oklahoma, Bashari is enjoying his role at OU as a professor and scholar. But naturally, the past year has been a huge adjustment for him and his family, who are still reeling from being forced to leave their country for a place with an entirely different culture.
“Oklahoma is a great place to live. I still believe that I made the right decision to be here,” he said. “ However, the first days and months were difficult. It was a big cultural challenge to all of us.” This is why he has chosen to help his fellow Afghans who are new to the United States: “I play the role of a community leader. I have a website plus a YouTube channel, Afghan’s Guide to America. It's in English, Pashto, and Dari. There are videos about American culture, rule of law, health care, education and other issues important for living in the United States.”
Bashari established himself as a community leader soon after his arrival in Oklahoma City, when he administered the oath of office for Mayor David Holt, who was starting a second term. Bashari could be the first Afghan immigrant in U.S. history to administer the oath of office for a U.S. mayor.
Currently, Bashari is wrapping up teaching for semester and plans to continue on as a visiting scholar in the fall. “I'm very lucky that I found a job where I can feel very comfortable,” he said. “I feel like it's my home now, because I’m doing exactly the things I used to do back home – media interviews, talking to people, leading people, helping people out and teaching people.”
Learn more about the University of Oklahoma Omar Khayyam Scholars-at-Risk Program on our website.