Afghanistan Economic and Legal Studies Organization (AELSO), an Atlas Network partner, is winning the battle of ideas in a very difficult part of the world. “Whenever someone participates in one of our events for the first time, we get a lot of criticism,” explained Khalid Ramizy, Executive Director of AELSO. “They say, ‘these values do not exist in our religion and culture.’ That is why our work is so important—to educate participants about the commonality between liberty and Islam.” AELSO has been working to draw that line since the organization was founded in 2009, and has since become one of the most influential think tanks in Afghanistan.
AELSO started two programs aimed at educating the general public on the ideas of liberty: AELSO Academy and the Silk Road Station, both of which are supported by Atlas Network.
The Silk Road Station was launched in 2015 with the goal of changing the perception of libertarianism in Afghanistan. The first educational and academic radio station in the nation, Silk Road Station is broadcast on four FM radio stations and is frequented by thousands of listeners. The station also gives listeners opportunities to engage with each other through direct online communication to exchange their views and provide additional resources.
“AELSO Academy is a unique initiative which includes a series of seminars, trainings, conferences, webinars, and video programs,” continued Ramizy. “The goal is to provide a better understanding of the ideas of liberty while equipping scholars, young leaders, women, and students with the tools they need to advocate for change.” More than 1,800 people have attended an AELSO Academy conference or seminar, and at least 10,000 people have viewed at least one of the online videos. “Through the AELSO Academy, we have removed the misinterpretation of libertarian ideas with Islam and enhanced our participant’s understanding of liberal ideas. This is the biggest success of AELSO Academy thus far.”
AELSO recently held the first annual Think BIG Conference as part of their AELSO Academy program, bringing together over 300 liberty-advocates for a full-day seminar. The conference included discussions with high-profile politicians, activists, and experts in the field on issues like human rights, the benefits of a free-market, and the challenges for liberty in Afghanistan. One of the crowd favorites was a specific panel for women under the title of “Women & Liberty”. The session highlighted the role that women would play in a free society and the natural equality that would ensue as a result.
Unlike most academic conferences in the region, a large contingent of attendees were women. “Female participation at these kinds of events are very low in Afghanistan because of norms and customs,” Ramizy explained. “We convinced Afghan women to participate in the conference so they could learn their basic rights and more about liberty in general, and over 40% of attendees were women, which was unthinkable in our country.”
The strides that AELSO has made to expose the ideas of liberty to the people of Afghanistan have been extremely effective. Through the AELSO Academy and the Silk Road Station, classical liberal ideas are quietly emerging into the mainstream, making AELSO optimistic about the future of Afghanistan. “When we educate people about liberty and its compatibility in Islam, we see a very great appetite for it,” concluded Ramizy. “This gives me more hope and courage to work harder for this country.”