It is not easy to challenge an empire and sway world affairs from a cramped insurance office in Sherman Oaks, but Farouq Tamiz gives it the old Kabul try.
Which is why the long arm of the KGB reached out to Ventura Boulevard on a rainy Tuesday morning.
Either that, or the Polish telephone network was up to the sort of thing that delights fans of ethnic jokes. It can be difficult to tell, but the KGB has a messier record than the Warsaw lineman.
Tamiz, 41, came to the United States from his native Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, in 1969 to study at California State University, Los Angeles.
He is a man of many facets. Besides selling insurance, he teaches economics at Valley College and is suing Adidas USA in federal court in a patent dispute over who invented athletic shoes that can tell the wearer how far he has run or walked.
A patent for Tamiz's version of the shoe hangs in his office, from which he also runs the Radio Voice of Afghanistan, which supports the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union's occupation of their country.
The voice consists primarily of Tamiz and a tape recorder. He pays KFOX-FM a fee of $100 to broadcast a one-hour tape each Tuesday night in the Afghan languages of Pashtu and Dari. They contain music, news, Koran readings and some interviews in English.
The highlight of this week's program was to be an interview in Polish, translated into English, with Lech Walesa, soul of the Solidarity resistance movement in Poland and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Tamiz, in discussions with Polish-American groups, had agreed that, since the Soviet Union was a common enemy, they could combine forces for a propaganda strike. Tamiz would interview Walesa about the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Pomost, a Chicago-based support group for Solidarity, contacted Walesa and arranged the interview, said Chris Ciesiolkiewicz Kolski, a Canoga Park electrical engineer who is president of the Southern California Division of the Polish-American Congress.
Kolski would serve as interpreter for Tamiz when he got Walesa on the line. After six months of preparations, the date was set, and the news media invited.
Tamiz gathered the technical resources of the Voice on his desk, a couple of inexpensive home cassette tape decks and a speaker patched into the line so reporters could hear the conversation. The news media gathered, all of three reporters and a TV cameraman. They had trouble squeezing into the office.
Tamiz punched in the direct-dial number for Walesa's home. It was the dinner hour in Gdansk, Poland, where Walesa is a shipyard electrician.
Walesa answered. Tamiz said hello into the four microphones that had been attached to the phone line. Kolski, interpreting, said Walesa suggested that it might be better to do this in person because his telephone line is bugged by the government.
It was clearly a bit late for that.
The line went dead.
Tamiz punched in the number again. Walesa answered and yelled "Allo, allo." Tamiz yelled "Allo."
Walesa said he had trouble hearing them, although his voice sounded clear enough in Sherman Oaks.
Kolski translated Tamiz's question, asking what Walesa thinks about the Soviets in Afghanistan. Walesa replied that the Soviet government said the Afghan government invited them.
"Do you believe them?" Tamiz responded to Kolski to Walesa.
"No," Walesa replied.
The line went dead.
Tamiz telephoned again.
Walesa answered. "Allo, allo."
A strange sound came on the circuit, an unintelligible human voice. It sounded like a man yelling gibberish with a hand over his mouth.
"I can't understand nothing," Kolski said.
"Let Mr. Walesa speak," Tamiz yelled into the phone. "I don't know if you are KGB or who you are, but let your citizen speak."
Tamiz began to ask Walesa if he would be the first of a series of Nobel winners Tamiz is trying to line up to tour Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.
The volume of the strange voice rose and fell.
"Allo, allo," Tamiz shouted.
The line went dead.
Tamiz telephoned the international operator and asked him to place the call. The operator said the circuits to Gdansk--which he had clearly never heard of--were down.
Tamiz asked him to try again, using any special tricks international operators know. The operator said his tricks were exhausted.
Sometimes, he said, they close the phone system in Poland.
"They have pulled the plug, the KGB or the Polish secret police," Tamiz said. "Glasnost is a joke."
"Wouldn't it be great for both our people," Tamiz suggested to Kolski, "if they arrested him for speaking to us?"
"Good publicity, for such a minor thing as this."
Kolski did not think that would be a good thing at all. "No, especially not in those jails they have. He can act more effectively if he's free."
"The pain a man feels for his country is a good pain," Tamiz replied. "Walesa should be in jail more than he is at home."
"Glasnost is a joke," Tamiz said. Kolski agreed.