Celebrated women’s rights activist and former member of the Afghan parliament Malalai Joya was scheduled to promote a new edition of her book “A Woman Among Warlords.” The Afghan Women’s Mission is reporting that those plans have been derailed because the US government won’t allow Joya into the country:
Colleagues of Ms. Joya’s report that when she presented herself as scheduled at the U.S. embassy, she was told she was being denied because she was “unemployed” and “lives underground.” Then 27, Joya was the youngest woman elected to Afghanistan’s parliament in 2005. Because of her harsh criticism of warlords and fundamentalists in Afghanistan, she has been the target of at least five assassination attempts. “The reason Joya lives underground is because she faces the constant threat of death for having had the courage to speak up for women’s rights – it’s obscene that the U.S. government would deny her entry,” said Sonali Kolhatkar of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a U.S. based organization that has hosted Joya for speaking tours in the past and is a sponsor of this year’s national tour.
Joya has also become an internationally known critic of the US-NATO war in Afghanistan. Organizers argue that the denial of Joya’s visa appears to be a case of what the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ First Amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States.
It adds insult to injury that the US would bar Joya from entering the US because of her “underground” status since (despite claims to the contrary) the US military presence has clearly not brought about a situation in which this women’s rights advocate can operate freely and safely.
Joya is an incredibly effective advocate for ending the war in Afghanistan, especially when she powerfully dismantles US government assertions that the war is in the interests of Afghanistan’s women. Many people, including progressives, are rightly concerned about the fate of women in Afghanistan. Joya spreads an effective message about the need for women’s rights movements in Afghanistan to be homegrown and not imposed by an occupying power (especially one whose success in elevating women’s rights in the country is in question). I was fortunate enough to hear her speak in Berkeley in late 2009 and wrote this about her talk at the time:
Joya did not mince words in denouncing the occupation of Afghanistan and disabusing the audience of the notion that the situation in Afghanistan has improved in the last eight years. Comparing the occupation to the rule of Taliban, Joya said the Afghan people went from “the frying pan to the fire.” She pointed out that violence against women is not only a problem from the Taliban; the warlords the United States and NATO work with are “a photocopy of the Taliban.”
As we know, much of General McChrystal’s strategy in Afghanistan depends on partnering with the Afghan government. Joya spoke out against the Karzai regime and what she called “the tragic drama of the so-called election.” One glaring example of how the Karzai regime does not protect women’s rights is the “personal status law” that Joya condemned, a piece of legislation signed by Karzai that severely limits women’s rights by essentially legalizing marital rape and requiring Shiia women to get permission for actions as simple as leaving their homes. Joya herself is in more danger now than during her years of teaching in underground girls’ schools under the Taliban. She has been the target of five assassination attempts, and told us she was even threatened with rape within Parliament for speaking out.
We need voices like Joya’s to reach the American public. People need to hear her difficult words about the effect of the US presence in Afghanistan, and to consider the desires of the Afghan people in making decisions about whether to continue the nearly ten-year-old war. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) has written a letter to the Consul General, signed by several other members of Congress, urging a reconsideration of Joya’s visa application. There’s still time for them to walk back from this untenable position. I sincerely hope they do.