Earlier this month, I had the privilege of hearing Afghan activist and suspended member of Parliament Malalai Joya speak in Berkeley. Joya is in the United States promoting her new book A Woman Among Warlords and dispelling myths about the United States’ presence in Afghanistan.
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.
Ultimately, Joya’s top priority is to see foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan. She noted that the Taliban is not popular with the Afghan people, and she feels that dealing with one enemy is much easier than dealing with two (the second being the US and NATO forces). According to Joya, the US is supporting “enemies of the people” in Afghanistan and making their struggle for freedom and democracy more difficult. She acknowledged that Afghanistan could use support, but that “no nation can donate liberation.”
Coinciding with her visit to the Bay Area, Joya had an OpEd in the San Jose Mercury News entitled “U.S. is doing no good in Afghanistan.” She writes:
We are sandwiched between three powerful enemies: the occupation forces of the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban and the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai.
Now President Obama is considering increasing troops to Afghanistan and simply extending former President Bush’s wrong policies. In fact, the worst massacres since 9/11 were during Obama’s tenure. My native province of Farah was bombed by the U.S. this past May. A hundred and fifty people were killed, most of them women and children. On Sept. 9, the U.S. bombed Kunduz Province, killing 200 civilians.
My people are fed up. That is why we want an immediate end to the U.S. occupation.
At the end of her speech, someone asked Malalai Joya what we should do as individuals. She encouraged us to raise our voices against our government’s policy and contact our politicians to pressure them for a new approach. UC Berkeley Professor Jerry Sanders urged everyone in the audience to buy two copies of Joya’s book, and adopt an official in Washington to send the book to so they can hear Joya’s message. We are constantly seeing a parade of politicians, pundits and military experts (mostly men, mostly western) telling us why we need to increase our military presence in Afghanistan. I really want every politician who is making decisions on these issues to hear the voices of people who really understand what is going on in Afghanistan and are profoundly impacted by US policy on the ground.
Malalai Joya did get the opportunity to speak with some members of Congress and staff during her to trip to the US. She said she told them that the silence of good people is worse than the action of evil people. It was invigorating to think about the weight of those words on members of Congress coming from a woman who speaks out at incredible risk to her own safety. Now we must take up the call and make sure voices like Joya’s are heard and our politicians take the moral, pragmatic approach to Afghanistan.