By Theresa Wolfwood
Slender, slight, young and stunningly beautiful, Malalai Joya could be a model, actress or media celebrity. But as soon as she started to speak to an overflow crowd of hundreds in a big UVIC auditorium, we know we were in the presence of greatness and courage.
Speaking from her life experience and knowledge as a woman and as an Afghan, she called on Canadians who are justice —loving to end Canada’s involvement in the NATO occupation of her country and our support of the present government. Karzai was re—elected in what many outsider observers call a massive fraud in which less than half the eligible voters cast a vote, including many women who found their polling stations closed.
She sees little different between the current government and the Taliban. Both are cruel, anti—women and both deny basic human rights. Joya, expelled from her rightful place in the Afghan Parliament where she was elected from the province of Farah, called the government criminals and warlords. One of its first acts was to forgive their own crimes and give themselves amnesty. The record is available for the searching that many MPs and government leaders are warlords and drug barons. When she said the parliament— where she was interrupted, shouted down, threatened with rape and murder by other MPs— was like a zoo, she was ordered to apologize. She did, but only to animals that she felt she had insulted. Her bodyguards were taken away from her – her parliamentary right. Now she has her own bodyguards that she pays privately.
So why does democratic Canada support the occupation of her country and kill innocent civilian? She expresses her condolences to the families of Canadians who have died in her country. She said that Canada is taking its orders from the USA who led the invasion and the occupation of her home. She said NATO must withdraw today, even tomorrow is too late. She is right of course; Canada no longer has even the pretence of an independent foreign or military policy. Canada’s #1 Warlord, as she calls Stephen Harper, proudly proclaims his allegiance to the USA lead by the new little Bush, as she describes Obama.
The immediate withdrawal of NATO must be accompanied by a global end to arms sales to the warring groups in Afghanistan and she calls on us and our government to recognize and support the real democratic parties and organization in Afghanistan who could lead the way to peace. This, Joya says, is the road to peaceful transformation of a country that is now the major opium centre of the world and where most people live on less than $2 a day.
“Silence of the good is worse than the actions of the bad.”
She also says that war cannot bring democracy. No nation can donate democracy to another.
Canada is involved in its largest military campaign since WW2 in Afghanistan to support the USA’s plan to dominate resource—rich Asia. At a time of recession, Canada’s military budget is at an all—time high. Canadians are dying and being killed to support neoliberalism and greed. The rights of women are trammeled daily in Afghanistan, schoolgirls are abducted; some have acid thrown on them. Women are harassed and raped by well known men – including some in the government. In our NATO role, she says that we are crushing not only women’s rights but the rights of most Afghans to live dignified and safe lives.
Malalai Joya was raised in refugee camps by parents who believed in the rights of women; she became a teacher and a women’s rights activist underground. She says that educated women become activists. (Would that were true in Canada) so educating women is a threat to the rulers who practice the 3 D’s. Deceit, destruction and domination. Her parents named her after the famous Malalai of Maiwand, a woman who turned the tide with her courage in the decisive defeat of the British in 1880.
When today’s Malalai was elected to parliament she was the youngest member ever elected. Even though she is still an MP, she is not allowed into Parliament. She must constantly move from one safe hose to another, she travels clandestinely with bodyguards, slips secretly out of the country to places, conferences, film making and now her book tour where she can speak out to tell us what we never learn from mainstream media about the real tragedy of Afghanistan. She is married to man of her choice who completely supports her, but they must keep his identity a secret.
Her courage comes from the knowledge that she is speaking the truth of thousands of Afghans. Her network is vast, internally and externally, her courage is the expression of her community; her integrity shines through her words. Thousands have demonstrated publicly in her favour, including women who risk bodily damage like the common cruelty of having their ears cut off.
In Canada, the two major parties support Canada’s war on Afghanistan, but there is one political party that was founded on social justice and the ideals of social democracy –the New Democratic Party (NDP). Years ago the NDP had a policy that Canada should withdraw from NATO – a cold war alliance that was formed supposedly to protect Western Europe, Canada & USA from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union and the Cold War are history now. So why does NATO live on in a new expanded form? Why does Canada engage in invasions of countries that pose no possible threat to us, like Haiti and Afghanistan and our unofficial participation in the war on Iraq? Why is Canada aiding and abetting torture? Where is the principled NDP policy now?
Malalai Joya risks her life daily. While writing and travelling much of her time, Joya has also established many projects that genuinely help Afghans – schools, clinics and social services. See her website on how to support her work. Find ideas and inspiration for action on www.maialaijoya.com
To learn more about the life of this amazing woman, her work and her beliefs and also a vivid glimpse into the culture and daily life of Afghanistan, read her fascinating book: A Woman among Warlords.
She does not want to die but believes her cause would continue even if she is killed. We risk little by speaking out; where are our voices?
“My enemies can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.”
A letter from Malalai Joya, May, 2009
As an elected representative for Farah, Afghanistan, I add my voice to those
condemning the NATO bombing that claimed over 150 civilian lives in my province
earlier this month. This latest massacre offers the world a glimpse of the
horrors faced by our people.
However, as I explained at a May 11 press conference in Kabul, the U.S. military
authorities do not want you to see this reality. As usual, they have tried to
downplay the number of civilian casualties, but I have information that as many
as 164 civilians were killed in the bombings. One grief stricken man from the
village of Geranai explained at the press conference that he had lost 20 members
of his family in the massacre.
The Afghan government commission, furthermore, appears to have failed to list
infants under the age of three who were killed. The government commission that
went to the village after three days — when all the victims had been buried in
mass graves by the villagers — is not willing to make their list public. How
can the precious lives of Afghans be treated with such disrespect?
The news last week is that the U.S. has replaced their top military commander in
Afghanistan, but I think this is just a trick to deceive our people and put off
responsibility for their disastrous overall strategy in Afghanistan on the
shoulders of one person.
The Afghan ambassador in the U.S. said in an interview with Al Jazeera that if a
`proper apology’ is made, then `people will understand’ the civilian deaths. But
the Afghan people do not just want to hear `sorry.’ We ask for an end to the
occupation of Afghanistan and a stop to such tragic war crimes.
The demonstrations by students and others against these latest air strikes, like
last month’s protest by hundreds of Afghan women in Kabul, show the world the
way forward for real democracy in Afghanistan. In the face of harassment and
threats, women took to the streets to demand the scrapping of the law that would
legalize rape within marriage and codify the oppression of our country’s Shia
women. Just as the U.S. air strikes have not brought security to Afghans, nor
has the occupation brought security to Afghan women. The reality is quite the
This now infamous law is but the tip of the iceberg of the women’s rights
catastrophe in our occupied country. The whole system, and especially the
judiciary, is infected with the virus of fundamentalism and so, in Afghanistan,
men who commit crimes against women do so with impunity. Rates of abduction,
gang rape, and domestic violence are as high as ever, and so is the number of
women’s self-immolations and other forms of suicide. Tragically, women would
rather set themselves on fire than endure the hell of life in our `liberated’
The Afghan Constitution does include provisions for women’s rights ? I was one
of many female delegates to the 2003 Loya Jirga who pushed hard to include them.
But this founding document of the `new Afghanistan’ was also scarred by the
heavy influence of fundamentalists and warlords, with whom Karzai and the West
have been compromising from the beginning.
In fact, I was not really surprised by this latest law against women. When the
U.S. and its allies replaced the Taliban with the old notorious warlords and
fundamentalists of the Northern Alliance, I could see that the only change we
would see was from the frying pan to the fire.
There have been a whole series of outrageous laws and court decisions in recent
years. For instance, there was the disgusting law passed on the pretext of
`national reconciliation’ that provided immunity from prosecution to warlords
and notorious war criminals, many of whom sit in the Afghan Parliament. At that
time, the world media and governments turned a blind eye to it.
My opposition to this law was one of the reasons that I, as an elected MP from
Farah Province, was expelled from Parliament in May 2007. More recently, there
was the outrageous 20-year sentence handed down against Parvez Kambakhsh, a
young man whose only crime was to allegedly distribute a dissenting article at
We are told that additional U.S. and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to
help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people
have no hope in this election ? we know that there can be no true democracy
under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia and occupation.
With the exception of Ramazan Bashardost, most of the other candidates are the
known, discredited faces that have been part and parcel of the mafia-like,
failed government of Hamid Karzai. We know that one puppet can be replaced by
another puppet, and that the winner of this election will most certainly be
selected behind closed doors in the White House and the Pentagon. I must
conclude that this presidential election is merely a drama to legitimize the
future U.S. puppet.
Just like in Iraq, war has not brought liberation to Afghanistan. Neither war
was really about democracy or justice or uprooting terrorist groups; rather they
were and are about U.S. strategic interests in the region. We Afghans have never
liked being pawns in the `Great Game’ of empire, as the British and the Soviets
learned in the past century.
It is a shame that so much of Afghanistan’s reality has been kept veiled by a
western media consensus in support of the `good war.’ Perhaps if the citizens of
North America had been better informed about my country, President Obama would
not have dared to send more troops and spend taxpayers’ money on a war that is
only adding to the suffering of our people and pushing the region into deeper
A troop `surge’ in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to
help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the
number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation.
To really help Afghan women, citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere must tell their
government to stop propping up and covering for a regime of warlords and
extremists. If these thugs were finally brought to justice, Afghan women and men
would prove quite capable of helping ourselves.
Malalai Joya was the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament, elected in 2005
to represent Farah Province. In May 2007 she was unjustly suspended from
Parliament. Her memoir, “A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an
Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice,” will be published in October by Scribner.
URGENT ACTION NEEDED
Canada’s War on Afghanistan, the Rights of Women & Malalai Joya
By Theresa Wolfwood
Last year at a community extravaganza on public property in Victoria, the Canadian military held a war fair in support of itself. When Victoria Women in Black came to stand in silent vigil to witness for peace and non-violence, the military over its powerful loud speaker welcomed us, ad nauseum; they repeated said we “ladies” were an example of what they were fighting for in Afghanistan – the rights of women to assemble and express themselves there, as we can in Canada. (Although they tried- unsuccessfully – to shunt us off to a corner of the park, “for your own safety”. Then failing that they offered us Nestle plastic water bottles –but no takers among us so they failed there also.)
But the Canadian government and military seem to be so busy praising themselves & shopping for arms to kill civilians that they have not noticed that the rights of women in Afghanistan have not changed because of our military presence at all.
Recently the government of Afghanistan expelled elected MP Malalai Joya (in photo) because she dared to express herself and tell the world that her government consisted of war criminals, drug dealers and war lords – the very leaders we are fighting to defend. (Recently another brave Afghan woman who criticized the country’s warlords and drug lords, Peace Radio’s Zakia Zaki, has been killed.)
After years of violent and obscene threats and attacks, the Parliament dominated by warlords and drug-lords suspended Joya for three years and ordered the High Court to file a case against her. They also directed the Interior Ministry to restrict her movements. This means she is not allowed to travel outside Afghanistan to tell the world as she told Canadians last year that the Afghan government is full of corrupt criminals.
She wants to face an independent court and will use the opportunity to expose the enemies of Afghan people through it but, “but I am very sorry that there is no justice in Afghanistan and the judiciary is also infected with the virus of warlordism and the fundamentalists occupy it.”
Send letters of support for “true democracy” and the rights of all women, particularly Malalai Joya to:
President Hamid Karzai email@example.com
Supreme Court of Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s Parliament firstname.lastname@example.org
Interior Ministry email@example.com
Justice Ministry of Afghanistan firstname.lastname@example.org
Send a copy of your letters to email@example.com
Let’s tell our Prime Minster Stephen Harper pm@pm/parl.gc.ca to show that Canada really supports women’s rights in Afghanistan by publicly condemning its government & withdrawing all our military and political support for it. TW