Malalai Joya on Democracy Now

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Afghan MP Malalai Joya on the Elections

BBC Radio 4 from last week-

And a short interview

Were you prepared for the consequences of the speeches you made against the government?
In parliament, they couldn’t tolerate me because I told the truth. They turned off my microphone so I couldn’t talk, they insulted and threatened me. There are people saying even though they’ve expelled me from parliament, it’s not enough: ‘We must punish her with the Kalashnikov.’

How many assassination attempts have you survived?
From 2003 until now, five. Almost every night now, I move from one safe house to another and I have bodyguards but it’s still not safe.

Are you prepared to die for what you believe in?
Samad Behrangi, an Iranian writer, said: ‘Death could very easily come now, but I should not be the one to seek it. If I should meet it and that is inevitable, it would not matter. What matters is whether my living or dying has had any effect on the lives of others.’ My enemies are trying to eliminate me. I’m not the first – other democratic men and women in my country have been killed – but I believe no power is able to hide the truth.

Do you think the government is still corrupt?
We democrats have two options: one, to compromise with a warlord, drug-lord government, those who came into power after 9/11 with the mask of democracy. To compromise with people who are like Pinochet, Hitler, Khomeini… The second way is to tell the truth and not sit silent. It’s a mockery of democracy in Afghanistan. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime who are responsible for killing, torture and repression.

Many people in Britain don’t know what the war is about. What do people in Afghanistan think it’s about?
People have always wanted to occupy Afghanistan because of its geopolitical location and also to have access to the valuable gas and oil of the Central Asian Republics.

Is life better for Afghans now than it was under the Taliban?
No, the situation is as bad as it was. Men and women of my country suffer from injustice, insecurity, joblessness, poverty, corruption. Eighteen million people in Afghanistan live on less than two dollars a day. We have ‘jungle law’. I have meetings with young girls and children who have been brutally raped.

There’s been outrage in Britain at each British soldier killed in the conflict. Should there be the same level of outrage for every Afghan civilian killed?
Of course. The blood of our people is shed like water. In May, in Farah province alone, more than 150 civilians were killed by air strikes, most of them women and children. Bombing doesn’t bring peace. Occupation forces are bombing and killing innocent civilians, and the Taliban are also terrorising and killing people.

What do you hope to see happen in Afghanistan’s future?
These criminals in government have no support among the hearts of our people. But we need democratic-minded people around the world to support us. All the British families who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan should raise their voice against injustice, and also against more of their taxes funding an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords in power in Kabul.

Are you hopeful about tomorrow’s elections?
The election is a showcase of the US government. We have a famous saying that it’s not important who is voting, it’s important who is counting. The next president of Afghanistan will be selected behind the closed doors of the White House.

And

(ht2 Derrick O’Keefe)

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Malalai Joya- Raising My Voice/A Woman Among Warlords (Review Part 3)

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‘Most of the Taliban were long gone before the first bombs fell…And so, in Farah as with the rest of my country, many lives were needlessly lost.’

Glued to the radio Malalai and her family experienced the invasion first through global media reports then as terrifying air strikes rained down, it was many months before they saw any ground forces, air power being the devastating weapon of choice for the US/NATO assault. Once the invading forces arrived in Farah they built a fortified base and ignored the citizens. She sums up subsequently-

‘In the first years after Afghanistan was invaded, as they removed the oppressive regime of the Taliban and many promises were made, many people seemed sympathetic to the American and allied forces. But in the later years as they did nothing for the people, installed a corrupt government, and killed many civilians, they lost support. And people discovered that behind the nice name of ‘International Security Assistance Force’ is in fact just another foreign occupation of Afghanistan.’

Joya details the murky history of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, a catalogue of shifting alliances as the US poured funds into all three at one time or another (paying the Taliban $43 million for ‘Poppy eradication’ and recently Sibel Edmonds stated that Bin Laden was working with the US right up until 911). Now it was the turn of the Northern Alliance to find favour with the Pentagon and soak up the largesse of the US taxpayer (imagine spending it on such silly things as healthcare and schools when there are war criminals to tool up!). Millions in cash was handed out to warlords, Dostum, Sayyaf, Rabbanin, Arif et al, a rogues gallery of vicious terrorists, however as their terror was mostly aimed at the Afghan people they were seen as a safe investment. The old warlord favourite of rape became once again endemic, seeing it as punishing their enemies while simultaneously rewarding their troops.

The Bush Whitehouse looked to establish a puppet administration, its attention already turning towards Iraq. As the Pashtuns were the largest ethnic group they looked for a leader from among them, no Pashtun warlords were considered reliable, most had sided with the Taliban. Eventually a safe pair of hands was found in Hamid Karzai, deputy foreign minister during the civil war years believed to be a CIA contact since the 80’s and an advisor to UNOCAL. US media began portraying him as an anti Taliban resistance leader as it flew warlords and exiles to Bonn to create the transitional government. Joya now introduces one of her bete noirs, Zalmay Khalilzad the neoconservative front man for the US empire. In Bonn Khalilzad enacting the ‘Warlord policy’ did a closed door deal with the warlords to give them top government posts, a legacy that lasts to the present day, the damage immeasurable. An emergency Loya Jirga in June 2002 carefully managed behind the scenes by Khalilzad put the motley collection of war criminals into power in Kabul and elected Karzai president, tellingly his protection detail was comprised entirely of US troops. The 90 year old exiled King Zhir Shah was flown in and declared ‘Father of the Nation’ neocons loving the theatrical touch (and spurious legitimacy) royalty affords.

The warlord government established their criminal fiefdoms quickly, in Farah they were not pleased with Joya and OPAWC’s operations which were expanding with a medical clinic- Hamoon Health Centre in 2003 with Joya as director. She was not medically trained and so young that several times people mistook her for a functionary and asked her where to find Dr Joya. They scraped together the money for an ambulance and recruited a dedicated driver, the ambulance became famous in Farah province even as the government refused to fund the fuel, the community helped out declaring ‘This is the car of the people’.

The earthquake that destroyed Bam in south eastern Iran brought an influx of survivors to the clinic and with Afghanistan at the time having a high international media profile OPAWC was able to raise more money and an orphanage was established. Malalai lived behind it in a one room hut with no electricity, reading at night by oil lamp. She remembered her schooling and as well as teaching them reading and writing she made sure they played and had fun as well as being able to discuss their feelings and deal with their traumas. They had a constant problem with family reclaiming girls in order to marry them off or sell them. She details the painful memory of one girl Rahella, whose uncle married her off to a cousin, Rahella soon afterwards committing suicide by self immolation which Joya points out is a growing phenomenon in Afghanistan as women try to escape the misery of their lives.

In 2003 the UN was to oversee a second Loya Jirga, to approve a new constitution. Nine delegates, 7 men 2 women, were to be chosen from Joya’s district, she was 25 and determined to be an honest voice in the warlord dominated puppet administration, she determined she would pledge to put an end to the rule by fundamentalist and warlords, to expose the true nature of the Jirga. Thus begins Malalai Joya’s political career which takes up the bulk of her book, as the director of the free clinic she had a great deal of respect and recognition and discovered she was an effective speaker and someone the people could tell their troubles to knowing she would try to help. It is interesting that she recalls some of the UN staff being overjoyed at a young passionate progressive voice emerging while others in language couched as fear for her safety were less enthused. Winning the election process Malalai attended the Loya Jirga comprised of 502 delegates out of which 114 were women, already though fear of reprisals meant only her friend and fellow delegate Nafas would share a dormitory room with her, an outspoken woman talking of equality and social justice was not to the administration’s taste. Malalai was shocked that warlords were in the assembly, men who ran private torture chambers were taking power in Afghanistan once again. This was the elephant in the room no one was supposed to mention (and not dissimilar to the war criminals at large in our political classes). While she had a head filled with tales of abuse, murder, rape and torture, the tears of widows and the terrorised orphans at her clinic she saw an apparatus overrun with war criminals backed by the Bush administration. Malai had to speak out, she negotiated a chance to speak in font of the assembly, she spoke truth to power, her microphone was cut off 90 seconds in to her speech.

After that she was not safe even in the parliament building, the UN arranged bodyguards and safe houses, warlord controlled media slandered her even as she made a name in global media, supporters held a rally in Farah for her even as the assembly made sure she could not speak again.

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When the Jirga ended in January 2004 it had adopted a new constitution in an atmosphere of ‘fear and corruption’ as a HRW researcher who attended described it. Joya now had powerful enemies, they received a tip off a warlord would have her killed on a flight home, the UN arranged for another direct flight to Farah where she was greeted by a huge crowd. Invited to a reception by the governor she noticed a young girl supporter of hers switched the tea cup she had been given with the governor’s, a precaution and a challenge to those who meant her harm. Her life was in constant danger yet she had the support of Afghans long oppressed by the ruling class in their various guises. Her challenge was to remain an effective representative of the people in a government built out of war criminals by neoconservative imperialists. She was not going to back down.

Malalai Joya’s Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out has just been published by Rider Books, all proceeds go to humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. Buy it here, here or here. Or in the US where it is called A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, buy from Amazon.

Part 1, Part 2.

Malalai Joya- Raising My Voice/A Woman Among Warlords (Review Part 2)

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‘the same donkey, only with a new saddle.’

Malalai and her family returned to Afghanistan in 1992, she was just fourteen and remembers Farah as a terrifying place as the civil war raged. Young girls would be abducted off the street, raped and killed by roaming gangs, Mujahideen troops would commandeer anything they pleased, people hid in their houses. It was too dangerous and after a few months Malalai and her family once again fled Afghanistan, returning to Pashae refugee camp in Pakistan. It was in this time, during the civil war before the Taliban that the oppressive warlords and fundamentalists made women into virtual slaves, Joya points out that member’s of the current government (such as Karzia ally Asif Mohseni) back then introduced laws governing women’s behaviour that seemed indistinguishable from the Taliban’s. Public beheadings, torture, rape were all endemic. Joya makes the distinction that it was these Criminal Mujahideen who burnt down schools, universities and museums. Fundamentalist warlords persecuted the minority Sikh and Hindu population, making Hindus wear yellow armbands, she notes ‘the same way Hitler did to Jews’ . One popular theory among Afghans about the war was that the militias were so well armed by outside backers, the US and others now wanted them to kill each other off using up their weaponry. Joya feels the horrors of the civil war have been ignored in Western perceptions, as they are not essential to the narrative our governments have constructed, not least because we now support war criminals from that era.

Once back in Pakistan Malalai went back to school and through an NGO also began teaching basic literacy to adults, earning the princely sum of $17 dollars a month. She saw first hand how education began changing lives, giving women independence and lives outside of the home and convincing men too of the value of education and greater equality. She became an effective teacher and a voracious student, learning English from phrases left on another classes blackboard. Among beloved authors she recalls were- Mir Ghulam Muhammad Ghobar’s Afghanistan in the Course of History, Ashraf Dehghani’s ‘The Epic of Resistance’, Maxim Gorky, Jack London, Langston Hughes and Bertolt Brecht. Fascinated by biographies she mentions, Mohammad Mossadegh, Mahatma Ghandi, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Bhagat Singh, Saeed Sultanpur, Victor Jara, Nelson Mandela. The world is very different away from the imperialist lens.

During this time the Taliban were recruiting in the mosques in Pakistan and sending fighters into Afghanistan to defeat the former Mujahideen warlords. In September 96 they took power, by 1998 they controlled 95% of Afghanistan. And here the repeating tragedy occurs again, exhausted from years of warring the Afghans hoped for some improvement, some stability and security, but the Taliban set about perpetrating the same abuses the warlords and criminal Mujahideen did- ‘the same donkey, only with a new saddle.’, bolstered by fundamentalist fervour and Pakistan government backing- ‘Their security was like that of a graveyard’.

Joya remembers an exchange with her father, admiring Palestinian children’s resistance to Israeli military attacks she asked why could they not be like Palestinians, ‘where even the children are so brave?’ ‘If that how you feel, why don’t you become like a Palestinian in your own country.’ her father replied. This made Joya intent on returning to Afghanistan and fighting against the forces of oppression there. It is an interesting an arresting comparison, Afghan people and Palestinians, people at the mercy of massive forces both political, economic and historical enflamed with religious fervour, it’s not a comparison I think a Westerner would make and is all the more informative for it.

IN 1998 she first became involved with OPAWC (Organization for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities) unable to afford going to university in Pakistan Malalai saw OPAWC , who aimed to improve education for women, as another way to pursue her thirst for knowledge and her emerging activism. They asked her if she would return to Afghanistan to run classes for girls in Herat province, against the edicts of the Taliban, she agreed (it was at this point she adopted the name Joya, to protect her family from reprisals). One impression the book leaves you with is fighting for human rights and equality puts a woman into such a perilous clandestine existence that such activists live almost as spies, however they are not looking to steal intelligence they are working to spread knowledge. A kind of heroism rarely celebrated in our countries (unless there’s something I’m missing about GI Joe & 24).

Herat was the site of the first major battle of the Afghan Soviet war, in retaliation for an uprising against Soviet ‘advisors’ the air force bombed the city killing 24,000 people in one week, during the civil war a fundamentalist & ally of conservative Iranian Mullahs, Ismail Khan ruled Herat as a fiefdom, he sent forces to participate in the sacking of Kabul, fleeing to Iran when the Taliban took power. Under Taliban rule Herat with its progressive culture that put a value on education was hard hit, men had to sport beards, women had to wear burqas and education of women & girls was prohibited. Herat though refused to submit to this authoritarian misuse of Islam, OPAWC saw it as a prime territory for their education program. With trepidation Malalai and her family left Pakistan, she tells a story popular in the camps that illustrates the brutal idiocy of the Taliban’s excesses- a family taking their teenage son for burial were stopped, the coffin opened and when it was seen the boy did not have a beard they pulled the corpse out and whipped it, calling the cadaver an infidel.

Undercover in Herat (literally) Malalai finds the lack of peripheral vision afforded by the burqa hard to get used to, her father (now with Taliban friendly beard, maintaining cover was essential, so much so they were mistaken for fundamentalists on their arrival) said he could still tell it was her in a crowd because she walked like a penguin. Houses were often searched by Taliban looking for proscribed items, which amounted to pretty well much everything except the Quran and the Taliban newspaper (no pictures, such idolatry was forbidden). There were however many acts of quiet rebellion, such as secret Titanic parties, through pirated VHS tapes James Cameron’s Titanic became a huge underground (and illegal) hit in Afghanistan. In a brief review Joya reveals herself to be an actvist first and romantic second (Jack should have survived to marry Rose but what most interested her was the depiction of the wealthy passenger’s mistreatment of the poor). The craze became so epidemics that in the food markets you could buy Titanic onions, tomatoes, you name it, there was much laughter when a Mullah during a sermon said that whose who disobeyed god would be destroyed like the Titanic, the clerics were secretly watching it too.

Getting the secret schools up and running seems an incredible achievement, they would use a sympathetic person’s house, often basements, sounds needed to be muffled, the girls who attended had to drift in slowly and not in large groups lest it arouse suspicion. If you were caught it meant jail at the very least. Malalai’s sisters became far better educated than her brothers who had to attend Taliban schools, with brutal zealous teachers of low intellect. The times were hard, drought caused price rises, Malalai’s father’s health suffered from a series of hard jobs (‘he would come home from work and the stump of his leg would be bloodied and sore‘)as only he and her eldest brother could work to support the family, the Taliban having forbidden women from working outside the home. However there was still ice cream under the Taliban, but the burqa made the eating of it another challenge altogether. Joya also describes the quiet solidarity of the people in Herat, helping each other out in small gestures of solidarity and defiance, and she notes how many men were also against the Taliban and helped women.

She caused some sleepless nights for her parents, coming home from secret schools she had to avoid Taliban street patrols while lugging concealed books with her, her mother suffered from episodes of depression, an incident where her brother was suspected of photographing a victim of Taliban execution (escaping due to the film developers subterfuge, another small act of rebellion, unasked for but given freely) leaving them all fearing he was dead. During the five years of the Taliban’s reign conditions got worse, and the world mostly ignored it, Eve Enlser gets an honourable mention for both visiting and publicising the conditions for women.

Malalai became a skilled undercover educator and activist so that by the summer of 2001 she became director of OPAWC for Western Afghanistan, in charge of their operations in Herat, Farah and Nimroz. Farah’s need was greatest and a return to her birthplace held some attraction for both her and her family. They made the decision to move to Farah, it was there a few months later just as they were getting their new home straightened out that over the radio came news that planes hijacked by terrorists has been flown into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans ‘Within days everyone knew there would be a war’.

Malalai Joya’s Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out has just been published by Rider Books, all proceeds go to humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. Buy it here, here or here. Or in the US where it is called A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, buy from Amazon.

Part 1Part 3.

Malalai Joya- Raising My Voice/A Woman Among Warlords (Review Part 1)

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‘The truth is like the sun: when it comes up nobody can block it out or hide it’

Malalai Joya is an Afghan woman, the youngest MP in the Wolesi Jirga, elected in 2005 and barred from it since 2007 because a woman telling the truth is still forbidden in Afghanistan. In her book Raising My Voice she attempts to get her story out to tell the people in the nations currently assaulting her country that their governments are lying to them. She is asking us to support the Afghan people in their struggle against both occupiers and a puppet government packed with warlords and Taliban.

Malalai Joya has survived five assassination attempts, she taught in secret girls schools under the noses of the Taliban, risking life and limb daily, she ran Hamoon Health Centre opening in 2003 even as a governor’s representative told her ‘Open your clinic, but we will not guarantee your security’. However at the opening ceremony many Afghans attended, telling Malalai ‘The people will guarantee your security’, this is a recurring theme in her book, the resilience of Afghan society against the Taliban, the warlords and the occupiers. The US/NATO forces did not try to establish democracy they turned to those with existing networks of power- warlords (power maintained like the invaders through overwhelming violence, perhaps this is why they see them as legitimate partners, it should also be noted these are all overwhelmingly male institutions trading power). They swapped one tyranny for another. It’s hardly a cause worth our troops dying for and as Joya lays out in the course of her book the other purported reasons- to stop terrorist attacks in the West by destroying safe havens in the region or to free the women of Afghanistan from murderous oppression- are little more than cover for a very old game of power, geopolitics and resources. What began as a furious lashing out by the US in response to 9/11 has become a toehold to remake the entire region into something more to Washington and international capital’s liking (and yes that does include the hundreds of billions from narcotics). Even if the stated aims were sincere the means to achieve them are shown to be thoroughly counter productive, as she writes-

The Afghan people are not terrorists we are the victims of terrorism… what we really need is an invasion of hospitals, clinics and schools for boys and girls.’

Malalai Joya was born the second of ten children in the small village of Ziken in Western Afghanistan on 25th April 1978, three days later the Soviets entered Afghanistan ‘since then war is all we Afghans have known’. She was named Malalai after Malalai of Maiwand, a young woman who fought heroically against the British Empire. Her father was largely absent during her first years, he fought against the Soviets after having been a politically active medical student in Kabul and so was hunted by the authorities. For many years they heard nothing of him until a message came he was alive and living in a refugee camp in Iran (albeit having lost a leg to a landmine, she recounts how with his medical training he was able to instruct his brother how to treat him in the field, probably saving his own life. Injuries from landmines and unexploded ordnance are ubiquitous, a 2005 survey by Handicap International found 867,000 Afghans were severely disabled in a country with a population of 33 million). Her family rallied round, her uncle Babak (a survivor of Soviet torture) helped out, and she became close to her paternal grandmother who delighted in spoiling the young Malalai (as is a grandmother’s prerogative the world over!). As a sign of their affection her grandmother asked that after her death Malalai should go to her grave, put water on it and shout three times ‘I want to hear her voice’. Her grandfather was a well respected man who loved language & socialising, he even managed to make policemen ashamed of themselves when they periodically came to ransack the family home looking for her father. She thinks it is from him she gained her remarkable political skills.

By 1982 the conflict with the Soviets had become so bad that when news of her father in Iran came they left their home in Farah Province to join him in Iran. Joya notes that for many of her generation it was common to spend most of your life in refugee camps outside of Afghanistan. Millions were displaced by the war with the Soviets from 79-89 and over a million killed. It was at this time that US (and Saudi Arabian) funding of fundamentalists expanded the infrastructure of the warlords, Taliban and later Al Qaeda, the capacity for extreme violence was the qualifying requirement for US taxpayers money. She explains an interesting dynamic of the refugee crisis, the Afghan regime was trying to stem the flight while the US, Iran & Pakistan encouraged it, seeing refugees as easy recruits to form Mujahideen cadres who would pursue their proxy interests (both Iran and Pakistan’s ISI secret service created political parties in these camps too). Refugees also meant money from the UN, money which could be skimmed before it reached the displaced Afghans. The refugees were largely confined to camps (they were second class citizens to the authorities) where the newly flush fundamentalists would target democratic activists. As such her father lived off camp in the town Zahedan, being only four Malalai did not at first see the one legged stranger as her father, over time and with generous bribes of ice cream (you will learn from this book that Malalai Joya loves ice cream!) the relationship grew. When they were forced to move back to the more dangerous Khunuk Birjand camp Malalai’s mother fashioned a string device attached to her newborn sister as an alarm system, not just the roaming fundamentalists but wild animals were a threat.

‘Meena’s blood has fertilised the struggle of all Afghan Women’

The refugee family were denied schooling in Iran and so decided to move to Quetta in Pakistan where the children could attend schools even though it meant a perilous journey through bandit country. There in Quetta Malalai attended a boarding school for boys and girls run by RAWA [Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan]. It was here Malalai got to meet Meena the founder of RAWA who impressed her greatly (complimenting Malalai on her lustrous hair). In 1987 Meena was kidnapped in Quetta and killed, her murder is believed to have been carried out by fundamentalists associated with the party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar together with the KHAD, the Afghan branch of the KGB. Later the beloved school bus driver was also murdered by fundamentalists.

Joya is clear about her relations with RAWA (sometimes mere membership is enough to get you raped and/or killed, the warlords and fundamentalists simultaneously hating both the leftist progressive politics and feminism)- ‘I am an independent, but I am not ashamed to say I share many of the same ideals. If I ever decided that I could be more effective working within the framework of an organisation, RAWA is the first I would consider joining.’

The young Joya loved school even when an outbreak of lice meant her long hair, of which she was very proud, had to be cut off. Her father’s search for work meant they moved around Pakistan, most of the camps were now firmly under fundamentalist control, they even had their own prison camps within camps where political activist would be held in appalling conditions. They found a camp in Peshawar under a moderate mujahideen which was under occasional attack for its progressive atmosphere, many tribal and ethnic groups lived there together without the strife the extremists liked to engender. And while the madrass’s funded by Saudi Arabia in the conservative camps took boys only (these were factories for producing Taliban) her camp taught girls and boys. They also had combined sports (unheard of in the other camps) which allowed the Afghan girls some real freedom and joy in play.

The period following the Soviet retreat is where Joya fills in nuanced details that are vital to our understanding, one overriding concept is that of the mujahideen being two entities- the Real, meaning the resistance fighters who fought for freedom, and the Criminal who found power, money and fundamentalism more to their taste. They fought amongst themselves for the spoils once the Soviets had been beaten, between 65,000 and 80,000 civilians were killed in Kabul by these warring criminals factions who used ethnic division to establish their brutal fiefdoms. Joya is very clear on her stance on national unity, of equality for all groups and ethnicities. This is just one of the many stances that has caused her to be treated with such hostility by the powerful forces fighting for domination.

As the civil war continued women and children became the prime victims, the warlords closed schools and rape was pervasive. This is important because the simple Western narrative holds the Taliban as the chief villains which neglects to recognise how those now in power under the auspices of US/NATO are many of the same figures who in the civil war from 92-96 committed war crimes and oppressed women (& men) who were routinely tortured and raped by the well funded warlords. In 1995 Amnesty International released a report ‘Women in Afghanistan, a Human Rights Catastrophe’ the Taliban had yet to take power.

Malalai Joya’s Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out has just been published by Rider Books, all proceeds go to humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. Buy it here, here or here. Or in the US where it is called A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, buy from Amazon.

Part 2, Part 3.

Malalai Joya & Lance Corporal Joe Glenton Speak Out

(Coming soon- I was kindly sent a review copy of Malalai Joya’s new book ‘Raising My Voice’ so stay tuned next week to marvel at my madskilz of literary criticism.)

Stop the War, Feyzi Ismail– On Thursday 23 July, the Stop the War Coalition held one of its most electrifying rallies in its eight year history. The inspirational anti-war Afghan MP Malalai Joya was joined on the platform by Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, a serving British soldier who was speaking in public for the first time against the horror caused by the war in Afghanistan. Malalai Joya has been called one of the bravest women in Afghanistan. She told the 300-strong audience that she’s survived five assassination attempts and is still not safe with personal security guards or by wearing a burkha to cover her identity. Yet she continues to campaign against foreign occupation and fundamentalist warlords, and for women’s rights and education. She believes all NATO troops must leave Afghanistan immediately. Elected to the Afghan parliament as its youngest MP in 2003, her first speech called on the Afghan government to prosecute the warlords and criminals also present in the assembly. But she had barely started her speech when her microphone was cut off, angry men were raising their fists towards her and she had to be escorted out by a human chain of supporters and UN officials around her. In 2005 she told the assembled parliament that it was “worse than a zoo.” Two years ago she was suspended from the parliament.


She told the audience of the suffering of Afghans, and in particular women, at the hands of both occupation forces and the warlords who benefit from the occupation. If the war was ever about eradicating opium, 93% of global opium production now comes from Afghanistan, and £500m goes into the pockets of the Taliban every year because of the drug trade. Afghans have lost almost everything, she said, except that they have gained political knowledge. And they are against the occupation. She holds little hope for the upcoming elections in August. She said the ballot box is controlled by a mafia of warlords and criminals, and that even if the democrats in Afghanistan could put up a candidate, they would inevitably become puppets of the US and NATO, or they wouldn’t survive in office. NATO could not possibly provide a solution because the troops are despised for the carnage they have brought to the country. As Malalai repeated a number of times in the meeting, no nation can liberate another nation, and only the oppressed can rise up against their oppressors. The only solution, she said, was for the anti-war movement internationally to speak out and demonstrate against the war in their own countries, “because our enemies are afraid of international solidarity.” It will be a prolonged and risky struggle, she continued, but the Afghans must liberate themselves.

Soldier ashamed and disllusioned

The other highlight of the meeting was the testimony of a serving British soldier. While Malalai fights against the war in Afghanistan, more and more British troops – who equally risk their lives fighting in Afghanistan – are realising the futility of this project. Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, who fought in Kandahar in 2006, told the audience that he came back ashamed and disillusioned. He said the army and the politicians never explained why they were there or what was going on, only that British troops were helping the Afghan people. When he found that the Afghans were fighting against them, this came as a real shock. He spoke of the discontentment in the ranks, which he described as dangerous, and the need for Britain to withdraw its troops.

Two years ago when Glenton heard he was being posted back to Afghanistan, he decided the only sensible thing to do was to leave the army, even illegally, as he did not believe that Britain was doing anything constructive in Afghanistan. He now faces up to two years in a civilian prison. Stop the War Coalition declared it would support Glenton and any other soldier who faced the courts on account of being against the war. Andrew Murray, Chair of Stop the War, opened the meeting by reminding us that the Stop the War Coalition was founded eight years ago in response to the threatened invasion of Afghanistan. Now that the British government has shifted its focus to Afghanistan – discussing the possibility of sending more troops, as the death toll rises past that in Iraq – so the anti-war movement will step up its campaign to mobilise public opinion to demand that all the troops are brought home as soon as possible. Public opinion in Britain has indeed shifted against the war in Afghanistan. Whatever support the war had initially – for reducing opium production, for the reconstruction taking place, for keeping the Taliban in check, for defending women’s rights and bringing democracy – people are now cutting through the media spin. They know this is an unwinnable war, that there is no reconstruction taking place and that the longer we stay the more death and destruction we cause. As Malalai put it, the war being waged by the British government in Afghanistan not only causes untold suffering for the Afghans, but it takes away from our humanity too.

In the event of the 200th British soldier that is killed in Afghanistan, Stop the War will call on all its local groups across the country to organise street protests. The current death toll stands at 188 and is rising at an average of about one per day. Stop the War will also be announcing shortly details of a major national demonstration in November to mark the anniversary of the Afghanistan invasion in 2001.

Malalai Joya’s new book Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out has just been published by Rider Books.