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Women's rights defender focuses on other issues

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By CARL HARTMAN, The Associated Press, October 19, 2009

Book by Malalai Joya

(AP) - "A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice" (Scribner, 231 pages, $25), by Malalai Joya with Derrick O'Keefe: At 31, Malalai Joya has a long and courageous record of fighting for women's rights in Afghanistan. Now she is focusing on war lords, drug lords and corruption and the leaders she sees as supporting them.

In her view, those leaders include President Barack Obama as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the tribal chieftains in the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan 20 years ago.

In "A Woman Among Warlords," she offers some harsh advice to Obama if he wants to help Afghans.

"He must criticize how the United States helped turn Afghanistan into a safe haven for fundamentalist terrorists and now helps prop up a corrupt regime and a powerful drug mafia," she writes.

"If I ever do have the chance to meet President Obama, I will try to convey to him these points and tell him very clearly that U.S governments have betrayed the Afghan people enough."

It would take a specially hardened male chauvinist not to be both touched and amused by Joya's examples of the repression of women in Afghanistan, even before the Taliban made its appearance. She quotes 15 rules from one code prescribed for women who did not want to be considered "lewd." Rule 1: "They must not perfume themselves." Rule 8: "Their foot ornaments must not produce sound." Rule 10: "They must not walk in the middle of streets."

But many Americans, including this one, will be put off by statements that sound like low-level Communist propaganda from the Cold War era. For example:

"For successive U.S. governments, their own military, regional, economic and strategic interests have been considered before everything else and they have been ready to sacrifice millions of Afghans to meet these interests. Their nice words about `human rights,' `justice,' `freedom,' `liberation,' `democracy' and so on are nothing more than lies."

At the same time, she clearly abhors the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Afghans who cooperated with it.

Joya is an energetic political warrior. Born just before the Soviet invasion, she spent much of her childhood in foreign refugee camps where the family fled because of her father's political activity.

Her own dissident career began as a teenager secretly teaching women to read. That was a subversive activity when the Taliban temporarily ruled Afghanistan. The Taliban are extremist Muslims and narrowly restrict education of women.

Soon she was running her own clandestine girls' school. A burqa — the tentlike garment the Taliban wanted all women to wear — proved useful to hide loads of books that might have aroused suspicion.

Elected to Parliament after the Taliban was defeated, Joya traded epithets with other members she calls drug lords, former puppets of the Soviets and war lords responsible for thousands of murders in the civil war.

They called her prostitute, infidel, traitor and communist. She compared them to animals in a zoo or a stable and was suspended during the rest of her term for insulting colleagues.