“Democracy can’t be donated to a country through occupation, cluster bombs and air raids.” -Malalai Joya.

By Cheryl Kozanitas, Peace Action of San Mateo County, December 2009

Malalai Joya

In early November Malalai Joya, a 31-year old suspended member of the Afghan Parliament, was in San Jose on a speaking tour of the U.S. She is seeking assistance from the democratic and progressive communities in withdrawing U.S. and NATO troops from her nation, and in sending criminal warlords in the Afghan Parliament to the International Criminal Court. She is also launching her book, “A Woman Among Warlords.” Being in the same room with Joya brought to mind images of Joan of Arc or other heroines from the Middle Ages – not in a religious sense, but in her passion for her people. Her words evoked American and French revolutionaries. As an intellectual and freedom-loving person from Afghanistan, she is instantly put in the category of potential martyr. She has had five assassination attempts on her life so far and she considers it highly likely that she will be killed.

Despite the constant threat of death, Joya assures her foes and followers that she will not cease from exposing members of the Karzai government (including Karzai himself) who have committed criminal acts against their own people or who continue to work against the interests of the ordinary Afghan. Joya’s enemies include warlords, together known as the Northern Alliance (originally the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan), many of whom are members of parliament, and their supporters. Her adversaries also include the Taliban, as would be expected, but also fundamentalist female members of parliament.

Joya bravely recounts in public life and in her book the many crimes perpetrated against her people. There is the Afghan Vice President who put 2,000 Afghan citizens into shipping containers to let them suffocate, and the President's brother, the biggest drug lord in Afghanistan (which now produces over 90% of the world's opium), who is “on the CIA payroll.” After the Soviets’ defeat in Afghanistan and between 1992 and 1996, warlords killed at least 65,000 civilians in Kabul alone. Joya calls them “misogynists, terrorists, and a photocopy of the Taliban.” Moreover, it is these warlords, says Joya, who “are the product of the White House and the CIA.” Ruling 80% of the nation with private militias in their “fiefdoms,” they exercise terror over the local people, with countless crimes against women including rape and cutting off a woman’s breasts for being from the “wrong” tribe. Joya writes in her book that “killing a woman is like killing a bird.”

And yet she remains hopeful. The source of her inspiration is the “democracy-loving people of Afghanistan.” Joya informs us that “self-organized protests erupt in different parts of Afghanistan almost daily…there are thousands of Malalais who could have stood in my place…millions of women and men standing and waiting – eager to play their role in history.”

Indeed, while most Afghans long for freedom and justice, the bleak living conditions of hunger, poverty, exposure to the elements and a 70% unemployment rate drive many to join the Taliban as the only means of survival. All of this suffering, Joya explains, is at the hands of a system supported by the U.S./NATO occupation. She is astounded that the U.S. props up the Afghan government with about $165 million per day while citizens go hungry. As she reminds us throughout her book, it is a government composed of criminals – who voted into law their own immunity from prosecution. And prosecution is the justice Joya seeks within the International Criminal Court.

In the meantime, Joya is also passionate about providing education for women. In desperation and protest, self-immolation among women has increased dramatically in the past year; they see it as their only means of escape. With education and “the chance to develop a political consciousness,” says Joya, “only then will they be able to direct their anger away from themselves and toward the root causes of their suffering.”

Joya states that the people are sandwiched between the U.S./NATO occupation forces – including their warlord hirelings – and the Taliban. She feels the democratic-minded people need breathing space. It would be much easier to fight the fundamentalists alone, without occupation bringing more death and suffering to innocent civilians; over 8,000 have been killed in the name of bombing the Taliban. For those concerned about a civil war if the occupation ended, Joya says “There is a civil war now” and that “occupation never brings liberation.” She adds, “What we really need is an invasion of hospitals, clinics, and schools for boys and girls.”

The perception of Afghanistan as a backward country is a distortion of history used to justify an occupation under the mask of women’s rights, human rights and democracy. From Joya’s book we learn that in the 1920’s Afghanistan had a modern constitution with equal rights and individual freedoms for all. Women worked in factories and had representatives in the Loya Jirga. Education was compulsory. The modern King Khan was exiled in 1929, but by the 1950’s women worked in many professions and were demonstrating for their rights. Laws were passed banning the burqa. These freedoms were achieved by Afghans themselves within their own society. When the Soviets invaded in ‘79, it was the Afghan women who were the first to resist its puppet regime. RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) was established by women intellectuals in Kabul. As recently as the 70’s fundamentalists were marginal figures, but when the U.S., Pakistan, and Iran armed them to defeat the Soviets in the 80’s, they unleashed the “religious fascism” which has plagued Afghanistan ever since.

Joya said that “President Obama means more war for Afghans…while it may not even weaken the Taliban and al Qaeda.” The “so-called war on terror,” she adds, “is really a war on the Afghan people to allow troops to remain in the region.” Joya is convincing when she describes the reasons for the U.S. occupation. She said the U.S. won’t leave because it wants to control the surrounding countries, because the CIA is making money from opium, and because Afghanistan is near gas and oil resources.

Afghans don’t have exclusivity on a revenge culture, but for every unmanned drone attack on a village, dozens of new enemies are created for the U.S. and NATO participating nations. Although this U.S. attack on Afghanistan is approximately its 80th military intervention since WW II, it could be one of the most difficult, if not the last. After all, Afghanistan has a reputation of being the “graveyard of empires.”

Everyone is encouraged to purchase Joya’s book and look at her website at http://www.MalalaiJoya.com. The Malalai Joya Defense Committee would like her name to become a household word in the U.S. Also, go to

http://www.RAWA.org,
http://www.Afghanwomensmission.org, and
http://www.nodrones.org. (where CODEPINK’s latest efforts to ground the drones at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada is ongoing.)