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Malalai Joya writes A Woman Among Warlords

Tamara Lorincz, The Chronicle Herald, Jan.17, 2010

Malalai Joya
Malalai Joya speaks at a peace protest outside the International Security Forum meetings in Halifax in November. (Peter Parsons / Staff)

She is a small, humble Afghan woman, only 31, but Malalai Joya has already been elected to and banished from the parliament of Afghanistan, has received many international human rights awards, and has survived five assassination attempts.

In her autobiography, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, Joya explains how the threats and banishment are due to her role as an outspoken critic of the corruption and war in her country.

Joya writes, "I am young and I value my life; I don’t want to be killed. But I don’t fear death; I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice. I fear becoming indifferent to the fate of my people."

Joya’s incredible story is also a history of Afghanistan and an incisive condemnation of the current U.S.-NATO occupation and war. This is a particularly important book for Canadians, because Joya gives a woman’s perspective about our involvement in her country — a perspective that is not often heard in our mainstream media or listened to by our federal government.

A Woman Among Warlords was co-authored with Derrick O’Keefe, an editor and representative to the Canadian Peace Alliance and dedicated "To the Bashiras, Rahellas, Bibu Guls, Pukhtanas, and all my oppressed people whose sighs, tears and sorrows nobody sees." These are the names of some of the Afghan girls who Joya tutored and who had been abused, raped and killed.

Joya has intimate knowledge of the struggle of the Afghan people. She was born on April 25, 1978, three days before the Soviet-backed military coup launched a decade of war in her country. Joya writes, "Most Afghans my age and younger have only known bloodshed, displacement, and occupation."

Her family was exiled during the Soviet occupation and Joya grew up in desperate poverty in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan.

Joya’s father inspired her passion for activism and education. He was a medical student and political activist who was imprisoned for his opposition to the Soviet-controlled government. He later joined the mujahedeen to overthrow the Soviet Union and lost his leg to a landmine.

After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Joya and her family tried to return to Afghanistan. However, the country descended into a civil war as warlords fought to gain power. The family went back to Pakistan where Joya worked as a tutor for refugees.

By 1996, the Taliban ousted the warlords but imposed a repressive, religious fundamentalism on the country. As women and girls were banned from school, the Organization for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities hired Joya to teach underground classes back in Afghanistan. Joya describes hiding books under her burka and many tense situations where she was almost caught by the Taliban.

In 2001, when the U.S. overthrew the Taliban, Joya expressed her initial hope that democracy would be put in place. At that time, she was the western regional director of OPAWC and set up an orphanage, school and health clinic. As a respected community leader, Joya was elected as the Farah representative to the Loya Jirga, a national assembly to determine the future of Afghanistan.

However, Joya was shocked to discover in the capital of Afghanistan that she was a woman among warlords who had been given the key government appointments, had already determined the constitution behind closed doors and had the support of the U.S.

Since 2003, Joya began to publicly and persistently denounce the government corruption and the U.S.-NATO war in country. The BBC called her the "bravest woman in Afghanistan" and she has been given several international awards including South Korea’s Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

When Joya was in Halifax in November on her North American book tour, she was denied entry to the International Security Forum’s Afghanistan panel and a meeting with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

"We are caught between two enemies," Joya explains, "the Taliban on one side and the U.S.-NATO forces and their warlord friends on the other."

Joya condemns NATO bombings that have killed thousands of innocent Afghans. After eight years of the foreign occupation and billions of dollars spent, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most impoverished countries according to the UN Human Development Index.

Joya offers steps to break the cycle of violence and to restore genuine democracy and dignity to her people. She calls for an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan, a withdrawal of NATO troops, a disarmament campaign and the implementation of a peace, reconciliation and justice process.

She wants real humanitarian aid and "an invasion of hospitals, clinics and schools."

"I know the suffering of the Afghan people can end. My dream is to see an Afghanistan where women are considered human beings and when one day a woman can even take the reins of power; a country where there are no more warlords, Taliban, or terrorists of any kind; a country where we are free to decide our own future."

Tamara Lorincz is a member of the Halifax Peace Coalition.

A Woman Among Warlords is available at Outside the Lines bookstore, 6265 Quinpool Rd., Halifax. Proceeds from the sale of Malalai Joya’s book will go toward humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. Readers can stay in touch through the Defense Committee for Malalai Joya: