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People of 2009: Malalai Joya

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For putting her own life at great risk to speak loudly against the forces -- domestic and international -- that are keeping the Afghan people from living in security

Jeffrey Allen,, February 4, 2010

WASHINGTON, ( - Afghanistan's youngest member of parliament is also a women, and perhaps one of its most educated, and outspoken.

Malalai Joya's public cries against the Taliban, the U.S./NATO forces, and the Karzai government -- which she says is laden with warlords and fundamentalists -- have put her in grave danger. She has been physically attacked on the floor of parliament. She has been ejected from the governing body. Twice. And she has survived five assassination attempts.

Much of Joya's adult life has been spent working to bring about a truly democratic Afghanistan -- one that represents the interests of regular Afghanis rather than the strongmen who have reigned over much of the country for decades.

Joya believes Afghanistan's post-Taliban government has failed the country's people, favoring short-term political expediency over the long-term interests of Afghanis. She has railed repeatedly against the influence of warlords in the current government, and called for the withdrawl of foreign troops from the country.

In 2009, the 31-year-old published a memoir of her experiences, A Woman Among Warlords (also called Raising My Voice in Britain and Australia). She spent the latter part of the year traveling the United States and Canada to tell her story. During that tour, New America Media's Aaron Glantz spoke to Joya about her beliefs and her experiences.

EXCERPTS from the New America Media article by Aaron Glantz,

Afghanistan’s 'Bravest Woman' Pins Hopes on USA, not Obama

Malalai Joya has been called "Afghanistan's bravest woman." When the Taliban ruled her country, she braved death, running an underground girls school. When the U.S. military overthrew the Taliban, she ran for parliament.

But that doesn't mean she's a supporter of the U.S. military or President Obama's decision to double the number of American troops in her country.

"Unfortunately, President Obama's foreign policy is a lot like [that of the] criminal Bush," she said in a sit-down in interview during a recent visit to San Francisco. "He follows war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Pakistan."

Joya's opposition to the U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan began shortly after foreign troops arrived in 2001.

US/Canada version of Joya's book

Immediately "after the 9/11 tragedy, my people thought maybe this time the US government will be helpful for our people," she said. "They were hopeful that Taliban domination has been destroyed and maybe this time they will give a chance to justice-loving, democrat-minded people of my country. At least to people who don't have bloody hands!"

But Joya found that hope dashed quickly -- as early as in December 2003 -- in the first meeting of Afghanistan's newly-elected constitutional assembly. She looked around the room and saw the United States and NATO had invited a who's who of the warlords who had destroyed her country to form a new government.

She was 24. And she couldn't stay silent.

"I wish to criticize my compatriots in this room," she said amid boos, catcalls and scattered cheers. "Why would you allow criminals to be present at this Loya Jirga, warlords responsible for our country's situation? Afghanistan is the center for national and international conflicts. They oppress women and have ruined our country. They should be prosecuted. They might be forgiven by the Afghan people, but not by history."

The chairman responded by throwing her out.

"The sister has crossed the line of what is considered common courtesy," he said, banging his gavel. "She is banished from this assembly and cannot return. Send her out! Guards, throw her out! She doesn't deserve to be here."

But Joya did not give up. She ran for Parliament again in 2005 and was elected a second time. In 2006, she was physically attacked on the floor of the Parliament, when she said: "There are two types of Mujahidin" -- freedom fighters -- "one who were really Mujahidin, the second who killed tens of thousands of innocent people and who are criminals."

Joya was again expelled from Parliament. One lawmaker, Jebel Chelgari, said that wasn't enough. She should be punished with a gun, he said. Like many members of post-Taliban Parliament, Joya says Chelgari has a reputation for brutality.

"This cruel man, this non-educated, ignorant man," she says, "is famous in his province as a head eater. Because he has killed so many people they do not even mention his name. They call him 'head eater.'"...

Joya says she has hope for the future. If the NATO and the U.S. military leave Afghanistan, she says life will gradually improve.

If "these occupation forces leave Afghanistan and their governments leave us alone then we'll know what to do with our destiny -- if they leave us a little bread and peace, because these warlords and the Taliban have no fruit among the heart of my people. My people hate them."

In this way, she sees the weakness of Hamid Karzai's government as a strength, not a cause for concern.

"Resistance of my people is a big hope for my people of Afghanistan. That's why my message to the great people of the U.S. and the around the world is that your government must leave our country. But you are the ones that must join your hands with us: human rights organizations, justice-loving people and intellectuals, feminist organizations -- they are the ones that must not leave us alone. As much as we can, we need your support.

* This story profiles one of's People of 2009.