- Toward a More Effective Solidarity
In her visit to the United States in the spring of 2011, the former Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya said about the U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan, "We want the end of this brutal war, this occupation, as soon as possible. During these ten years, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, most of them innocent women, children and men" (Joya 2011). In the ten years since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. and NATO have invaded Afghanistan with the aim of eradicating Al Qaeda. Since then, the continued occupation has been justified under the pretext of liberating Afghan women from the Taliban.
For much of Afghanistan's modern history, it has been ravaged by wars fought between various empires. In the past three decades, the liberation of Afghan women from fundamentalists has been used as justification for invading the country. Prior to which, the reasons coalesced around liberation from communists. Like most Afghans, Malalai Joya has known only a continuously war-torn and occupied Afghanistan. The Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979, just months after she was born. Afghanistan became another battleground for the Soviet Union and the United States in the geopolitics of global supremacy. By the time of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, almost two million Afghans had been killed and five million had become refugees. Joya spent almost sixteen years living in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan. During the Taliban regime, she returned to Afghanistan and started teaching in secret girls' schools. She later helped establish a free medical clinic and an orphanage in her home province of Farah. In 2003, Joya became well known after her fierce speech at the loya jirga constitutional assembly in Kabul, where she stood up and denounced [End Page 282] her country's powerful warlords and fundamentalists, who by now had the backing of the United States government.
At age twenty-seven, in September 2009, Joya became the youngest person elected to Afghanistan's new parliament. In the course of her campaign, she found tremendous support from people who saw her as their representative—a voice against corruption, poverty, violence, and exploitation of women. In her memoir A Woman Among Warlords (2009), Joya writes, "The support I received in the election campaign proved that the inequality between men and women was not some kind of permanent part of Afghan culture—things could be changed for the better" (119). As a member of parliament, Joya continued to speak out about the crimes of the warlords. Many of her efforts, however, are frustrated by the United States-backed regime of Hamid Karzai, which has passed and maintained misogynist laws exacerbating the widespread abuse of women's rights by the Taliban. Ann Jones, author of War Is Not Over When It's Over, writes, "Among most Afghans, especially the nearly eighty percent who live in rural areas, the effect of the American military presence has been to replicate for women the confinement they suffered under the Taliban" (2010).
While in parliament (September 2005-May 2007), Joya refused to ignore the demands of the people she represented. During this time, many suggested that she take a more moderate and polite tone in her criticisms of the warlords and their policies. Reflecting on this in her book, she defends her stance: "Political dealing and compromise may be a good choice with opponents who believe in democratic values, but those who only know the language of the gun regard any compromise as a weakness" (Joya 2009, 151). Two years later, as a consequence of her persistent criticism of warlords and the occupation, she was suspended from the National Assembly. Since then Joya has remained an outspoken critic of the Karzai government as well as of the Taliban and warlords. Her passionate voice has found an audience all over the world, including in the United States.
On the eve of her departure for a nationwide speaking tour in March 2011, the U.S. government abruptly denied Joya a visa. Thousands around the country immediately petitioned the U.S. State Department in protest, asserting that the American people had the right to hear Joya voice...