"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Malalai Joya - Speaking Truth to Power


When you sit down in a church to hear an author on a book tour, and her bodyguard, who served two tours in Iraq (that in itself is a story***), reminds everyone that there have been five attempts on the author's life and that if "anything happens", you should get down as low as possible, and by all means do not block the center aisle since that is where he will take her to get her out as fast as possible, you know you are in for an interesting evening.  That was my introduction to Malalai Joya, who has been called (among other things) "the most dangerous woman in Afghanistan."

Malalai was in Seattle this week as part of her U.S. book tour, and my wife and I were fortunate to be able to hear her passionate plea on behalf of the Afghan people.  Her book, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, co-written with Derrick O'Keefe, is much more than her story.  It is the story of the plight of the Afghan people, a people who have engaged in a long struggle for autonomy in a world where nations with (too much) power far too often intervene in other less powerful nations' affairs and exert control over them.  For the Afghans it has been (over the past couple centuries) the empires of the British, the Soviets and finally the United States (aided by its allies).

As Malalai says in the introduction to her book, "In Afghanistan, democratic-minded people have been struggling for human and women's rights for decades.  Our history proves that these values cannot be imposed by foreign troops.  As I never tire of telling my audiences, no nation can donate liberation to another nation.  These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves.  They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears." 

As President Obama considers how many more troops to send to Afghanistan he would be wise to listen to Malalai.  Those words from her introduction apply universally, and could just as easily have been referring to the American Revolution.  But we in the U.S. are poor students of history, and are easily manipulated by the massive, grinding machinery of greed, power and war.

The truth about Afghanistan (and the Afghan people) has been shrouded by smoke and mirrors, by the political doublespeak of our nation's leaders, and mostly parroted by the corporate press.  That ugly truth is that since 9/11 and the initial toppling of the Taliban from power, there has been no justice, no democracy, and no women's rights. 

You might wonder why there have been death threats and assassination attempts on Malalai's life.  While in a near democracy like the U.S., we have constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, in a nation ruled by warlords, drug lords, fundamentalists and the U.S.-backed puppet government of Hamid Karzai, it is more than dangerous to speak the truth; it is virtual suicide.  And yet, this brave woman refuses to compromise.  She speaks truth to power, and hopes that the world will listen (and act). 

Malalai holds up the truth like a bright light we cannot avoid.  She quoted an Afghan saying: "The truth is like the sun: when it comes up nobody can block it out or hide it," and as she said the other night, "No superpower can even block its light."  Her hope is that her story will (and I paraphrase) keep that sun shining and inspire each of us to "work for peace, justice and democracy."

Malalai lays out what the outside World can do to help Afghanistan, and makes it clear that foreign governments (starting with the U.S.) "must be pressured by their people" to make these things happen.  The key elements in what she calls "The Long Road Ahead" (Chapter 14) are "End the War, Send Real Humanitarian Aid, Put an End to the Rule of the Warlords," and "Withdraw All Foreign Troops."  Her reasoning for each of these steps is compelling.  You will have to (and should) read the book for the details.  It is eye opening! 

In the U.S. we must start by pressuring the President and Congress NOW to send no more troops, and create an exit strategy.  Take action at the links in the "Actions" section at the top of this blog, and if you are able, use the phone instead of emailing your messages.  A phone call has a much greater impact than email. 

Get out and protest.  One major protest coming up (according to Malalai's coauthor, Derrick O'Keefe) will be on February 15, 2010 when there will be a huge protest in Vancouver during the Olympics against the war in Afghanistan.  It will take place 30 years after the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics initiated by President Jimmy Carter targeting the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

Help the Afghan people directly$$$$$.  Little of the $7 million a day (the U.S. spends $100 million a day for the war) in international aid for reconstruction reaches those in need; it lines the pockets of corrupt politicians, warlords and drug lords.  We can help get money to small projects run by Afghans that actually benefit the people.  The Afghan Women's Mission works with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) providing health, educational, and other programs for Afghan women.  RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977. 

All of us engaged in the struggle for peace and justice know that it is our coming together in solidarity that makes us strong, and as Malalai says at the end of her book in referring to the struggle of justice for Afghanistan, "It will be a long struggle.  A river is made drop by drop.  But if we can unite for justice and democracy, our people will be like a flood that no one can stop."

May each of us contribute to that flood.



***More Than a Footnote:  Malalai's bodyguard during her visit to Seattle, James Dahl, served two tours in Iraq, was shot, stabbed, and blown up.  The second roadside bomb sent him back to the U.S. where he spent a long recovery at Madigan Army Hospital, Fort Lewis.  His head injury was so severe that the doctors did not believe he would ever even remotely approach normal functioning.  He proved them wrong.  He now provides security for people at the rate of $1000 per day.  After spending one day with Malalai and hearing her speak, James was so moved that he provided security for her during her entire visit at no charge.
Further Reading:  U.S. Is Doing No Good in Afghanistan, by Malalai Joya, published in San Jose Mercury News on Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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