[Marxism] Malalai Joya interview

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 4 08:50:17 MST 2009

Many Afghan women are against a U.S. pullout, but Malalai Joya, 
who’s been called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan,” says the 
American occupation must end. She tells The Daily Beast’s Michelle 
Goldberg why.

Malalai Joya, a 31-year-old activist and politician, was once 
called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan” by the BBC. During the 
Taliban years, she defied her country’s rulers by running 
underground girls’ schools. After the Taliban’s fall, she helped 
start an orphanage and a medical clinic, and eventually became the 
youngest member of Afghanistan’s legislature. She has been 
fearless in taking on the warlords who populate the government of 
Hamid Karzai—declared the presidential victor Monday after a 
runoff election was canceled—so much so that in 2007, her 
political opponents voted to suspend her from parliament on the 
grounds that she had “insulted” the institution. Calling for her 
reinstatement, six female Nobel Peace Prize laureates compared her 
to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, describing her as “a model for women 
everywhere seeking to make the world more just.”

The Afghan government is “a group of warlords, criminals, who 
[waged the] civil war in Afghanistan from ’92 to ’96. They are 
photocopies of Taliban, but with suit and tie, talking about 

So when Joya inveighs against the American occupation of her 
country, we should take her voice seriously.

“My message on behalf of my people to [the] great American people 
is that democracy never comes by barrel of gun, by cluster bomb, 
by war,” she told me during a recent interview in New York, her 
words rushing out in an impassioned torrent. “They say war of Iraq 
is bad war, war of Afghanistan is good war, while both are war. 
You should raise your voice against the wrong policy of your 

Joya is touring the United States to promote her new book, A Woman 
Among the Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared 
to Raise Her Voice. The volume is both an autobiography and a 
damning indictment of the Karzai regime and its American backers. 
It offers a perspective that’s particularly salient right now, as 
the U.S. debates its future in Afghanistan. Many liberals are 
turning against the war, but worry that pulling out will abandon 
Afghans, particularly Afghan women, to the ravages of a Taliban 
takeover. They may be right—there are plenty of Afghan women 
speaking out strongly against a pullout. Still, Joya shows that 
the feminist case for staying in Afghanistan is far from clear-cut.

Joya is barely 5 feet tall—she swims in her pantsuit—but her 
presence is arresting and authoritative. Educated largely in 
refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan, she never had the opportunity 
to go to college, but she’s a book-loving autodidact who quotes 
Bertholt Brecht as often as she cites Afghan proverbs. Her English 
is slightly broken but still impressive—she has a rich vocabulary 
of epithets to describe Afghanistan’s current government, which, 
she insists is no better than the Taliban regime it replaced.

After Sept. 11, 2001, she says, when it was clear there would be 
war, liberal-minded Afghans harbored hopes that the United States 
and NATO would “bring positive changes, especially [because] they 
came to Afghanistan under the banner of women’s rights, human 
rights, democracy.” Instead, she says, the U.S. and its allies 
“replaced one fascist regime, Taliban, these misogynist 
terrorists, with another group of warlords, criminals, who [waged 
the] civil war in Afghanistan from ’92 to ’96. They are 
photocopies of Taliban, but with suit and tie, talking about 

Joya rejects the argument that NATO troops are the only thing 
standing in the way of a Taliban takeover. In fact, she says, the 
widespread civilian deaths caused by American bombs are fueling 
the Taliban’s growing grassroots strength. Increasingly, she says, 
Afghans speculate that the United States is deliberately killing 
innocent civilians as revenge for the innocent American civilians 
killed on Sept. 11. “We are between two powerful enemies,” she 
says. “We are fighting against occupation, and also against 
Taliban and warlords who now negotiate with each other. So with 
the withdrawal of one enemy, these occupation forces whose 
government is giving more money and power to these terrorists… 
it’s much easier to fight against one enemy instead of two.”

To be sure, Joya doesn’t speak for all Afghan women. Indeed, many 
Afghan women’s rights activists and their American supporters 
express terror at what would await them after an American 
withdrawal. The Afghan human-rights activist Wazhma Frogh recently 
wrote in The Washington Post, “As an Afghan woman who for many 
years lived a life deprived of the most basic human rights, I find 
unbearable the thought of what will happen to the women of my 
country if it once again falls under the control of the insurgents 
and militants who now threaten it.”

Women for Afghan Women, an NGO that runs counseling centers and 
domestic-violence shelters in Afghanistan, recently put out a 
statement saying, “Women for Afghan Women deeply regrets having a 
position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops… We 
predict that if Afghanistan falls again to the Taliban, we will 
once more see on our high-definition TV screens, in the comfort of 
our American homes, women and girls being hauled into the Kabul 
football stadium to be beaten and executed for having committed 
acts that would not be considered criminal by any international 
human-rights laws, including those signed by Afghanistan.”

Sunita Viswanath, one of the board members of Women for Afghan 
Women, is immensely frustrated by those on the left who are 
calling for the occupation’s end. “I want the answer to [this] 
question,” she says. “What do they think will happen to women and 

Joya’s response is to argue that outside parts of Kabul, women’s 
situations are as bad as they ever were, and it’s getting worse. 
“It is as catastrophic as it was under the domination of Taliban,” 
she says.

“Everyone, they are talking that when these troops leave 
Afghanistan, civil war will happen,” says Joya. “Mainstream media 
especially try to put more dust in the eyes of the people around 
the world. But nobody wants to talk about today’s civil war.” The 
longer American troops stay, “the worse civil war will be, because 
[the American] government [is] giving more money and more power to 
these warlords and also Taliban. That’s why, day by day, my people 
believe [that the U.S.] just waste their taxpayer money and the 
blood of their soldiers by supporting such a mafia corrupt system 
of Hamid Karzai.”

Joya doesn’t want the world to forget about Afghanistan; she is 
desperate for more humanitarian and educational support. But she 
rejects entirely the notion that the American military can be a 
force for good, or a force for feminism. “I believe that women’s 
rights is not a bunch of beautiful flowers that someone gives us,” 
she says. In her book, she writes, “I feel confident that if 
foreign countries stop meddling in Afghanistan and if we are left 
free from occupation, then a strong progressive and democratic 
force will emerge.”

That might seem terribly optimistic, even naïve to most Americans. 
But if we think we’re fighting for women like her, we should at 
least listen when she begs us to stop.

Michelle Goldberg is the author of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, 
Power and the Future of the World and Kingdom Coming: The Rise of 
Christian Nationalism. She is a senior correspondent for The 
American Prospect, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, 
The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, Glamour, and many other 

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