Dear friends, honorable professors and scholars,
On behalf of the other four honorary doctors and RAWA, I should like to express our sincere thanks to the University of Antwerp for bestowing this honour upon us. International recognition is an important incentive and the honorary doctorates which we have received will encourage us to continue to work to the best of our ability, each in our own field.
On this very important occasion I am proud to represent the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) and oppressed Afghan women and receive this honorary doctorate in recognition of RAWA's struggle for freedom, democracy and women's rights. Our heartfelt thanks also go to all of our devoted friends at the University for their hard work to procure Rawa's nomination for this honour.
This honorary doctorate has immense significance for us because in the past we have witnessed how international recognition sometimes went to individuals who were in close association with this or that fundamentalist faction. Many of you may recall that a year back Ahmad Shah Massoud, a known Afghan criminal warlord, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This was indeed a most painful insult and a crushing psychological blow to the freedom-loving people of Afghanistan.
You have honored RAWA, the oldest anti-fundamentalist organization in Afghanistan. Its banner bears the stain of the blood of Meena, its founding leader. During the past 26 years, despite unimaginable difficulties, RAWA has been at the forefront of the struggle for democracy and human rights and against fundamentalist terrorism. It has made sacrifices, been continuously persecuted and harassed, even in Pakistan. Except for the brief period when Afghanistan was front page news, the plight of the Afghan people, and of women in particular, has persistently been either ignored by the mainstream world media or made to appear marginal and inconsequential.
The people of the world should know that although the despicable and oppressive rule of the Taliban is over in our ill-fated Afghanistan, this does not mean the end to hardship for our tortured nation. It is painful to hear some Western leaders and media speak frequently about the "liberation" of Afghanistan. Contrary to the aspirations of our people and the expectations of the world community, the Northern Alliance, these brethren-in-creed of the Taliban, are once again in power and are generously supported by the US government. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in Afghanistan, the US is ultimately replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. The Northern Alliance is nothing but a fragile coalition of bandits with a long list of crimes and brutalities.
According to the influential British newspaper The Independent - I quote (Nov 14, 2001) "It remains a fact that from 1992 to 1996, the Northern Alliance was a symbol of massacre, systematic rape and pillage."
The Guardian (Nov.16, 2001) wrote: "It is richly ironic that the first achievement of the war on terrorism has been to install in Kabul the Northern Alliance, for whom terrorism has been the entire line of business and way of life for more than 20 years."
The Taliban have been severely criticized as the most brutal rulers in view of their actions against women, but the media has not given much coverage to the anti-women values and atrocities of the Northern Alliance, who were the first to impose misogynic rules on our women.
The so called "war on terrorism" has removed the Taliban, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism, which is the main cause of all our misery. As RAWA has continually said, it will require a very different approach indeed for these evils to be eliminated.
The US war has not brought any significant positive changes to our country. It is crystal clear that the US did not enter Afghanistan to liberate its people, but to punish its own wayward creations - Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. It was only a few weeks before the September 11 tragedy, that the Bush administration gave the Taliban $43 million.
Because of our unambiguous comments on these matters, some people call us "anti-American". However, we love the people of America and greatly appreciate their humanitarianism, their generous financial help and their heart-warming moral support. As is the case for many peoples and countries in the world, there is a difference between the US people and the US government.
RAWA was the only Afghan group to join the recent worldwide anti-war movement. It is great to see that Belgium was also part of the anti-war front, but it should also join the front of anti-fundamentalism and pro-democracy. We hope that Belgium will be the first country to stand side by side with our freedom-loving and democratic people and support them, even while many other countries, for the sake of their interests, choose their friends in Afghanistan from among the most defamed and dark-minded forces.
Contrary to what you may have heard, Afghanistan is not a liberated country, but has become a living hell under the pro-Massoud terrorist warlords. According to the latest UN report, Afghanistan has become the world's largest opium producer and all the warlords and others in power are engaged in the dirty business of drug trafficking. Only a few days ago Human Rights Watch revealed the real situation of alleged "press freedom" in Afghanistan, writing - I quote -:
"Security officials have warned journalists to stop publishing critical articles (...). A number of journalists have already been arrested by police forces and detained in Kabul's jails."
In the shadow of the fundamentalists' guns and suppression, the results of the upcoming election in Afghanistan are clear. The warlords of the Northern Alliance will easily influence it with their money and weapons.
The work of RAWA is even more difficult inside Afghanistan in such a climate. We cannot even sell our publications openly and those who are caught reading or selling them are threatened and tortured. No serious anti-fundamentalist women's organization can operate openly in today's Afghanistan.
RAWA's long-term objective is to provide education for large numbers of Afghan women. To give education to a woman is to arm her with the best weapon available by which she can fight for her rights. But under the current barbaric situation, we are still forced to run most of our educational projects underground.
RAWA members have risked their lives documenting human rights abuses, operating underground school networks, running educational institutions, orphanages, hospitals and health care centres which provide free medical treatment for women and children. Today our most pressing concern is RAWA's financial problems, which put our projects at risk. Our hospital in particular is in danger of being closed down due to our permanent shortage of sufficient funds.
Once again thanking the University of Antwerp, RAWA assures all its friends that we will not for a moment give up our struggle for freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan. We will continue our committed pledge to tell the truth, even if this pledge requires us to pay a high price. Telling the truth is always revolutionary, so we will remain revolutionary forever.
On May 16, 2003, honorary doctorate for outstanding non-academic achievements was given to a RAWA member during a ceremony in Antwerp-Belgium.