Chicago Tribune, September 10, 2003
Biography charts life of an Afghan heroine
Islamic feminist. It sounds like an oxymoron, but Melody Ermachild Chavis hopes her new book "Meena: Heroine of Afghanistan" (St. Martin's Press, $19.95) will make the term more familiar.
The book is the first biography to be written about the founder of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.
Meena, whose last name remains secret to protect the family, started RAWA in 1977 as a 20-year-old university student; 10 years later she was killed by Islamic extremists. The organization she founded continues her work.
Chavis, 59, who has been a private investigator in the San Francisco Bay area for 20 years, traveled to Afghanistan last year to meet with women who knew Meena. Their input provides an intimate portrait of a woman who lived, by necessity, mostly out of the public view.
The book describes the struggles, triumphs and tragedies of Meena's life as a political activist, from her great luck in finding a husband who supported her work to her pain at having to live apart from her children, for their safety's sake.
It also describes the women of RAWA's resourcefulness, including their clever use of their oppressors' weapons against them. For example, once Meena's face became well-known, she was still able to move about Kabul disguised under a burqa. The all-encompassing garments have likewise been used to smuggle contraband.
Chavis hopes increased awareness of Meena, an icon to many Muslims, will change the prevailing image of Islam in the United States.
"I'd like to replace [Osama bin Laden's] face in people's minds with Meena's lovely face," she said.
Books on RAWA