By Farooq Sulehria
Afghan leader Malalai Joya is resistance personified. She is the most vocal critic of both US occupation of Afghanistan and the ruling warlords. At the same time, she speaks dismissively of the Taliban: "Their violence is no resistance". However, Malalai Joya hardly grabs headlines in the Pakistani media that often glorifies the mindless violence of the Taliban. But she is a household name in Afghanistan and a known figure internationally. She was called "Afghanistan's most famous women" by the BBC a few years ago. Last April, she was ranked among the 100 most influential people of the world by Time Magazine.
A book on Joya's life and struggle
But Time asked Dutch-Somalian author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is known for her Islamophobic views, to make the announcement. Now settled in the US, Hirsi Ali distorted Joya's image in her malicious announcement by saying: "I hope in time [Joya] comes to see the US and NATO forces in her country as her allies. She must use her notoriety, her demonstrated wit and her resilience to get the troops on her side instead of out of her country".
A furious Joya reacted strongly. In her counter-statement, she said: "Time has painted a false picture of me and does not mention anything at all about my struggle against the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and NATO, which is disgusting. In fact, everyone knows that I stand side-by-side with the glorious antiwar movements around the world and have proved time and again that I will never compromise with the US and NATO who have occupied my country, empowered the most bloody enemies of my people and are killing my innocent compatriots in Afghanistan".
Joya earned a mark back in 2003 at the Loya Jirga (Greater Assembly) convened to ratify Afghanistan's new constitution. Unlike the US-sponsored, clean-shaven fundamentalists, Joya was not nominated by Karzai. She was elected by the people of the Farah province to represent them at the Loya Jirga. The Jirga was chaired by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi who, at the very outset, told the women delegates: "Even God has not given you equal rights because under His decision two women are equal to one man".
Joya had bravely organised underground girls' schools in Herat when the Taliban's terror drove millions into exile. Mojaddedi's patriarchal admonition could not intimidate Joya. She stunned the Loya Jirga and the press members present to cover the occasion by delivering a three-minute, hard-hitting speech, exposing the crimes of the warlords running the Loya Jirga. A befuddled grey-bearded Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, on hearing Joya, screamed in anger and called her 'infidel' and 'communist'. Others also shouted at her. But before she was silenced by an angry mob of warlords, with her single, but timely, act she had electrified Afghanistan.
When she criticised the warlords at the Loya Jirga, even 'Viceroy' Zalmay Khalilzad -- the then US envoy to Afghanistan -- was upset. "Joya", Khalilzad chided, "had overstepped the framework of politeness".
She wrote a letter to Khalilzad, saying: "If these criminals raped your mother or daughter or even your grandmother, or killed seven of your sons, let alone destroyed all the moral and material treasure of your country, what words would you use against such criminals and puppets that will be inside the framework of politeness and respect?"
In the meantime, three fateful minutes at the Loya Jirga changed the course of Joya's life. In her native province of Farah, locals wanted her to represent them in elections. It does not merely take guns and dollars to contest an election in Afghanistan. Joya had none. Still, she contested and was elected to parliament in 2005. Danish filmmaker Eva Mulvad immortalised Joya's courageous election campaign and subsequent victory in her documentary "Enemies of Happiness". Aged 25, Malalai Joya was the youngest Afghan MP. More importantly, she proved herself to be the bravest MP. On the floor of parliament, she emerged as the strongest critic of US occupation and the Taliban- and mujahidin-dominated Karzai regime.
Hence, at almost every parliamentary session she attended, she had her hair pulled, was attacked physically and called names by her 'Islamist' colleagues. She was even threatened with rape on the floor of the house. In one case, the warlords bussed in thousands of men to Kabul to march and demand "Death to Joya". Niaz Mohammad Amiri, a member of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Wahabist party, would never miss an opportunity during parliamentary sessions to call her a prostitute. Flyers were distributed calling her prostitute, communist and anti-Islamic.
"Among the worst was a leaflet that showed a photograph of me without my headscarf, falsely saying that the picture was taken at the Loya Jirga. Underneath was the awful slogan: she took off her scarf at the Loya Jirga, she'll take off her pants in parliament", Joya noted in her book Raising My Voice that has recently come out. Once she was abroad on Valentine's Day. It was propagated that she was abroad to celebrate Valentine's Day. In her two years in parliament, she never once had the chance to complete her speech without her microphone switched off. But even her half-delivered speeches were hard to tolerate.
Hence, she was suspended from parliament. Her suspension has been widely criticised. From Noam Chomsky to Naomi Klein, a host of noted people have signed the petition for her reinstatement. She now leads an underground life. To hide her identity, she wears the burqa which she otherwise hates. In view of her previous experience, she has decided not to contest elections scheduled for September this year.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org