By Lea Storry
An outspoken critic of NATO and the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, as well as that country's youngest woman elected to parliament, was in Calgary on the weekend, appealing for Canadians to open their minds and support democracy in the war-torn nation.
Malalai Joya, an outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan and the youngest woman elected to that country's parliament speaks at the University of Calgary (Photo: Gavin Young, Calgary Herald)
Malalai Joya was invited to speak at the University of Calgary on Sunday by the Afghan Canadian Students' Association.
The soft-spoken Joya raised an uproar in Afghanistan in 2003 when she condemned the warlords at the Loya Jirga, the assembly of the most powerful political stakeholders in Afghanistan.
In 2005, she was elected into parliament but kicked out of office in 2007 after criticizing the Karzai government.
On her first visit to Calgary, the 32-year-old said Afghanistan needs a helping hand in the fight for democracy and she hopes people who attended the talk will support her goal.
"We are in between two evil: the warlords and Taliban on one side, and the occupation on the other," Joya said. "The first step is to fight against occupation -- those who can liberate themselves will be free, even if it costs our lives."
Joya has had five attempts on her life but said she doesn't fear death and won't stop speaking out. She was named one of Time magazine's most influential people in the world this year and is a champion in the fight for women's rights.
"My biggest fear is political silence," said the activist, who has been teaching girls and women since she was 13 years old and living in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.
"Education gives us hope and courage."
Derrick O'Keefe, a Canadian journalist from Vancouver, co-authored a book based on Joya's experiences called Raising My Voice.
O'Keefe is also involved in the social justice movement and is co-chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance.
He noted that Canadians are slowly realizing who Joya is and listening to what she has to say.
"Most people I talk to know about the war but are confused about it and don't know what's going on. As Canadian casualties mount over the years, people are asking questions about what we're doing there."
He had harsh words for Stephen Harper, saying the prime minister has buried his head in the sand when it comes to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Joya said even though the U.S. has said it will start pulling out of Afghanistan in 2011, it'll leave a puppet government behind.
She added that U.S. President Barack Obama's foreign policies are worse than those of former president George W. Bush and is making Afghanistan a haven for terrorists and a centre for drugs.
To aid Afghanistan's move to true democracy, Joya asked Calgarians to join antiwar organizations as well as send articles denouncing NATO to politicians.
"More or less, open the eyes and minds of the justice loving. Without empty hands, we can't do anything."