Someone once said “Speak so that I may see thee.” But at times, especially when one speaks about bringing to light the misdeeds of those in power, there is no end to threats urging that person from speaking.
“Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born,” Daniel Toole, UNICEF’s regional director for South Asia, reportedly told a news briefing in Geneva in November last year. It is also a dangerous place to grow up in as one learns from Malalai Joya’s experiences and the book ‘Raising My Voice,’ in which she talks “about the plight of the Afghan people from the perspective of a member of my country’s war generation” using her “personal “experiences as a way to tell the political history of Afghanistan, focusing on the past three decades” of what she calls “oppressive rule.”
Noting that many books were written about Afghanistan after the 9/11 tragedy, Joya says that only a few of them offer “a complete and realistic picture” of Afghanistan’s past. Most of them describe in depth the cruelties and injustices of the Taliban regime, “but usually ignore or try to hide one of the darkest periods of our history: the rule of the fundamentalist mujahideen between 1992 and 1996.” Joya, an alias she adopted during the time of the Taliban when she worked as an underground activist, goes on to hope that “this book will draw attention to the atrocities committed by warlords who now dominate the Karzai regime.”
Joya notes that Senator Joseph Biden (now Vice-President), is quoted as saying by Ahmed Rashid in his book ‘Descent into Chaos’: “America has replaced the Taliban with the warlords. Warlords are still on the US payroll but that hasn’t brought a cessation of violence. Not only is the U.S. failing to rein in the warlords, we are actually making them centerpiece of our strategy.”
Joya argues that for successive US governments, their own military, regional, economic and strategic interests have been considered before everything else, and they have been ready to sacrifice millions of Afghans to meet these interests. She goes on to add, “Their nice words about ‘human rights,’ ‘justice,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘liberation,’ ‘democracy,’ and so on are nothing more than lies.”
On Nov. 19, 2001, the New York Times reported: “The galaxy of warlords who tore Afghanistan apart in the early 1990s and who were vanquished by the Taliban because of their corruption and perfidy are back on their thrones, poised to exercise power in the ways they always have.”
Says Joya, “As the warlords marched back into power, they returned to their habits of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters.” According to her, “If we look at the historical record, the policies of US governments have been consistent for decades. War-making has been the policy of every president…. The foreign policy of the United States, in reality, is already made, and the job of the president is simply to implement it.” She believes that only the people in the United States and other countries, once they understand their responsibility, can change this situation. “In my heart I really believe that ordinary people can change this bleak reality,” she adds.
She says that in the first year after the oppressive regime of the Taliban was removed, many promises were made and people seemed sympathetic to the American and allied forces. “But in the later years, as they did nothing for the people … they lost support,” and “people discovered behind the nice name of International Security Assistance Force is in fact just another foreign occupation of Afghanistan.”
From teaching children and adults since she was 14 in refugee camps and then in underground schools, Joya came to world attention with her scathing short speech at the historic Loya Jirga assembly in 2003 where Afghanistan’s new constitution was debated. She denounced the presence of alleged “criminals” who “turned our country into the centre of national and international wars!” She went on to say that “they are the most anti-women elements in our society who brought our country to this state and they intend to do the same again.” Raising her voice above the angry voices, she called for their prosecution “in national and international courts!” Her microphone was cut off and was allowed to speak for barley 90 seconds of her allotted three minutes.
Two years later, at age 27, she became the youngest person to be elected to the new Parliament, where - during the opening session when she had barely started her speech - her sound was cut off. She was denounced and was not allowed to resume her speech. In her two years in the country’s elected body, she never had a chance to speak without her microphone being cut off.
On May 21, 2007, she was suspended from Parliament. Undeterred, Joya continues her campaign, addressing the people at every opportunity and invitation, to speak at small or big forums, under the shadow of death.
She notes that during her speaking tours of Western countries, people have told her that what she said about the conditions of Afghanistan, was new to them. “Their media does not reflect these realities, and only reports on how well things are progressing. Fortunately there were people all over the world who were aware of the real plight of Afghanistan, and they reached out to support my message,” says Joya.
According to her, over the last 30 years Afghanistan has lost almost everything. “The only positive thing we have gained is our people’s political consciousness. Today we live under the shadow of the gun, and with the most corrupt and unpopular government in the world. The struggle to build a genuine democracy in Afghanistan is one that will take many decades,” she says, and adds that it was unlikely that she will live to see that final outcome.
She trusts that many among young Afghans will take up the fight. “It is a struggle of generations,” she says. – SG