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Afghanistan's Malalai Joya speaks in So Cal

A Woman Among WarlordsMalalai Joya

At age 27, Malalai Joya was the first woman elected to Afghanistan's parliament. She's an outspoken advocate for democracy -- so much so that she's been suspended from her job in the National Assembly for allegedly insulting her colleagues on television (the suspension has been criticized by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch). She's survived five assassination attempts and stays on the move to keep safe, although her friends will tell you that her car has been breaking down a lot lately. She's been the subject of a documentary and now has released a memoir, "A Woman Among Warlords"; tonight, she'll speak at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

Thursday afternoon, more than 50 Angelenos packed into a front room of a Beverly Hills home to hear Joya, who is fluent in English, speak about her experiences. About half were activists affiliated with the antiwar group Code Pink, and they were supportive of Joya's criticisms of the Obama administration's policies toward Afghanistan. "We must end this continuing occupation," she said to a round of applause, with all the conviction and modulation of a practiced politician.

Speaking with an accent that thickened as she gained momentum, Joya, who stands less than 5 feet tall, held the room in her sway. Her targets were warlords and corruption at home first, but it was her unflinching criticism of American policies that found traction with this peace-activist audience. "Democracy cannot be won by war," she said, to more applause. 

When she noted that a new report by the UNDP rated Afghanistan 181st out of 182 countries, one woman raised her hand. "What is UNDP?" she asked. About two-thirds of the crowd responded without hesitation: "The United Nations Development Program." Some women in the room had traveled to Afghanistan recently, and Joya appealed to their sense of connectedness. "The silence of good people is worse than the action of bad people," she urged, to more applause.

The cars parked on the street near the Beverly Hills home were an equal mix of middle-class sedans and high-end sports cars, with a generous smattering of KPFK stickers throughout. Southern California may be one of the few places in the country where dedicated peace activists dine within arms' reach of original art by modern masters. If Joya noticed any incongruity, she kept it to herself. She is a politician, after all.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Malalai Joya speaks. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

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I think Joya's a little bit crazy. If she needs protection from the Taliban now, how long does she think she would last if we pulled our troops out?

The war is only going to end with America beating the Taliban, or with the Taliban taking over completely. There's no middle solution. The Taliban want to rule the whole country, and Pakistan as well, and they won't settle for anything less.

If the Taliban takes over again, not only will there not be any women in the parliament, there won't be any parliament either, because the Taliban rule as a totalitarian regime. They don't accept any ideas as valid or worthy of expression but their own.

Afghanistan has a long history of delusional left wing politicians. It was the Afghan left in the seventies that asked the Soviet Union to invade. The Afghan left ruled the country in a repressive Marxist regime, and it backfired on them. The conservative population rose up in a civil war. It was the Afghan left that asked the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan, to help the Marxist government out of the civil war they themselves had triggered.

Every single right Joya enjoys right now was given to her by the war. If we'd never sent our troops into Afghanistan, we wouldn't even know who she is, we never would have heard of her, because she would just be one of the nameless women being held prisoner in their homes by the Taliban totalitarian regime.

So she sounds shockingly ungrateful to me. Another unfortunate attribute of the old Afghan left -- they were never known for their gratitude.


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