Afghan legislator gives talk to 400 at Ventura College

Parliament member says her nation hasn’t been helped by U.S. invasion

Ventura County Star, March 21, 2006

By Charles Levin

Malalai Joya speaking in the Ventura College in the USA

Chuck Kirman/Star staff

Malalai Joya, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, delivers speech at Ventura College on Monday. “I only want to be a voice (for) my suffering people who were always silenced,” she says.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American forces drove the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan, allowing the war-ravaged country to establish a democratic government.

At least that’s the story portrayed in American media, Malalai Joya, a member of the Afghan Parliament, said Monday to nearly 400 students and teachers at Ventura College.

Afghanistan today, however, is a much different place, she said.

Al-Qaida and Taliban forces still exercise power, while so-called “Northern Alliance” warlords control Parliament with tacit support from the U.S. government. Corruption is rampant, she said. And Islamic fundamentalists still commit atrocities against women.

Despite all the talk of “democratic reform and women’s activism … the reality is not what you might be aware of through the media,” said Joya, 27, who heads the Organization of Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities, and administers a health clinic in Farah, where she lives.

White House officials did not return a phone call for comment on Monday.

Joya stopped in Ventura as part of a nationwide, multi-city tour that began earlier this month.

Afghanistan has received $12 billion in aid but little of it reaches its most needy citizens, Joya said. Healthcare is so poor that roughly 700 children and 50 to 70 women die every day for lack of services, Joya said.

Northern Alliance warlords rape women as young as 11 and as old as 60. Husbands physically abuse wives because they don’t fear arrest or prosecution, she added.

“I come from a land where our people simply see (the) U.S. bringing a mock democracy,” Joya said, adding that U.S. officials should apologize to Afghanistan’s people for “fueling and supporting the most brutal and ignorant fundamentalists.”

A minority of educated Afghan residents yearn for true democracy but don’t speak out for fear of retaliation, Joya said in an interview after her speech. She’s touring the U.S. to expose the problems and encourage a dialogue with “educated,” “freedom-loving” people of Afghanistan.

The daughter of a former medical student, Joya was 4 in 1982 when her family fled Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union (which invaded and occupied the country from 1979 to 1989). They first lived in Iran and then Pakistan, where she finished her education at 19 and began teaching literacy courses to other women.

Joya returned to Afghanistan in 1998 when the Soviets left, established an orphanage and health clinic, and openly criticized the Taliban.

In Parliament, Joya has criticized warlords and survived assassination attempts, causing her to now travel with bodyguards.

“I won the elections with nothing in my hands except my people’s trust and love,” Joya said. “I only want to be a voice (for) my suffering people who were always silenced.”