By Malalai Joya and Derrick O’Keefe
“If I could prescribe one book for David Cameron, Barack Obama and every other western leader to read over the summer, this would be it.” – Natalie Bennett
Malalai Joya has been called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan.” At a constitutional assembly in Kabul in 2003, she stood up and denounced her country’s powerful NATO-backed warlords. She was twenty-five years old. Two years later, she became the youngest person elected to Afghanistan’s new Parliament. In 2007, she was suspended from Parliament for her persistent criticism of the warlords and drug barons and their cronies. She has survived four assassination attempts to date, is accompanied at all times by armed guards, and sleeps only in safe houses.
Often compared to democratic leaders such as Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, this extraordinary young woman was raised in the refugee camps of Iran and Pakistan. Inspired in part by her father’s activism, Malalai became a teacher in secret girls’ schools, holding classes in a series of basements. She hid her books under her burqa so the Taliban couldn’t find them. She also helped establish a free medical clinic and orphanage in her impoverished home province of Farah. The endless wars of Afghanistan have created a generation of children without parents. Like so many others who have lost people they care about, Malalai lost one of her orphans when the girl’s family members sold her into marriage.
While many have talked about the serious plight of women in Afghanistan, Malalai Joya takes us inside the country and shows us the desperate dayto-day situations these remarkable people face at every turn. She recounts some of the many acts of rebellion that are helping to change the country — the women who bravely take to the streets in peaceful protest against their oppression; the men who step forward and claim “I am her mahram,” so the fundamentalists won’t punish a woman for walking alone; and the families that give their basements as classrooms for female students.
A controversial political figure in one of the most dangerous places on earth, Malalai Joya is a hero for our times, a young woman who refused to be silent, a young woman committed to making a difference in the world, no matter the cost.
From Publishers Weekly
One of the few women, and the youngest, to win a seat in Afghanistan’s Parliament, Joya recounts in strong, uncompromising language her march to activism, from her humble origins to recognizing a burning need to bring the corrupted leaders to justice in her war-torn country. Native to the western Afghan province of Ziken, and later Farah City, Joya—a name she had to adopt in order to protect her family—grew up mostly in desperate, unsafe refugee camps in Pakistan after the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1978. With only a high school education (and one wonders how she wrote this book in English), she nonetheless became a teacher in the camps, then worked to organize underground classes for girls in Herat in defiance of Taliban edicts. Her activism grew, supporting orphanages and war victims after the Taliban fled and the U.S. began air strikes and became an armed presence; Joya is adamant in underscoring the responsibility America holds in reinstalling to power the same warlords (commanders she names in the Northern Alliance) who once tore the country apart during the civil war of the 1990s. Having won election to Parliament in 2005 at age 27—Eva Mulvad’s film Enemies of Happiness documented her election—Joya was outspoken in condemning these warlords she called criminals and antiwomen, enduring the shutting off of her microphone, assassination threats and, finally, suspension from Parliament. Joya is on a dangerous, eye-opening mission to uncover truth and expose the abuse of power in Afghanistan, and her book will work powerfully in her favor.
In 2005 Joya was elected the youngest member ever of the Afghan parliament and remains one of the most controversial political figures in the country. She writes about her childhood as a part of a refugee family in Iran and Pakistan and her decision to work for Afghanistan’s women and children regardless of the deep personal cost. Joya has survived four assassination attempts and must keep the identity of her husband a secret for his own protection. She does not write with caution, however, and is both forthright and furious as she lashes out at those within Afghanistan and beyond its borders who treat its people and security with a criminal casualness. Americans will likely be shocked by her dim view of the “war on terror” and subsequent invasion of her country, but Joya pulls no punches as she spreads the blame among U.S. and Afghan leaders for the country’s woes and even refuses to spare President Obama. This is a very opinionated and clearly one-sided view of the Afghan War, yet it is a side rarely heard and thus adds a valuable voice to the annals of a conflict that shows no sign of ending.
Click here to buy a copy of “A Woman Among Warlords”
Visit the Malalai Joya’s website at www.malalaijoya.com.