A Woman Among Warlords

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

A Woman Among WarlordsBook Description

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.

Reviews:

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.

From Booklist

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.

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Bleeding Afghanistan

By Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls*

“A wake-up call to everyone who thought the war was a success story.” – Eve Ensler

Bleeding AfghanistanBook Description

In the years following 9/11, U.S. policy in Afghanistan has received little scrutiny, either from the media or the public. Despite official claims of democracy and women’s freedom, Afghanistan has yet to emerge from the ashes of decades-long war. Through in-depth research and detailed historical context, Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls report on the injustice of U.S. policies in Afghanistan historically and in the post-9/11 era.

Drawing from declassified government documents and on-the-ground interviews with Afghan activists, journalists, lawyers, refugees, and students, Bleeding Afghanistan examines the connections between the U.S. training and arming of Mujahideen commanders and the subversion of Afghan democracy today. Bleeding Afghanistan boldly critiques the exploitation of Afghan women to justify war by both conservatives and liberals, analyzes uncritical media coverage of U.S. policies, and examines the ways in which the U.S. benefits from being in Afghanistan.

Click here to buy a copy of “Bleeding Afghanistan.” All proceeds benefit RAWA.


Reviews:

“Bleeding Afghanistan is without a doubt the most realistic and sincere reflection of the ongoing tragedy in my ill-fated Afghanistan, covering every aspect of life under the US domination and its fundamentalist criminals and warlord hirelings.The book breaks the silence on many hidden agendas of the US administration in Afghanistan.” – Malalai Joya, former member of Afghan Parliament

“Sonali Kolhatkar and Jim Ingalls worked with RAWA before it was cool and have continued to do so after Afghanistan has fallen off everyone’s radar screen. Their long association with and deep concern for the Afghan people bear fruit in this book, which treats Afghanistan as a country and not as fodder for debating points. It has everything you need to know — the history of foreign intervention, the depredations of the warlords and the Taliban, the U.S. bombing, and the stultifying negligence of the occupation. It clearly gives the lie to the mythology of humanitarian intervention. The authors even have the guts to tackle the most difficult question of all — what should be done now. A remarkable achievement.” — Rahul Mahajan

“This is not the Book-Seller of Kabul or the Kite-Runner. It is not for latte-drinking liberals who want to save exotic Afghan women or men. It’s about what America is really doing today in Afghanistan after the Taliban was ousted, and what we did before …” — Pratap Chatterjee

“This book provides a perspective you don’t often get on CNN or in your daily newspaper…[it] is thoroughly researched (706 endnotes) and provides insight from two writers who have seen the country and worked for the liberation of Afghan women with a great deal more sincerity than Laura Bush.” — Michael Stimpson

Click here to buy a copy of “Bleeding Afghanistan.” All proceeds benefit RAWA.

Visit the book’s website at www.bleedingafghanistan.com.

* Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls are Co-Directors of the Afghan Women’s Mission

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Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan

By Melody Ermachild

“A vivid celebration of a contemporary heroine.” – Kirkus Reviews

Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan - book coverBook Description

Meena founded the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan in 1977 as a twenty-year-old Kabul University student. She was assassinated in 1987 at age thirty, and lives on in the hearts of all progressive Muslim women. Her voice, speaking for freedom, has never been silenced. The compelling story of Meena’s struggle for democracy and women’s rights in Afghanistan will inspire young women the world over.

Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan is a portrait of a courageous mother, poet and leader who symbolizes an entire movement of women that can influence the fate of nations. It is also a riveting account of a singular political career whose legacy has been inherited by RAWA, the women who hold the keys to a peaceful future for Afghanistan. RAWA has authorized this first-ever biography of their martyred founder.

Click here to buy a copy of “Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan.”

LA Times Book Review by Susan Griffin, March 2004

A radical passion for justice

Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan: The Martyr Who Founded RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

On the surface, “Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan” is a very simple book. Since this account of the life of the founder of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, or RAWA, is told for girls as well as women, the style is conventional and direct. Yet the narrative will provide a profoundly moving experience for readers of any age. In fact, the story of the young woman who at the age of 20 started the first movement for women’s rights in Afghanistan, only to be assassinated 10 years later, is a page turner.

Meena’s story cannot have been easy to piece together. Readers will benefit from the experience of the author, Melody Ermachild Chavis, who in her career as a private detective has investigated numerous murder cases. In the course of her research for this book, she traveled to Afghanistan to interview many of the principals — men and women who, even after the Taliban was overthrown, were still in danger of attack by fundamentalist terrorists because of their support of women’s rights.

Those readers unfamiliar with the lot of women under the Taliban will be shocked by the conditions revealed in this book. Yet the logic of the oppression will not, unfortunately, be entirely unfamiliar to Westerners, who see various forms of repression imposed on women in Christian fundamentalism and ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Claiming that women are spiritually and intellectually inferior as well as sexually dangerous, the Taliban promoted male domination both in the family and in public life through various forms of repression, including the imprisonment of women in the home, the imposition of the veil and the burka, the denial of the vote and of education, the exclusion of women from the clergy and places of worship, and opposition to abortion, affirmative action and the employment of women outside the home.

In 1957 — the year Meena was born into a middle-class family in Kabul — Afghanistan was ruled by King Zahir Shah, a monarch who supported some measure of equality for women. Afghanistan’s modern history can almost be read as an exercise in violent ambivalence concerning democracy and women’s rights. Amanullah Khan, who ruled Afghanistan from 1919 (the year the country won full independence from Britain) until he was deposed in 1929, began a program of modernization that included education for women. Nadir Shah, king from 1929 to 1933, abolished Amanullah’s reforms, but Nadir’s son Zahir, who succeeded him after Nadir was assassinated, advanced Amanullah’s liberalizing policies even further, establishing a constitution in 1964 that gave women the right to vote.

It was thanks to these innovations that Meena received an education — unlike her mother, who was illiterate. Lycee Malalai, the all-girls school she attended, was named for an Afghan heroine who in 1880, when the country was invaded by Britain, had retrieved under gunfire a fallen Afghan flag and held it high until she was shot down by British soldiers. Inspired by this story and by two of her teachers who believed in the equality of women, Meena eventually became a heroine herself to countless Afghans, legendary even before her martyrdom at age 30.

After graduation, Meena intended to study law so that she could fight for women’s rights in the courts. But by then the liberal atmosphere that had fostered her determination had dissipated. Three years earlier, Zahir was overthrown by his prime minister and cousin, Mohammed Daoud, who was aligned with a pro-Soviet party. Gradually Afghanistan lost its independence, and the government became unstable. Fundamentalist groups began interpreting every democratic reform as a sign of corrupting foreign influence, and emancipated women were their first targets. By 1976, when Meena entered the University of Kabul, its female students had to contend with a reign of terror as random attacks were carried out on them. The followers of the Islamic radical Burhanuddin Rabbani threw acid on the exposed legs and even the faces of women walking across the campus — the beginning of hostilities that continue to this day.

Meena did not let these attacks stop her from attending the university or from speaking out for women. The resolve and bravado for which she was soon to become famous showed itself in a family drama culminating that year with her marriage. Meena was 19 years old. Because according to Afghan tradition a girl is considered marriageable at 13, the pressure from members of her extended family for her to wed had reached a fever pitch.

Meena’s standards seemed impossible to fill. She did not believe in, nor would she consent to, a bride price, let alone an arranged marriage. She would not wear the veil; though polygamy was still the custom in many households, she insisted that her husband should take no other wives; she demanded that she be allowed to continue her studies; and she made it clear that she planned not only to practice law but to hold her own political views as well. Eventually an enterprising aunt found Meena an acceptable husband in Faiz Ahmed, a distant cousin who was a doctor with radical views, including a belief in women’s rights. Because he agreed to all her conditions and she liked him, Meena agreed to the union, though in the beginning she was not in love with him.

If over time she would come to love Faiz, she never agreed with his Maoist politics. She seems to have rejected ideology altogether, favoring instead the complexities that inform the lives of real women. Still, she watched and learned from her husband’s political activism. Increasingly, it seemed to her that the courts were not the only way to better women’s lives. She decided to start a political organization for women. Influenced by her husband’s organization, which under a pro-Soviet regime had to be clandestine, she found a way to build RAWA while keeping its membership secret. Interestingly, her method was similar to one used by American feminists of the late ’60s and ’70s: a constellation of small groups. Though Meena met with all the groups, they did not meet with one another, making it easier for women to keep their membership secret and thus evade the disapproval and draconian retaliation of their families. This approach also afforded great intimacy, which helped give its members an uncommon strength and courage.

In the beginning, some of Meena’s tactics, such as wearing a burka when visiting members’ houses, seemed unnecessary, but soon the wisdom of this approach became all too clear. When Daoud was assassinated in 1978, thousands of Afghan intellectuals were imprisoned or executed. The following year, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, all other political points of view were brutally repressed. That officially the Soviet regime supported women’s rights made RAWA’s task no easier. Indeed, educating women about their rights became more difficult under a hated government that was forcing its ideological program on an occupied people.

Soon Meena’s life became more difficult in still other ways when, because he was a Maoist, Faiz and Meena were forced to separate. Meena continued to organize women, even during the last month of her pregnancy. On the day her labor began, Faiz was arrested. Fearing that she too would be imprisoned, Meena went to the hospital at the last minute before giving birth, leaving in disguise only hours afterward. In one of the more wrenching episodes of her story, she decided to leave her newborn child with a friend before going into hiding herself. Faiz was finally released from jail, but he was able to visit his wife and daughter only briefly before he fled to Pakistan.

Though matters would soon become significantly worse under the warlords and fundamentalist mujahedin who finally overthrew Soviet rule, under Meena’s leadership RAWA continued to publish and distribute leaflets, hold literacy classes and build its organization through the continual spawning of small groups of women. Eventually Meena herself was forced to go to Pakistan. But she continued to work for RAWA there, establishing literacy classes and a home for refugee Afghan women and children. She was close to finishing work on a hospital intended to serve refugees and those injured by land mines when she was murdered by an Afghani who had been acting as a RAWA supporter.

The author’s description of Meena’s considerable physical beauty, burnished by a passion for justice that gave her a luminous quality, is verified by the photographs accompanying the book. As one learns about how she would go out dressed as a man, or show up at the home of a member who was ill or suffering a loss, bringing food or offering to cook, even while she was pregnant and exhausted, one comes to love this woman.

There is no comfort in the supposition that since Meena was a political activist, her suffering must have been exceptional. A piece about Afghan women written by Jane Kramer for the New Yorker makes it clear that over the last two and a half decades most of the women of Afghanistan have suffered terribly, often in almost unspeakable ways. Kramer quotes Zahir Tannin, once editor of a prominent daily paper in Kabul and now head of the Afghan desk at the BBC: “No one wants to talk about it but the one thing [Afghans] do agree on is that the biggest victims of our twenty years’ war are women.” If Meena was exceptional it was because she fought back and took joy in the fight – – a joy shared by the women of RAWA, who, as they continued Meena’s work under the Taliban, chose as an act of defiance to wear bright toenail polish under the burka.

In her moving foreword to the book, Alice Walker writes, “One day one hopes the whole of Afghanistan, healed after so many centuries of war, will look upon the smiling radiant face of Meena and recognize itself.” If, as Walker writes, the male leaders of Afghanistan live “under the illusion that she is separate from them,” so too does the current world leadership. The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees still defines “refugee” as someone running in fear from persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, even membership in a particular social group or because of holding a political opinion, but not persecution due to gender.

The world would do well to take this widespread persecution seriously. Its victims are also often startlingly prescient. What would have happened had world leaders listened to Meena in 1981, when, after attending an international conference of socialists in Paris to protest the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, she warned in a televised interview of the dangers of violent Islamic fundamentalist movements? When Afghanistan’s public educational system collapsed, Meena and others in RAWA saw the danger, but the American government took no heed. Despite pleas for help, no money or support was given to RAWA for its schools and hospitals. Yet the Islamic fundamentalist schools, established during the Soviet occupation by, among others, Osama bin Laden — and that trained many future terrorists — were well funded by several nations, including our own.

This is a book not only to read but to urge others to read. It provides, in its devastating way, a measure of hope. Another way of preventing violence exists: not through repression but through the expansion of civil liberties.

Susan Griffin is the author of several books, including “A Chorus of Stones” and, most recently, “The Book of the Courtesans.”

Click here to buy a copy of “Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan.”

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With All Our Strength

By Anne Brodsky

“Here is a testimony to RAWA – Afghanistan’s real democrats.” – Arundhati Roy

With all our Strength - book coverWith All Our Strength is the inside story of this women-led underground organization and their fight for the rights of Afghan women. Anne Brodsky, the first writer given in-depth access to visit and interview their members and operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, shines light on the gruesome, often tragic, lives of Afghan women under some of the most brutal sexist oppression in the world.

Click here to buy a copy of “With All Our Strength”. All proceeds benefit RAWA.

Arundhati Roy says:

Here is a testimony to RAWA – Afghanistan’s real democrats. After the recent farce about the “liberation” of women (Do we really believe we can bomb our way to a feminist paradise?) – the old jehadis are back at the helm, Sharia law is alive and well, and RAWA is as crucial to Afghanistan’s future as it ever was.

Anne Brodsky’s book gives us a ring side view of this extraordinary women’s movement that is as doggedly committed to the business of democracy as it is to the (vital) business of dreaming of another, better world. Each of us needs a little RAWA.

Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues says:

The work of RAWA must stand as a model for every group that struggles against the twin evils of oppression and violence. Anne Brodsky’s account reveals the boundless courage of these warrior women, who have fought for basic human dignity while the rest of the world looked away.

Katha Pollitt, Author of Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture says:

Anne Brodsky goes behind the headlines to look closely at a unique organization that according to popular stereotypes of Afghan women should not exist. RAWA is a militant, secular, feminist, pro-democracy movement run by women. Brodsky shows us how ordinary women, including those who are illiterate and who have experienced traumatic violence, can become powerful agents of social and political change. Combining scholarship with empathy, Brodsky produces a fascinating book.

Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Jihad says:

WITH ALL OUR STRENGTH is the first political history of Afghanistan told through women’s eyes. Afghan women have always been depicted as the victims of war and mass destruction, but Brodsky shows us that real and powerful women live behind the veil and she has given them a voice and a history. This is the story of those defiant Afghan women who never succumbed or surrendered to extremism or despair and who want nothing more than to build peace and democracy in their county. A powerful story.

Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur of the UN and prominent women’s rights activist of Pakistan says:

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has consistently and courageously maintained that a democratic and secular political system is the only guarantee for peace in Afghanistan. This is true for other neighboring countries as democratic forces in the region have been silenced and marginalised by militant fundamentalist “lashkars”. Regrettably, they received patronage from governments, who used “jihad” to advance their ill-conceived agendas at the cost of people’s freedom. RAWA is a reminder to these powerful lobbies that truth and justice does eventually prevail. They have been a source of inspiration to hundreds of young Afghans and to the women’s groups in Pakistan. Their struggle has been long and under immense pressure, yet their resolve has never wavered.

Sunita Mehta, editor of Women for Afghan Women: Shattering Myths and Claiming the Future says:

Anne Brodsky writes a comprehensive history of this courageous women’s organization with passion and sensitivity. This book is a testament to not only the legacy of RAWA, but to Brodsky’s own commitment to this organization and its unflinching advocacy for women’s rights and secular democracy in Afghanistan.

Publishers Weekly, March 23rd 2003:

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan came to Western attention in the wake of the fall of the Taliban, but its history long predates the Taliban. In 1977, in an environment hostile to women’s rights and secularism, a 20-year-old woman named Meena founded RAWA to empower Afghan women and promote democracy in Afghanistan (in 1987, Meena was murdered by RAWA’s opponents). Community psychologist Brodsky’s groundbreaking account studies this important organization’s evolution from an 11-member student group to the most powerful voice for women in Afghanistan, with thousands of volunteers. Heavily sprinkled with perceptive interviews, the book relays RAWA’s story through the voices of its members and supporters, skillfully bringing to life those whose sacrifices have sustained the organization. The first writer with in-depth access to RAWA, Brodsky writes a passionate narrative of an organization ! that has helped its members overcome illiteracy, abuse, war and death. As Brodsky intends, RAWA emerges as a highly successful model of the resilience that, Brodsky believes, can empower women everywhere. Although RAWA’s incredible story keeps the reader engaged, the book is occasionally repetitive. Brodsky also inadequately addresses one of the most fascinating aspects of RAWA–the clandestine manner in which the organization grew into a sophisticated transnational organization without infrastructure and designated leaders. However, her work stands out as a lone and important study of a remarkable organization that has transcended war, misogyny and fundamentalism and spread its message of Afghanistan’s horrific history and its current reconstruction.

Click here to buy a copy of “With All Our Strength.” All proceeds benefit RAWA.

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Zoya’s Story

By John Follain and Rita Cristofari

“A tale of struggle and suffering…from a courageous freedom fighter…Timely and sobering.” – Kirkus Reviews

With all our Strength - book cover Though she is only twenty-three, Zoya has witnessed and endured more tragedy and terror than most people experience in a lifetime. Born in a land ravaged by war, she was robbed of her parents when they were murdered by Muslim fundamentalists. Devastated, she fled Kabul with her grandmother and started a new life in exile in Pakistan. She joined the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an organization that challenged the crushing edicts of the Taliban government, and she took destiny into her own hands, joining a dangerous, clandestine war to save her nation.

Direct and unsentimental, Zoya vividly brings to life the realities of growing up in a Muslim culture, the terror of living in a perpetual war zone, the pain of losing those she has loved, the horrors of a woman’s life under the Taliban, and the discovered healing and transformation that lead her on a path of resistance.

From Publishers Weekly:

Now 23, Zoya was a child during the Russian invasion and a teen when the Taliban took power. The daughter of activists in Kabul, Zoya was raised by her grandmother after her parents disappeared. She now belongs to RAWA (see the review of Veiled Courage, above), a group her mother belonged to. Her reflections show the complex scars made by the tug of war between factional governments and tribal warlords, especially the effects of the Taliban. Many of Zoya’s stories (e.g., women only permitted to leave their homes wearing a burqa and accompanied by a male; women often suffering and dying for want of a female physician) are covered in Latifa’s My Forbidden Face. Zoya tells of a society where kite flying, bright colors and even women’s laughter is forbidden, and enforcers are often armed with Russian military leftovers or crude stones. Yet the Afghans Zoya speaks of remain rebellious and hopeful. She writes, “When I… saw Kabul in the daylight, even the mountains beyond the city which had seemed so peaceful to me when I was a child looked sad. But… that I had seen them again… made me feel stronger.” Assigned by RAWA to live and work in a refugee camp near the Afghan-Pakistani border, Zoya now also travels abroad to raise funds for her organization. Her narrative voice is quiet and clear, making her recollections of the breathtaking violence she has witnessed nail-bitingly vivid and her descriptions of her struggle candid and poignant.

Click here to buy a copy of “Zoya’s Story”. A portion of the proceeds benefit RAWA.

From Booklist:

After both her parents were killed by the predecessors of the Taliban, the Mujahideen, Zoya took up her mother’s work in RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and, with her grandmother, journeyed to Pakistan, where she could receive an education at a school run by RAWA. A few years later, Zoya returned to Afghanistan to help her people and get firsthand accounts of the horrors of the Taliban reign. Zoya herself witnessed public executions and amputations, but she also witnessed heartening displays of courage–women defying the Taliban by holding secret classes and shopping in the marketplace. Zoya remains skeptical about the future of Afghanistan after the Taliban, afraid that after the U.S. involvement ends, the Mujahideen will return to their old ways. A stirring memoir by an uncompromisingly brave woman.

USA Today says:

No memoirs of world tragedy are more wrenching than those based on the recollections of a nation’s young people. Just as the Holocaust and Cambodia’s Killing Fields gave birth to memoirs of unrelentingly terrible childhoods, Afghanistan’s decades of brutality are adding new voices to the genre.

But because the emotional damage is so fresh and Afghan politics so tenuous, two young women who are now sharing their stories with the world are publishing their memoirs under pseudonyms. It’s not so much to protect themselves as it is to protect their families and members of such organizations as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

Zoya’s Story is another simply told yet achingly realistic tale of a girl whose parents are killed by Muslim fundamentalists when she is 14. Zoya reveals no details of how her parents were killed out of fear her identity will be discovered. But her parents’ disappearance spurs her to continue their work, particularly her mother’s commitment to rescue the victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in Afghanistan.

In 1992, at age 14, Zoya moved to Pakistan with her grandmother. She attended a school funded by RAWA donations. As Zoya’s Story begins, she is crossing over the Pakistan border into Afghanistan on a mission for RAWA, her first trip to her homeland in five years. As she looks through the mesh opening of the burqa, which chafes her eyelids, she worries that the Taliban will search her bags and find the photographs that document murders the Taliban committed by stoning, burning or hanging their victims. The men whose arms have been amputated for thievery, the women whose fingertips have been chopped off because they dared to wear nail polish.

As a child in Kabul, she accompanied her brave mother as she spread the word of RAWA throughout the city. That Zoya should carry on her mother’s work is a tribute to her faith in the future of her country. When Zoya was approached by two foreign journalists who encouraged her to share her story in a book, Zoya asked, “What is special about my story?”

Zoya’s Story, like Latifa’s, is a universal one of human rights violations. The fact that we cannot see the faces of these young writers is a painful reminder of their circumstances and the roles they will play in their country’s evolution.

Click here to buy a copy of “Zoya’s Story.” A portion of the proceeds benefit RAWA.

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