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(SALEM, Ore.) - Former Afghan Parliament Member Malalai Joya spoke to a welcoming and enthusiastic packed house at Willamette University's Smith Auditorium Sunday night.
Her talk to a wide ranging audience led to a minutes-long standing ovation; it seemed like a clear indication of Salem's interest in this far away land occupied by U.S. troops locked in a fierce war claiming an escalating number of lives on all sides.
A most interesting and resilient woman; Joya has paid a heavy price for her open criticism of the government led by President Hamid Karzai who she says is both a puppet of U.S. policy, and a war criminal with links to the darkest corners of Afghanistan's criminality.
Joya had a unique description for the way Afghanistan appears today; she says it is like a sick cow. Americans may be a little baffled by that description but if you saw what she is talking about, you would understand.
Kabul, Afghanistan is an eyesore of a city, with military convoys running bumper to bumper, ignoring Afghan traffic police as Americans (at least in 2006 and 2007) weren't permitted to stop a convoy under any conditions. They drive up and over sidewalks and cross into the oncoming lanes to keep moving forward. (In all fairness this describes much of the driving in Kabul.)Roads are torn up and muddy and there are buildings all over the capitol city that are in varying states of disrepair and ruin from 32 years of nonstop war. The river is a brown trickle and all the trees were cut down during the Soviet invasion.
This is the place she and others want to see once again become a peaceful nation. Joya does not believe that this will be accomplished with a deadly military occupation that will soon be more than a decade old. She spoke out for the families who have lost sons and daughters in this long-term American war; telling them she is sorry for their losses.
"To you I offer condolence but a condolence is not enough".
Joya says the time is here for all of the dying to simply stop, by ending the occupation.
U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to follow the lead set out by George W. Bush in both Middle east wars might be one of the most disappointing pieces of the puzzle, but Hillary Clinton's tendency to speak out over human rights and women's rights and then pull pack is another less than shining dynamic of U.S. history in Afghanistan.
A microphone at the front of the auditorium allowed members of the audience to ask Malalai questions, and with a little help from Willamette University's Marva Duerksen, she was able to offer comprehensive responses to every question in English that was clear, as was her position clearly passionate and dedicated to the Afghan people.As a former member of the Afghan Parliament, Malalai Joya, was named by Time Magazine as One of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World. The BBC dubbed her 'The Most Famous Woman in Afghanistan'.
As she discloses in her new book, Women Among Warlords, Malalai Joya was a member of Afghanistan's Parliament, that is until she spoke out about the president and his connections and was thrown out of parliament literally and assaulted in the process.
This, in the parliament of the government installed by the Bush Administration.
After her talk, I was able to catch up with Malalai. We discussed the situation in Afghanistan and she explained that her family, like so many, fled Afghanistan during the years of the Soviet Union, moving initially to Iran, and then to Pakistan where she was raised for the majority of her life.
I say thank goodness, because so many women her age who spent their lives in Afghanistan are well conditioned into submission by this government that really is an androcracy with a very limited number of women in high power.
I met other Pakistan-raised and educated women in Kabul who were very different from their counterparts raised on Afghan soil.
This is the story of many young people in Afghanistan today. Their families did not leave their homeland because they set out to, it was reactionary; an attempt to stay alive, and it didn't always go well for the exodus of refugees trying to put distance between themselves and the wrath of a Soviet army that raped and pillaged and polluted and murdered well over a million Afghans, more or less as the U.S. has done in Iraq, (without the rate of sexual abuse Russians are known for.) At least rape is against the rules for Americans.One difference between the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Soviet Afghan invasion, is that the U.S.S.R. thought Afghanistan needed to be reminded about who was in control, and Russia had a big stake in Afghanistan. Indeed, in the end it became a lesson of the exact opposite nature. However it wasn't based on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.
The idea that the U.S. is following the footsteps of the Soviets should be cause enough to pull the forces out and end this war of attrition. It gives an insightful American or any westerner a lot to think about, or at least should. I traveled around the country and stayed in and worked inside different buildings that were constructed by the Soviets.
Many families returned to Afghanistan after the arrival of U.S. forces and subsequent temporary squashing of the Taliban, and this facilitated the return of women in particular, who were raised to pursue their dreams in places like Pakistan, and they returned to Afghanistan with a fiery spirit because it is the land of their family history.
Some young men whose families fled returned to join the Taliban and other anti-Coalition militias. Others, like my friend Matiullah, became an interpreter with U.S. forces. This places an Afghan citizen in a dangerous position. As you will see in the video to the right that I included from my time in Afghanistan covering the war, his two-year old daughter was shot by Taliban passing through his neighborhood in the back of a truck. That is only part of his tragic story.
Beyond that, the report is a flash view; gritty insight- from a night on patrol with underfunded Afghan National Police officers and American soldiers from the Oregon Guard.In considering the miserable wretched lives of poverty level police officers in Afghanistan who manage in many cases to have integrity and honor in spite of their immense challenges, it is almost too hard to think about where the money and power really reside, legally of course under the Karzai regime.
"Warlords" was mentioned by Joya time and time again during her talk Sunday.
In many cases these criminals and warlords, Malalai Joya says, are only in power and current positions because of the U.S. government.
One man she showed a photo of is described as a former member of the Taliban, who now works as a university professor.
It is a never ending maze of corruption and confusion that comprises today's Afghan government.
I was there and saw this. I heard the frustrations of my friends; a group of field grade U.S. military officers, who spent hours in non-successful negotiations with officials at the Afghanistan Ministry of Defence in Kabul.
Aside from the general issues involved in trying to mix western and Afghan rules and regulations and politics in almost all respects, there are brick walls and the point of no return.
And don't get me wrong, it isn't just like we're reaching that point now, and this has much to do with the points made my Joya.
The U.S. decision to launch a surge in Afghanistan has truly led to an untold number of deaths and wounded and gave birth to lifetimes of suffering for the traumatized, the lost, the sick, the hungry and cold.
Malalai Joya is an Afghan politician, writer and human rights activist. She was the youngest person elected to Afghanistan's new parliament. But in 2007, she was suspended from the body 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.
Joya’s most recent op-ed, published in The Guardian on March 30, highlights the disturbingly graphic images of killed Afghan civilians being used as props by U.S. soldiers that were revealed in Rolling Stone magazine.
It was a subject a few years ago; American and British forces talked about the importance of winning hearts and minds yet sadly, today in America, people on the right side of the aisle actually argue against the concept of it. And there you have the framework for a military conditioned to commit war crimes, which is happening far too often.
People who followed my reports from Afghanistan on Salem-News.com and on Oregon KPTV Channel-12 in Portland, witnessed the suffering that my camera recorded.
It was not just one situation, but one after another: freezing cold, lack of heat, lack of clothing, lack of baby formula, no health care other than the occasional 'MEDCAP' mission from U.S. and Coalition forces, next to no education, this country is in need of love and tolerance but it receives plenty of automatic weapons fire.
Then there is the fact that nobody, not even the Soviet Union, has ever managed to beat the Afghans at war.
This is a fact, of course Afghans are always on both sides of each conflict, but a tour of the place shows the relics and wreckage from past conflicts with the Russians, the British, and much of this is included in the Afghan reports which are all listed here. (The first two pages have reports from Iraq, then the Afghan reports begin and there are, if I'm correct, 35 reports filed in country.)
The fact that the U.S. is closely tied; almost directly responsible for Karzai's leadership role, Joya says, is not missed on the local population.
Indeed, there are many bloody hands that appear to breach the boundaries of complicity in this endless war.
This activist shared stories with the audience about victims that are just tiny children, and while we know that many boys are sexually abused in Afghanistan, the conversation was primarily about girls and the rampant abuse they suffer along with women.
The long term effects of this coupled with an already high death rate for children and some of the lowest mortality spans on earth, makes for chilling odds of success. It simply is not fair and hopefully someday a change will be implemented to protect people.
Joya says there is a large amount of work ahead. but she believes that the only thing to do is stay in Afghanistan and make the right moves to meet goals that lead to a better existence for women.
One of the dire issues Joya talked about involved the same problem facing Palestinians thanks to Israel's ongoing illegal attacks; cluster bombs, illegal white phosphorus; illegal weapons used in illegal ways.
Then the list goes on to include all types of war crime allegations which are often shielded from public view and glossed over. Hence the importance of another diehard truth warrior; a man imprisoned by this government named Bradley Manning.
Anyone justifying the wars in the Middle east absolutely has to look past the illegality of such dreaded acts, and items, like depleted uranium- when offering their excuses for why there is any legitimacy at all to the military decisions that lead to their use.In Joya's opinion, world view of the U.S. is changing and moving because news media, in some parts of the world, tells an honest story, unlike American mainstream media, which exists under the high wielding control and scrutiny of the ultra powerful Zionist/Israeli influence, insurance and big pharma industries.
She says the reputation of western and Israeli military forces are slipping consistently in a world view, "Because their crimes are exposed to people of these countries."
Malalai Joya is exceedingly critical of the U.S. occupation and she says she knows it is prolonging the suffering, and that tensions would settle down if the occupying forces were just pulled out.
However she is bitter toward the Taliban and the murderous history they represent. But she believes the occupational politics are still by far the largest problem facing the Afghan population.
"Over more than nine years of occupation, tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed; men, women and children," Joya said.
"Maybe you've heard the tragic story related in Spiegel, their photos show cruel soldiers -they make fun with the dead bodies of my people. If its true that these photos are real. It may that these photos are new, but the problem is not new for my people."
She is not happy with the American response to punish the individuals responsible for the crimes, without addressing the bigger problems.
"And now the U.S. government wants to deceive again, people of the west and also people of Afghanistan. They are trying to bring these few soldiers to court. And I think its not enough", Joya said.
I believe Malalai Joya's presence in Salem radiated a perfect blend of Afghan energy and human compassion and it is this quality that I often write about when it comes to people of the Middle east. They are concerned with the core values of human existence; luxuries are something that they might enjoy in a conversation. No people saddled with constant death and fear and uncertainty can quickly muster up what is required to deactivate the intense human emotions that would overwhelm almost anybody. Malalai is a rare example of someone who can. I often refer back to Abraham Maslow's theory about the reality of human needs:
Wikipedia describes Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a pyramid consisting of five levels:
The lowest level is associated with physiological needs, while the uppermost level is associated with self-actualization needs, particularly those related to identity and purpose. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are met. Once an individual has moved upwards to the next level, needs in the lower level will no longer be prioritized. If a lower set of needs is no longer be met, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs by focusing attention on the unfulfilled needs, but will not permanently regress to the lower level. For instance, a businessman at the esteem level who is diagnosed with cancer will spend a great deal of time concentrating on his health (physiological needs), but will continue to value his work performance (esteem needs) and will likely return to work during periods of remission.
Afghanistan's people, with few exceptions, have had little opportunity to rebuild a sound life and culture. Some have money but most have next to nothing.
Until the basic needs of these people are met, their futures are dismal at best. One out of five children won't make it until the age of five. I was told by local people that the average there is somewhere in the 40's. WikiAnswers states that "The Life expectancy in Afghanistan is about 45 for a female and 46 for a male."
Those who turned out for this special event were rewarded with an eloquent description of the horrors and disappointments of watching your nation go from bad to worse as it watches one occupying power march out, only to be replaced by another to fill the bases and patrol the roads and trails.
Malalai Joya has a big task ahead, but based on her success with this particular evening, she clearly is going to be someone to watch as the future continues to greet us and then fly into the past.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle:
'Joya missed her first two scheduled stops in New York and Washington, D.C., appearing instead by video. She has a talk scheduled at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church at 15th Street and Julian Avenue in San Francisco’s Mission District on April 9, followed by an appearance at an anti-war rally in the city the next day.'
Read original article: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/03/25/BA9G1IIA3P.DTL
We will try to locate the rest of her schedule and publish it here.
Salem-News.com articles & reports about women and Afghanistan:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience in broadcast and Internet news. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with the U.S. Army and Marines.
Dexter Phoenix has worked as a staff and freelance photographer since the mid-1990's and has a wealth of professional experiences on his resume. We welcome his presence to our staff and Salem-News.com.