“When the nose and ears of Bibi Aisha were cut off by her cruel husband, who they said it was from Taliban, the western government’s propaganda machine misused her misery for their own interest. They were showing Bibi Aisha’s photo in the mainstream media and saying that if their troops left, this is what would happen to the women in Afghanistan”. Malalai Joya
In may, 2016 we, from the International Women Space, had the pleasure to spend some time with Malalai Joya. We met at the flat of her friend in east Berlin, where both had prepared a delicious table with tee, coffee, biscuits around which we discussed politics in Afghanistan and how women end up paying a high price in war and occupation times. Malalai knows how important it is to share her knowledge, acquired in years of political activism, with other political active women around the world. The conversation with her flows, she avoids no subjects, she seems afraid of nothing. The interview below is an extract of this conversation.
IWS: We know you have probably been asked this question many times, but still we would like to ask you how did you decide to join the parliament, to become a public figure in the middle of all these interests that play a dirty war in Afghanistan?
Malalai Joya: I was a social activist for an organisation that promoted Afghan women’s capabilities and I enjoyed what I was doing with my people because I strongly believe in the power of education. I was also a teacher during the time of the Taliban. An underground teacher. In 2003, there were elections in Afghanistan, the first after 9/11 and as I was known in the western part of the country, a colleague asked me if I would run, so we could see if people would give their support. I was very young then, 23 years old and when the constitution election came I was 25 years old. Fortunately the election was an open election, they could not cheat. It was not like we’ve experienced afterwards, when votes are being counted behind closed doors. I always repeat that it is not only who is voting that is important, but mainly who is counting. I got many votes then and entered the Loya Jirga in 2003. For the first time we were making our constitution. And for the first time I had face-to-face contact with these criminals like Sayyaf, Ismail Khan, Qanooni, Mohaqiq and all those bunch of killers who committed many crimes against our people. At the time, we were just a few progressives and we thought it was a good time to show to the people of the world that we were there and did not agree with them. For example, in Loya Jirga, they were trying to force the word of Islam in each paragraph of the constitution, which after a discussion, I and a few other progressives concluded that it was not important that Islam is part of each paragraph of the constitution because in our country most of the people are Muslims and their problem is not about Islam at all. Their problem is with the political Islam of these extremists and therefore this would be again only a tool in the hands of these people to be used against people, against women. This is how we discussed, but nobody listened to us and at the end because they were the majority, they won and made those such laws. The tribune of Loya Jirga was the only chance for progressive representatives to talk. For this reason I tried my best to have the opportunity to talk from this tribune, to have it also internationally broadcast, not only nationally. And because of the world attention, I got fame when I made that brief speech. Their reaction was to turn off my microphone and threaten me with death. This is how I fell into politics publicly. It started with the social activism. Since then I want to be an honest politician and expose them, never compromise, never stay silent. And that is also why they’ve attempted to assassinate me. They still threaten me because I am a woman with the ‘dirtiest words’, as they say, and it is also the reason why I have to wear the burka as in the Taliban time.
The second time I ran for parliament came very soon after, in 2005. And again I won in this election because of this fame I got. I then said: if I win, I will use the tribune of the parliament against these warlords and these terrorists. But if I do not win, it is because they are clearly cheating, as I had strong support inside Afghanistan. Anyway I came to the parliament and from the beginning they turned off my microphone, they beat me inside of the parliament, they threatened to rape me. But because they were not able to silence me, they came up with something I have said in an interview and called me a political conspirator, using it as an excuse to expel me from the parliament. But they are so stupid, they took me away from the parliament’s tribune and I got many other tribunes from progressive, freedom loving people from around the World. And even though I live underground I will still continue with my activism because I strongly believe in women’s rights, the freedom of women, the liberation of women and men, in our own capacity to liberate ourselves and that we will try our best to achieve it. For the third time in our history we are experiencing the rule of foreigners, who come for their own interest and we know there is no way out in front of us except for struggling.
IWS: How would you describe the oppression of women in Afghanistan?
MJ: First I want to say that the catastrophic situation of the women was a very good excuse for the US and NATO to occupy our country after the 9/11 tragedy. Unfortunately they replaced the barbaric regime of the Taliban – those misogynist terrorists – with the fundamentalist warlords of north allies who are misogynist like the Taliban and their terrorist puppets who only changed physically but are mentally the same. During the civil war – 1992 to 1996 – in Kabul alone they killed more than 65 thousand innocent people. Books were written about it and many organisations reported it: the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, RAWA, a women’s organisation. The records are in these group’s websites. No one apologised to our people. Instead, those with bloody hands came to power and this is the root cause of all the problem of today’s Afghanistan: the human rights, women’s rights violations, the corruption, the joblessness, poverty, drugs, mafia are all the consequences of the fundamentalists in power and the greed of the Taliban and the occupation. In Kabul everybody suffers from it, but still the women are the primary victims. You may have heard of the shocking story of the 27 year old Farkhunda, who was brutally killed by extremists, fundamentalists, who accused her of burning the Koran, which was a big lie. Behind this crime there were the hands of these powerful warlords, these extremists, misogynists, who lost some power in the new regime, which they consider a puppet regime. These are barbaric people, who in the past have raped a 70 year old grandmother, these are the same people we believe have organised this crime against Farkhunda because this was not something that could have happened so suddenly. It is not possible that in such a short time a big crowd of people joined hands to beat and jump over her body despite the presence of the police, in broad daylight, just a few kilometres from the Palace’s office. The beatings went on for a long time and then a car drove over her body, which was then thrown in a small river in the same area. It was so shocking that it made the local and international news. The crime was condemned as a horrible display of violence against women, but there was no justice. Some small officials went to jail, whilst the leaders of the attack went free.
In Afghanistan, for the second time, some progressive parties and ordinary people demonstrated against this court decision, they wanted those who committed this crime to be punished. But as there is no justice, just a few months later, the 19 year old Rukhshana, was stoned to death close to Kabul. Again it became an international issue. Everyday you see many other Rukhshanas: they are raped, they suffer domestic violence, girls’ schools are burned, women are beaten with lashes in different parts of Afghanistan and even near to Kabul because we have jungle law. Inside of parliament, which is a non democratic parliament, they are passing cruel laws against women like the one legalising stoning to death, honour killing, beating women. This is enough to know what kind of parliament we have. It is 15 years of occupation. Today 25% of the members of parliament are women, but most of these women have symbolic roles and some of them are part of the problem as some are also fundamentalist. I remember once, when I was in parliament, one woman told me: “If you do not stay silent I will do something to you that no man dare to do”. I just said: “You are a victim.” In Afghanistan we even have a Ministry of women, but unfortunately the role of the women is very symbolic, it is just the voice of this regime, misogynist, non democratic regime who are in power. Not only these fundamentalist women, but many of them are just beautiful dolls, who have learned how to travel to the western countries, take part in expensive conferences full of propaganda. They have dust in their eyes. If at least those who killed Farkhunda were punished, we could say there was democracy in Afghanistan and the wars and the crimes against women wouldn’t be sky rocketing as it is today.
IWS: The propaganda after the killing of Farkhunda was saying that she was mentally disturbed and this is an accusation often used against us women when we resist. Could you explain to us the actual background situation surrounding this crime?
MJ: Farkhunda was not mentally disturbed. I met her family, her mother and father, as I wanted to know who was this girl and I found out she was a courageous young woman. Her family told me they were under pressure from the officials and the corrupt people who were raising this propaganda to cover up this big shame of the regime in Kabul and the western governments who support these extremist misogynists under the mask of democracy who are in power. That’s why the family told the media in the beginning that their daughter had a mental problem. But the truth came out when this family saw the strong support coming from different parts of Afghanistan, from the Afghani women who didn’t even allow any men to carry or touch Farkhunda’s coffin during the march to the funeral. Thousands of women, progressive parties, honest politicians and organisations raised their voices in support of this family. I was invited by the progressive party of Afghanistan to attend the demonstration, which I did and where I also made a speech, despite the risks I faced and the threats I received.
I can understand Farkhunda’s family. They were approached by politicians, officials, who were trying to corrupt some NGOs in order to do some kind of dirty business out of the sorrow and pain of Farkhunda as it has been done with the suffering of our women in the last 15 years. I always tell the story of Bibi Aisha to the people of the world. When the nose and ears of Bibi Aisha were cut off by her cruel husband, who they said was from Taliban, the western government’s propaganda machine misused her misery for their own interest. They were showing Bibi Aisha’s photo in the mainstream media and saying that if their troops left, this is what would happen to the women in Afghanistan. Never did they mention the war and all the violence and crimes committed against men and women of our country because of the presence of tens of thousands of their soldiers. They did play and they are still playing in our country, supporting these reactionaries who are great obstacles for the women, for the rise of democracy and justice in our country.
That’s why today you see asylum seekers having to leave the country. They leave mainly because of lack of security and also joblessness. Most of them, the young generation, went through dangerous routes to come here because they are fed up with this disastrous situation. And when they come here they face discrimination. If you are a Syrian, yes, but if you are an Afghan, no. There is no difference between Syrian and Afghan because both countries suffer from the same enemy, the same disaster, the same problem only in a different time. We’ve experienced all this brutality and barbarism. Again, this 15 years of the so-called war on terror we believe it is a war on innocent Afghan people because tens of thousands of people have been killed by these terror groups and by the occupation forces inside of Afghanistan. When we don’t have security in Kabul, imagine what is happening to the people in the rural areas? From one side the Taliban has its own government which continues with their fascism and from the other side, the local warlords are part of this regime, continuing with the barbarism against our people and especially against the women.
There aren’t many options to the Afghans: you have to leave the country, go to the neighbouring countries or to western countries, or join hands with the terrorist Taliban or other terrorist groups who are offering a payment of about 600 dollars, 500 dollars per month, which is a lot of money in Afghanistan. Some accept because they cannot feed the empty stomachs of their children.
The people who are deported and have to go back to Afghanistan, they become addicts. Now we have around 2 million Afghans who became addicts. Many are just a few meters away from the Palace’s office, under a bridge in Kabul. It is just heartbreaking to see it. Most of the addicts are 20 years old, very young people only waiting for their last breath.
IWS: What is happening with the women who are addicted? Because in such a situation, on top of the invisibility women go through, comes the complete exclusion.
MJ: Many women cannot feed their children, so many choose drugs as a way to make their children sleep. There are different reasons, but poverty and all the misery is part of it. Unfortunately the media never reports it, and, of course, this corrupt regime we have doesn’t care about who these people are or how young they are. This is not only happening in Afghanistan, but with Afghans who go to Iran and after working hard to send a little money to their families, they don’t achieve much, they see their lives being destroyed, they become addicts. Sometimes in the past 15 years the media made reports about mothers from my country who are ready to sell their children for 10 dollars or of mothers who leave their children in front of the mosque or in the street hoping that someone will take them because they cannot be sure they will be able to fill the empty stomachs of their children.
In the last 15 years Afghanistan has become the centre of opium production. The situation is more disastrous than in 2001, when the Taliban almost destroyed the opium production. The mainstream media reports about it, as drugs coming from Afghanistan are finding their way to the streets of New York and some places in Europe. They once even exposed the brother of Hamid Karzai, Ahmed Veli Karzai, who is a famous drug trafficker. Western governments say to poor farmers: “stop planting the opium,” but the local governor, commander, chief district, minister and these officials are themselves famous drug traffickers. So, this is one of the main CIA projects as billions of dollars flow through this dirty business of opium. And they do not care about these Afghan people whose lives are getting destroyed. I can give you more examples: there are reports of how an airplane arrives bringing food to the people and then flies back full of drugs. There is even competition between the American and British troops because each wants to have their own share in the drug business.
IWS: It is very similar to the history of the war on drugs in Latin America. Planes bringing in something and flying back stocked with drugs. There is no war on drugs, there is a war on us people.
MJ:: Yes, it is the same. About the war on terror, and my country is a good example, they tell you they are fighting the Taliban, but you see how close the relationship is that they have with the Taliban. In these 15 years of occupation, famous killers such as Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi, a rapist, a Taliban commander, was a member of parliament. Mullah Arsala Rahmani, another killer from the Taliban was also in the Senate as well as Mullah Muttawakil, who was foreign minister of the Taliban or Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who was another minister of the Taliban and enjoys a good life in the safest area of Kabul. Recently, large numbers of Taliban terrorists were released from Guantanamo and welcomed by this puppet regime. Even an office for these terrorists was opened in Qatar, you maybe have heard about them. This list can be prolonged and you can see that they are not serious about fighting against the Taliban. Joe Biden, the US vice-president stated publicly that Taliban is not their enemy. And they are right because since the occupation I’ve been speaking on behalf of my people that the warlords or ISIS terrorists are the now so-called another new enemy. But their nature is the same as the Taliban. Only the colour of the flag changes and the name is different. But we know who supports them in Afghanistan. From one side, the dictatorship regime of Iran is giving many weapons for their own interest to be used against Pakistan. From the other side, the US has an interest that ISIS terrorists should be in the northern part of Afghanistan, to use them as a thread against Russia and China. The US is especially afraid of Russia. Russia is also giving many weapons for its own interest to some of these different groups including ISIS terrorists. In fact my country looks like a sick cow and each of these countries is trying to have their own piece. They don’t care about the wishes of the people or how much the people are fed up with this war, how tired they are to be victims of the war. The geopolitical location of Afghanistan, the 9/11, all was a good opportunity for the US and Nato to come and invest millions of dollars on these fundamentalist warlords and also Taliban and they don’t want to lose them. That is why they are playing the game of Tom & Jerry with them as a way to create more instability, insecurity in Afghanistan, to make their own dirty agenda and policies that they have.
I say it again, I condemned with strong words what the western governments are doing to the Afghan people who come here or go to Iran, Pakistan or to Arab countries like Dubai. They are facing a lot of discrimination and violence. They have been insulted. They are working very hard and they’ve been paid hardly any money. You may have heard about the shocking suffering story of Setayesh, the 6 year old girl, who was raped and then killed by one cruel Iranian person. Of course the dictator in Iran, their regime and behaviour are like some other dictators like Hitler, Pinochet, Suharto, etc. In Iran they don’t even look at an Afghan as a human being, so different kinds of inhuman violence have been done in the past and are still committed against Afghans. And then you see how hypocritical the US and the western governments are. Apparently they are against the dictatorship regime of Iran, but when you see, the famous puppets of the dictatorship regime of Iran like Sarwar Danish, like Hallili Muha, and the list is long, they have support, they kept high posts in the last 15 years, both in Karzai’s regime and now in Ghani’s regime, this puppet regime who took power after the fraudulent elections that we had. Anyway this should be enough to show the hypocritical face of the western governments. You may have heard what Angela Merkel said about the refugees. I wonder if Farkhunda was the daughter of this Angela Merkel and many other Merkels, if people could put their feet in the shoes of this victim’s family, then maybe they would understand a little bit of what is going on in Afghanistan. But I am sure they will never understand it because they keep sending their troops to do their blind bombardment. These are children of other families and they are being used for a bad cause, for this criminal war and occupation.
In Afghanistan, in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen, in Somalia, they are waging the war in different parts of the world.
IWS: How can we reach and encourage the power in the women?
MJ: You know, from my point of view, two things are very important: first is education, which is very important. You should try that, to have educational projects for them, lecture courses or even computer courses, English courses. Then raise the political awareness in them, for them to know their own identity, to know about the role of women not only in Afghanistan, but in the world. What wonderful, extraordinary women there are and that they are brave enough too, that they should never sit in silence, but struggle and fight for their own rights. You should give them the example of the brave ladies of the 21st century of Kobane and Rojava, who are bravely fighting against the extremists of ISIS terrorist groups, these misogynists, who don’t even look at women as human beings, whom they see as second class citizens just like the warlords of the Taliban in Afghanistan. You should tell them to learn from their epic struggle and discrimination, which is a source of inspiration for millions around the world and how this ISIS is afraid of the power of these women. And you should tell them that if the women rise up with their strong words and awareness not even a super power is able to stop their struggle. And also you should give them examples and there are enough in their own country, to look at the stories of Nadia, Mina, Wagia, Nessimad, myself. Each of us have extraordinary stories that will inspire them. And through this way you could help them. And when they know their own identity, I am sure they will find their own way to be active. You should encourage them to join hands with anti-war movements, feminist organisations, human rights defenders, organisations like yours, to learn from your experience and exchange experiences with each other. Believe me, I learned a lot from these non-educated sufferers, the people of my country because in the war in Afghanistan we lost almost everything, but we got one positive thing and it is the political knowledge and consciousness of the people, with non-educated language, who can be honest politicians, who do politics with you. But education is a very good way. They will never be disappointed, they won’t be easily deceived. Then tell them all together to be more united, organised and to fight against all these extremists in war and occupation, to be the voice of their people abroad and the voice of the freedom loving people of the world.