TRU gets a chance to see history in the flesh

She has been called the bravest woman in Afghanistan — and she is just that.

Kamloops This Week, November 9, 2007
By Dale Bass

Joya in Canada
Malalai Joya speaks at Dalhousie University (Daily News/Ryan Taplin)

About 18 months ago, I read an article on a website about a young parliamentarian whose colleagues — while sitting in session — threw bottles at her, puller her hair, knocked over chairs and yelled out threats.

All this because she spoke the truth.

Malalai Joya, the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan parliament, interrupted a former warlord — the parliament is filled with former warlords now masquerading as politicians — who was praising the Mujahadin, a Muslim-based military force.

Joya had the audacity to challenge this man by declaring there were two types of Mujahadin: “one who were really Mujahadin and the second who killed tens of thousands of innocent people and who are criminals.”

A bold step for a woman to take in today’s Afghanistan.

I read other articles about Joya, about how she continued to speak out and was eventually suspended from parliament; how her home was bombed; how she doesn’t talk about her husband or family for fear of making them targets; how she survived four assassination attempts and now must always travel with bodyguards in her homeland.

And so to see this sprite of a woman, with such an unassuming presence, speaking to a political science class this week at Thompson Rivers University was to be truly inspired.

She does not rant. She does not carry banners deploring her country’s government.

She does not dwell on the years she, her parents and her many siblings spent as refugees in Iran and Pakistan.

She speaks for the Afghani women who, despite statements from U.S. President George W. Bush, she says are not finding their lives improving.

Last year, during Women’s History Month, Bush declared of Afghan women: “There’s nothing better than being a country that’s beginning to realize the benefits of freedom. Particularly women who have been completely suppressed under the Taliban are now beginning to see the beautiful, breathe that beautiful air of a free society.

“And so I want to thank the members of the United States Afghan Women’s Council for being so diligent and caring and staying with this important issue, that issue being the freedom of women in Afghanistan.”

Joya does not even express the disdain she must feel when she talks of such pronouncements from the presumptive leader of the world. Instead, she tells stories of real occurrences.

Like the story of Sanober, an 11-year-old who was kidnapped by warlords, raped and then traded for a dog.

Like the stories of activist women Khakiba Amaj and Zakia Zaki, who were killed in their homes.

Like the UN estimates that at least one of every three Afghan women has been beaten, raped or suffered other abuse.

Joya went to a maternity hospital to visit patients there earlier this year. Because of the many death threats and assassination attempts, she wore a burqua.

At first, she was ignored, but, as people learned who she was, they all clamoured to meet her.

The Afghan Women’s Mission writes of how Afghani women will walk for miles just to touch her.

I wonder if the TRU students were aware of just how important their guest speaker is in this world.

Rather than reading a textbook, they had a living, breathing historical-subject-in-the-making standing in front of them, telling the realities of politics in her homeland.

They will never learn more from the media, books or movies than she taught them in that brief hour.

Joya is only 29, not much older than some of them, and she is already making a mark on her country because she believes in something we take for granted — democracy.

She spoke of her quest for a democratic Afghanistan on Tuesday in Toronto. The following day was declared by the Canadian Peace Alliance a day of action to reinstate and defend her. Yesterday and today, she has taken her message to Halifax.

She has been called the bravest woman in Afghanistan — and she is just that.

All we can do is hope that she lives to see her quest completed.