An Apology for an Occupation

Apology of US Sergeant Matthis Chiroux to Afghan leader Malalai Joya

Common Dreams, April 15, 2009
by Matthis Chiroux/Malalai Joya

Joya and Matthis in anti-NATO conference in Germany
U.S. Sergeant Matthis Chiroux and Afghan activist Malalai Joya join hands in peace on April 5, 2009 at the "No to NATO" Congress in Strasbourg, France. (Video)

On April 21st, 2009, U.S. Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, 25, faces Army prosecution in St. Louis, Missouri for publicly refusing to deploy to Iraq last summer. Like many other resisters, Chiroux was in military service for many years before he came to the conclusion that the wars and occupations in Iraq and in Afghanistan are wrong and found the courage to speak out. Since last summer he has been a key activist in the U.S. veterans' organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Malalai Joya, 31, is the youngest person to become a member of the Afghan Parliament (one of 68 women elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in 2005); after she spoke out against the fundamentalists and former warlords in parliament, she was suspended. She was one of 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, is one of the World Economic Forum's 250 Global Leaders for 2007, and was nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. In 2007, she was in Berlin and spoke at the Human Rights Commission of the German Parliament. She heads the non-governmental group Organization for Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities (OPAWC) in the west of Afghanistan. She has survived many assassination attempts and can only travel in Afghanistan with armed guards.

From April 1st to 5th, Chiroux joined peace activists in Germany and France to speak out against NATO and the war and occupation in Afghanistan. If not jailed by the U.S. Army on April 21st, he will join European peace activists in Ireland on April 26th for their campaign against the use of Shannon airfield by the U.S. military.

On April 4th, at a large demonstration in Strasbourg, France, Chiroux planned to publicly apologize to Afghan peace activist Malalai Joya for participating in the occupation of her country; however, before he could do so, the demonstration was disrupted by attacks of the French police. He made his apology instead on April 5, 2009, at the NATO Congress in Strasbourg. The following is a transcript of their exchange:

"How sorry I am for the violence that my Army has done..."

Apology of Sergeant Matthis Chiroux to Afghan leader Malalai Joya
Strasbourg, France, April 5, 2009

CHIROUX: Hi everybody. My name's Matthis, and I'm still a sergeant in the U.S. Army, hopefully not for much longer. And this is Malalai Joya, who's from Afghanistan. And in 2005, for a brief time, I helped occupy Malalai's country, and it was wrong. It was my mistake. I should not have been there. I should not have been supporting this oppression of her people. Today I want to look Malalai in the eye, and I want to tell you, Malalai, how sorry I am for the violence that my Army has done to your people, to your country. I want to apologize to you for the role that I played in it. I was wrong, and I will show you that my country and the rest of the world can come to a place where they can admit wrong, apologize, and offer some sort of reconciliation.

Malalai Joya: It is your government that must apologize to the Afghan people for invading their land and imposing a mafia government of warlords and drug-lords on them.

I don't have much to give, Malalai, but I would like to offer you this small symbol of my reconciliation and our good friendship, which happened here at this conference, and this friendship will continue, and hopefully Malalai's and my friendship can serve as a model for the other people in our countries. That just because our governments want to fight-the people can be friends, and we can force a peace by refusing to hate each other and refusing to kill each other.. And I want to give Malalai this: it's a dove pin, an international symbol of peace. I would like to present it to you, Malalai, and ask --(applause) -- and ask you to accept it as a token of our reconciliation and of our new and enduring friendship, and thus can hopefully inspire others to do the same. If American and other soldiers could come to the same place, knowing they have done wrong, and apologize to the people they have wronged, and seek friendship, then we can have peace, and it doesn't matter what our governments do. (applause).

JOYA: I'm speechless in thanks -- my dear brother. I have nothing to pass to you but the love of my people. I pass it to you, and I pass your love to them.

And I want to tell you that it is your government that must apologize first of all to great people like you: they are deceiving you and they use you for not a good cause; they use you for a war which only adds to the suffering of my people. And it is your government that must apologize to the Afghan people for invading their land and imposing a mafia government of warlords and drug-lords on them. Not only to the Afghan people, but to the people of Iraq as well, because they occupied that country and they betrayed them and they are going to war in Pakistan as well now. And the U.S. government first of all must apologize to the peace-loving people of the U.S. that your government tries to give the wrong view of the people of Afghanistan and commits every war crime in your name.

And yesterday I was at the demonstration, and I wanted to give a speech on behalf of my people here, to expose the wrong policy of the U.S. government and especially of NATO -- because unfortunately, these governments also have followed the devastating policy of the U.S. for seven years now -- which is a mockery of democracy. Please, as much as you can, raise your voice against the war-mongerism of your government, and also against the U.S. that wants to occupy and occupy. Please raise your voice against the wrong policy of the Obama administration that now wants to send more troops to Afghanistan and to compromise with the brutal Taliban and other terrorists for its own strategic gains, which will bring more conflict and war to my people.

Matthis Chiroux: I want to tell you, Malalai, how sorry I am for the violence that my Army has done to your people, to your country. I want to apologize to you for the role that I played in it.

And at this catastrophic moment we need more moral and material support for the democratic-minded people of Afghanistan, who are the only alternative for the future of Afghanistan: they alone are able to fight against terrorism and fundamentalism. The suffering people of Afghanistan, nobody listens to their voice -- while these troops are killing our innocent people, most of them women and children, and on the other side these Taliban and the Northern Alliance terrorists are continuing their fascism under the rule of the US/NATO. So join with our sisters and brothers in Afghanistan, especially democratically minded people there, who neither want occupation, nor Taliban, but an independent, free and democratic Afghanistan.

I have a small gift as well, to dear Matthis, on behalf of my people. I hope in the future I will have an Afghani gift for him. This is from all of us (applause as she gives him a dove pin).

CHIROUX: Just in closing, I would like to say that I met Malalai here at this NATO Summit. The legacy of this Summit will not be violence. It will be this grassroots friendship that was formed here between U.S. troops and the Afghani people, who refuse to fight and hate each other anymore.

JOYA: Thank you.