As always, I’ve been reading a lot over recent months. One book that has made a big impression on me is Malalai Joya‘s Raising my voice (also sold as A woman among warlords). This is very aptly subtitled: “the extraordinary story of the Afgan woman who dares to speak out”.
Malalai Joya has been actively politically involved in post-invasion Afghanistan and has dared to speak out against the ongoing corruption and human rights (especially women’s rights) abuses that characterise modern Afghani politics – all of which got her expelled from the Afghani parliament and leaves her life in danger (she has changed her surname to protect her extended family).
Her memoir is a remarkable read that strongly suggests the news stories we in the West hear about the reconstruction of Afghanistan (all due to Western armies, of course) are largely missing the point: the warloads are still in control of Afghanistan (with a little help from the US) and there is little hope of democracy and a modern state while foreign forces insist on ‘assisting’. She has this to say about the usefulness of foreign aid:
Today, foreign ‘aid’ only disappears into corrupt officials’ pockets or is in fact used for programmes that legitmise the NATO war. About this aid, our people can only say, ‘Don’t show me the plam tree, show me the dates.’ Only bitter fruit has grown in recent years. (p193)
She also speaks to Westerners’ focus on the burqa as the main issue facing Afghani women: “without security or a justice system that protects women from rape, without employment, food and basic services, the issue of the burqa is secondary” (p 205). I think it is very easy for those of us living in the comfort and security of the West to fixate on highly visible issues, like dress, while we miss seeing the povery, desperation and injustice that are the real issues, because in so many ways they are beyond our experience and thus beyond our comprehension. We are fortunate indeed to be able to be concerned about appearances!
I have long been fascinated by Afghanistan – and not just because my favourite rugs and jewellery come from there! Afghanistan sits at the crossroads of the world (or at least between the Far East and the Middle East) and its modern history has been dominated by foreign interference. After reading Ms Joya’s book, I find myself wondering what Afghanistan might have looked like today if the rest of the world had not tromped through it and but had left well alone. My pick is along with rather more democracy and less opium, we might have had a proud people able to stand tall on the world stage, instead of having to still constantly worry about their sons getting blown up by landmines and their daughters being raped by corrupt men.
Please read her book – it is not a comfortable read, but it is most definitely a worthwhile one. And then, follow her advice about what we in the West can do to help (excerpts from pp262-265):
- stayed informed about the reality of Afghanistan today – e.g. through news sources like RAWA
- get involved with groups that are working honestly to support woman and men in Afgansitan, and give financial support
- monitor, criticise and work to improve your own government’s foreign policy
And most importantly:
Take part in the political process and organise for social justice.
*A transcript of an interview with Ms Joya in October 2009 can be found here.