Malalai Joya (Source: Women's Space)
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, Homer wrote thousands of years ago. Today human rights activists would be well-advised to beware of major American news magazines passing out honors. Last week, noted Afghan politician Malalai Joya, the author of "A Woman Among Warlords" whom the BBC has called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan,” was named one of TIME Magazine’s “World’s Most Influential 100 People” of 2010. The trouble is, the magazine presented her to the world in a brief but misleading text by Islam critic and American Enterprise Institute fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who concluded her tribute with the words: “I hope in time she comes to see the US and NATO forces in her country as her allies. She must use her notoriety, her demonstrated wit and her resilience to get the troops on her side instead of out of her country.”
What an odd choice of words, considering that Ali is writing about a woman who wrote in the Daily Beast last week that:
more than eight years of occupation have made life bleak, and we are tired of being pawns in the US and NATO's game for control of Central Asia. We can longer bear the killing of our pregnant mothers, the killing of our teenagers and young children, the killing of so many Afghan men and women. We can no longer bear these "accidents" and these "apologies" for the deaths of the innocent.
Are Ali and the editors of TIME really entitled to tell Malalai Joya what to think about her country's plight? To set the record straight and to find out what really motivates this activist, journalist Sonali Kolhatkar of UprisingRadio contacted Ms. Joya yesterday and conducted an interview, which I have excerpted below (you can – and should – read the entire discussion here):
I am very angry with the way they have introduced me [Joya said]. They have a completely painted a false picture of me that does not mention at all about my struggle against the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and NATO, which is disgusting. In fact every one knows that I stand side by side with the glorious-anti war movement around the world and have proved again and again that I will never compromise with the US and NATO who have occupied my country, empowered the most bloody enemies of my people and are killing my innocent compatriots [inaudible] in Afghanistan. What TIME did was like giving an award to someone by one hand and getting it back by another hand. I have sent my protest to it to the Defense Committee [for Malalai Joya] but TIME did not bother to even answer than protest letter. Perhaps this is the kind of freedom of expression exercised by TIME and the USA. …
Regarding this freedom and the war that is supposedly designed to secure it:
Most of the civilian casualties take place in remote areas of Afghanistan where there is no media to report it. So no one notices it. In many cases after killing people NATO [releases] statements saying that many insurgents were killed. When you try to find out from the local people, they are actually many women and children, not insurgents. Afghan media are also truly in the hands of the Afghan criminal bands. They rarely report civilians killed by the US and NATO. … For the US it’s not just fighting a war through military means, but they also fight on the propaganda front. I think propaganda plays a major role. They are trying to show the war as justifiable. For this they are using their lie-machines. When they kill civilians they immediately deny it and say all they have killed are Taliban. …
Regarding the upcoming US and NATO offensive in Kandahar, Ms. Joya said:
[T]he US does not want to defeat the Taliban forever. They only fight with them here and there to show the American people that the US is at war in Afghanistan and their presence is necessary here. The offensive of Kandahar will not be different from Marjah and other areas of Helmand where they had such operations in the past. They make such hue and cry about their military actions but in fact they just push the Taliban to other areas and then install some corrupt officials and police forces who are worse than the Taliban. In a few days the Taliban return as we experienced in the past as well. … They will launch the operation and then allow the Taliban to go to another area and then later start an operation there. This is a battle for show, not a real war against terrorism. Otherwise for the US and NATO, it is a task of a few days to uproot the Taliban and defeat them forever. But then everyone will ask them to end the occupation of Afghanistan. The only outcome of such operation is civilian casualties. Poor and innocent are killed in the war. But the Taliban do not experience any defeat and even major casualties. Afghans know well that the US will neither bring democracy nor peace in Afghanistan.
… I will continue the struggle as long as these criminals are in power, these sworn enemies of democracy, women’s rights, human rights, and as long as these occupation forces are bombing from the sky, and [inaudible] supporting the enemies of my people and killing innocent people of my country. So as long as I am alive I am the same person. As always I am saying if a thousand times they will kill me and again I will be alive, and see that these same enemies are in power with the mask of democracy and continue with their wrong policy and their crimes and war crimes, these internal enemies of my country, these warlords, also Taliban, and also their foreign masters, these occupation forces, the US and NATO.
How to explain this discrepancy? Is TIME Magazine pursuing a sinister or at least tendentious editorial policy? You can bank on it. But TIME is also a commercial enterprise, and I suspect that this choice - like so much of our politics - has a lot to do with the middle-brow American take on the world, which always follows the rules of melodrama. As far as the money-driven mainstream media are concerned, our planet is packed to the rafters with heroes and villains, perpetrators and victims. It is particularly shaped by long-suffering heroines and noble fighters for human rights and justice, who must by necessity be allied with the United States, the leader of the “free world" and the very essence of truth and justice. If Malalai Joya hates the Taliban, it follows that she must love the US, right?
I’m afraid that a heroine who hates both – and who openly protests the ongoing destruction of her country by remote-controlled drones in order to "save" it for... whom exactly? – is too complex for most Americans in the age of talk radio and “24.” Their brains simply can't process this sort of information anymore, rather like those African famine victims whose emaciated bodies can't absorb rich Western food supplies. Malalai Joya asks too many embarrassing questions and leaves behind too many messy loose ends. But I'm sure the American Enterprise Institute would love to have a go at her.