Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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MAY 4, 2010 11:10AM

How TIME Magazine hijacked Afghan activist Malalai Joya

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  Malalai Joya
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. …

TIME Magazine

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.

 

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thank-you thank you thank you thank you for this. I saw the Time Magazine "tribute" and had very similar thoughts.
Time magazine is deeply committed to the idea that we are the good guys. Any person of virtue, of course, MUST be only temporarily angry with the U.S. Because who could stay angry at the 'hero' for an entire movie.

Look how they never focus on the real changes that figures like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales have made in their countries. Because there's nothing to debate, their policies are undeniably a success. Instead their focus seems to be to try and make them buffoons or tyrants or both. Instead of not being able to beat them and joining them; they think they can beat them by trying to make them a laughing-stock (and, of course, they never report on the positive gains they have made in their countries b/c 'enemies' of the U.S. can't possibly be good guys too).

p.s. Of course, for the U.S. to be the good guys Time has to disregard a massive historical record, so what are one woman's words really? Just something else to cast aside because it doesn't jive with the view (not based upon reality) that they have of the 'white knight' America.
Sean,
Yes, that about sums it up!
I wonder how long Malalai would live if we pulled out tomorrow and the Taliban rolled back into power?
Nanatehay,
I suspect her life expectancy isn't very long in either case, which is the whole point I'm driving at. Are the only available options "love us or die"? If so, I'd say we've already lost.
The mag has been all about the "American Perspective" ever since the days of Walter Winchell who, along with people like McCarthy, Roy Cohn and J Edgar Hoover, had no moral compunction about "spinning" politics/current events/world figures to advance a political agenda.

Kudos for asking the "embarrassing questions" and holding journalists to the kind of standards that Murrow aspired to so long ago.
There definitely need to be options other than "love us or die." I respect Malalai Joya immensely, but I'd note that her bodyguards aren't there to protect her from us; they're to protect her from her fellow Afghans.
Fabulous.
Thank You.
R.
Nanatehay,
That's the whole tragedy. I obviously don't have the solution to the Afghan catastrophe, but wouldn't you agree that TIME has done Joya a vast disservice by awarding her this "honor"?
They have Judy. I'm especially struck by the fact that Time didn't even bother responding to Malalai's letter; that shows exactly how much respect they have for her courage and the meaning behind her actions.
nanatehay,

it's worth noticing that Joya was offered US protection, but she refused. Her body guards are all Afghans without US salaries...

It shows that although she's in danger from the warlords (our allies) and the Taliban (flip side of the same coin--but our enemies in Afghanistan) there are many Afghans who don't fall into either camp.

That's what's truly amazing about Joya's story. How absent both she and the people who protect her are from our official narrative of what Afghanistan is and what is possible in the future.

As it is--her life is in danger from some of the very people who are accepting armloads of US aid money, which is revolting...
"her life is in danger from some of the very people who are accepting armloads of US aid money, which is revolting..."

Agreed. There are elements within the Karzai government which are as bad as the Taliban. Hell, from what I can see there are elements within the Karzai government, especially at the provincial level, which ARE Taliban.
nanate...

Karzai wants to welcome the taliban into his gov't as a matter of fact...which is a little embarassing for the NATO propeganda campaign that we're "fighting" the Taliban....

someone wrote an article on the internet stating that basically taliban is a broad term covering most of the people who grew up in camps in pakistan and iran during a certain era...

since we need an enemy, they're the enemy we've chosen. but the warlords, our "friends" are as bad, if not possibly worse....

joya wants a secular form of gov't and if we want a gov't that's every going to be legitimate I don't know why we wouldn't seek a secular gov't there too. it would be more likely to be friendly to the us and to support women's rights if it were secular.

yet we just don't even hear that this is an option in our media. we're wasting so many resources on something that doesn't make the slightest bit of sense...with karzai as a trusted ally, who needs enemies...meanwhile, greed/corruption is at record levels....
@nanatehay

I wonder how many Afghan women would still be alive if the U.S. had never bombed the hell out of them. Your stance renders rather invisible all the harm done by the U.S. in Afghanistan, and also denies Malalai and her people the right to determine for themselves who is and is not in their country. We're not "taking care of the women there". That's what our media wants you and me to think, though. We're not helping, is her point. We're raping and murdering women. Read her book if you want to learn more about just how much atrocity the U.S. is committing there.

Let me ask you: is a woman's life better with two batterer-rapists living her home, or one? If both are raping and battering her, that is?
Julia says:

"We're raping and murdering women."

and:

"is a woman's life better with two batterer-rapists living her home, or one?"

Strong words Julia, but throwing out unsourced accusations of rape is pretty easy. For many years now I've made it a point to study everything I can about Afghanistan; I'll wager that I know as much or more about the situation there as you do. I'd be interested to find accounts of US personnel raping Afghan women; can you point me towards any?
God bless you Malai jaan ,,,,we are with you ,,,,,
Hasina Ebrahimkhil
Herat -Afghanistan