Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: A Woman Among Warlords

Reading this book was an eye-opening experience for me.  Not only did I realize some of my own ignorance about the Middle East, but also the true plight of the Afghan people, especially women.  For as long as I’ve known about Afghanistan, I’ve had a vague understanding that there is a corrupt, oppressive government.  I had never researched the extent of the corruption.  Many countries, especially the United States, use the mainstream media to manipulate their people into thinking that they are providing help and democracy to Afghanistan.  In actuality, they are lining their pockets while turning a blind eye to the crimes of the warlords that used religious fanaticism, intimidation, and riches to gain influence and political power.  

Learning about the horrible brutality that the women of Afghanistan face was infuriating enough, but when I realized that Afghanistan was once governable, I was first upset by my own ignorance and then with the US media.  Why when I watch news reports about the US occupation in Afghanistan is there nothing mentioned of this?  Why does the US media paint the picture that our occupation is liberating women?  I feel that I, and most likely many others, were led to believe that religious oppression and sexism has always run rampant in Afghan culture when a progressive women’s rights movement was happening in the 1920s.  At the end of this decade, religious extremists backed by the British took over and reformed.  Over the next 30 years, women’s rights were somewhat restored.  Women were staging demonstrations, freely attending school, and the burqa was banned.  This was not a result of a foreign invasion.  This point is proven when the Soviets took over in the late 70s and the women’s rights movement was forced underground. 

Joya’s election into Parliament began with rocky start considering 60 percent of her fellow MPs were warlords or allies.  I feel that the only reason the votes weren’t doctored to make her lose was to give the impression that a democratic government exists in Afghanistan.  Even though her position in Parliament has not been reinstated, many leaders across the world have protested her suspension.  This public outcry gives hope to the women of Afghanistan so that they will continue to stand up for their rights.  

At the end of the book, she critically dissects the US and NATO occupation of Afghanistan.  I agree that democratic values cannot be forced by foreign invasion.  The women of Afghanistan need to have the opportunity to fight for themselves, to gain their own power.  The money and man power that the US pours in only feeds the money, power hungry warlords.  It strengthens them and leaves the Afghan people poorer and more oppressed.  Imperialism has been the norm for every US president for decades and it is showing no signs of changing with the addition of more troops by the  Obama Administration.  

She pleads with the people of the world to show the Afghan people that we stand publicly in solidarity with them.  There must be an international sense of community in place to empower the women of Afghanistan.  Even if it takes time before change, they need to witness support from the Americas and Europe.  In the end, her message is hopeful.  She has faith that Afghanistan will one day be a place where warlords are tried for their crimes, foreign occupation ends, women are treated equally to men, and a secular, democratic government exists.    

Malalai Joya is a true revolutionary and her story was inspiring to me.  She has courageously stared some of the most evil leaders in the eye and speaks publicly of their oppressive crimes to her people. President Karzai and fundamentalist leaders have used her notoriety as a scapegoat to avoid addressing the real problems that face the Afghan people.  She has received countless death threats and assassination attempts.  Though she does not wish to be a martyr, she has accepted that her life may end because of her outspoken dedication to Afghan women.  In the event of her death, she trusts that her supporters will carry on her work and invites us to shout to her and pour water on her grave.