Raising My Voice – the autobiography of the remarkable Afghan activist and MP Malalai Joya – is quite simply the most passionate and devastating critique of Western intervention in Afghanistan I have ever read.
Born on the eve of the Soviet invasion in 1978, Joya spent her childhood in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan, before returning to western Afghanistan in 1998 to secretly organise girls’ education under the Taliban. Having set up a free health clinic and orphanage following the aftermath of the US/NATO invasion in October 2001, Joya was dismayed to see a new occupation army in Afghanistan and "the fundamentalist regime of the Taliban" simply replaced by "another fundamentalist regime of warlords", all done with the full support of the Western powers.
Chosen to represent Farah Province at the Loya Jirga to approve a new constitution in 2003, and subsequently as a member of the new parliament, the then 25-year old Joya courageously denounced the warlords, calling for them to be brought before international courts for their murderous crimes. Joya also spoke out against what she describes as "a ‘showcase’ democracy run for the benefit of the US government." Unlike the herd-like political commentators in the West falling over themselves to hail the so-called fledging democracy in Afghanistan, Joya argues that "a truly democratic election could not take place under the shadow of guns".
Since she began speaking truth to power, the uncompromising Joya has been banned from Parliament, received numerous death threats and survived several assassination attempts. However, despite these efforts to silence her, she continues to raise ‘inconvenient truths‘ on speaking tours around the world, and in May 2009 she publicly supported the families of the 140 Afghan civilians killed by a US air strike in the village of Granai.
In the book’s hopeful conclusion Joya calls for the withdrawal of all US/NATO troops and asks that concerned citizens in nations with forces fighting in Afghanistan "monitor, criticise and work to improve your own government’s foreign policy". Interestingly, she is very critical of attempts to negotiate with the Taliban ("criminals and misogynistic killers" she calls them), a policy Peace News often seems to highlight as a possible way to end the conflict.
Accessible and positive with many useful myth-busting facts and quotes, Joya’s inspiring life story deserves to become a potent weapon to counter the propaganda currently pouring out of our newspapers, televisions and radios about the increasingly unpopular occupation of Afghanistan.
Raising My Voice. The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out by Malalai Joya is published by Rider & Co., priced £11.99.
Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. [email protected]