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TIME names Malalai Joya one of '100 most influential people in the world'

TIME has named Malalai Joya to the 2010 TIME 100, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Joya has become renown around the world as a courageous advocate of women’s rights and a fierce critic of the NATO war in Afghanistan. The full list and related tributes appear in the May 10 issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, April 30, and now at time.com/tk.

When I first heard this news, I thought it might be an indication that the editors of TIME were open to spreading a dissident's message about the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan. Alas, the write-up by Ayaan Hirshi Ali about Joya disabused me of this optimistic notion. Instead of describing Joya's reasons for opposing the NATO occupation of Afghanistan, Hirshi Ali, the author of Infidel who now works for the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, admonishes Joya:

"Malalai, 31, is a leader. I hope in time she comes to see the U.S. 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. The road to freedom is long and arduous and needs every hand."

As my friend Sonali Kolhatkar of the Afghan Women's Mission noted, this paragraph is as revealing as it is condescending. The implicit admission is that NATO troops are not in Afghanistan to help progressive leaders and women like Joya. As Joya has risked her life to explain, they are in fact there to prop up a regime dominated by warlords and drug traffickers.

In response to Hirshi Ali's piece in this special issue of TIME, Malalai Joya's Defense Committee has written an open letter, which reads:

"We strongly object to the inaccuracies in the write-up by Ayaan Hirshi Ali on Malalai Joya...  We believe it is disrespectful of Ms. Joya not to make clear her consistent and vocal opposition to the NATO occupation of Afghanistan. In fact, it is her opposition to war which has made her influential throughout the world, since in the vast majority of NATO countries public opinion is also opposed to the war. Hirshi Ali criticizes Ms. Joya's views on the NATO occupation of Afghanistan without ever actually letting the reader know what they are. Surely the TIME 100 honorees have all earned the right to have their own views represented in a non-patronizing, accurate manner to your readers."

"The very first sentence -- 'To be a woman growing up in Afghanistan under the Taliban and to survive is in itself a major feat...' -- betrays an unfamiliarity with the subject's biography. In fact, Ms. Joya grew up in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan. The Taliban only came to power in the period of 1994-1996, and Joya only returned to her homeland in 1998, at the age of 19. The whole tenor and content of the write-up plays into the common misconception in the United States that the only fundamentalist, reactionary political forces in Afghanistan are the Taliban. There is no reference to the civil war and the massacres carried out by fundamentalist warlords -- many of whom have been returned to power under the Karzai regime."

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