Malalai Joya: "truth has a very strong voice"

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In Canada, the government follows the footpath of the U.S. but the people are so great I am speechless about their warm sympathy and support.

Stephen Harper's government has not seen fit to comment on the case of Malalai Joya, the suspended Afghan parliamentarian who has become known around the world because of her courage in denouncing the warlords and war criminals who have been empowered by NATO and foreign interests in Afghanistan. While Ottawa has thus far kept silent on the issue, we have the story covered. Last month, Gina Whitfield previewed Joya's speaking tour across Canada, and she follows that up with this interview conducted after a week of events across British Columbia.

Gina Whitfield: People here, I think, often wonder how you got elected in the first place [in 2005], given the type of politics you represent and the situation in Afghanistan. Can you explain how you were able to win so much support?

Malalai Joya: I have many, many powerful memories. For example, some women, during the election, they came to me and they were so happy that they even cried. They said, 'Malalai, we are happy that we voted for you. Our husbands forbid us from voting for you but we went and we voted for you. When they became aware, they beat us.' And they showed me their bruises from being beaten badly. But this gives me hope because it shows how much these women want to play their role, to take part in democracy. Their support has huge moral value for me and puts extra responsibility on my shoulders as their representative.

I also had many supporters from the younger generation who recorded my voice and took it to campaign in villages and places where I could not go, I could not campaign. Also, I remember some young [people] came and told me that their father put up a campaign poster for a fundamentalist, 'but we tore it down and put up your picture.' This is why I believe that power of people is like power of God. When you have your people with you, you have everything. It gives you courage, energy, everything which you didn't have before. And today I have nothing, and I'm not sad. I am not better than people, and today I have lots of hopes in a world of hopelessness.

You were the youngest elected member of the Afghan parliament. How did you get started as a political activist?

I started working as an activist when I was very young, grade 8. When I started working amongst our people, especially women, it was so enjoyable for me. I learned a lot from them, even though they were not educated. Before I started, I want to tell you, I didn't know anything about politics. I learned from people who were non-educated, non-political people who belonged to a political situation.

I worked with different committees in the refugee camps. I remember that in every house that I went everyone had different stories of suffering. I remember one family we met. Their baby was just skin and bones. They could not afford to take the baby to a doctor, so they had to just wait for their baby to die. I believe that no movie maker, no writer is able to write about these tragedies that we have suffered. Not only in Afghanistan, but also Palestine, Iraqâe¦The children of Afghanistan are like the children of Palestine. They fight against enemies with only stones. These kinds of children are my heroes and my heroines.

Who has organized most of your support events in Canada and in other countries?

I'm happy that not only women's groups, but other groups and organizations have given me strong support in many countries âe" even in the U.S. I always say that nations are separated from their governments. Like in Canada, the government follows the footpath of the U.S. but the people are so great I am speechless about their warm sympathy and support. The support of every one of them has great moral value, personally and on behalf of my people.

And also some left parties have supported me. I told them, 'For me, it doesn't matter if this is left or right, this is women or men.' Even the right-wing parties that didn't invite me, I am ready to go and meet them and to use the tribune to support values like human rights and women's rights and to tear their masks off. Unfortunately, most of them refuse meetings with me. But I am happy that my supporters organize many meetings, interviews and events for me. And I am leaving my message in every corner of the world, and I am sure that my message is being heard by those dirty policy-makers who follow the wrong policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Day by day I believe more that truth is powerful and has a very strong voice.

How do you feel about being introduced at all your events as "the bravest woman in Afghanistan"? Do you ever consider staying outside the country, due to the threats against you?

I believe it is a responsibility, especially for those in positions of power, to always tell the truth. If today I am alive, it is because of the people that support me. For example, when they attacked my house and office I remember that shopkeepers, neighbours arrived to defend with empty hands.

I condemn those people who in the history of our country, they [told] the truth but then they [became] afraid or [sat] silent or they left Afghanistan. I do not agree with them. Telling the truth is a responsibility and everyone must say it and defend it until the end of their life. I want to be there [in Afghanistan]. I am not better than them, and I want to be beside them. I want to be alive, and if tomorrow something will happen, I want to be next to them, like thousands of other innocent men and women who have been killed. I want to be forever next to my people, working for values like democracy, human rights, justice, peace, women's rights.

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