Jordyn Kehle/The AS Review
The 500 anxious audience members in the Performing Arts Center erupted with applause as Malalai Joya was introduced Monday, April 4. The Afghanistan native rose from the front-row seats of the venue and approached the podium. Despite not yet having said a word, there was a magnetic attraction in Joya’s presence fostering an almost intoxicating experience for her viewers.
Joya is an author, activist, politician, former member of the Afghan parliament, and has been named by many as the “bravest woman in Afghanistan.” Joya’s life tells the story of her country’s generation of war, oppression and invasion. Despite the ongoing struggles of her country, Joya has dedicated her life to global peace and women’s activism.
Shirley Osterhaus, Fairhaven College instructor and World Issues Forum coordinator, was one of the main organizers of Joya’s visit to Western. “Any time I can get a voice of someone from a country that knows the situation from the bottom up, I jump on that opportunity right away,” Osterhaus said.
Evan Knappenberger, a Western student and Iraq War veteran, worked with Joya’s West Coast tour organizer to bring her to campus.
“Ms. Joya has seen the world from a perspective which is rare in this society. She can speak to war, peace, international politics, women’s rights and U.S. imperialism credibly and coherently,” Knappenberger said. “I think that students need to realize that the world is a lot bigger than we tend to think. I would hope that Malalai Joya can shake some folks out of their complacency and give them some perspective on the more important things in life.”
Her journey started a mere three days after her birth when the Afghan government was overthrown, and the country was invaded by the Soviet Union. Her life to follow would be filled with endless bloodshed, turmoil and danger in the midst of civil wars and the Taliban regime.
Joya’s peaceful philosophy and involvement in women’s justice began when she was a teenager living in an Iranian refugee camp with her family. She eventually returned to Afghanistan at the height of the Taliban regime. In 2005, after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the oppressive government, Joya became the youngest woman elected to the new Afghan parliament.
Joya became an international figure after her three-minute speech during the ratification of the Afghan constitution in 2003. During the speech, Joya labeled several members of the Afghan parliament as criminals, warlords and anti-woman. She also argued that such warlords should not be given the power to create the nation’s new government. Afterward, Joya was immediately suspended from her seat in parliament.
Although she no longer holds a political position in Afghanistan, Joya’s voice is still heard around the world as she promotes global peace and justice. The lives of the Afghan people after September 11, 2001 and the overthrowing of the Taliban regime are common topics of Joya’s speeches. She also speaks out against the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
“Like my people say, we don’t expect anything good from you, we just expect you to stop wrongdoing,” Joya said during her speech. “This is not a war on terrorism. We believe this is a war on innocent civilians.”
Joya’s outspoken nature does put her life at risk on a daily basis. She has survived five assassination attempts and numerous threats on her life. Joya must be constantly concealed in public to avoid any dangerous recognition, and she is required to move to a different house every day to maintain her safety
As for her voice, however, Joya is confident it will survive anything. “They never can stop my voice,” she said.
You can learn more about Joya at malalaijoya.com.