Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trash talk

Those pesky opponents of the foreign occupation of Afghanistan are due once again, it seems, for a ritual denunciation, and a couple of bloggers, Terry "War is not the answer" Glavin and one who shall remain nameless, have mounted their Stalinist podia to oblige.

Glavin's target is the outspoken Afghan feminist Malalai Joya, of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an undergound organization that brought the hideous misogyny of the Taliban to light back when the West was frying other fish. Her sin is that she opposes foreign troops in her country, sees the problems in Afghanistan as ones for the Afghans themselves to solve, opposes Hamid Karzai and his misogynist warlord allies, and, uppity woman that she is, will just not shut up about it.

So the whole tiresome rhetorical apparatus of character assassination is dutifully wheeled in. Joya is marginal, she's sectarian, she doesn't know how to behave, and besides, she never did anything anyway (setting up an underground school for girls when the Taliban was in charge, taking on the misogynist warlords still running much of the country and withstanding five assassination attempts in the process, don't seem to count).

Here is how his nasty little piece begin

"Bravest woman in Afghanistan" my ass, Brian Platt, my colleague at the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, observes.

Platt was incensed, apparently, because his attempt to monopolize a question period during a public meeting with her was, after ten minutes or so, objected to by other members of the audience. Now he's mumbling about her in his lair, claiming, inter alia, that she thinks the war in Afghanistan is "all about oil." (It's not, and I don't believe she has ever said any such thing, but I'm prepared to stand corrected.)

Anyway, Glavin's screed is all downhill from there.

I'm familiar with feminist politics here at home over the past several decades, and they can get pretty wrangy at times (indeed the word "internecine" has come to mind on occasion), so I'm not surprised that there are widely divergent, even antagonistic, factions within the Afghan women's movement. I have no idea whether Joya's tactics are truly counterproductive, nor what her (and RAWA's) overall strategy might be. What I do know is that she has taken substantial personal risks--of a kind that Glavin likely can't even imagine--to stand up to the mediaeval theocrats in her homeland, whether they be the old Taliban or the kinder, gentler Taliban now in office.

For that one might imagine that she deserves respect. Instead, an old white male, snug as a bug on the west coast, who knows what's best for Afghan women, sneers in contempt.

Now, if there's one thing I (another old white male) have learned in the past thirty years or so, it's best to let the women figure out their differences themselves instead of, if you will, horning in. I have no doubt whatsoever that some of the other women mentioned by Glavin and Platt, ones like Sima Samar who have a more qualified approach to the presence of Canadian troops in their country, have made substantial contributions to the well-being of girls and women in Afghanistan. And perhaps RAWA has no clear plan about reconstruction in the event of a troop withdrawal. I don't know. Neither, frankly, does Glavin, unless he speaks better Dari and Pashto than I. But he doesn't hold back:

In Afghanistan, Joya is dimly remembered for these things, but is otherwise beautifully useless, and is in fact understood as largely an invention of the western media, anyway. For all the stenography that accompanies her travels in the masquerade of "journalism" in western capitals, it isn't at all clear what her real story is. Malalai Joya isn't even her real name.

That little throwaway comment at the end gives you the full measure of the man. Here's what he didn't tell you:

Malalai Joya is not her real name. She chose that name after returning to Afghanistan during the Taliban era in order to protect her family. She does not like to speak about her family because she fears for their safety. She only says that they live in Afghanistan, but not in the Farah province.

Even the identity of her husband, who she wed in 2005, just a few months before winning her seat in parliament, is unknown. She says that before they married, he knew that her political struggle was her priority, and that she could be assassinated at any moment. Nevertheless, he married her. Sometimes he stays with her at the homes of her relatives and friends. They live lives that are far from ordinary.

Turning now from this highly literate character ninja to one less gifted, I merely quote without comment:

Although we often think of those outside our borders as the enemy, the insurgents in Afghanistan who plant IED’s in the hopes of killing our soldiers, or the foreign jihadis who fight a religious war against the west, some of the most effective enemies exist right here within our borders. These people refer to themselves as anti-war activists, or anti-racists, or social justice activists; but really their goals are all very similar. They are people like Naomi Klein, socialist anarchists who use any means necessary to undermine our success as a nation, and the prominence of western civilization’s accomplishments.


The enemy exists within. And given their proximity to us, I’d say they’re more dangerous than the radicals we fight 10,000 kilometres away.


As for the Luton crowd, they had nothing of value to say. They were nothing more than disturbers of the peace. They made a mockery of their “free speech” by testifying as to their hatred of it. If there were any justice, the protesters would have been deported.


How legitimate is it, however, to listen to immigrants who use our freedoms as a shield to undermine everything we stand for?

As is the case with my frequent B'nai Brith commenter Harry Abrams, sometimes it's best just to let these folks speak for themselves.
Anything we might say in response runs the risk of being superfluous, even condescending to the audience. Res ipsa loquitur, then--but by all means avail yourselves of the combox.

UPDATE: Reader Alison alerts us to an interview with Joya at The Tyee.

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