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By Robert M. Utley

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The Cost of Courage: Malalai Joya’s Life-Risking Activism

Posted on Oct 10, 2013
AP/Rodrigo Abd

Malalai Joya, a female Afghan lawmaker and activist, has made many enemies by fighting corruption and war.

By Sonali Kolhatkar

(Page 2)

But Joya’s life, like all Afghan women who have taken a courageous stand, is also marked by constant danger. She represents everything that extremist fundamentalists like the Taliban and mujahadeen warlords despise. Hundreds of Afghan women have been murdered for a fraction of what Joya has said and done. For example, in recent years women TV presenters such as Shaima Rezayee and Shakiba Sanga Amaj were assassinated. This summer alone, two high ranking female police officers, Islam Bibi and Nigara, were also killed.

Joya’s outspokenness has also ruffled some feathers here in the U.S. In 2011, during a routine visa application for a national speaking tour in the States, she was denied entry. While it was never clearly understood why her visa was denied after many years of visits, a major public campaign involving members of Congress and the ACLU finally shamed the State Department into granting Joya a late visa.

When I interviewed her after she entered the U.S., she speculated over the reasons why she was initially denied a visa, saying “I think they are so afraid of what I am saying. I always expose the wrong policies of these warmongers. Their troops are killing civilians in my country. I also inform Americans of their tax dollars—that billions of them are going into the pockets of these warlords, druglords and even indirectly to the Taliban.”

I have met Joya nearly a dozen times since that first encounter in Farah Province and over the years our friendship has evolved into a deep love. My organization, Afghan Women’s Mission, has arranged a number of national speaking tours for her in the United States and this month, she is once more on a national tour organized by the United National Antiwar Coalition making the case for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan on the 12th anniversary of the war (click here for a complete listing of her tour stops).


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Each time I see Malalai Joya at the airport, I breathe a quiet sigh of relief at the fact that she is still alive and healthy. My desire to see her live out her life into ripe old age clashes internally with my admiration for her courage. I want her to be safe even as I understand that her safety can be bought only by her silence, a bargain Joya has never been tempted by and likely never will.

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