Thanks to a blog post from Peace Action West's Rebecca Griffin, I've just learned that the US government is preventing Malalai Joya from entering this country to promote the paperback release of her book, A Woman among Warlords. Joya is a women’s rights activist and former member of the Afghan parliament who speaks out against the oppression of women by the Taliban, the corruption of the Karzai government and against the continuing US war in her country.
According to the US nonprofit group Afghan Women's Mission when she went into the US embassy to get her visa, she was told she was refused entry because she was "unemployed" and "lives underground." Those "reasons' aren't completely false: Joya has survived five assassination attempts. She keeps her head down. Most of us would under that kind of threat.
Visa denials to keep people in this country from hearing critical voices from abroad are nothing new. The George W. Bush administration kept many internationally prominent Islamic scholars out of the United States, most notably the Swiss intellectual Tariq Ramadan who had been appointed a professor at Notre Dame. Apparently we were supposed to remain comfortably ignorant, certain that all Muslims were primitive cave dwellers with terrorist intentions. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton got around to lifting the ban on Ramadan in 2010, six years after he was supposed to take up the job.
During the 1980s, when the US government was paying and training insurgents fighting Nicaragua's popularly elected socialist government, getting visas to the US for Nicaraguans to tell their side of the story was always dicey. Poets, educators, priests -- all had trouble visiting the US. Within Nicaragua, the national government kept US embassy personnel from visiting war zones; why should they let people they assumed were hostile spooks loose among their defenses? The US retaliated by declaring the entire West Coast off limits to Nicaraguan diplomats housed in Washington; Nicaraguan solidarity activists joked we were living "in a war zone." But the impediments and ban had real consequences, making it hard to make authentic stories from a covert war audible to the public which was paying for it. And that was the U.S. government's point: they didn't want us to know what they were doing in our name.
Apparently the current State Department doesn't want people in this country to hear from a distinctive Afghan voice -- a woman's voice at that -- opposing our war in Afghanistan. Several Congress members are pushing for a reversal of the denial of Joya's visa.
Now that we live in age of YouTube, visa deniers have a harder time keeping us from hearing people they wish they could silence. Here's a clip of Malalai Joya taking on some folks who are a lot more dangerous than the average US consular flunky. At Afghanistan's Constitutional Assembly nearly a decade ago, she denounced war lords who intended to keep their power by becoming politicians under the newly imposed regime. Her daring act was electrifying; the response was ugly.
This Afghan doesn't scare easily.
Full disclosure: I had a tiny role in obtaining space at my church for Joya's San Francisco appearance planned for April 9.