A Woman Among Warlords

We hope Joya’s visa denial was not a case of ideological exclusion

At a 2003 assembly of the Afghan national assembly, then-25-year old Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya said, “Warlords [are] responsible for our country’s situation. Afghanistan is the center for national and international conflicts. They oppress women and have ruined our country. They should be prosecuted. They may be forgiven by the Afghan people but not by history!” In response, the assembly chairman Sebaghatullah Mojeddidi tried to expel her from the body.

Joya was denied a travel visa to the U.S. on Wednesday and will be unable to make her scheduled appearances at several colleges, including Harvard. She was scheduled to speak alongside Noam Chomsky at the Mar. 25 event, “The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan,” sponsored by a coalition of organizations, including Haymarket Books, the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, Harvard College Human Rights Advocates, and the International Socialist Organization.

After her brush with the Afghan parliament elders, Joya became a public advocate for Afghan women’s rights, traveling across Europe and the U.S. to publicize the problems faced by her fellow citizens. In an interview with PBS, she described that, in Afghanistan “women are seen as second degree citizens and the fundamentalist preach day and night that ‘woman should be in her house or in the grave,’ but as a woman I challenge the most powerful people in the country who only speak in the language of guns, and my voice is echoed and welcomed by the gross majority of my people.”

But nowadays her public appearances are dedicated to promoting the removal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan, and we hope this is not what got her into trouble with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In her most recent book, the promotion of which was to be the overarching subject of her America tour, she writes that the U.S. and NATO have constructed a benign image of the war in Afghanistan that has no bearing on reality, and that the Western media is complicit in this construction. In 2010, she gave an interview to Uprising Radio, saying, “I will never compromise with the US And NATO who have occupied my country, empowered the most bloody enemies of my people and are killing my innocent compatriots…in Afghanistan.” The anti-war nature of her tour should not influence her visa application.

There is a difficult process for getting a visa, and no one can bypass these rules, no matter how deserving or well known. Additionally, a person whose presence in America would cause a direct threat to residents may be justly refused a visa. However, Joya's camp claims she was refused a visa because she lives "underground" and is "unemployed,”—and these reasons are suspect. It seems unlikely that, as such a high-profile figure, Joya will purposely overstay her visa or otherwise abuse her terms of visitation in this country. Moreover, as the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Joya came to the U.S. without trouble last year, and other countries such as the U.K., Canada, and France, have granted her permission to tour within their borders.


We are opposed to ideological exclusion and if, upon further investigation, this proves to be the case with Afghan women's rights activist Malalai Joya, then University leaders should step in and support her efforts to enter the U.S. Joya's message of humanitarianism and women's rights is an important one that we should support. We praise the nine Congressional representatives who have asked the Consul General to reconsider her visa application as well as the student groups who are to rally Wednesday on her behalf of her cause. We hope that in this process a fuller articulation of why Joya's visa was denied comes to light.