Archive for the ‘in English’ Category

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A woman against Afghani narco-traffickers and warlords

1 July, 2008

picture courtesy of On May 21, 2008, the anniversary of the irregular expulsion from the Parliament of Malalai Joya occurred. Mrs. Joya, 29 years old, a woman, was the youngest Member of the Afghani Parliament, elected in the first democratic elections in Afghanistan in 2005, as a representative for the province of Farah. Her life suddenly changed in December 2003, when she spoke at the Loya Jirga.

The Loya Jirga is a “great assembly”, summoned at irregular intervals by the Afghani Parliament, participated by members of the royal family, deputies, religious leaders, mujaheddin and tribal leaders. The establishment of Afghanistan meets to discuss upon diverse matters, such as the foreign policy, declarations of war, introduction of new laws or new leaders. The Jirga is not resolved until the assembly reaches an agreement concerning the matters treated.

As a girl, Malalai Joya worked at the Organization for the Promotion of Afghan Women’s Capacity. As a girl, she taught to read and write to those who could not afford to attend school, and women and their rights have always been the centre of her life. A life spent between the people, in touch with hunger, poverty, violence suffered and denied rights. Worried for the underdevelopment of her province, Malalai decided to take part in the “great assembly” on December 17th 2003, and to become a spokesperson for her fellow citizens. Since that day, her life radically changed.

She took the floor and spoke for three minutes. She was 26 and she held the microphone in the presence of elders and political, territorial and religious authorities. Many had rifles with them. She spoke and said unheard-of things. She thanked God and the attendees for the occasion given to her, and asked the assembly why the assembly was attended by “war criminals”, responsible for the situation in Afghanistan, centre of national and international conflicts. She blamed them and told them they deserved to be put under trial, because “the Afghans may forgive them, but History shall never do”. For a moment, the silence under the large tent was deafening. Then the yells began, the accusations of “unfaithfulness” and “communist”. She was expelled by the assembly and never allowed to take part again.

Two years after that public offence, during the elections in September 2005, Malalai was elected as the representative of the province of Farah in the Parliament, with more than 7,000 votes. Her people loves her (many others hate her) and offers her the honour of bringing their voices to the Palace. Notwithstanding death threats, Malalai persists in her battle: women are the centre of her thoughts, but also the corruption, the strict collusion between warlords, drug dealers and deputies. Until May 21st 2007, when – following another blame from her – the Parliament suspends her from her charge until the term of the mandate. Since that day, the death threats become countless. The government even suspends her passport, but her staff is anyway able to make her get out of the Country – to stay would be like signing her own death sentence.

Now, Malalai continues doing what she has always done: speaking, without hesitations. Conventions, interviews, meetings, in Europe, Asia and North America. I met her on May 22nd in Turin, Italy, on the event of one of such meetings organized in Northern Italy. She was coming back from the European Parliament, accompanied by the MEP Vittorio Agnoletto. Small, black-haired, tired but not subdued, lively eyes, Malalai might be working for any NGO and earn thousands Euro per month. Instead, she frenetically goes around the world and when she can – and the situation allows for it – she goes back to Afghanistan and speaks harshly to the deputies. She is calm, shy of a considerate shyness, and she is happy to answer our questions.

How did your interests in politics begin?

Just like Palestinian children, Afghans too were born and raised in civil war times 30 years ago. To avoid politics in such conditions was impossible. Now I’m 29 and as a kid I used to study in the refugees camps of Iran and Pakistan. Once I got back to Afghanistan, in 1998, Talibans were on power and the only way to work with and for Afghan women was to do it undercover. I wanted to be with the people, my people, to share their problems and difficulties.

What does your family have to say about your continuous fight for human rights?

My family is a very lucky one. Despite dealing daily with enormous problems they have always been open-minded, liberal and pro-democracy. After the Loya Jirga that changed my life forever in December 2003, my family kept staying at my side, their support even increased as they understood and shared my struggles for my own country’s good.

One year ago you were expelled from Parliament. What are your tights now with politics in Afghanistan?

In fact that expulsion changed my position only formally. I am still very active politically also due to the fact that my exclusion was issued illegally and against every democratic act. Luckily there are people who support me either within and outside the country, and internationally Afghanistan has had never caused so much interest before. My will to come back to Afghanistan, however, is motivated by the intention to keep doing my job rather than to re-gain my seat at the Parliament.

How accountable do you think USA and UK are for the present situation in Afghanistan?

USA and its allies have occupied Afghanistan in the name of human rights and women rights but without attempting to change the situation. The intervention of the occupying coalition has brought to power the Northern Alliance, which is likely to be more accountable for the present situation. No one is concretely working towards security in Afghanistan, neither do the Americans, and without that it is nonsense to speak about human rights and democracy. Yet those who support my efforts can do very much. For instance they can perform social and political pressure in order for the “Allies” and the Afghani government to stop with the policies they have been following so far, that is – for instance – to seize the weapons that Talebans and Northern Alliance are carrying: if not, there is likely for a civil war to occur between the two parties after the American occupation is over. If the Italian government wishes to do anything useful, they should work independently from USA, who nothing want but a mere representation of the so-called democracy.

You are known for your courage when speaking to Afghani MPs. What criminal activities can they (many of them) be blamed of?

It is not difficult at all to understand what their crimes are. For instance, when the new Parliament went on power a Human Rights Watch report stated that 80% of MPs are or were either warlords, narco-trafficker or regular criminals. Take Ishmail Kahn: he is considered a wanted international criminal but he is still there. An other one is charged of having raped a 14 yrs old girl and today he is still doing his job; an other has been found guilty for the murder of two young boys thrown into a river with their pockets full of rocks. People demonstrated on the streets demanding his arrest but the government replied that there is no time fur such things.

What is the influence of opium and of the Talibans to the present situation in Afghanistan?

Just to understand the whole situation: president Karzai’s brother is a well known narco-trafficker. I believe opium is a symbol USA’s policies complete failure. If you attempted to make some very simple inquiry you will understand that Karzai is considered nothing but the “major” of Kabul; he has no powers at all in the rest of Afghanistan. Opium cultivations continue and have even increased. It cannot be other way in a country where many Regional Chiefs are narco-traffickers themselves. General Daoud for instance, he is today at the head of the anti-drug ministry: his position simply allows him to do his own good in the drugs-smuggling business.

As for the Talibans, it is hard to believe that Americans are concretely fighting them, for the simple fact that Talibans themselves allow the US to keep staying in their country. As a matter of fact, the fight against Talibans does not exist. The Northern Alliance and the Talibans do have the same approach: neither of them is sensitive at all about human rights, civil rights and women rights: this all go obviously in favor of the satellite countries where fundamentalists are on power.

According to what you say, there are no reasons for US to be in Afghanistan. What is it then?

The occupation has to be read from a wide perspective. Americans do have reasons to stay in an area which is at the core of Asia, so close to their opponents such as China, Iran and Pakistan. Besides, as well as for the Iraqi oil, opium represents a very relevant economical factor, as well as firearms. Where is was there is a high demand for weapons: a complex of politic and economical interests that make Afghanistan a convenient place to be for Americans after all.

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To Oriana

27 November, 2006

A youngster on holiday in Canada often finds himself spending a large number of hours wandering around, walking the streets of the city that hosts him. As he hits sidewalks he cannot help noticing all sort of things. I will put them all aside to tell you about one in particular: a small and insignificant one for many of you but of priceless value for this young guy who experienced it.

In the beginning of November the Canadians – like many others in various countries – have a small red flower buttoned down on their chest. Poppy FlowerDue to the large number of flowers necessary to beautify millions of chests someone had the clever idea to produce artificial flowers. Therefore, the young guy had run into hundreds of them. Initially he thought of some sort of identification for those employed at the Canadian government. Such an idea however was quickly dismissed: the youngster had caught eye of a man wearing the flower, who undoubtedly could not have been considered particularly trendy: his untied shoes, torn jeans and unlit cigarette-end would have hardly granted him free access to any government office. So what was that flower about? The boy thought of a congregation, perhaps… No, the number of people wearing it suggested a larger event. The young guy could not figure it out.

“Never mind” he thought to himself, “possibly its significance is incomprehensible to non-Canadians”.

As anyone would expect from a typical November day, one morning the weather suddenly decided to force everybody to find shelter indoor: a rain storm offered an unusual display of its power, and even the most audacious Japanese tourist would have had his touristic intensions drowned.

“And now? What am I gonna do all day?” the guy thought. Indeed, due to his Mediterranean origins and habits the last thing he would have thought of was to include an umbrella into his luggage. Hoping that the weather would turn well soon, he gladly welcomed the idea to spoil himself with a huge breakfast at the pub located on the ground floor of the hotel where he was housed. Now, the readers are not aware that, despite the comfortable furnishing and a tasty menu of the pub the young guy did not intend to spend a minute longer in there than the time required for a good full breakfast. Indeed, it is useful to remark the appearance of the pub’s regular customers: elderly people – or individuals on the way of being classified as elderly – or people whose outstanding blank eyes were noticed by the guy, those blank eyes that many people from around the neighborhood seemed to have…

Once breakfast was over, our boy felt the irresistible call of one of those vices that, in his opinion, formed any human being’s right: the pleasure of a smoke. Alas, due to the strict smoking policy in force in Canada at that time combined with the non-Caribbean weather outside, he was to join a small smoking room in the pub. Contrary to what one might assume, this room was rather comfy, well furnished and spacey enough, especially set for those people who – like him – believed the joy of a cigarette a perfect day starter. Needless to say however, the customers present in this small room had the very same attributes of those seated outside of it.

“Who cares?” he thought, “We all have one thing in common at least…”.

You will agree that this common ‘love’ – which is by the way the precise word the young man used to describe the relationship between him and cigarettes – is by many authorities considered a vice that kills.

Three high tables, some chairs, few candles, a bar stretched all around the perimeter, many beer glasses – despite the early time of day – a bunch of people, ashtrays – God bless them – and a very small air conditioner. Such was the furniture our young boy found himself surrounded by.

“May I join ya at your table, sir?”

The young man turned around to see from whom such request came. A man of about 60 years old, with regular and pleasant face features; tough body; rough skin and strong hands; well kept beard and moustache spotted here and there in white. But above all, an honest and sincere smile. A hat that hid a pair of eyes of which its vivacity and aliveness would have driven anyone 30 or 40 years younger jealous. All these where the sensations caused by the man to the guy in the moment he replied,

“Sure”.

With an easiness and spontaneity that belong only to whom is well acquainted with himself, the people around him and his surroundings, the man with the hat started up a conversation with two others, apparently of the same age. Canada was their topic of conversation, or at least the one with which they began. Soon, they started talking about weapons. Each expressed which gunfire he preferred, among those in force in the Canadian army in who-knows-how-many-years from now. Plus and minus of various double-letter named rifles and guns. The young man could only catch Magnum and MG-something.

As if to make up a topic that involved means by which the Canadian army used to kill people, the three men soon took shelter under the topic of ‘Canadian History’. It is worthy for the readers to notice that the knowledge of such a topic amongst the three men was as extensive as the advantages and disadvantages of a Kalasnikov rifle. Nevertheless, the young man couldn’t help to notice the genuineness and devotion of speech that only belongs to people over a certain age: each of them listened carefully to the speaker, who would speak quietly and clearly, and in turn each would show honest interest. Suddenly the young guy realized how lucky he was for being a listener of such a conversation.

“Oh, there are so many things I would like to ask!” he thought.

At last, he loosened his breaks and decided to say,

“May I ask you a question, sir?”

As the time passed by he found himself listening to how the city of Vancouver was born; who first arrived in that area; relations with the United States (a hard laugh upon this matter was caused when one of the men shouted, “Ah! Americans ain’t nobody!” The young boy for a moment wished it was so in reality as well…); the Confederation; the unique multi-ethnicity of Canada and its citizens; to what military group each man had served in; the status of that very neighborhood where the four men were at moment, said to be the poorest in North America; and much more.

All of a sudden, the young man’s eyes were caught by the third man. A spot stood on his jacket. A flower; red. A red flower was hanging on his chest, at heart-length. The boy wondered why he had not notice it before.

“Perhaps that small air conditioner isn’t working properly…” he said to himself, as if to give the presence of smoke in the room the responsibility for a lack of grabbing visual details that had always cursed him in his life. He smiled to himself and thought,

“Will you ask him what that flower is about or you wanna bring this secret back to Europe with you??”

In the exact moment he finished to formulate the question to the man with the flower, the other two turned their head to the guy simultaneously. The first one, who was first to give a word to the boy, with one finger raised slightly the peak of his hat and stared at the guy. The poor boy had the impression of being in front of a parent whose 4 years old son asks him the utility and significance of a condom.

“I’m sorry but I don’t have the least idea…” mumbled the guy.

“It’s a symbol” replied telegraphically the man in front.

“Uhm, I guess I had come up with that myself already…” thought ironically the boy.

Then he comprehended.

“Of course! They have given for granted I am Canadian too! They have no idea I’m a foreigner!”

Luckily enough, the three men welcomed gladly the understanding of the guy being of Mediterranean origins. Consequently the young man felt curious to know what – if any – had been the contribution of his own countrymen to the evolution of Canada as a country.

“Uhm, not bad” he thought at the end. “It is therefore true then that only the French hate us!” said with a bit of irony. To this conclusion followed an acknowledgement by the three men that confirmed what the young boy just stated: everybody hates the French, even Canadians!

At this point, after being held in high esteem by the three men again he desired to ask further about the significance of that red flower.

Meet the Poppy Flower. It belongs to the family of Corn Poppies. This poppy is a common weed throughout Europe. However, it is particularly numerous in Flanders Fields, Belgium. On this location lays a big cemetery where hundreds of Ally soldiers were buried in the Second World War. Here now find eternal sleep Canadian and American men. Most of Commonwealth countries – therefore Canada included – wear this flower to commemorate those men. Years after WWII, the Poppy Flower had been chosen to symbolize all those perished in warfare times. The Remembrance Day is November 11th.

The man with the hat was carefully weighting his words as he explained all this to the young man. The man’s voice had become lower and more solemn, and the boy noticed a sparkling light into his eyes as the man stared at him. Instantly our young man understood the importance of this celebration day for Canadians. For many instants he felt a bit ashamed of not-knowing of this flower before. Such shame however, was also mixed with a thought that had always come up on his mind every time he found himself talking about WWII with other foreigners: sure, his country joined the Allies’ side before the end of the war, but he couldn’t help to think of all those soldiers whose death his own countrymen had contributed to in such large numbers, when they still were on evil’s side. And now he had been seeing so many of those flowers onto so many coats around him…

The young boy shared these thoughts to the man in front of him. His eyes stared below, he had no courage to look the man in the eyes. In a moment, a paternal look of forgiveness formed onto the man’s face.

“Ah! Young ya are, sir!” the man replied, “And besides, think of all those underground fighters who raised against that son of a … him … Musilini!”

“Mussolini”

“That’s right! Your country contributed to the war with the largest number of rebels, I’m tellin’ ya!”

In that very moment a clear image suddenly formed in the boy’s mind. A photograph of Oriana Fallaci – Italian writer and former war reporter – whose picture he had seen years ago when he first opened one of her books, one of his favorite ever since. He had read many times that Ms. Fallaci, when she was just a child, had been a messenger in war time, carrying letters, food, weapons and such to the rebels during the German occupation of Firenze. Ms. Fallaci had died only few weeks before.

Then, for the first time that evening – or was it still morning? Yes it was morning yet – our young boy got shocked. One of the three men – the one wearing the Poppy Flower, the least talkative among them, the one whose words hit the guy’s mind the most – walked out for a while. He walked in again and stretched a hand towards the table where the guy was seated. The guy felt as if the man’s hand was moving in slow motion towards him. Between him and a glass of beer offered to him by one of the three fellows was now laying a Poppy Flower. The guy, his lips slightly parted, raised his eyes towards the man’s. He nodded slightly and reached his seat again. The guy stared at the flower for a while, as if expecting it to talk to him.

“I can’t… really … I…” mumbled the guy, his eyes still on the flower.

Then he understood. He got up his chair. He stepped to the man with the hat. He handed him the flower and showed his neck, as lovers do when they want to be kissed right there. The man silently placed the flower onto the collar of the boy’s shirt. The guy was staring at the floor, because that sparkling light he had seen before was now in his own eyes. He reached his seat again and did not say a word for a long while.

The conversation took up again the tones and vivacity of few minutes earlier. The young man had the impression of having been in the centre of the world for long moments. Then he finally took a grip of himself and re-acquired that clearness of mind of which he had always been so proud of.

“In a smoking room, in a hotel of 40 euro per night, in the poorest neighborhood of North America…” he thought for a moment of all prejudices and stereotypes concerning the nature of his accommodation,

“…What a fool!” said himself smiling.

Before taking off he promised the man with the hat he would have told his dearest friends about the Poppy Flower. He got up and shaked the men’s hands. He walked away with the awareness of – despite what he thought only few hours earlier – having in common with those men something unspeakably more precious than a mere passion of smoking a cigarette in company…

He looked out the glass door of the hotel and Japanese tourists were to be seen nowhere. It was still pouring rain, as if God left the tap open.