Malalai Joya, Stephen Lewis an emotional double-bill at NDP Convention

Well, as opening nights go, this one was electric!

Sharing the Friday evening stage with Jack Layton and UN AIDS Envoy Stephen Lewis (see their news release) Afghan National Assembly member Malalai Joya said Afghans view the replacement of the Taliban with the Northern Alliance as having the effect of replacing one set of “misogynist warlords” with another. (She told us that she has received death threats for singling out warlords who are in senior positions within the government of Hamid Karzai.)

While you may wish to view a transcript of her speech, I’ve put together some of the most memorable, and enthusiastically received, lines.

Ms. Joya said Canadian soldiers are fighting to sustain a government that includes murderers, rapists, drug-dealers and warlords. The government, she said, is about as repressive as the Taliban and more dangerous due to its international backing.

“When the entire nation is living under the shadow of the gun and warlordism, how can its women enjoy very basic freedoms?”

“Contrary to the propaganda in certain Western media, Afghan women and men are not ‘liberated’ at all.”

“Conditions of its women will never change positively as long as the warlords are not disarmed and both the pro-U.S. and anti-U.S. terrorists are removed from the political scene of Afghanistan.”

“Our people don’t consider the U.S. as liberators of our country,” she said.

“I think that if Canada really wants to help Afghan people and bring positive changes, they must act independently, rather than becoming a tool for implementing the policies of the US government.”

To the sounds of gasps and tears on the convention floor, Ms. Joya said she has survived four assassination attempts for denouncing the warlords, and has been heckled in parliament with cries of, “Rape her,” and with shouted threats that she would be stabbed to death at lunchtime.

While not mentioning the NDP’s debate on the mission, Joya said she wants Canadian troops to remain in southern Afghanistan, but she wants them to oppose members of the current government in addition to the Taliban.

In the end, though, she said – to a rousing final standing ovation – “no nation can donate liberation to another nation.”

Stephen Lewis followed Ms. Joya with his characteristic rhetorical flair (audio clip in link) and told us how hopeful he is following the International AIDS Conference last month in Toronto – progress on the research into preventative gels for women, the effectiveness of circumsicion for men, and the all-but-ready-to-be-announced UN Women’s secretariat (something he has been calling for since well before the Massey Lectures).

Anyone who has heard Stephen speak knows how amusing he can be when he starts piling adjectives, adverbs and other rhetorical gems into his remarks. I wish I had written a few of them down. It was a delight to hear him and then to meet him in person (where he signed my copy of “Race Against Time”) at a fundraising reception (my credit card took one for the team!) which followed atop the nearby Hilton. Malalai Joya, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and most, if not all, of the federal caucus were there as well, in addition to many prominent labour leaders and party activists.

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