Transcript - March 2, 2007
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW.
We saw Dick Cheney escape injury in Afghanistan this week when a bomb exploded at the military base where the vice president was spending the night. 23 people died.
The incident underscored the resurgence of the Taliban five years after the U.S. deposed the regime.
But I want to ask for a few moments of your time to meet an extraordinary pair of women who have another vivid and important story to tell about Afghanistan.
First, there's Malalai Joya, a daring young Afghan woman who has made it her life calling to denounce the country's warlords as criminals and thieves—and get elected to Parliament to do something about their power. Death threats haven't stopped her.
And then there's Danish filmmaker Eva Mulvad. She traveled to a dangerous town in southern Afghanistan to bring back the story first hand. Mulvad's film "Enemies of Happiness" won the World Cinema Jury Award for Documentaries at the Sundance film festival in January.
BRANCACCIO: Eva, welcome.
MULVAD: Thank you very much.
BRANCACCIO: You shot most of your film not in the Afghan capital of Kabul, but way to the far off west in this town called Farah. Tell me what it's like getting to and working in a place like that.
MULVAD: It is very, very difficult to get there. It's—very remote province in Afghanistan. And—when I came from Denmark to—Afghanistan, I didn't really know if it was possible to get out there. We couldn't find out before. And when we got to Kabul, we tried—very hard to find a way to get out there.
BRANCACCIO: You can't just drive.
MULVAD: No. We thought we could fly to a bigger city that was North of this place, and drive. But they're—they're growing Poppies around this area and—
BRANCACCIO: Poppies that make heroin.
BRANCACCIO: So they don't want ya coming through there.
MULVAD: No. It means there is a lot of money there, a lot of weapons to drive through. So we tried to find out if we could fly to the main town of Farah. Which is controlled by American troops and people say it's pretty secure. But there are no planes going there. And we just—almost gave up, until we found some Danish soldiers who had a cargo military plane going there. And we charmed ourselves into that plane and right away we got out there.
BRANCACCIO: When you got there, did you find it to be a place where the rule of law was held and it was very safe?
MULVAD: The city, in fact was pretty safe. It was patrolled by—soldiers. American soldiers. And we just—made, like, this arrangement with ourselves and we promised ourselves not to—to go out of town. Because—we didn't know how dangerous it would be. So we just stayed and town. And luckily, Malalai Joya, our main character, did the same. She's not moving too much around. So we didn't have to go out of town.
BRANCACCIO: The film, "Enemies Of Happiness," revolves around Malalai Joya, and her campaign for Parliament. And it is my understanding she is known as one of the most famous women in Afghanistan based upon her—a moment that she had in a precursor to the Parliament. A traditional assembly in Afghanistan known as The Loya Jirga. What did she do?
MULVAD: She did something that was considered very impolite in Afghanistan. But also very brave. She stood up, a young girl at this time, she was 26, I think. She stood up against the Warlords and she demanded them to be put—to court, for all of the crimes they had committed.
BRANCACCIO: There's actually tape of this. Let's take a look.
JOYA: Why would you allow criminals to be present at this Loya Jirga? War lords 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 might be forgiven by the Afghan people, but not by history.
SPEAKER: Sit down! Sit down! The sister has crossed the line of what is considered common courtesy. She is banished from this assembly and cannot return. Send her out! Guards, throw her out!
BRANCACCIO: Well, that was a watershed moment probably for Afghanistan. Certainly for Malalai Joya. It earned her the support of many people but also, it's my understanding, earned her enemies.
MULVAD: Yeah, a lot of enemies. Since this—she has been living undercover, and she's been protected by 12 bodyguards most of the time.
BRANCACCIO: She has, like, a director of security.
MULVAD: Yeah. Her uncle is her director of security. And she said—they had tried to kill her four times. So it's not like just a rumor. It is something that could happen.
BRANCACCIO: And that's completely changed her life. Take a look at just how she lives her life.
JOYA: We don't have much time. I must get away from here. The house is no longer safe. Some neighbors have contacted... So it's best that I leave the house—and go to another. Although I hate the burka I am forced to wear it myself. Greetings my Uncle. Kiss your children for me.
BRANCACCIO: So this unusual campaign under these strange circumstances in which Malalai Joya herself often can't even announce in advance that she's going to show up to give maybe a speech. So, how does she get around that?
MULVAD: Well, she has her bodyguards, and they try to—to help her out. And she also—Like you see in the film, she does some campaign with tapes, that they drive around town with a loudspeaker and give out a message.
BRANCACCIO: She records her—her speech on a cassette tape, and then they can actually—It's almost like a kind of simple form of a—of a radio campaign ad.
MULVAD: Yeah, she—she also has a short TV speech which she gives to the people. They can see her that way.
BRANCACCIO: So she has to lay low and keep an eye out for people who wish her harm. People who are often armed-to-the-teeth. How do you conduct a political campaign under that kind of—those conditions?
MULVAD: It's of course—of course difficult. And it's different from what our politicians do. But—people know about Malalai Joya, and they come to her. She has like a secure area in town where there are soldiers in both ends of the street. And people come to her and—and she stays there, and they—they talk to her about like politics, saying they want to support her.
BRANCACCIO: She really does provoke, as a good politician should—a lot of support in some people. There's this one woman who comes from a long distance on foot.
MULVAD: Yeah. She's a funny character. But she—she's—a very strong woman. She's been fighting against the Russians when they occupied Afghanistan. And she comes all the way just to tell Malalai Joya that she wants to vote for her.
WOMAN: It's a two hour walk. I walked all the way over here. I have come because of you.
BRANCACCIO: That's a long way just to say I'll support you.
MULVAD: Yeah. But I think that—a lot of people in Afghanistan, they also—are really hoping for changes. And if they find someone like Malalai Joya that they trust then they wanna show her their support.
BRANCACCIO: But is Malalai Joya a woman's candidate. Is it—is it mainly women who support her?
MULVAD: No, it's both men and women. And—a lot of people that see this film, they're actually surprised that so many men, also old—older men, they come and they support her.
I think sometimes we have a very black and white—like understanding about how it is in the Muslim countries. We think that women are only supported by women and men are very hostile. It's not like that. There are some men who are very modern—in their way of thinking. And they are supporting the candidate that they like. And it doesn't matter if they're a man or a woman.
BRANCACCIO: And it's important to be clear, right, Eva, that Malalai Joya is a pious Muslim. It's not that she's rejecting her religion.
MULVAD: No. No. Not at all. She's a—a believer and she prays. And to her there's no difference between—like being a Muslim and—and having the rights that—like is provided by democracy. And equal rights between men and women.
BRANCACCIO: So she tries to find this place where you—can embrace Islam. She can embrace Islam. But where she can make the case to go beyond some traditional practices that she thinks are destructive.
MULVAD: Yeah. That's what she tries to do. Like she tries to separate—Islam from the tradition in some way. The tradition, somehow, keeps people into ways of acting that can be very destructive. In the film they discuss a—a young woman who is going to be married to an old man. And it's very difficult to solve this question, because it's—it's not question of—of—whether he wants her or whether he's in love with her. But it's a question of pride for him.
BRANCACCIO: Well, this girl is in the 5th Grade. Her name is Rahela. And she goes into consult Malalai Joya who, in addition for being a candidate for Parliament, seems to be almost like a—a kind of advocate for family issues.
JOYA: Rahela, you are a brave girl. You don't normally cry. We're with you. You must be strong or you will break. Talk to me, I know you need to unburden your heart.
BRANCACCIO: Young Rahela gets promised as the wife of this local big shot in town who already has wives, is decades older than her. She's clearly upset about this. And even her parents, her father doesn't like the situation. He feels his—his hands are—are—are tied. But you see Malalai Joya in this role as almost a mediator.
MULVAD: Yeah, she tries to—get these things solved, but—but it's very, very difficult, because it has to do with tradition. And it's very difficult to change these kind of things.
BRANCACCIO: Matters of honor in society. You can't just—If—If something's been promised to you, you can't just say, "That's okay."
MULVAD: To me, it's very important that we also get to hear this story from the side of the bad guy, because all the time, we feel it—it's really, really a bad story and this—it's so difficult for Rahela. I really understand what she's going through.
But we also need to try to understand the—the story from the side of—of the old man who wants to marry her.
JOYA: My advice to you is to save the girl from a poor destiny, for she is not willing to marry you
KAHN: 99 people come to me and mock me "Are you still waiting for that girl?" MY brothers and my clan threaten me. If I don't get married we can't stay here in Farah
MULVAD: In the Afghan tradition, it is very important for him to marry her, 'cuz it has been promised. And if he gives up marrying her, people are gonna laugh. He's gonna be a fool in—in the village, and he can't stand that.
And what Malalai Joya tries to do is to say, "But you have the power, you can give up this young girl, 'cuz you're the powerful one." And in the end, he says, "But I can't." But that's what she tries to do. She tries to make people understand that they can change tradition.
BRANCACCIO: But in the end, she doesn't actually have to marry him.
MULVAD: No, that's a—a story after the film finishes. He—There's a lot of things going on. The film—family brings in an uncle, trying to solve the situation. Shirin Khan kills that uncle. He goes to jail for that crime, but he pays himself out again. And now the last things we—we have heard from Afghanistan is that Rahela and her family has run to Iran to hide there.
BRANCACCIO: They fled to the adjacent country.
MULVAD: Yeah. To seek—Like to—to get out of the situation, they had to leave Afghanistan.
BRANCACCIO: But when you see Malalai Joya trying to do her best to—to enlighten people, to bring sides together, to come up with some prescription for justice, what does it tell you about the importance of women in leadership roles in a place like Afghanistan?
MULVAD: I think it's important in every country to have someone who takes a stand, like kind of a freedom fighter or front figure. In this particular where there is people so uneducated, they're very poor, she's a great inspiration to a lot of women. She shows that it's possible to change things and that women can be very powerful.
BRANCACCIO: What lessons do you draw about democracy in Afghanistan based on your experience there?
MULVAD: I think it's very, very difficult overnight to fly in democracy in a country like this, but what I felt from being there was that people were very eager to change things. Like normal people really wanted to live a better life. And one of the things that they tried to do was to try to vote for people who wanted to take Afghanistan in that direction, to give more freedom to people and to try to provide security and health systems and stuff like that, the basic things that everyone needs.
BRANCACCIO: So does all this campaigning work for Malalai Joya?
MULVAD: Yeah, it actually did. She was elected with the second-most votes in her pro—province, so it was a—a real victory for her.
BRANCACCIO: So there's where your film ends. She wins. But she's since moved to the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the new Parliament sits. And late this week, we got some email questions to Malalai Joya herself. And she sent her responses to us which we have posted in their entirety over on the PBS.org web site.
When we asked her a question, essentially "How are things going," and she responded in part that things are going terribly. She writes (quote) "The voice of me and a number of other democratic-minded members of Parliament is not heard, and we are not given time to speak." My microphone has been cut off a number of times when I criticize the situation and want to express my point of view. Once they even physically attacked me inside the Parliament and one of them called (quote) 'Take and rape this prostitute.' A shocking state of affairs for a Parliament that the Western community had so promoted in the wake of the war.
MULVAD: Well, it just shows that nothing has really changed. Like in the beginning of the film—you see that her microphone is turned off one of—in one of the meetings that leads up to the Parliamentary election. And it still goes on inside of the Parliament. And it's—difficult for Malalai Joya raise her voice because what she says is really—powerful and provoking.
BRANCACCIO: She writes, "I think that no nation can donate liberation to another nation. Liberation is not money to be donated. It should be achieved in a country by the people themselves." The ongoing developments in Afghanistan and Iraq prove this claim.
MULVAD: What she says is that we kind of support the bad guys being very powerful in Afghanistan now. And she often says that democracy's just another word for power. So nothing has changed really. Like it—it is a change that she has a—a seat in Parliament, but so many of the other seats have been taken by people who are responsible for all the crimes that have been committed in Afghanistan during the past years.
BRANCACCIO: But she questions the motives of the United States and other Western nations. She says that Afghanistan in their view, she believes, is part of some sort of international strategic chess game, and not about the Afghan people. That's what her responses seem to suggest.
MULVAD: But if you look upon the living condition for normal people in Afghanistan, it has not—nothing has changed to the better. It's worse now, security-wise, and that's what she is criticizing.
these people may not be in Parliament—to improve the living conditions for the Afghan people but more to secure themselves. And that is what Malalai Joya has been fighting against. She wants these people—put to international or national courts.
BRANCACCIO: It's such a tough conundrum, though, because if you wipe out the entire existing power structure, who will rule the country? The threat is some sort of anarchy of perhaps the sort we see in Iraq.
MULVAD: That's also—a point of view that you have to consider. A lot of people say that Malalai Joya's too radical. And—that she kind of—could start up a new civil war in Afghanistan 'cause there are a lot of ethnic groups fighting against each other. And you have to consider that these people in Parliament—the warlords—they are also elected by some people who support them
And if you want to take away their guns and put them to jail it's gonna cause a lot of riots too. So there's no easy solution to this.
BRANCACCIO: She expresses a kind of contradiction about whether or not it's worth it really to be in Parliament. She says no. But then she talks about "At least it gives me a platform" to speak out against the injustice as she sees it.
MULVAD: I think it's important that she's there, even though the democracy's not a democracy as we know it. I think it's a beginning, and maybe in ten years or 15 years, it's gonna be a little bit different. But it's not liberation. It's not democracy as we know it now.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Eva Mulvad, director of "Enemies of Happiness," thank you very much.
MULVAD: Thank you.
BRANCACCIO: This is the time when many public television stations are asking for your support. We at NOW could not bring you brave voices like Eva Mulvad and Malalai Joya without your support.
Now is the time to give generously to support your local public television station.
And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.