Female Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya criticized current U.S. policy in Afghanistan, as well as the presence of former Taliban spokesman and foreign ministry official Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi as a special non-degree student at Yale, both during and after her speech, “Women’s Rights, Warlords, and the U.S. Occupation of Afghanistan” on Thursday night.
The lecture, which was co-sponsored by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Afghan Women’s Mission, drew a full crowd in Luce Hall Auditorium and was preceded by a documentary film addressing women’s rights in Afghanistan. Students at the event said Joya’s speech and ongoing campus debate over Hashemi’s enrollment indicate that his presence at Yale continues to be widely controversial, and the Yale College Council is considering a resolution urging that he not be allowed to enroll as a regular student.
Joya said there has been no fundamental change in democratization and women’s rights in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. She criticized the U.S. government for pursuing its own strategic interests in the region while supporting fundamentalist warlords who make Afghanistan “a hell for its people.”
“Afghanistan’s issue is not an easy issue,” she said. “I only want to be a voice for my suffering people who are always silenced.”
After her lecture, Joya delivered a statement about Hashemi’s enrollment. She said Hashemi was one of the Taliban’s top propagandists and called his status as a student at Yale “disgusting” and an “unforgivable insult.”
“Before he was a Talib, and now he is a student,” Joya said, holding up two pictures of Hashemi. “Is it democracy?”
The YCC is currently considering drafting a resolution to petition the University’s administration to deny Hashemi admission as a full-time student, YCC President Steven Syverud ’06 said Thursday. The idea was introduced to the council by former YCC representative Austin Broussard ’06, and current representatives are discussing the controversy via e-mail, YCC Vice President Marissa Brittenham ’07 said.
“We’ve opened the dialogue with the YCC representatives … to try and figure out where we stand on this issue,” she said.
After Joya’s lecture, students expressed a range of opinions about her statements.
Mina Alaghband ’08 said she was surprised that none of the questions that audience members asked Joya concerned Hashemi. She said that while Joya raised some important issues, she painted a too-bleak picture of contemporary Afghanistan.
“I think the perception we all have … is that while there are still problems there, they are taking steps toward democratization and religious rights,” Alaghband said.
Hyder Akbar ’08, a native of Afghanistan, said he was encouraged to hear a female politician from his home country speaking at Yale, and he was impressed by her candor, despite numerous attempts that have been made on her life.
“For me it is a source of pride to see somebody like her representing Afghanistan,” he said.
But Akbar also said he disagreed with Joya’s assertion that there has been no political or social progress made in the country since the fall of the Taliban.
Yigit Dula ’08 said he thinks the controversy surrounding Hashemi has not attracted enough attention on campus. He said Joya’s speech offered a valuable perspective on both the U.S.-backed regime currently in power in Afghanistan and the Hashemi issue.
“It was definitely biased and very emotional, but she made some good points,” he said. “Before I was like, who cares if the guy was Taliban or not? But it means a lot more to [Afghans] to have someone like Hashemi educated at Yale.”
Hashemi could not be reached for comment Thursday.