Enemies of Happiness
Denmark , English, Farsi, Pasthu, English subtitles
Fatima Dupres- Griffiths
The bravery and commitment of one of Afghanistan’s most famous women, 28 year old, Malalai Joya is the subject of this inspirational Human Rights Watch Festival documentary. Joya gained an infamous high profile and a larger political following, when she challenged the power and abuses of power by warlords in her country’s new government in 2003. This film is an important work showing the struggle for women’s rights generally, and Muslim women’s rights and their place in Politics specifically.
This 2007 Sundance award-winning film opens with Malalai being ejected from Afghanistan’s Parliament on the grounds that her speech is deemed to be inappropriate. We see Malalai campaigning to get elected, and encouraging the electorate, especially women, to vote wisely. However, in the prevailing political climate, women are not encouraged to participate in universal suffrage. Malalai is shown to be a well known, respected political activist seeking to overthrow the corruption and bullying of Afghanistan’s warlords and highlights the corruption underlying Afghanistan’s newly elected government in 2003. Enemies of Happiness shows Malalai Joya’s personal courage and political conviction.
In 2005, Malalai ran in Afghanistan’s first democratic parliamentary election in more than 30 years, surviving repeated assassination attempts and campaigning surrounded by armed guards. She faces the problem of how to introduce democracy in a country, where a majority of the people are illiterate, votes are for sale and warlords use threats and bribes to control the ballots. Against this backdrop, many women are also unable to leave their children to vote and exercise their democratic political rights. The film’s weakness is that we see more of Joya’s helping to resolve the domestic worries, and arranged marital intrigues of certain families, than we see of her political activism. Perhaps there were practical reasons for this.
However, it should not be allowed to detract from the important message of the film, namely, that despite political obstacles, death threats, a nation ruined by war and ruled by fear, women per se, and Muslim women in particular, can and do succeed in politics. Against the odds of gender discrimination and oppression, political intimidation and corruption, Joya’s controversial voice speaks out against such human rights abuses, the use of fear and terror to control Afghanistan’s electorate and the possibility of change for the better. The warlords and their bullying supporters are the enemies of happiness of Afghanistan’s electorate, democracy and Malalai Joya’s political career.
These are the people who at any cost do not wish to see Muslim women like Malalai rise to the top in politics, representing the democratic principles she believes in and defending the values embodied in her political manifesto. At one point, she had to resume wearing the full Burka covering her face to safely escape anonymously from her enemies. This was something she had previously and publicly denounced the wearing of, but now had no real choice in wearing if she hoped to survive at all. Director, Eva Mulvad’s film gives us hope that the Enemies of Happiness in Afghanistan will not triumph, but will be defeated by the efforts and voices of people, especially women like the formidable Malalai Joya.
As the film eloquently illustrates, it takes more than Western soldiers and diplomats to successfully introduce democracy to Afghanistan, but the overriding feeling of the Film is one of optimism, future peace and universal suffrage.