Magazine article New Internationalist

Nooria Jehan: Afghani Freedom-Fighter and Feminist

Magazine article New Internationalist

Nooria Jehan: Afghani Freedom-Fighter and Feminist

Article excerpt

NOORIA JEHAN sweeps into the room -- her feet and hands the only visible part of her body except for a glimpse of her eyes behind the embroidered grill of her bourqa. Dramatically she flings the bourqa back behind her shoulders revealing an aquiline nose, piercing eyes and mocking smile. Women rise from the kelim cushions scattered around the walls to embrace her in greeting. A veteran freedom fighter in her forties and mother of seven children, she belies the Western media cliche of the submissive Muslim woman.

We sit together and she begins to speak in Farsi, in a voice that is both forceful and expressive. No doubt her companions have heard it many times before, but they sit spellbound. She speaks against a background of intermittent artillery and mortar fire and the thud of rockets less than 13 kilometers away. None of the women take any notice.

Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Nooria had been a young mother concentrating on bringing up her children. With the arrival of Russian troops in 1979 she became one of hundreds of women to join the mujahideen (Afghani freedom fighters) and fight the Soviet occupation over the next decade. Along with other resistance forces she helped oust the pro - Soviet regime of President Najibullah in 1992 in favour of Burhanuddin Rabbani and his military commander, Ahmed Shah Masud.

Nooria first became involved in the Jihad (Holy War) by distributing 'night papers' -- resistance pamphlets -- to civil servants. 'These people had no access to the mujahideen activities,' Nooria recalls. 'After one year the mujahideen asked me to take part in terrorist activities and gave me a gun. But I found it difficult just to shoot people and it was easy for the enemy to capture us because everyone was looking for guns. So I learned explosive techniques and began supervising and teaching the younger men. I was leading them into ministries like the Ministry of Defence, aiming directly at Russian offices. We would stick explosives and detonators under the Russians' tables and chairs.'

Early one morning the Russians came to her house and arrested her. 'They said I was a leader and sentenced me to 18 years in prison. …

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