One starting point could be the heroic example of the Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women, who in recent times have constantly lived with and combated terror from Stalinists, Muslim fundamentalists and the imperialist West. During the Russian occupation, the KGB murdered Meena who in 1977 founded RAWA. Resisting the Russians were the mujaheddin, and during the 1980s 'the leaders of almost every South East Asian terrorist group' fought alongside them and it was a training and recruiting ground for al-Qa'ida (Zachary Abuza, Terrorism and Radical Islam in South-East Asia). Both the Northern Alliance mujaheddin, now restored to some considerable power by the Americans, and the now-deposed Taliban who took over in 1996, are opposed by RAWA, who knew that the American military devastation of Afghanistan would not be liberatory either, as it has not. Before it began, they called on 'all anti-fundamentalist freedom and democracy loving and pro-women's rights forces' to 'play their role in the organising of mass uprising and as well thwart the plans of the internal and external enemies of Afghanistan' <www.rawa.org>.
Feminism of course expresses itself with considerable difference between West and East, or between North and South. While the second wave feminist movement grew out of and alongside the antiwar movement, we did not at the time develop a specific in-depth feminist analysis of the situation of Vietnamese women. (There is now a large body of material that we can find to read about women in countries that have been or are the objects of Western military incursions. In relation to the Vietnam war, one valuable text is Duong Thu Huong's novel, Paradise of the Blind, recently translated into English.)
RAWA's clarity about who and what are the enemies of human rights and women's rights, is less apparent among Western feminists. Following September 11, many movement activists found themselves at a loss in the face of fearful fervours; one activist felt movement politics were 'dead' in its 'wake' (49), while another struggled with 'the difficulty of finding something specifically feminist to say in response to violent acts of such magnitude' (78). Of course, while large-scale violence may be outside the everyday routines of most Western feminists (although some lived through the bombing of European cities during World War Two), the physical destruction of homes and lives is the daily experience of women in other parts of the world; in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine and elsewhere. As another contributor to Hawthorne and Winter's anthology put it, September 11 brought to New York 'the very grief, the same fear, the unknown terror, that is the daily life experience of everyday people' in many other countries .
Paul Kelly, pushing a current agenda now on the rise in the media--that socialists and progressives in Iraq are eagerly awaiting another onslaught by the American (and British and Australian) military to free them--attacks 'the orthodoxy, as orchestrated by the US anti-war movement ... that ordinary Iraqis oppose military intervention on the grounds of survival, patriotism and hostility towards the US.' While protesting that 'this is not an argument for war on the spurious claim that the people want it,' Kelly reads a report of the International Crisis Group headed by Gareth Evans as suggesting that many Iraqis would welcome Western intervention--of what nature is much less clear, given that 'intervention' can range from American-led attack, to US military strikes, to the use of weapons of really massive destruction that the US and Europe possess in abundance, to regime change (Australian, December 14-15 2002, 30.) And with labelling as 'politically correct' any refusal to go along with the resurgence of masc ulinist and jingoistic patriotic ideologies in the West, as Kelly does here, the eruption of one undeclared war after another has carried on from the last century into this one.
In relating feminist politics to these global conflicts, Western feminists are often accused of what Sayeed calls in September 11 'criticism by the "civilised" North of our "harsh, fundamentalist, backward" culture, but never any acknowledgment from them about their "crowning role" in the proliferation of the "fundamentalist" practices' (85). Ideologies of Western superiority have been analysed in their effects in books such as Leila Ahmed's Women and Gender in Islam (1992) that discussed some of the pioneers of Egyptian feminism in relation to the West, especially Doria Shafik (1914-76) in whose political career 'adulation of the west and the disparagement of the native ... was perhaps replicated psychologically as an internalised self-hatred and self rejection (of the native in herself) and as a divided, disintegrative sense of self (207). Western socialist feminism is increasingly aware both of its societal context of orientalist ideology, and of the inauthenticity of denunciations of women's freedom to sp eak and act that are based upon gender discrimination ranging from the masculinist to the fundamentalist. The West is not short of its own ugly fundamentalisms (Gerry Flawell blamed 'pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians' who had tried to 'secularise America', for the wrath of God descending on September 11 but the conditions for fascism's strong re-emergence in the West - severe economic crisis and populations persuaded to profound paranoia, for example--are not (yet) there in any substantial sense.
Violence against women and children East and West takes multiple forms but is almost invariably exacerbated and made more brutal by the operations of capital, which has little real concern with the rights of women generally, although it may cynically manipulate rhetorical arguments about this oppression. For a long time, as Christine Delphy points out in September 11, the United States 'knowingly and deliberately sacrificed Afghan women to its own interests' (303), specifically the interests of oil supplies--and of the global arms export market of which it controls half, and Britain and France another 30%.
In the current conservative climate, the position of women in some Muslim countries is deteriorating. Before 1996 in Afghanistan, 70% of the teachers, 40% of the doctors and 50% of the civil servants in Kabul were women. In Iraq, Nadje Al Ali writes: 'Before the sanctions, Iraqi women were among the most educated and professional in the region,' but now there has been an increase in religiosity and conservatism. 'All of my aunts pray regularly, wear the hijab and frequently mention god and religion in their discourses.... Increased restrictions on women's movements and behaviour is maybe more significant than the widespread veiling. The most horrendous aspect of these mounting pressures is the rise in so called "honour killings" frequent during the past years and legalised' (Trouble and Strife 43 Summer 2002). These are reportedly also on the rise in Pakistan where, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports, there have been at least 460 women killed this year by male relatives for perceived sexual immor ality.
The path towards greater freedom for women was associated, in Egypt in the 1950s, as it was in Britain and the US in the 1920s and 30s, with the entry of women into the wage labour force and the availability of contraception. Dress is one significant and controversial issue here. Ahmed in 1992 distinguished between lay Islam and establishment Islam, and argued: 'Islamic dress is the uniform of arrival, signalling entrance into a determination to move forward in modernity' (223). On the other hand, Jocelynne Scutt reports, a woman in the American military in Saudi Arabia, Lieutenant-Colonel Martha McSally, has partly won a case against being required to observe local customs, in particular wearing the abayah when off-base in Saudi Arabia. Women are still unable to sit in the front seat of or drive cars, or leave the base without male company. <http://saidit.org>
The recent women's 'wear a headscarf' day in solidarity with Muslim women in Australia was nonetheless, something to support. Some of Ghassan Hage's research, published in White Nation, found that Muslim women had experienced having their veils torn off by Anglo Celtic women, who responded to remonstrations about this with: 'How would you like it if we ended up having to put a veil on too?' With the perpetrator of the burning down of a mosque in Brisbane following September 11 getting a sentence even the presiding judge complained about as inadequate, while members of 'Lebanese gangs' in Sydney were given massive sentences for the organised rape of a young Anglo-Celtic woman, we can see a complicated dialectic of ideologies of ethnicity in operation. In the latter case the protection of women was the key issue invoked, although primal horde (and habitually racist) grand narratives (as discussed by Amanda Third in this issue) also had much to do with it, as they have with American capitalism's current quest fo r global domination.
There are 5 million Afghan refugees in the world now, although Afghanistan's population, like Iraq's is not much larger than Australia's. Adele Murdolo in our last issue argued in relation to displaced populations, few of whom have been allowed to make a new home in Australia: 'It is this contradiction--that violence is enacted against minorities, especially women (or war is fought), in the name of feminism--that requires feminists vigorously to join in the debate about immigration detention (127). War, the kind of war that is now being planned on Iraq, produces huge diasporic populations that become refugees with nowhere to go. In Australia refugees have been incarcerated in detention centres, much as the reserves operated in earlier times for the displaced and dispossessed Aboriginal population. The terror that capitalism has inflicted historically is now, with the alibi of a 'war on terror' against fundamentalist Islam, being imposed upon one country after another. The Western 'war on terrorism' announced after September 11 is being waged as much at home as abroad, with insubstantial promises of safety from attack exchanged for lost democratic rights, lost welfare and education funding, lost humanitarian concern for dispossessed people.
In a statement issued on 11 September 2002, the women of RAWA restated their opposition to the 'religio-fascistic ideological world outlook' of the 'Taliban and Jihadi brands' of fundamentalism. But much of the Western response to this is also regressive. Robin Morgan wrote from New York on 12 September 2001, that the city seemed to have been subjected to a military takeover and that; 'in such a time of crisis, the danger of a turn to the extreme right is genuinely real' (11). The opportunistically anti-Stalinist, and genuinely anti-socialist, politics of al-Qa'ida welcome any erosion of such democracy as exists in the West. Meanwhile, women continue to work two thirds of all the world's working hours, receive only one tenth of all world income and own less than one percent of all world property, and this lack of economic equality remains the basis of their inability to combat their oppression, as well as the much more generalised violence and 'terror' that patriarchal regimes require to sustain themselves.
* Page references are to this book unless otherwise noted.
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|Title Annotation:||feminism East and West|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2002|
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