Sunday, April 19, 2009

This is what propaganda looks like: Women in Afghanistan

This is what propaganda looks like: Women in Afghanistan
by Judy Rebick, from Transforming Power, April 18, 2009.

Day before yesterday still in a bit of a reverie after more than 24 hours without television, radio or newspapers in my friends' beautiful house in the bush near Victoria I was awakened on the ferry into Vancouver by an astonishing call. Sandra Martin from the Globe and Mail asked me, "Judy, is it possible to be a feminist and be anti-war?" What? I thought Where is this coming from.? Of course I knew of the Western outrage at the proposed family law in Afghanistan that made women's slavery in the home official but I hadn't seen the images of the brave women protesting against the law being shouted down and insulted. My answer was to ask "how has the war helped women?" which I see today is the banner headline on page 11.

There is little that makes me angrier than the cynical way in which the Bush and Harper governments claim protection of women's rights as a cover for aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time as attacking women's rights at home. The claim in Iraq is absurd given that Iraq had the best record on the status of women in the Middle East before the invasion. It's more complicated of course in Afghanistan where the Taliban oppressed and repressed women and girls to an horrendous extent. Leaving aside the fact that the US supported the Taliban and their predecessors against the Soviets when they were the primary enemy, my opinion about whether life has improved for women comes from the most consistent brave and militant women's rights group in Afghanistan, the Revolutionary Women's Association of Afghanstan (RAWA) who said in October 2008:

Seven years back the US government and its allies were successfully able to legitimize their military invasion on Afghanistan and deceive the people of the US and the world under the banners of “liberating Afghan women”, “democracy” and “war on terror”. Our people, who had been tormented and oppressed by the Taliban’s dominance, were filled with hope but soon their dream of the establishment of security, democracy and freedom was shattered in the most painful manner.

By the installation of the puppet government of Karzai, the US reused its creations and continued its deal with the Jehadi criminal warlords. From the very start, Mr. Karzai shunned the demands and trusts of the people and chose to compromise with the criminals of the “Northern Alliance” and placed the filthiest faces in the key posts of the government. In contradiction to the shameless claims of the ministers and other treacherous and corrupt officials, our people feel more ill-fated; the country has been turned to a mafia state and self-immolation, rape and abduction of women and children has no parallel in the history of Afghanistan.

I have met with Iraqi feminists and heard directly of their suffering under the US Occupation and the extreme attacks on the rights of women from fundamentalist Muslims. And I know that war never helps women. As militarism increases, patriarchy is reinforced. Men become bolder in their assaults against women whether fundamentalists attacking women's rights, soldiers using rape as a weapon of war or husbands assaulting their wives.

It is easy to fall into the trap that a Western military presence will somehow protect the women of Afghanistan. Beyond wishing that it were true, it is a rescue narrative that resonates deep in our souls. The reality is that life has not improved for women as RAWA points out.

If women's equality were really the goal, why didn't Western government support the forces on the ground who were already fighting for women's equality including conducting underground schools for girls.

The outrage over the women's rights in Afghanistan in the media is little more than a propaganda effort to convince Americans and Canadians to support this war without end in Afghanistan under the illusion that we are helping the people there. Don't fall for it.

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