The image is a photo from an ad campaign by a German NGO (IGFM) which represents the Afghan women as the Other who needs to be saved. Intended here to show how Imperial Feminist agenda operates
AS the failed Global War on Terror (GWOT) completed twenty years, and the American government brought home its occupying forces, it leaves behind a heavy human toll of this war, and a world far more unsafe than it was twenty years ago. The impact of GWOT on the women of targeted countries, is incalculable. Limited research is available on women’s lives during war and war on terror in Muslim societies. While this war was termed as a war against men of these societies, the victims of this failed war have primarily been women, and their children. It was, and continues to be, a war on the dignity of Muslim women, especially women of Afghanistan.
The US Central Intelligence Agency used imperialist feminism to advance its war ,and seek support from its allies. There is documented evidence of how Afghan women were exploited to sell the war in Europe, and to garner support for militarism among European sceptics. The wikileaks report suggested that the “Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing” the war, and “their aspirations for the future and fears of a Taliban victory,” would help garner support for the war. “The prospect of the Taliban reversing hard-won progress on girls’ education could provoke French anger and become a point of support for France’s largely secular public opinion. This gives voters a reason to support the good and necessary cause despite the casualties.” The devastation of Muslim women’s’ lives was presented as a “good and necessary cause.” It reminds one of Madeleine Albright’s statement that sacrificing half a million Iraqi children in America’s Iraq war was a “justified” price. I guess someone else’s women and children who have been demonized and dehumanized to serve the hegemonistic military machine are easily dispensable. Add to that the sanitized drone wars where people sitting in their office sipping coffee just go on a killing spree in a remote corner of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen.
Twenty years later, with the last American soldier having left Afghanistan, and the Taliban back in power, I wonder how the United States, or their European Allies can in all honesty express concern about the future of Afghan women, their education, and well being. Where is the responsibility for actively destroying the lives of the Afghan women? Yet the US state Dept issued a statement, backed by forty countries, stating their concern about “Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work and freedom of movement.” Twenty years too late, the American President Joe Biden is admitting US’s failure stating, “the idea that we’re able to deal with the rights of women around the world by military force is not rational. Not rational.” What the Mr. Biden fails to recognize though is that it was irrational, immoral, and criminal, all along, even when he was supporting the war as the Vice President of the United States. The civilizing mission of former first lady of the US, Laura Bush, was an Orientalist project, not a humanitarian effort, one that unleashed terror and death for the Afghan women. Defending the War on Terror she claimed Afghan women were no longer “imprisoned in their homes” and they could “listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment.” What was also missed in this popular militaristic discourse of saving Afghan women, and their freedoms, were the stories of the suffering Afghan women, seventy percent of whom live in rural Afghanistan, and the reality of lives of Afghan war widows. By 2015, there were estimated 50,000 to 70,000 war widows in Kabul alone. This 2015 United Nations Report gives us a glimpse into violence against women in Afghanistan, family violence, sexual violence, and impact of underage marriages all of which increased as a result of war. In this 2020 study based on lived experiences of Afghan women, the researchers concluded that , “not only does conflict contribute to domestic violence, but domestic violence contributes to conflict through justifying armed intervention, separating women from economic and public life, and perpetuating patriarchy.” Given the reality of this failed imperialist war, even the much touted agenda to promote and improve education did not fully succeed during the twenty years of occupation.
The costs of the Afghan war extend to the United States as well, albeit mostly financially, because it was a war fought on borrowed money.
It is abundantly clear that despite assurances by the Taliban of protection of women’s lives and education, as well as their public participation, indications are that perhaps not everyone in the Govt. upholds that promise. Women’s lives are at risk, and their education and participation in public life is at peril. Afghanistan now joins the ranks of a few other nations with no women in top government positions. Even the Ministry of Women has been disbanded in the new set up. Syed Zekirullah Hashmi, the spokesperson of the Taliban government thinks that by leaving women out of government ranks, the Taliban are doing them a favour, and preserving the resources of the government. In his mind, having a woman in position of power is clearly a useless thing, because women would be, in his words, unable to carry out these responsibilities. The only role fit for Afghan women, he believes, is producing children. Even women’s participation in sports is likely under threat.
What should be the response of people of conscience to the state of Afghan women? How should those who really care offer solidarity and collaboration based on conscience, not convenience? What can women of the world, especially Muslim women, do to highlight the misery of Afghan women? The picture is not quite clear yet. Many people have offered different solutions. A new era of displacement and dispossession has begun, but not all can escape to greener pastures, and should they really have to? The common solution to take all women activists out of Afghanistan, is a solution that does not serve those women, or their country, well. No one should have to escape their homeland to breathe freely. There seem to be no simple solutions currently. I think it is time to watch and listen, especially listen to what our Afghan sisters, both from urban and rural areas, tell us. There can be no external fixes to a problem that has been thrust upon the women of Afghanistan for decades. The solutions lie within, and the brave women of Afghanistan will surely rise to the occasion and overcome their challenges. Meanwhile, its is important to not allow the dignity of Afghan women being snatched away by those who hijack Islam and present falsehoods to justify misogyny and patriarchal systems of oppression.
Muslim women around the world need to ask the question, what is the best way to stand in solidarity with Afghan women, all Afghan women, not just those who identity as “liberal left” of Afghanistan? The other equally important question to ask is, how do we negotiate the imperialist feminist project of “saving” the Muslim women through militarism?
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is an Kashmiri academic based in Canada with teaching and research focused on Media, Islam, Gender Justice and Kashmir
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