Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fundamental problems

"As Afghan and Western governments explore reconciliation with the Taliban, women fear that the peace they long for may come at the price of rights that have improved since the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001" (Rubin, 2010).

As usual, warmakers have fought their way straight into a pickle. They invaded Afghanistan rather than negotiate for the arrest and extradition of Osama bin Laden to face charges of terrorism after 9.11.01. This invasion was done by armed force, killing thousands of Afghans and driving many into the insane embrace of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. The Americans--who had shown zero interest in women's rights in the 1980s, when they were funding the precursor mujahedeen factions to both the Taliban and al-Qa'ida--were now claiming that their invasion was really justified in part by how many wonderful rights they were bringing to Afghan women.

At this point, if they could have, Afghan women would have been best off distancing themselves from such 'liberators.' As Arundhati Roy said at the time, "Are we to believe that the American Marines are invading Afghanistan on a feminist mission?" It's not as though the Bush regime had expressed a single thought on the status of the women and girls of Afghanistan before 9.11.01, even though the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan had been trying and trying to get the world to notice their plight ever since the American-funded muj had driven out the Soviets in the 1980s (who also used women's liberation as their raison d'guerre and as one justification for their occupation, carrying on in the tradition of the previous imperial occupiers, the British, whose line about women in the Middle East and Central Asia was always that they were helping women to advance).

Women in Afghanistan seem to be either the chattel of their men or the hastily inserted casus belli for various invaders. So the empires East and West are forever prescribing women's rights for Afghanistan at the point of a gun, and guess what? That works about as well as installed democracy at gunpoint. Not well at all. Invariably, as soon as the occupying empire is kicked out--and they all are--women suffer an even worse backlash, shoved back into their homes in slavery to their King Kong men, and if they absolutely must go out they need to suit up for it in yards of canvas and netting, like a human tent.

So, wonders the meddling bleeding hearts, how do we get rights for the women of Afghanistan? Answer: we don't. They will get them for themselves once we get out of their way. Once others stop emasculating their men, their men can relax and stop proving that they can rule over something, even if it's only their women and children. Once we engage Afghan men and women with nuanced communication and make reparations for war damages and guarantee we are done invading or paying others to use violence in their country, we can have a good faith discussion. We need to make peace before we can even offer support to indigenous Afghan women in any meaningful way. Even well meaning Greg Mortenson is now backing the US military and military aid in his erstwhile elicitive and helpful program to help educate Afghan girls. He's gone over the line without realizing it and ultimately his own work will all be undone, every bit of it, because he is now perceived by more and more Afghans as a part of the military, violent, warring factions that send out men to rampage.

This is the contamination of violence, like a parts per billion pollution of a lake. A bit of violence makes the conflict waters--which used to generate clean creativity and productive critical thinking--poisoned. Nonviolence with the discipline that says the real test of nonviolence is when some violence is used and the response is nonviolence--that discipline keeps the conflict waters pure and potable. The minute you add violence all discussion is fraught with fear and hidden agendas. Oh, I'll say this because otherwise that party might inflict violence on me, or the ones I care about. And it breeds the passive aggression that keeps humanity simmering and ready to pass along oppression and violence where it can. If I come in at gunpoint and tell the man to allow his wife out without her burqa, what do I really think will happen? The women know. They come out without the burqa and try to enjoy the minute of liberation, knowing that as soon as the foreign guns leave, they will be beaten and crammed back into slavery.

It's not a hard phenomenon to predict. Muslims in some regions are as behind the times as US southern whites were for many years. Indeed, the psychological roots are essentially identical and the behaviors and rhetoric are stone similar. Ending oppression at gunpoint doesn't end the desire to oppress; it strengthens it. And those who go down in defeat in war are almost always more violent in their interpersonal lives. Two US studies on which sector of the US population resorts the most quickly to violence in interpersonal conflict showed clearly that southern white males are the most insecure about their honor and fastest to take offense and strike out violently (Pruitt, 2009)--and, naturally, they are disproportionately represented in the military, a legal and lethal outlet for the descendants of the losing side in the US Civil War, which northerners believe is over and for which southerners are still exacting vengeance. Violence and nonviolence alike tend to breed themselves. Use nonviolence and you don't reinforce the need to dominate the vulnerable ones. Use violence and you create fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or whomever. It's not a tough concept--the inputs into a system will affect the outputs. And the effects last for generations. It's a long, long process, requiring unilateral change or the change won't happen. We should get started.

Pruitt, Dean G. (2009). Experimental research on social conflict. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 102-118.

Rubin, Alissa J. (2010, July 30). Afghan Women Fear the Loss of Modest Gains. The New York Times. Retrieved from

No comments: