Friday, September 18, 2009

Feminism, Afghanistan and Imperialism

One of my earlier blogs talks about US intervention in Aghanistan and the earlier support for Taliban offered by the US. This blog continues that conversation thread further.

One of my students is studying the portrayals of "freeing Afghan women" that circulated in the US media during the US intervention in Afghanistan, further exploring the ways in which women in/from the Middle East construct, participate in and resist these images. In recounting a story of one of her interviews, she shared with me how a feminist scholar from the Middle East discarded postcolonial theory, stating that "Afghanistan really is backward. They don't even have a railway system." This statement stayed with me the entire evening, and here I am posting this message after much thought.

When I begin with the notion, what really is backward, I also have to ask myself who gets to define the discursive frame of advanced/backward. The dominant logic of Western empires have historically scripted the spaces from elsewhere in terms of absences, marking them as Third/primitive/backward, in need of liberation. Of particular interest are the ways in which the question of the woman serves as the site for the enactment of colonialism/imperialism. The desire to liberate the women of the Third World is central to the scripting of Third World spaces, and is intertwined with the desire to gain economic and strategic control over Third World Spaces. In such contexts, the term "feminism" gets uprooted from its emancipatory politics and instead gets situated under the logic of colonialism. What gets ignored is the agency of real women from marginalized contexts that participate in day to day practices of resistance to change dominant structures.

It is within this context that I wonder about the role of the elites from indgineous spaces who are often complicit with the agendas of the West? In my own work, I argue that these elite sectors have as much to gain from West-centric interventions as do the colonialists. The colonial intervention serves the political economy of the elite classes in indigenous spaces, who then become the conduits of governance for the dominant structures.

Questions of feminism in the context of Afghanistan do not lie in making judgments about the backwardness of the space, but rather in listening to the agency of Afghan women who stand in resistance to the practices of local patriarchy and Western imperialism. The promise of feminism lies in exploring those spaces of solidarity that fundamentally seek to invert the logic of colonialism that scripts Afghanistan as backward.


Ian Goddard said...

"desire to liberate the women of the Third World is central to the scripting of Third World spaces"

But I've never heard in major media the US's war on Afghanistan being justified as a way to liberate women. Nor is such a goal even visible within the war program that I've seen. Instead, the leading Afghan women's rights group protests the US invasion, indicating that no real effort has been made on the behalf of Afghan women.

If your statement quoted above were totally true, it's hard for me to believe what I just stated would be my observation.

Mohan J. Dutta said...

Not really. Communication analyses (see for instance my scholarly work on war discourse, the work of Professor Dana Cloud on veiling the threat of terror)repeatedly demonstrate the circulation of the "emancipating women" frame in dominant neo-imperialist discourse, including the discourses of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Contrary to the rhetoric though (and here I agree with you), the US form of neo-imperialism has historically promoted anti-women stances. Take for instance earlier US efforts to curb RAWA.

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