Monday, September 19, 2005

It's hard to stay anti-war when it means riding a bus with morons

Five years ago, Afghanistan was a feminist paradise. In fact, in women’s circles it was colloquially known as ‘Lesbos’ – as a tribute to the freedom and security women enjoyed in the “golden age” of the Taliban. Okay, you think of gone nuts… so I’d better tell you, this isn’t my view. Read on. Humour me.

One of the problems with having opposed the war against Iraq – purely on practical terms, I hasten to add – is that, unavoidably, one finds oneself in the camp of liars and fools.

Okay, perhaps let’s put that more charitably. Perhaps some of the people over-egging the mix of the antiwar position genuinely believe what they’re saying. Perhaps it isn’t propaganda. Perhaps the delusions are so deep-seated that they imagine they’re making sense. Never put down to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence, so the saying goes.

Another good saying – which I find myself mulling over more and more – is the line from Paul Simon’s ‘The Boxer’.

All lies and jest ‘til a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

I wouldn’t have noticed this pair or articles if the second one, ‘Stop all the terror! Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan’ hadn’t been recycled on IndyMedia a few days ago by the Stop the War Coalition. I went of in search of the original document and found another version republished on the LabourNet website, along with another article entitled ‘Baghdad comes to London

Now ‘Bagdad comes to London’ annoys me for two reasons – both connected with introducing facts amid a morass of emotionalism. I say ‘emotionalism’ not because the emotions aren’t very real for the those involved, but because they can’t be very real for the narrator.

He tells this story:

Two weeks earlier, in my English language beginners’ class for refugees, a middle-aged Iraqi student answered her mobile phone. She lives alone in a bed-and-breakfast near Kings Cross. Her husband is dead, killed by Saddam, and her five children live in Baghdad. For the last two years, she has been unsuccessfully trying to get permission from the Home Office for her children to join her in London. When she finished speaking on the phone, she returned to the class in tears. It was her daughter telling her a bomb had gone off that morning in the market in Baghdad – 30 dead so far. She was distraught.

All well and good. But the narrator is a member of the Socialist Worker Party, who seem to have made absolutely no concrete suggestions on how to topple Saddam Hussein, the reason this woman’s husband is dead, and the reason she has sough asylum here in London. It’s good that he volunteers his time to teach English to refugees and asylum seekers, but what was he willing to do to prevent this woman having to flee a tyant in the first place? The SWP seems to think that clenching a defiant fist and shouting solidaity is enough.

Secondly, the story he tells ends with how this women is distraught at a bomb going off in a Baghdad market. Unfortunately, instead of condemning the scoundrels who plant bombs in markets, he instead launches into a diatribe about American bombers flying at 10km. They were not responsible for the market bombing that had upset this woman.

Sure, let’s condemn the way modern US pilots are alienated from their targets. I’m fully behind Roger Waters’s song “The bravery of being out of range” from the Amused To Death album:

Just love those laser guided bombsThey're really great for righting wrongsYou hit the target and win the game From bars 3,000 miles away3,000 miles awayWe play the gameWith the bravery of being out of range

But don’t use the tears of a woman whose friends have been blown up by the so-called “resistance” to rail against US bomber planes. You did nothing to undermine the man who murdered he husband. You refused to criticise those who bombed the market in her hometown. So don’t use her story to rage against the Americans.

The second story by Alison Dellit makes me even more angry.

"The Afghan victims of Bush’s war are even less visible to us.... It is not a good place to be female...”

What? Am I reading this right? It’s the American’s fault that Afghanistan is unsafe for woman? Is this in contrast to the safety, security and freedom of woman under the Taliban? Are you fucking demented?

By all means, lash out at the excesses and incompetence of the US military, denounce their failure to safeguard women’s rights under the new order… but have some fucking respect for the suffering of Afghanistan’s women which had nothing to do with the Americans! If you want a stick to beat the Americans with, choose another one!

One of the fiercest critics of America’s failings in Afgahnistan, the Afghan Women’s Mission notes “the situation of women and girls was extremely dire and that little had changed since the fall of the Taliban”.

Now read that again: “the situation of women and girls was extremely dire and that little had changed since the fall of the Taliban.”

See, there are no suggestions that women are the “hidden victims” of Bush’s war – it laments that little has changed. It means that there is now a potential for change. The crime is that it isn’t being translated into action. It means that we must seize the initiative to put women’s rights onto the agenda. The issue of women’s rights should not, however, be squandered on cynical and pointless propaganda point-scoring against the America’s overthrow of the Taliban.

The problem that people like Alison Dellit have is that campaigning to seize the initiative and use this opportunity to campaign for women’s right’s would be like admitting that women could be beneficiaries of the American occupation. That would undermine their thesis that the overthrow of the Taliban was illegitimate and desirable.

It is disgusting that the Americans aren’t addressing the issues of women’s rights. They must be condemned and held to account for that. But working with them to ensure that these issues begin to be remedied would doubtlessly “legitimate” their presence in the region. So instead, show faux-concern, crocodile tears and theatrical hand wringing for the plight of Afghanistan’s women and blame their oppression on the American occupation.

UPDATE: This is encouraging news:

Women brave tribal elders, warlords to vote
Afghanistan's women move out of the shadows to vote
Afghan women offer electorate moral choice
Afghan polls see women out in large numbers
Afghan women walking towards realization of franchise


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