Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism
Published on Jan 09, 2004 by Phyllis Chesler
A Radical Feminist Comes Out for Bush
American feminists, myself included, were horrified by the excesses of the Taliban, but our campaign against them proved ineffective. It took the American military invasion to rid the country—temporarily—of those thugs. However, American progressives, including many feminists, were the first to condemn the American action. Afghanistan has always been a "wild west" of a country. No one has ever colonized or subdued the warring ethnic factions — or brought freedom to this impoverished and reactionary country.
A constitution is a fine thing, but without the will to enforce it, the document remains mere words on paper. The 1964 Afghan constitution (which had a King at the head of the government) also granted women "equal rights" and "freedom of the press." Neither of these rights were enforced. Before the communist invasion, middle class, educated women also ran for the Parliament and won seats. Nevertheless, given Afghanistan's extreme Islamist history for the last quarter-century, it's amazing that a new constitution has actually been produced.
But one just has. In December of 2003, a grassroots group of 2000 women from at least ten Afghan provinces met in Kabul to debate and propose changes to the proposed constitution. Working with them was Dr. Massouda Jalal, a woman who is running for the presidency of the country.
This time, the constitution proclaims Afghanistan "an Islamic republic," with an elected President, not a King, at its head. It also states that "followers of other religions are free to perform religious rites," and that "women and men are equal before the law." This is revolutionary compared to Saudi Arabia and most other Islamic countries. What's absolutely new (and perhaps problematic) is that 25% of all seats in the Lower House of Parliament have been set aside for women. This is a greater representation than we have in most states in America.
Thus, it's all well and good—but perhaps not quite good enough given that approximately 60-65% of the current population in Afghanistan is female.
Still, this is a serious improvement over what existed during the reign of the Taliban. Please realize that none of this would have come about without American military, economic, and educational intervention. American progressives, old-new leftists, Democrats, and feminists should be cheering our government's role in making this happen.
They are not. Here's why: they are constitutionally incapable of saying a kind word about a Republican, religious, capitalist, democratic, albeit imperfect president even—perhaps especially—when he does the right thing.
Neither America nor Israel are utopias. Both governments are imperfect, both are democracies in progress; however, what exists in America and in Israel would constitute a revolution in terms of human rights and religious freedom in any Islamic country on earth.
My colleagues on the progressive and feminist Left lead relatively safe and privileged lives in the West. Perhaps this is why they are romanticizing and glorifying illiterate, suicidal killers, new Noble Savages; they want "action," they are incapable of fomenting any, (although their ideas of revolution have actually fomented quite a lot of death in the past). Do they think to expiate a false, liberal guilt in this way? Yes, I say. Is this a form of contempt, masked as compassion for the wretched of the earth? Yes, again.
Having criticized their own country and civilization almost to death, do such ideologues now want that civilization to literally die? I fear they do. I hope I am wrong. Does human imperfection—and human resistance to ideological perfection—so offend them that they wish to see it all blown up, cleansed? Yes, again.
Do they believe that Al-Qaeda's fundamentalist fanatics will create the ultimate Brave New World? Do they really hate God's imperfect world that much? I leave these questions to you, gentle reader.
I have gone on record as a critic of misogyny world-wide. Nevertheless, I still possess enough common sense to understand that life is better for women in (far-from-perfect) America than it was for women under the Taliban. I have also learned from experience.
When I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan in the early 1960s, long before the Taliban came to power, life was still quite awful for women and for most people too. A few hundred families of wealth, (I married into one of them), lived by European standards. Everyone else lived in the tenth century. And that's the way many wanted it to remain. My father-in-law was a supporter of King Amanullah who, in the early 1920s, unveiled the women before Kemal Ataturk did so in Turkey and who established universal education. King Amanullah and his enlightened followers were soon run out of town on a rail, so to speak, and the mullahs and tribal leaders busied themselves with boiling people in oil and cutting off their limbs for more than a decade.
Things improved a wee bit but by the time I arrived, but not by much. For example, in 1958, the new King again unveiled the women but was forced to slaughter 600 men who protested it. Living among wealthy Afghans, several things quickly became clear.
First, western education could not hold its own against Eastern customs in the East. Educated men who had returned to Afghanistan were virtually indistinguishable from those who had never left home.
Second, it was clear that western educated Afghans who wanted to improve the standard of living and thinking of their people (my husband was one of them) were suspected as dangerous and treated accordingly. They were trusted with responsibility only if they could prove that they would not really change too much.
Third, the subhuman position of women was so universally accepted that one could not safely challenge or even discuss it.
Once, I put on a bathing suit and went out to sunbathe on my family's second story verandah. Soon, a great commotion occurred below. Apparently, men who were working more than a mile away had spotted a nearly naked woman, could no longer concentrate, and had come to demand the offending woman's removal. I was indeed "removed," by my very angry and somewhat frightened husband who had been recalled from business in town to do so.
No, the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad were not behind any of this. Even England—that Prime Colonialist Mover—was unable to ever colonize Afghanistan which therefore remained a bastion of heartbreaking illiteracy, poverty, preventable and treatable diseases, AND considerable domestic misery (arranged marriages, polygamy, forced pregnancies, and domestic slavery.) When I was there, the maternal and infant death rate was very high. Few cared.
In 1979, Soviet Russia did finally invade Afghanistan but was not systematically attacked by western ideologues for doing so. Even the Soviet Bear could not prevail against the warrior ethos that we in the West now understand characterizes al-Queda's human weapons.
But, let me repeat: The West (capitalism, colonialism, imperialism) did not cause the oppression of women under Islam in Afghanistan. On the contrary. Afghan Islam defended its "honor"-bound mistreatment of women and manfully resisted all western inroads.
A woman dares not forget such a lesson—not if she manages to survive and escape. Thus, although I was active in the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements of the 1960s in America, what I had learned in Afghanistan rendered me immune to the various romanticizations of Third World countries that infected so many American do-gooders in the 1960s.
I had once lived behind high walls in Kabul. I had seen the tyranny of the mullahs, the horrifying poverty, the abject helplessness of the women and servants. I had also encountered truly charming and gentle people who did not believe that change was possible, who could not hold their own against Islamic-led family, clan, and tribal systems. Standing for progress not only meant that they would endanger themselves and their entire families, but also that they would be engaging in profound disloyalty towards all those who had protected and loved them, including their ancestors.
I wish the Afghan people and their new constitution every success. I hope that America is willing to continue to play a significant role in the economic recovery and increasing democratization of that country.
I support president Bush because he is a man of both faith and action who has committed our country's money and troops to a vision of democracy and women's rights in the Islamic world. I share his administration's view that there must be a single standard of universal human rights and not a "politically correct" relativist view in which double and triple standards prevail.
The Bush administration's strong support for Israel signifies that it understands that Israel is both America's strongest ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism and a mirror-western democracy in progress. Perhaps the American president and cabinet also understand that Israel has been unfairly scapegoated for the supposed and all-too-visible crimes of American empire (such as religious tolerance, modernity, individual freedoms, women's rights).
Obviously, President Bush also comprehends something that many western academics and intellectuals absolutely fail to grasp: Israel is the country that immediately offered humanitarian aid to the Iranian earthquake victims despite the fact that Iran is the main funder of anti-Israel terrorism; the Islamic Republic of Iran would rather their own people die than be rescued by Israeli Jews. Israel's level of altruism and compassion must be juxtaposed with Iran's and Islamists' love of death, beginning with the death of their own people.
We must choose between the two. I have. I will vote for a Republican for the first time in my life. I will be voting for George W. Bush in the next election.
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