So this is Liberation?
One of the prime messages the Bush Public Relations team has attempted to project to the US public is that the War on Terror, and the War on Iraq, were good for women’s rights in the Muslim world. Desperate for the votes of the “security moms” (soccer moms worried about al-Qaeda in the neighborhood), the Bush team constantly underlines its connections with Afghan and Iraqi female politicians.
The sad reality is farther from this extended political commercial than even the most hardened cynic could easily imagine. Women have been frozen out of significant political office in Afghanistan and have been silenced with death threats from hardline warlords when they have dared speak out. One of the women Bush brough to Washington from Kabul to showcase at his 2002 State of the Union address, Sima Samar, was later dropped from Karzai’s cabinet at the insistence of the Islamists. Bush to my knowledge never publicly defended her. Adding insult to injury, the hyper-patriarchal hardliners then formally charged her with blasphemy because she did not want a conservative interpreatation of Islamic law as the law of the land in Afghanistan. (After she and her like had been intimidated in this way, the charges were dropped).
In Herat, warlord Ismail Khan’s policies toward women differ only somewhat from those of the Taliban! By allying with the “Northern Alliance”, the Bush administration put Islamists in charge of Kabul, only different Islamists from the Taliban. Most Tajik members of the alliance are Jami`at-i Islami, which is the Afghan Muslim Brotherhood, and the Hazaras are grouped in the pro-Iran Hizb-i Vahdat. As for the Pushtun areas, everyone knows that politicians with a Taliban mindset are still extremely powerful there and will come to power in any elections held next summer. It would be hard to prove that the de facto position of women in Afghanistan is all that much better now, though it is true that de jure the state does not ban schooling girls, and women can in theory work outside the home now. When Malalai Joya, a delegate to the constitutional convention now in session, became outspoken for women’s rights and critical of the warlords this week, she was silenced and received death threats.
Likewise, in Iraq, the US invasion and occupation has certainly been a disaster for Iraqi women. Bush highlighted Aqila al-Hashimi, a former Iraqi Foreign Ministry official whom the Americans appointed to the Interim Governing Council. But she was assassinated in September in part because the Americans refused to supply her security. The remaining 3 women on the IGC all now attend with their heads covered; all are independents with no political base; and they get no hearing from the men. Religious Shiite and Sunni men on the IGC have blocked the appointment of a progressive female replacement for al-Hashimi.
Lauren Sandler’s “So this is Liberation?” , which appeared recently in The Nation, is now available at alternet, and is very much worth reading as reportage on the actual challenges facing Iraqi women under US rule.
As with many issues I have brought up here, this one seems to me important to the forthcoming presidential campaign. The Democrats had about a 10% edge in women’s votes, and if they are smart they will make Ismail Khan Bush’s running mate when stumping in the suburbs, so as to keep and extend it.