I'm taking this "Colonies and Empires" class at the Gallatin(TM) School, and so far it has been a bit of a disaster for this Leftist individual because of hostility from the humanitarians in the class. Now, I'm all for justice and equalitarianism, but I have been trained well by Antonio Lauria, so I know a nuance when I see it. And I see a lot of them.
Anyway, we have these weekly assignments in the class to post online our responses to the week's readings and class discussions. The blog can be found here. Anyone unfamiliar with the Gallatin(TM) School might be surprised by the untourniqueted bleeding of hearts and, in some posts, the general lack of logic.
On Thursday, we had a discussion about "women's rights" and how "we" can "help" "them." We talked about an article that detailed Mavis (wife of Jay) Leno's involvement with the anti-Taliban movement. Mavis was opposed to what she viewed as the oppression of Afghani women through their forced donning of the burka, the garment that fully covers the body and face. One student in the class argued that it was good of us to help these women by overthrowing the Taliban. However, data indicate that the women affected by the burka edicts were those in the urban areas of Afghanistan, and that under the Taliban, the number of violent sexual assaults against women, including instances of rape, significantly decreased. While I happen to think that a revolution in consciousness is a better approach to eradicating sexual assault, the burka cannot be discounted as a positive factor in this effort. Also, since most Afghani people live in rural regions, the anti-burka brigades often lose sight of just whom they're trying to help, and tend to sensationalize what they see as a broad - and not local - social problem.
However, with a few exceptions, this week's responses on the blog were not entirely welcoming of this perspective. I argued in class that Mavis Leno's movement demonstrates the interconnectivity of the political and commercial elites and ruling powers of this country. Moreover, the imposition of the "Western" lens onto the Afghani women's lives was (and continues to be) highly innapropriate and in fact a show of hegemonic intervention, especially in its later military manifestation. Perhaps an examination of our conceptions of liberation would be useful here, as we associate it with overt sexualization and objectification of women's bodies. Are not both systems "oppressive" in this model?
This is an excerpt from my posting:
"Mavis Leno’s anti-Taliban 'feminist' efforts exemplify the danger of such misperception. Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood’s article 'Feminism, the Taliban, and Politics of Counter-Insurgency' explains that humanitarian “relief” directed at the headscarf or burka are symptomatic of a more general Western demonization of Islam. Leno’s organization has a myopic and underdeveloped vision of women’s realities under the Taliban; it ignores the political history and culture of Afghanistan and Islam in general, most disastrously overlooking the US’ role in this history, particularly as related to the US’ Cold War regional motives and strategic tactics. With Leno’s help, women in burkas become helpless victims of a brutal political force. These women are denied agency over their own lives and their own definitions of freedom and religious expression."
I am looking forward to more negative feedback. Class is so much more interesting when everyone's feisty.