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Afghanistan & the Ethics of Exporting Feminism

April 19, 2009

As has been blogged about here, a group of women in Afghanistan recently tried to march to Parliament to demand the repeal of a recently passed law that formally legalized a number of sexual assault abuses against Shiite women.

My reaction to this is one of joy, but I want to implicate myself and the United States and British Media to attempt to understand the framework of assumptions we use to understand the event.

In an editorial titled “Three Cheers for Afghan Women”, New York Times blogger Nicholas Kristof quotes a woman named Zara who is identified as”An 18-year old student from Kabul”, who says, “This law is against the dignity of women and all the international community opposes it. The US President calls it abhorrent. Don’t you see that actually we are the majority?”

Kristof follows up this comment, stating “Unfortunately, I’m afraid Zara is wrong: She’s not in the majority, at least in Afghanistan. Polls show that men and women alike in Afghanistan mostly don’t believe in equal rights.”

With this comment, Kristof destroys “Zara’s” credibility, giving preference to an unsourced poll. He asserts his credibility over hers, using the eyes of the Western journalist and his polling machine to provide authoritative knowledge.

A few lines later, he states, “People in the cities are far more sympathetic to equal rights — in other words, it’s a sign of Kabul’s progress that the demonstration happened at all.”

This suggests that the Western occupation of Afghanistan is the causation of these women’s decision to mobilize. I believe that the opposite is in true on a larger scale. In his excellent book Afghanistan: From Holy War to Civil War, Olivier Roy locates the models of repressive governments such as the Talibs (Who formed the Taliban) in the authoritarian regimes of the Western 20th century, such as Fascism and Totalitarian Communism.

The West’s occupation of Afghanistan is not revealing the light of Democratic society to a previously ignorant Third World, but just another turn of a Wheel who’s rotation has defined Afghanistan’s twentieth and twenty-first century.

Here is how the wheel rolls, starting from any point: A repressive government takes hold, whose leaders are educated in the institutions of the West, and whom fund their takeover through the tacit or clear support of the West. The capitalist arm of the West prefers a repressive regime, because with a repressive government the risk of revolution is lowered and labor prices are kept

Next, the Capitalist West blames the Other for this repression and utilize its aid arm to the repressed peoples, its production arm can guiltlessly continue to exploit the full low-cost production capacities of the country.

Finally, the West is provoked by some event(9/11), and the military arm of the West invades the country, citing the spread of liberty and democracy as motivation. Eventually, the West either loses interest and leaves, or deliberately withholds the support needed for a stable infrastructure to form. At this point, the country descends into chaos, frequently emerging with another repressive government.

This cycle has occurred in areas of Western imperialism throughout the 20th century, but Afghanistan is the cycle that is most present to our eyes currently.

I do not usually offer solutions, but I will say that a step in the right direction would be to learn about the complexities of Afghanistan, engage on a level not entirely comfortable to ourselves, and avoid losing interest.

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