Response to Responses to The Onion’s Hipster Misogyny

Singling out a young girl—a child—for that kind of treatment was gratuitous and hostile. It’s hurtful enough to hear it as a young or older woman—but by the time a young woman of color is an adult, she has already heard it: tens or hundreds—or—ouch—thousands of times.  Even Quvenzhané never hears of this tweet, she will likely hear the term directed towards her before she becomes an adult. And it will have affected her in any number of ways; perhaps her wounds will have scabbed over, only to be refreshed by each such horrific insult anew. Or maybe, it will amplify her by then–already politically and socially vulnerable existence, reinforcing a horrific message that women should be understood, not as human beings, but as sexual vehicles.

This is an excerpt that I deleted self-censored from my last piece, a critical response to the Onion tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis, on the grounds that it was too pathos-laden. The editor asked if I really wanted to cut it out.  After five minutes reflection, I asked him to cut it.  On 72 hours’ reflection, perhaps I should have left it in–as a way to anticipate and meet the anger that my own outrage generated.

I was surprised that this article generated way more controversy than the previous piece that I wrote on racial double-standards.  I thought it was a kind of obvious argument for political liberals—and so must have others, because later I read similar pieces about the Onion tweet, including two cited below.  And it wasn’t just disagreement, or indifference [“Onion fatigue”—which is funny when you think about it, because presumably fatigue typically causes lethargy]—but serious heated anger.

Some wanted to point out that the Charlize Theron’s ‘mortified’ expression was ‘canned,’—as if that somehow invalidated my point about the nature of the skit or the tweet. Others wanted to teach me about racism. Others thought it was ridiculous to use Critical Race Theory to think about an Onion Tweet. Others couldn’t possibly understand how the Onion tweet was racist. Sexist maybe. Misogynist? Only if you were really sensitive. But racist? Never! After all, we’re libs/progressives and we know that racism is found in political/legal/economic structures–not in satire.

As well, there wasn’t a single interpretation about what made the tweet funny–I was given multiple–often conflicting–explanations. Ditto about what made the tweet humorless/tasteless/bad.

In the US, the term ‘cunt’ is a sexual epithet–of the most painful kind, to be sure. Does it make it automatically racial if the label is directed toward any woman of color? I don’t know.

My motivation in discussing the racial and sexual implications of the Onion tweet was this: I was surprised/upset that there was any context in which it’s okay to call a young child a cunt. At least in the context of the US, it is almost exclusively leveled at women. Many objected to my characterizing the tweet as racist: would it have been racist if it were leveled at a young white girl? Probably not, though it would still be misogynist.

But here is what I wonder: Colleagues tell me that many young—famous—girls such as the person who plays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, have had their sexuality unraveled and graphically discussed. But how many young famous or otherwise–white girl-children are laughingly referred to as cunts?  Someone suggested that the same epithet would have been directed toward Shirley Temple in the 1920’s.  I can’t know for sure, but somehow I doubt it.

Others, if not livid, were puzzled that I chose to write about this tweet. But my surprise about the tweet was about a point that I found obvious and had therefore not articulated. As Roxanne Gay said eloquently, the objection is not about the Onion tweet per se, but

 the cultural disease that spawned this tweet, the one where certain people are devalued and denigrated for sport and then told to laugh it off because hey, you know, it’s humor.

But as much, my objection is about the re-iterative, intimate association between the vulgar obscene reference to this intimate/sexual/reproductive body part and Black women, for whom the association has long-standing political, historical, social, significance: as slaves who were but dehumanized/objects of pleasure for white slave-owners. Who, even post-slavery, have less recourse to sexual and political and economic justice—because on the continuum of sexual justice, they fall way below in terms of so many gauges: protection from rape in courts as well as in prison, where so many poor Black women are incarcerated; access to reproductive justice is much more limited for women of color, especially if they are poor; associations with women in power rather than as (single) mothers, nannies, etc. are also extremely limited in media and entertainment.

In large part, this is because Black women are considered still–still–sexually promiscuous beings [through denigrated discourses about welfare, having too many children, lack of moral awareness].  In this case, the term ‘cunt’ is being used in reference to someone whose gender/racial identity overlaps with those who descend from Black women slaves, whose bodies were used as sexual vehicles—forcefully, coercively (even consent isn’t truly consent under slavery—we know that).  There is a long history and ample literature about the continual re-iteration of the sexual objectification of the bodies of Black women.  And context—and consciousness—about this history (even when deeply buried), doesn’t (pdf) disappear quite so quickly. I daresay this is why Blacks—among other populations– worldwide are still politically, socially, denigrated and subjected to dehumanized treatment.

Part of my concern was expressed by this writer:

The underlying assumption is that folks who are outraged about the Onion’s tweet are not also vocally opposed to state-sponsored violence. It’s a snarky way to belittle the justified anger that people were feeling about the Onion’s actions. It also assumes an inability to hold at least two thoughts in one’s mind at once.

The rest of the piece is as poignant and speaks to the concern that underlies the critical comments about the tweet.

Was the Onion tweet so significant? More significant than, say, massive incarceration of Black men through Drug wars? The unjust imprisonment of Black and Latina women? More important than other forms of institutional injustice? Larger than the injustice of a flawed judicial system? The death penalty? Drones? Renditions? Torture? CIA Black Sites? Pre-emptive Detention? OLC White Papers? The Supreme Court’s dismissal of FISA in the Clapper v Amnesty case?  Aren’t these the real issues? The serious issues?

Why must we make the comparison? Can’t, shouldn’t, we resist both? Is it so difficult to allow that the general cultural and social psyche that facilitates the acceptance and casual dismissal of the Onion tweet is part and parcel of a political and legal context in which the status of Black women (and men) is that of sub-persons, as Charles Mills describes in his book, The Racial Contract? That Black women were neither the explicit focus of the 13th Amendment (for emancipation), nor the 15th Amendment (Black suffrage), nor the 19th Amendment (for ‘women’s’ suffrage)?

Is it that outrageous to consider that the attitudes towards people of color, as expressed casually in a satirical tweet is connected to the absence of empathy towards people of color in a variety of other dehumanizing situations—such as all of those listed above?

Many theorists and writers and activists have expressed the connections between material and legal circumstances and the psyche. Alienation is, among other things, the forced disconnect between one’s material conditions and self-understanding. How does one begin to participate in resistance to injustice—except through empathy? It seems that empathy is the place to begin the challenge to legal, political, material denigration.

That is why, I think, we must consider these links—as trivial, as ‘pc,’ as trite, as they may seem.  As importantly, I think this is so for those of us who argue and write about more lofty topics: how we can expect empathy for Black and Brown folks internationally, who are daily assaulted through US-led unjust practices in the name of the War on Terror, when we are unable to muster empathy for US—vulnerable, dehumanized, minority populations who suffer—not just serious political and legal injustices—but the casual denigrated—satirical–reference or treatment as sub-persons?

I think there’s another element here, as well: Quvenzhané is a young Black child. She is hardly threatening, but also considered barely worthy of serious awe or respect—in part because of her youth, in part because of the lack of any formal political status.  It makes it easier to have her be the stand-in to denigrate someone in a humorous context.

But that should also be part of what makes her off-limits for such references: youth, vulnerability, and absence of a legal status of her own.  While I wasn’t a huge fan of the film in which she acted, I thought she was a remarkable actress, especially given her youth. I wish for her achievement to stand without taint.

Maybe it’s just me. But I cannot imagine the Onion making a similar comment about Michelle Obama. Not just because she is FLOTUS and the FBI/DHS/CIA will all come after you for doing so (“Drones! You won’t even know what hit you.”), but because she is considered to be plenty worthy of respect–or least, unworthy of sexual denigration/satire/humor. Ditto the late former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, or Condoleeza Rice, the former Secretary of State under the Bush Administration, or Hillary Clinton, the current Secretary of State?  They are all women whose are either deeply loved or deeply despised.  Yet, I can’t imagine such things because they are so worthy of a sexual (and in several cases) racial hands-offness.  To denigrate them with that kind of a satirical reference would be considered beyond the pale. In part, I think this is because—they are considered worthy of respect in regard to “that” aspect of their personas.  But maybe that’s just me.

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It Isn’t Just the Principle That Matters: Liberalism, Feminism, and Equality

I’ve had some thoughtful questions posed in response to my last post on the abolition of the ban on women in combat, so I’d clarify why I don’t believe that “gender-equality” in a war-time military is an unqualified victory.  Indeed, insofar as the ability to be in combat is a “feminist achievement” for some women, it is a defeat for women of color or poorer white women who feel that their only available—or reasonable option is to join the military. These remarks expand on an earlier reply to a commenter.

It is possible to see the lifting of the ban purely as a feminist victory. Principles of most kinds—especially when they are couched as progressive—are more easily interpreted in the best possible light when they are separated from history and context, and not applied to examples.  It’s a classic liberal position, which allows a selective interpretation of the facts in favor of highlighting the “pure” principle. The brilliant effectiveness of liberalism is that it’s based on principles, and indifferent to the applications or details.  Moreover, separating the motives from the facts depoliticizes the policy (and strips it of its ethical content).  That is a great way to make a policy easier to swallow–precisely as those in power would like us to do.  By couching a strategic policy in the cloak of principle, it becomes much easier to co-opt a potentially progressive principle for political profit (P5).

But when we see these principles in conjunction with the way that they can (and often will) be exploited, such programs aren’t unqualified victories. The freedom to do something—without a range of options—can often be transformed into being forced to do something [The same does not necessarily apply to the freedom of speech. In fact, the opposite holds for speech: the freedom to speak is generally not transformed into being forced to speak].

Having said that, I’ll reiterate what some readers missed the last time I wrote it: I’m completely in favor of removing barriers to discrimination: sexual, marital, gender, racial.  Removing barriers to discrimination can lead to more options for some people—in some circumstances, in certain moments.  Removing barriers to discrimination is NOT, however, the equivalent of creating choices for everyone.  The freedom to do something is only a mark of progress when it becomes a legitimate option among several reasonable options.

Lifting the ban is consistent with the classic liberal feminist position, which favors the principle of “gender-equality.” However, the classical liberal feminist position is inherently problematic, since it prioritizes “gender-equality” without attending to economic disparities or racially relevant facts. Policies like allowing women in combat will affect women of color—especially single mothers–disproportionately: they are demographically more likely to have fewer employment options and thereby will be disproportionately inclined to join the Army–with its range of benefits. This is even more the case during difficult economic times. All women (and men) of color have to do is agree to be cannon fodder for an imperial war.

So, a “feminist victory” for those who actually have a range of options and decide that they want to be in combat positions, is not in fact a “feminist victory” for all women. It’s NOT an unqualified victory for many women of color—unless they choose to be in combat, given [and this is key] a range of several or many other reasonable options–such as a civil service equivalent, for example. It is NOT a victory for those who don’t want to be in combat and/OR who can’t challenge their superiors’ decisions to put them in combat positions, or for those who didn’t have many options for employment but are attracted by access to healthcare, childcare, etc. Such a position leaves those already vulnerable to the exigencies of authority, i.e., vulnerable to being exploited by those in power over them.

A non-conscription Army–in a society that suffers radical economic inequality (in wealth, employment, and healthcare)–is a classist institution that will disproportionately exploit the vulnerabilities of men and women of color. By ignoring this context, and the timing of this policy, one can trumpet the ‘victory’ or ‘principle’ without having to consider the implications for those who have to suffer through the exigencies of this policy.

This is similar to the “victory” of same-sex marriage, which can certainly facilitate lesbian and gay couples’ access to health care, living will decisions, adoptions, etc. However, it side-steps crucial implications, like (1) the national absence of health-care and (2) corporations’ decision to deny same-sex benefits to unmarried couples (because now everyone, including same-sex couples can get married–so they are forced to do so in order to have benefits). (3) the immigration policy that prohibits domestic partners from applying for visas to live in the US together regardless of marital status.

It’s a way to discipline citizens & residents into conforming to certain societal norms, while pretending that “progress” has been achieved.

One interlocutor pointed to the possibility that gender-equality had nothing to do with being anti-war.  But the idea that feminist equality should be favored over challenging violence or war is short-sighted–if not selective. Should violence only be challenged when it affects women in domestic violence or rape? Feminism and anti-war positions aren’t necessarily linked for everyone, but that does not mean that they have to be exclusive. Doesn’t violence affect others too? Isn’t part of the principle of feminism–any feminism–that human beings and their sanctity should be prioritized? Especially in the case of imperial wars that take brown and black bodies–not only as feed for army war-machines–but as the targets of drones, guns, bombs? For feminists like myself, feminism and anti-violence are intimately linked–especially, when I consider that the violence that has been disproportionately targeted toward black and brown bodies, male and female–here in the U.S. and internationally—in the last twelve years.

North American feminism is not monolithic–there are enormous variants and strands. But liberal feminism is often a conveniently myopic variety of feminism. It is one that cheers principle often when it won’t affect liberal feminists at all, even as it will affect many others adversely (and not by choice).

So, if it makes you feel good, then by all means, celebrate. But when it comes time to vote in our next election, I will refuse to accept this as a “progressive” achievement on the part of the Democrats.  The idea that it’s about principle is a dubious point at best—because it is a policy embedded in a calculation of timing and strategy–to win votes while costing even more Others their lives.

Progress: Cheering Feminists Who Kill

Revised (1/25/13, 7:38 am).

Leon Panetta’s announcement, overturning a 19-year ban on allowing women to join small-group combat units in the military, heralded some predictable responses from liberals and feminists: “How great! Let there be no inequality between men and women anywhere.” Some veterans tried to point to the legitimacy of this new permission by pointing to their newfound realization that women were just as capable as men in combat roles.

My generation assumed women’s capabilities—in all areas—were equivalent to those of men, so the veterans’ realizations were hardly earth-shattering. Generally, I’m in agreement with removing gendered and racial barriers to inequality and discrimination: in education and all other opportunities.  Moreover, there are genuine benefits to the DoD’s official position.  For women who are already in the army and serving de facto in combat-vulnerable positions, e.g., if they are attacked while serving in maintenance units (remember Pfc. Jessica Lynch?), ambulance units or escorting convoys, they can finally be compensated, promoted, and rewarded for the work that they have already been doing for years.

But I can hardly join in the feminist shouts of victory. Many have already understood the irony of this new “freedom”: women will now be officially allowed to join a war-time military that has been involved in several long-standing deadly wars, notably all over the Middle East. President Obama’s 2nd inaugural reality-bending notwithstanding, there is little evidence that a decade of war has ended, except in terms of troop withdrawal from Iraq.  As we know, that withdrawal is being done according to a timeline set under the Bush Administration, which the Obama Administration was unsuccessful in renegotiating. Never mind that a significant presence of non-combat U.S. troops private contractors will still remain in Iraq.

The war has gone underground or been expanded through remote-controlled drones directed towards regions with whom the US is not officially at war. War-like threats have also increased through the expansion of military bases all over sub-Saharan Africa. To boot, the US is now “assisting” France in invading Mali. These wars, it should go without saying, are targeted toward large swaths of the world’s brown and black populations.

There is a remarkable shallowness to the notion of “feminist progress.” We have heard various sources, including director Katherine Bigelow, exhorting the wonderful feminist dimensions of Zero Dark Thirty, which shows Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA operative and supporter of torture. As feminist scholar and professor Zillah Eisenstein points out,

This film is not to be made seemingly progressive or feminist because it presents a female CIA agent as central to the demise of Osama. Nor should any of us think that it is “good” that Maya is female, or that several females had an important hand in the murder of Osama. There is nothing feminist in revenge.

While I disagree with Eisenstein on this—sometimes revenge can be a feminist act, —there is typically nothing feminist in committing bodily, emotional, or psychic harm to any other person.

Harm to others violates the principle of the innate dignity of human beings.  Seeking physical retribution without using court and legal procedures violates due process, which is a US constitutional principle, but which should be a standard of human rights upon which states and individuals should be able to depend.

Still, I find it puzzling that there is something in the ethos of our age that suggests that “feminism” can be ascribed to women and policies supporting the most destructive of actions—from Maya, to Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton as advocates of violence military actions in the name of defending American security.

Last night, Jon Stewart and MIT drone expert Missy Cummings had this bizarre, if enthusiastic, interchange about the coolness of drones.  In the midst of it, Cummings pointed to her feminist credentials as one of the first female fighter pilots. Sounds great. Until one realizes that being a fighter pilot means that one is being trained…to engage in combat…to kill. It is a progress of a certain sort to realize that women can kill as easily and emotionlessly as men. Just as, I suppose, it is progress for an African American president to exceed a white president in his ability to promote secrecy, violence, absence of transparency, and endorse human rights violations.

What does it mean to talk about feminist progress when defined as enabling women to participate combatively in the colonizing project? To fight aggressively in the name of creating a world-wide imperialist presence? To join an institution whose policies for 11 years have involved, as Wikileaks has shown us, the shooting, maiming, and plundering of black and brown men, women, and children in the name of “U.S. freedom and security”?

There are other dimensions of this “feminist” policy to consider here as well: Why is this decision being taken now? It comes in the aftermath of another achievement for which the Obama Administration is being given full credit: the end of a 18 year “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy initiated under another neoliberal Democratic president.  Both of these policies augment the already-aggressive practice of recruiting poor or working-class whites and minorities–with more female and/or lesbian/gay/bisexual soldiers–for the US Army.

The timing of Panetta’s announcement is hardly coincidental: in the context of an improving economy, it is difficult and precarious to maintain a steady supply of troops in an all-volunteer army to service a global war that is more unpopular than ever among Americans (not to mention the folks that the U.S. is targeting—but perhaps that was obvious). The supply chain, as it were, is dying and new food sources need to be found.

The U.S. Armed Services, as a federal employer, provides a broad range of remarkable benefits to government employees: health care (not to be confused with Obamacare, which is a health-insurance scheme); child-care, housing, lodging, skilled training, and other forms of subsidized or free education.  It is neither hard to understand nor sympathize with the men and women who see the US Army as an employer of last resort in the face of a failing economy. But addendums such as the dissolution of DADT and “women in combat” will help erase any remaining barriers and supply a steady stream of—male, female, black, brown, working-class, gay, and patriotic—bodies to the war-feeding machine.

There is only one remaining obstacle. The Department of Defense hopes, with any luck, that said obstacle will soon be overcome with the passage of the DREAM Act. This act will offer young undocumented migrants the Faustian opportunity to enroll in college (one that they can somehow afford or which will subsidize them) or participate in American wars against other black and brown people around the world, in return for the miraculous chance to become “legal” residents of the United States.

3 cheers for Feminist Progress.

Glass Houses: Rapes and Victim-Blaming in the Western World

Revised. Updates I & II below:

Apparently the U.S., unlike India, has moved past its own backward history of victim-blaming. Apparently, I am to believe, according to the New York Times and Nicholas Kristof, that it is India which must deal with its sexual violence. And the Good Mr. Kristoff and the New York Times know this because the US has dealt with its own sexual violence. It’s now in the past, judging from the smug authority of the Times.

The victim of gang-rape in India, as many of us know, died several days ago after having been brutally beaten, essentially to death. From the moment that the rape made the international news, even before she died, there was a collective audible, transnational gasp.

That gasp turned—-rightfully–into a loud protest by Indians, against an environment of fear and danger that is perpetuated from various segments of society. These include the police, who have been unwilling to protect women or arrest men who have been accused of rape. They include courts, who are unwilling to arrest and try accused rapists. These include politicians and media, who engage in victim-blaming. These include communities who are unwilling to defend their female family members who have been sexually assaulted.

That gasp also induced a gaping at what Margaret Kimberley calls the pornography of suffering—where first world denizens are mesmerized, horrified, by the spectacle of rapes in non-first world locales with darker residents. In the cases of Congo and Somalia, the spectacle is amplified by the long-standing racist fetishization of black men’s sexuality.  While India may not have the same associations, it is nevertheless subject to its own version of Orientalism: India is either the peaceful refuge of Om Shanti Shanti yoga chants and ashrams, or invoked for its seemingly unmatched teeming poverty and malnutrition. The men in this picture, over the last 3 weeks, thanks to the focus by Western media, are now the singular demons of unchecked sexual predation.

Indeed, it is difficult to miss the incessant focus by first world denizens and media at the “backwards” culture of India, such that, as one interlocutor informed me, “they have a history of victim-blaming” there.

It must be a relief for denizens of the Global North to point fingers at the “regressive” cultures of the darker nations.  Perhaps the spectacle of Indians marching in protest at the rape allows for the convenient, momentary forgetfulness (or maybe continued avoidance) of the US’s state-led policy of “inadvertently” or deliberately killing and torturing children, some of whom had the audacity to be born to irresponsible terrorist fathers—as Robert Gibbs reminds us.  It allows Americans to be undistracted by the racial profiling thousands of Black and Muslim men, or incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Black men in a gratuitous war on drugs, renditions and imprisonment of hundreds of Muslim men—most without ever knowing the charges against them. But at least we know it is because “they are terrorists.” It is a good thing that the US doesn’t have a history of victim-blaming.

Perhaps the spectacle of 3rd world rape allows Americans to forget its own “rape culture”–the one where the US has had a long history of putting the victims of sexual assault on trial while ostensibly pretending that they were holding a fair trial for suspected rapists. The one where 11 year old girls are gang-raped— –continuously over a period of months. And in which the entire town and one of the nation’s leading newspapers—the same one which points to India’s need to straighten itself out—manages to blame the child. Yes, that moral beacon of colonialism and hypocrisy: the New York Times.

According to The National Women’s Study and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 683,000 women are raped annually in the United States. That equals 1.3 rapes every 3 minutes, 78 rapes hourly, and 1,871 rapes daily.  These numbers are hardly insignificant. And they only indicate reported rapes. Eleanor Bader points to a Department of Justice August 2012 study that states that 33% of sexual victimization of the general public goes unreported.

Combined, these numbers indicate a serious rape culture in the U.S., one where Sen. Todd Aikin can openly claim that “legitimate rapes” don’t cause pregnancy.  Or as Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed, rape “is something that God intended.”

Consider Steuben, Ohio, where members of the high school football team are accused of drugging, gang-raping, urinating on, and carrying an unconsconscious female teen from party to party. One is accused of taking a nude picture or video of the girl. And no one in the entire town stepped forward to say what they saw—despite reams of evidence that appear to be circulating on Facebook, and elsewhere. Including statements about how “Some people deserve to be peed on.”

But it’s India that has a culture of “victim-blaming.”  Clearly, the U.S. isn’t backwards at all. I now recognize the New York Times’ moral authority in wagging its journalistic finger at India’s “backward” culture.  If I didn’t, I might be a little shaken by the statistics of sexual assault that occurred in US state and federal prisons, and jails, ICE special confinement facilities, and Indian reservation prisons:

Out of 81,566 inmates interviewed in 2008-9, 11,600 reported an unwanted sexual incident with another prison inmate. 15,800 reported an unwanted sexual incident that occurred with prison staff. 3,400 inmates reported unwanted sexual incidents by both inmates and staff.

1% of prisoners report having been the target of nonconsensual sexual acts: or approximately 815 inmates. And these are only the reported sexual assaults. If we assume that rapes in prison go unreported at the same rate as those in the general public (and the likelihood is that the percentage is even higher), then there is a very strong manifestation of rape culture in U.S. prisons.

In an earlier 2007 study by the Department of Justice, as cited by Eleanor Bader, out of over 40,000 inmates in local jails, 5.1% of women and 2.9% of men experienced some form of sexual assault.

Of course, it is easy to compartmentalize these statistics by somehow assuming that they are occurring to members of a criminal(ized), therefore deranged, primitive segment of the population—which is “rightfully” in prison. Until we remember the range of laws that can easily land someone in prison: 3 strikes, you’re out; material support statute violations, excessive drug laws, hate crimes laws (which disproportionately target minorities), etc.

In other words, the victims consist of many folks who are dangerously similar to many of us: one mistake, or skin color, or religion, or race, away from prison time. And like the western focus on India, the visual spectacle of dark men raping or dark women being raped somehow lands a collective Western audience in a state of horror that is strangely absent when considering rape in a whitely context:

In March of this year, a few media sources reported the death of a Ukrainian teen, who was gang-raped, strangled and set on fire by the sons of government officials. She had burns over 55% of her body, and had both of her feet and one arm amputated in an attempt to save her. Before she died, she made a video from her hospital bed naming her assaulters. Hundreds of Ukrainians marched in protest of her death. There was very little outrage from the rest of the world. There was no NYT editorial warning the Ukraine to get its house in order, even as it reported that 2 of the young men arrested in the incident were released by prosecutors.

It is hard, then, to argue that the reason so much attention was paid to the circumstances of the Indian woman was because of the horrific nature of the crime. Because she was gang-raped and beaten to death. Our hearts, mine included, went numb.  But so did my heart when I learned of the 11-year old who was gang-raped.

So did my heart when I followed the news of the young boys induced to trust Jerry Sandusky, only to be brutally betrayed. Only to feel that they must keep silent because of the stigma surrounding male rape. Because their families relied on Sandusky to raise their boys, to provide care and a “male role model.”

So did my heart when I learned of the woman who was horrifically and brutally raped, beaten, and killed by members of a “cult.” Rape victims die in the US. They die horrific deaths. And somehow they don’t grab our attention in the way that the horrible fate of this young woman did.

But they should–in order to challenge the systematicity of rape in every single society. In order to challenge the patriarchy of every single society, the abuse of power that enables girl-children and boy-children, to be raped.

Ten of thousands of Indian citizens marched in protest of the fear and danger that surround Indian women.  Imagine if mothers and daughters across the US had marched in protest of the rape and murder of Lalita Patel, a 62 year-old South Asian woman, who was killed by a U.S. army veteran this past summer.

Or after U.S. troops raped several Afghan women earlier last month.

Couldn’t we have drawn attention to the horror of rape?  Many young women and their allies did march in Canada and across the US last year. It was called the “Slutwalk.” They marched in protest of victim-blaming—by a Canadian police officer who insisted that women learn not to dress like sluts. (Oh, wait—sounds a lot like the claims of Indian policemen who blame Indian rape victims). The name alone created such a distraction that the fact of the protests around the US and Canada was lost amidst the debates over the name.

Indian women fear traveling outside by themselves, or late at night, or traveling alone at all. So do many women in the US. Yet, only the horrific, horrible tragedy of a young woman in Delhi can make us pause and think about rape.

Shouldn’t the gang-rapes of children, teenaged girls, and women in the US, in North America, in France, by ordinary men as well as by political elites such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, make us pause? Perhaps the NYT and Nicholas Kristof might be able to persuade the Western world to get its own house in order.

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Update (12 pm, Jan 2): As of the latest NDAA, which goes into effect tomorrow, U.S. servicewomen will now be able to have Department of Defense-funded abortions in cases of rape and incest (Sec. 704). Sen. John McCain, feminist that he is, has endorsed a provision, according to NYT, that would “ensure” that U.S. servicewomen who are subject to sexual assault “will be treated with fairness.” This will be one of primary benefits of NDAA —a benefit that is not extended to women outside of the service, nor to those who are not federal employees.

How exactly does this ensure “fairness” for US servicewomen who are victims of sexual assault? It allows them to have access to coverage for abortions. It doesn’t exactly protect them or decrease the chances of sexual assault. Still, it is a huge feminist stance compared to Aikin or Mourdock’s positions, but also an admission of a rape culture in the U.S. Armed Services.

Update: (10:28 am, Jan. 15): According to this trailer for “Invisible War,” a Sundance Film on the pervasive rape culture in the U.S. Army, 16,150 sexual assaults occurred in 2009, and 500,000 men and women have been assaulted in total (I think that number refers to reported assaults; I wonder if the total number is significantly larger).

Saving Afghan Women? NDAA 2013 Exploits Feminism to Justify Western Imperialism

Recently, the US Senate passed a measure designed to increase security for Afghan women as America gets ready to leave the country. The provision in question, according to the New York Times, “offers hope for the Afghan women who fear they will be even more vulnerable to harsh customs and the men who impose them after American troops withdraw from Afghanistan.” With its passage, some might believe that the United States demonstrating its commitment to feminism. That might be too quick a judgment.

Sen. Bob Casey, one of the sponsors of the measure describes it thus:

The legislation would require a three-part strategy to promote the security of Afghan women and girls by monitoring and responding to changes in women’s security, improving gender sensitivity and responsiveness among Afghan National Security personnel, and increasing the recruitment and retention of women in the Afghan National Security Forces. The Department of Defense would also be required to include an assessment of actions taken to implement the strategy and its results in its semi-annual reports to Congress on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan.

This provision is sponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). In light of the stories of Taliban repression of women, this provision suggests that Casey and Bailey-Hutchison really care about the fate of Afghan women. Let’s review their feminist records, shall we?

Casey, a Democrat, voted for Sen. Roy Blunt’s ““Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” in March of this year. One of the most controversial aspects of the Health Insurance bill, it enabled employers to opt out of providing abortion and contraceptive coverage, along with “any other health treatment based solely on the undefined determination of the employer’s religious and moral beliefs, including prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, cancer screenings, and mammograms.”

As Kate Michelman points out, that vote was consistent with Bob Casey’s earlier votes against stem cell research funding back in 2007. Even though the bill passed, Pres. George Bush vetoed it– to his infinite credit. Was that the end of the story? Not quite: To show HIS feminist solidarity, President Obama enacted the ban against federal funding of stem cell research law through Executive order.

Hutchison’s feminist credentials are more ambiguous. Although until 2006, she sat on the board of The Wish List, PAC that endorsed pro-choice Republican candidates, she is hardly pro-choice. The National Right to Life Committee gave her between 93% and 100% on her anti-choice views over the last few years. Conversely, NARAL has given her between 0%-20% based on her consistency in voting to restrict access to abortion. As a Representative, Hutchison did work to sponsor legislation that would allow victims of rape to keep their names out of the press. But that was almost 40 years ago.

There is little in the description that confirms a chivalrous or feminist impulse to save Afghan women. The measure indicates a commitment to implement a security system that reflects and sustains American presence in Afghanistan.  Moreover, rebuilding Afghanistan in the image of the US facilitates a structure that would allow the US an excuse to rush back when it deems that the new political order is not going according to plan. We saw an example of this when the US objected to the Afghan insistence on upholding due process in its new justice system.

What exactly is the danger that Afghan women face from other Afghan men? Patriarchy? Violence? Sexual assault? Being vulnerable to violence when leaving the house? I have no problem believing that Afghan men can be sexist, misogynist, and harmful to women, just as I have no problem believing that men (and women  in positions of power) from all over the world can be sexist, misogynist and harmful to women. But there is a serious question about the relative comparison that Afghan men are MORE sexist, misogynist, and harmful than men anywhere else in the world, and that Whites (and elite People of Color who are part of White supremacy) are needed to save them from the harms of their male family and community.

That is to say, the rhetoric of this provision eclipses the danger that Afghan women have been in UNDER the presence of US soldiers for the last 5 years. The number of reported instances of rape, mayhem and plunder that U.S. male soldiers have inflicted on Afghan and Iraqi women in the 11 years since the U.S. has sent troops into these countries suggest that the impulses of Casey and Hutchison need to be considered against the backdrop of the violence that Afghan women have suffered in light of the US military presence. See here and here and here for just a few instances in which U.S. soliders have not only raped Afghan women or girls, or set fire to entire families. And these are only in those cases where the accusations against them have been aired publicly.

Given the range of stories of similar assaults by U.S. soldiers, I wonder how that differs from their lives under US military over the last few years, especially as US soldiers have not been held accountable for their extracurricular activities such as wartime rape, village burnings, and assault

As scholar Gayatri Spivak points out, this is the age-old story of imperialism: White men saving brown women from brown men. But it IS a story: a piece of propaganda that is used to justify military actions and condemn Others.  In the same way that well-intentioned imperial governments invaded India to plunder resources and expand their global authority while convincing themselves that they were bringing civilization to the savages, the U.S. tells itself the story that it is a peacekeeper and protector of women.  A peacekeeper who invades and creates mayhem in a country by enabling its soldiers to rape Afghan women without punishment.

In terms of misogyny and sexism, the U.S. should have faced sanctions or been invaded already for its neglect in addressing the systematic rape and violence that are faced by women in various parts of the United States–by fundamentalist Christians, football coaches (plural), schoolteachers, among various men. The United States, according to recent UN statistics on sexual assault (Excel pdf)has among the top 10 rates of rape in the world—some of the other countries including UK, Belgium Sweden, South Africa, and Botswana. I’m sure there are biases of self-reporting, but let’s be clear: the US is hardly a feminist refuge.

If all goes well, the above measure will be included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, an annual budget measure which, over the last few years, has included little known provisions pertaining to the scope of presidential and military power in relation to the US’ War on Terror.  Last year’s NDAA made headlines as it included provisions Sec. 1031 and 1032, which authorized the US president to arrest or detain any US citizen or foreign national—anywhere in the world—on suspicion of terrorism. And that was in addition to a number of other objectionable provisions, as convincingly argued by ACLU’s Kade Crockford:

…the 600-page NDAA of 2013 authorizing 2/3rds of a trillion dollars in spending for the armed forces was before Congress. Introduced on March 29, 2012, by the time the new defense bill was voted on in mid May by the House it contained some troubling provisions. Sections 1221 and 1222 essentially authorized war with Iran. Again, the NDAA severely restricted the executive branch’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. An amendment termed “The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act” which was added to the NDAA permits the government to create and distribute pro-American propaganda within the US to counter al-Qaeda propaganda, striking down a long-standing ban.

This year’s NDAA will may yet make headlines in the US because of another recently passed measure, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to retract the power of the President to detain US citizens without cause. While a laudable move, it leaves intact the US presumptive authority to arrest Muslim men or foreign nationals assumed to be terrorists, and to detain them indefinitely without charges or trials.

The real danger to Afghan women is the United States’ arbitrary claim to decide the terms of security: to decide who will be subject to violence, when, and at what costs. The security of Afghan women may be increased if they follow an American political order; still, they and other foreigners have already been subject to the danger and the violence of U.S. imperialism–through rapes and violence committed by US soldiers under the auspices of America’s self-justification to wage a imperial war abroad and at home. Those parts of the U.S. imperial mission to civilize and uplift will hardly make Afghan women, or men more secure.

Emily Hauser’s Disgusting Indifference to Women of Color

Update I & Update 2: Below

On yesterday’s on-line “HuffPo Live Debate” on supporting Obama, between Daniel Ellsberg, Daily Beast writer Emily Hauser, and Naked Capitalism writer Matt Stoller, Hauser quickly distinguished herself by trying to shame Stoller into shutting up about basic economic facts that pertained to women and illuminated POTUS in a less than sterling light.

It was the usual run of the mill “white women’s” discussion, reminiscent of the pablum that Katha Pollitt was spewing in January of this year. Hauser scolded Matt Stoller for suggesting that anyone might have a serious “deal-breaking” problem with various policies of POTUS/Democrats.

the suggestion that my life and the life of my daughter, and the life of my mother, sister, and friends is more or the less the same under a Republican as it is under a Democrats is so wildly mistaken as to be delusional, frankly.

Here’s Hauser on the most important implications for the “50% of Americans who are women”:

A woman’s right to choice…A women’s right to bodily autonomy. A woman’s right to be a person. And we’ve seen the Democrats working to stem that tide.…But that doesn’t mean that I’ve agreed with everything [Obama’s] done, or everything that’s been done in Congress while [Obama’s] been there, not even by my fellow Democrats… We’re seeing the Democrats working to stem that tide …But I never expect to agree with everything everybody does, least of all of someone who has to be president of all Americans, least of all me and my fondest dreams

She continues:

But as a woman who’s raising my daughter, I tell you what, there’s no comparison that can be made between life in these United States under a potential Romney Presidency and life here under a second term with Obama.

Thank goodness that Emily Hauser has reminded us to focus on what’s important.

Reproductive rights matter. Plenty. But apparently—and this will be news to the Democrats and to a number of American feminists–they’re not the only issue that women—or men–should care about. To hear the Democrats and NOW and many other repro health organizations, the differences between O and R are HUGE—when it comes to women’s issues.  It’s true that O has mild leanings in favor of reproductive rights. But as I’ve written about over and over again on this blog—they’re mild and rather unaggressive in defending those rights. I’m thinking of Sec. of HHS Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to prevent access to OTC contraception despite widespread support; exempting Catholic organizations from providing contraception under Obama Health Insurance Subsidies (let’s just stop calling it Obamacare. It’s NOT healthcare. It’s a subsidy that draws insurance companies into the mix). It doesn’t count as big in O’s favor that he nominated 2 supposedly pro-choice Supreme Court justices (of which the only proof we have that they’ll be pro-choice is that they’re women), one of whom sided in favor of a conservative decision to limit access to reproductive rights. Of the other one, Kagan, very little favorable can be satisfactorily determined on the issue of choice.

Framing the feminist liberatory potential of an Obama win in the second term on the reproductive choice reduces women to (one—narrow—aspect of) their sexuality. It also ignores how many women—poor white women and women of color have either never had easy access to reproductive rights or have had their access slowly eroded well before now.

It is true that Obama supported and pushed through the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gives women a more flexible statute of limitations to sue for discriminatory wages; it doesn’t actually mandate that women be paid the SAME as men. Thank the good old religion of free markets for that. The Market! The Market! The Market will provide!

I’m going to extend Emily Hauser’s call to remember what’s important. Let me go out on that delusional limb to consider what the past 11 years—including the most recent 4– has brought women who are part of 50% of Americans AND the world.

Women and their well-being have been aggressively under attack by the current and previous POTUSes. Both the Republicans AND Democrats have attacked women’s psychic, physical, and social/economic well-being.  From a global perspective, like the penumbra of the Articles listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the well-being of a woman—any woman— depends on a range of rights that guarantee safety, well-being, keeping her children safe and protected, ensuring her community is intact because, in fact, it is in “the community in which alone the free and full development of [her] personality is possible.” And that includes a “cultural right to self-determination,” as has been suggested by some in the human rights community.

I know that international constitutions and conventions aren’t big in Hauser’s crowd, what with enemy combatants and all. But they’re a whole lot more protective of the interests of humans than American discussions. So I’m going to keep with that premise.

Such a perspective means that One’s Community Matters. That same view includes the right to be part of a continuing community, where a woman’s family, neighbors, friends, and extended relatives are intact, safe, and free of harm—from others and by the state.  When the daily existence of a woman consists of living in fear that her community is slowly being eviscerated, through drones, invasions, assaults, rapes by an invading army, sanctions, and open cultural vilification or outright hatred (as in the case of Islamophobia), then her well-being is no longer intact. Her psychic and physical and social existence is no longer safe from harm.

When a woman’s son or spouse or father or brother or cousin or uncle or nephew faces hourly risks of the following: being droned to death; being arrested for unknown reasons; disappearing into the indefinite detention hole for days, months, years at a time; rendered somewhere far away to be tortured; then she can no longer count on the right of cultural self-determination—because her culture is being demolished. Her family is being destroyed. Her community is disappearing. And her ability to determine herself disappears right along with the rest.

Now, I’m not big into sister-talk, but for the last 11 years (and yes, for the innumerate, that includes the last FOUR as well), my daily routine has involved waking up hearing about one or several of the following, and wondering about the women whose lives are shattered through the following policies and practices (and if the details bore you, or you don’t want to be confused with the facts, skip past the blue):

In the United States:

-More than 1 in 5 children live in poverty in 2011. That’s an increase from 1 in 6 children in 2000.

-1.2 million migrants deported in the last 3 years by the Department of Homeland Security (and that’s only in the first three years under a Democratic president).

-46,000 parental deportations of migrants who had US born children (and that’s just from the six month period of Jan-June 2011).

-1 in 9 Black men are in prison. 1 of 3 Black men can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.  These numbers aren’t diminished by the active drug war continued under the current Administration.

-African American & Latino homeowners suffered disproportionately more housing foreclosures than white men or women. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 17% of Latino homeowners, 11% of African homeowners are at risk for losing their homes. I have not been able to extract the number of women affected, but it’s safe to say black and brown women of color have also been disproportionately affected.

The current Administration did not cause these foreclosures. But according to Neil Barofsky, under Pres. Obama, the Treasury department deliberately and cynically did not use TARP money to help these homeowners despite the express bipartisan intent of the US Congress.

At most, the 49-state mortgage settlement brokered under President Obama will be at most a palliative, if not in fact harmful to these same families.

-Between 800-1000 Muslim men—or more–who are arrested on trumped-up charges made possible by the USA PATRIOT Act (which allows for pre-emptive policing, warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, interrogation).

-The entrapment, surveillance, and racial profiling of Muslim men in hundreds of mosques under the NYPD and FBI.

-the death of US citizens under the age of 16, like Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Senior Obama Advisor Robert Gibb’s response (at 2:40 in clip) to whether that was a moral move on POTUS’ part was to point out that Al-Aulaqi should have found a “far more responsible father.” Of course.

-A series of laws, designed and passed to allow the maximum, least-documented, aggressive targeting of Muslim men ALONG with maximum immunity for US government officials and security-related employees. There are so many. Just go read Glenn Greenwald. For the last 5 years.

Internationally:

35,000 have perished in Pakistan, where the US is waging a “shadow” war against “terror groups and militants.”These are deaths from direct violence: bombings, gunshot wounds, missile strikes, etc.

-A celebrated DRONE Program targeted towards militants in Pakistan. More than 3000 militants and civilians will have been killed, more than the number of those who died in the US on September 11, 2011. Other countries being droned include Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Philippines. Soon to be added: Mali.

-A celebrated “Secret Kill List,” configured and for the authority of the current POTUS.

-As of yesterday, the Secret Kill list will be expanded into a disposition matrix which will make the War on Terror a permanent part of the lives of men and the other 50% of US inhabitants—an ever-increasing list of name of people to kill—gathered by way of National Counterterrorism Center. Here’s an excellent piece that connects the dots.

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When American feminists tell me about the importance of protecting reproductive rights, do they believe that Black, Latino, undocumented, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani women have reproductive rights, too? Or is that one of those areas where we just can’t expect the Dems to protect “my fondest dreams”? Do we have obligations to hold the Dems accountable for active harms to women around the world?

When Emily Hauser tells me that about POTUS and the Dems’ aggressive attempts to “protect” the bodily autonomy of women—in the face of facts that dispute it, such as increased incarceration rates, poverty, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures for Black and Latina women, and increased every-other-kind-of-targeting for well-being of the brown (most often Muslim) women, I have to wonder what she thinks about the following:

Does the imprisonment/solitary confinement/indefinite incarceration of men–who are Muslim, black, Latino, Asian–count as a “gender issue”?

Does the economic and political detriment to women from having their sons, spouses, brothers, fathers entrapped and arrested–count as “a feminist issue”? By economic and political detriment, I mean the social ostracization, the material effect of the loss of income, the political vulnerability of having a male who is potentially the head of a household.

Does the deportation of hundreds of thousands of men AND women—and the separation of U.S. citizen/children from their parents annually count as an issue that “affects” women? By “affect,” I mean the the psychic, material, social vulnerability to survive, to thrive, to live free of fear and harm.  Does the legal adoption of those children to U.S. citizen parents and the subsequent break-up of families count as a “woman’s” issue?

And before someone tells me that that’s a patriarchal question—that women should be able to make their own decisions and survive independently of “their men,” let me suggest that we look around the US for a quick min: It’s a patriarchal society.

When Emily Hauser insists that she “can’t get everything for free,” I wonder what she thinks of the price black and brown women have to pay for their “reproductive rights.” That price is a hell of a lot more costly than hers: Her family isn’t being decimated through deportations, entrapments, surveillance, and indefinite detentions. There appear to be few male relatives in her life who are being decimated. And if there are, she doesn’t appear to care. Not so for most Muslim women.

To the ridiculous argument offered in that HuffPo Live “Debate” that we must support Obama, even thought he “is doing things that are disillusioning to us,” I agree: It IS disillusioning to have the POTUS take the lead on the extra-legal murders of people he and his staff think are terrorists—without EVER offering evidence. It IS a bit disillusioning to hear about a “disposition matrix.”  It IS disillusioning to wake up every day and hear about NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and the NYPD harassing Muslim men—who are the family members of Muslim women. Interrogating them. Incarcerating them indefinitely and without charges. Running kangaroo courts. Yes. A bit disillusioning. A bit.

When Daniel Ellsberg (and implicitly) Emily Hauser agree that the POTUS is a murderer, but still good on reproductive rights, I can’t help but think that Mr. Ellsberg, Ms. Hauser, just want to vote for Obama and the Democrats, regardless of ANY facts that detract from the ascription of his supposed moral righteousness. Regardless.

What a remarkable feat of hypocrisy, racist-guilt-tripping, and righteous wealthy American myopia to tell Matt Stoller and all the men that he’s supposed to stand in for, that “[he] doesn’t get to have a say on [her]body,” but that Hauser can cheer and clap as she anxiously runs to the polls to vote for a guy and his party who have aggressively, enthusiastically, and eagerly harmed the bodies of the loved ones of many, many US citizens and foreign nationals here and abroad—brown, black, Muslim,–their children, their spouses, their fathers, their brothers?

Emily Hauser’s feminism is the kind of feminism that deprioritizes the multiple dimensions of the well-being of black and brown women, in order to protect one aspect of women’s lives to detriment of so many others.  In light of these facts (which shouldn’t be taken to confuse your ideological commitments), I’d describe Hauser’s voting advice as telling Women of Color to “please f*ck off.”

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Update I: I initially omitted the following facts because they happened before 2008. But because they are related to international women’s reproductive rights, I think they bear mentioning as part of the list of atrocities that the US has waged. Dem or Repub or 3rd party, it’s still our collective government waging the assault–and many Democrats voted to go into Iraq, as we know.

Iraqi women have suffered severe reproductive problems and have had children with birth defects as a result of years of cluster bombs: 1 of 2 children born in Falluja has birth defects. That’s 50%. One in Two. Between 2007-2010, 1 in 6 births ended in miscarriage.

Tens of thousands of Afghan women live on soil poisoned by depleted uranium (which has a half-life of 4.5 billion years), resulting in an 18-fold increase in the rate of cancer from 500 cases in 2004 to over 9000 cases in 2009? The damage to their reproductive systems is untold.

Update II (Oct. 27, 2012): In her column, “Not Voting for Obama,” Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report has another analysis of the harms wrought by the current Democratic Administration.  As she says:

If Democrats also believe in wars of aggression and bail outs and subservience to finance capital, Republicans are only left with abortion and gay marriage as issues to differentiate themselves.”

This conclusion, says Kimberly, has been brought on by progressives themselves:

“It is a lack of progressive activism which has precipitated this crisis. In the absence of strong and coordinated opposition to Democratic Party duplicity, progressives meekly go along with whatever bad deals are presented to them and then recoil in fear every four years when they are told that the barbarians are at the gate. Republicans only help make the case for this complicity with openly racist and misogynistic policies.” 

The Enemy of My Enemy is Not Always My Friend: Iran, Anti-War Activism, and Sexist Aggression

This open letter from Raha Iranian Feminist Collective crossed my desk yesterday.  I post it today because the lessons gleaned from it are larger than just about pro-Iran/anti-Iran conflicts. This letter points to the inability of many anti-war activists and thinkers to see the nuances of progressive politics. In this case, as Raha demonstrates, it is possible to be both anti-war, anti-interventionist in Iran, AND critical of Islamic republic politics of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.  Raha has written an excellent—and I mean excellent–analysis of the subtleties of such politics here.

This letter points to the larger sexist, chauvinist, politics of progressive politics that have the danger to hurt women and derail solidarity through brute aggression. Aggression in the name of anti-war, anti-interventionist politics is an ironic mirror on the aggressive US military interventions in the name of freedom and democracy. The acceptance of such aggression in the name of a superior politics—whether against (women) activists with whom you disagree, or against foreign civilians that one’s government is bombing—signals a serious moral decay on the part of progressives and liberals.

As Omar Dahi commented here in March 2012 about the civil uprisings in Syria, the American left needs a more complicated politics that can simultaneously recognize the injustice of US imperialist politics AND the coercive and corrupt politics of leaders like Bashar Al-Asad and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad—politics that have left their people economically and politically disfranchised– without accusing others of being “pro-imperialist,” “pro-Zionist,” “pro-interventionist.”

[Update: For another nuanced article that explains the issues and principles at stake for progressive activists in relation to Iran, see this excellent piece by Danny Postel, “Iran, the Left, and the Non-Aligned Movement: A Guide for the Perplexed.”]

The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. Read on:

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In light of recent hostile incidents within the anti-war movement against members of Raha and others who oppose war, sanctions, and state repression in Iran, Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, along with Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions, and State Repression, have written the below.

Please read and forward on as you see fit and feel free to comment to Raha at: rahanyc@gmail.com

Open Letter to the Anti-War Movement

The upcoming anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan is a crucial time for activists to reflect on the urgent need for an anti-war movement that is committed to opposing systematic oppression, domination and violence. In the spirit of moving us towards this goal, we feel compelled to respond when individuals and organizations within the movement are harassing and maligning other members of the movement. We need to ask how this reflects on the political and ethical commitments underlying our activism. We need to ask when enough is enough and some kind of collective action is necessary to address an untenable situation.

There is a campaign of hostility and intimidation underway against Iranian activists in the U.S. who oppose war, sanctions and state repression in Iran. The Iranian American Friendship Committee (AIFC) has taken the lead in a series of physical and verbal attacks on Iranian activists and their allies. Enough is enough. This letter is an appeal to those who consider themselves part of the anti-war movement: stop condoning, excusing or dismissing these attacks by continuing to include AIFC in your coalitions, demonstrations, forums and other organizing events. We call on those of you who want to build an effective anti-war movement that includes the participation of those whose families are directly targeted by U.S. imperialism, and that is committed to social justice for all, to oppose the abuse AIFC has been heaping on members of various Iranian American organizations.

On June 29, 2012, Ardeshir Ommani of the AIFC circulated a public missive attacking members of Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions, and State Repression, Where Is My Vote, and United For Iran. This so-called AIFC “Factsheet” accused individual members of each group of harboring covert imperialist, Zionist, and pro-war agendas. Such a smear campaign should be transparent to all who know and work with us and to all those who recognize in these charges a familiar script. Ommani and AIFC are uncritical apologists for the Iranian government, proudly organizing dinners for President Ahmadinejad in New York each fall and inviting anti-war and pro-Palestinian activists to come pay their respects. They are not alone but work with the Workers World Party and the International Action Center to give left cover to the Iranian government and to infuse the anti-war movement with pro-Islamic Republic politics. They repeat the Iranian state’s position that the pro-democracy protesters in Iran are agents of Western imperialism and Zionism.  And now AIFC mimics the regime by lodging such false charges against us, activists who dare to challenge their orthodoxy and who oppose the Iranian state’s oppressive actions.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply dismiss AIFC’s charges as spurious and move on with the serious and necessary work of opposing U.S. intervention around the world. Ommani’s accusations of Zionist loyalties carry serious prison sentences in Iran as a crime of moharebeh (crimes against Islam or against the state). This means that Iranians who refuse to become apologists for the Iranian state cannot participate in the anti-war movement without having their reputations attacked and their names publicly identified with charges that can land them in prison, or worse, if they go to Iran. The continued acceptance of AIFC as a legitimate presence in the anti-war movement virtually ensures that the majority of Iranians in the U.S. will see the entire movement as pro-Islamic Republic and, therefore, unsafe and hostile. Forcing Iranians to have to choose between visiting their family members in Iran and joining the anti-war movement produces another form of discrimination and oppression of Iranians in the U.S.

To be clear, Ommani’s accusations in print are just the latest in an ongoing campaign of harassment and abuse going back to 2010. The brief history that follows illustrates tactics that are unacceptable to us, and that should be unacceptable to the anti-war movement. At a June 24, 2010 workshop at the US Social Forum hosted by Raha and Where Is My Vote, Ommani was disruptive, insulting young women organizers and questioning their legitimacy in speaking at the conference at all. At a February 4th, 2012 anti-war rally in Manhattan, Ommani attempted to physically knock an Iranian woman off of the speakers’ platform while she expressed her views against war and sanctions and in solidarity with those resisting state repression in Iran. At a March 24th, 2012 panel called “Iran: Solidarity Not Intervention” that was part of the United National Anti-War Committee conference, Ommani had to be asked repeatedly by conference security to stop calling members of Raha “C.I.A. agents” and “State Department propagandists” and even to allow us to speak at all. Unable to engage in any respectful dialogue with the ideas Raha members and their allies were advocating, he simply stormed out of the panel. At a conference plenary, security had to be called after Ommani poked a woman who was there to support Raha and who was waiting in line to speak. Ommani eventually had to be moved by conference security to a different part of the hall in order to prevent him from harassing members of Raha on the speakers’ line.

This conflict cannot be reduced to a matter of political differences about the nature of the Iranian state. There are certain behaviors that should be quite obviously beyond the scope of what is acceptable in the anti-war movement. These include the physical and verbal harassment of activists, particularly intimidation tactics lodged by men against women. Shoving, insulting and bullying women in an effort to silence us is outright sexism. Furthermore, the leveling of false charges that could make us targets of state repression has haunting historical precedents in the spy operations of SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police force, which hounded the Iranian student opposition abroad throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The same way that American progressives defended Iranian students from persecution by the Iranian and U.S. states in those days, we call on activists today to oppose these efforts to silence us. AIFC has consistently demonstrated an inability to follow basic rules of civility and engagement and should have no place in our movement.

Raha and Havaar oppose all military intervention in Iran (For more on Raha’s analysis see here.) Further, we oppose all U.S., U.N., and European sanctions against Iran, and have been active in trying to build an anti-sanctions/anti-war movement. In our view, the Iranian state, the Israeli state, and the U.S. state each are guilty of repressing popular democratic movements. Standing in solidarity with others engaged in similar struggles, we will organize against the vicious and autocratic measures of these governments until we are free–from the U.S. to Iran to Palestine and beyond.
Yours in struggle and solidarity,

The Members of RAHA Iranian Feminist Collective

Rahacollective.org

The Members of Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions and State Repression

Havaar.org