Women and Children First
helped open a school in the Panjshir Valley yesterday. built by Greg Mortenson. smiles on those young faces said it all! power of education (15 July 2009)
And then some more tweets about women…
Presided over retirement for Vice Adm. Nancy Brown today. What a role model, not just for women, but for ALL naval officers. Will miss her. (31 July 2009)
And back to Afghanistan…
Recently finished reading “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad. Powerful insights into the lives of Afghan women and girls. (02 August 2009)
Because it’s all about the civilians (even if it means inventing zero civilian casualty statistics)…
Visited with Marines in Helmand yesterday. They truly understand counterinsurgency, not one civilian casualty. Protecting the Afghan people. (18 July 2009)
Now here is Mullen’s own voicebox in the mainstream media, Thomas Friedman in The New York Times for 18 July, 2009, writing from Pushghar, Afghanistan, in a opinion piece titled, “Teacher, Can We Leave Now? No.” It’s not the only time in that piece that Friedman, in his role as counterinsurgency op-ed preacher, will arrogate to himself the right to tell us what we can do, and not do. Should we leave Afghanistan? Having tagged along with the Admiral, Friedman pauses to reflect at the opening of the school that Mullen tweets about above:
I watched Greg Mortenson, the famed author of “Three Cups of Tea,” open one of his schools for girls in this remote Afghan village in the Hindu Kush mountains. I must say, after witnessing the delight in the faces of those little Afghan girls crowded three to a desk waiting to learn, I found it very hard to write, “Let’s just get out of here.”
Mullen noted the smiles, and faithfully Friedman records the delight. We just have to stay, if anything just for the girls, the sweet, smiling little girls of Afghanistan.
Sometimes it is impossible to distinguish between “mission creep” and missionary creeps.
Friedman goes on to tell us that simply removing the Taliban from government and denying “safe haven” for Al Qaeda — both of which have already been achieved, “incidentally” — was never the real mission. No, like in Orwell’s 1984, there is constant revision, always a new war to make war permanent. Now, the new mission is a civilizational one, which in reality will make it as good as permanent. This goes well beyond funding the Afghan national budget for the next 20 years, going well beyond David Kilcullen, adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, outlining a “best-case scenario” for 10 more years of further U.S. and NATO involvement, even beyond the forecast of General Sir David Richards, the incoming British Chief of General Staff, who says NATO will be in Afghanistan for the next 40 years. Friedman beats them all, because we need to be there for a very long long-term: we need to do more than conquer an unconquerable territory, we need to conquer every inch of their minds too. And we cannot stop, not until they look and sound and think and talk just like us.
Rather than the “disarmament of Iraq,” the eradication of weapons of mass destruction, or “regime change,” Friedman in his role as revisionist imperial scribe “informs” us that one of the real goals behind the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was Huntingtonian civilizational transformation:
America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce — a new generation — can be educated and raised differently.
Which is where women come in, and little girls especially, because if you want to overthrow a civilization that — unlike your own which sexualizes little girls and converts them into pop culture commodities — has gone to extremes to regulate the public appearance of women and their domestic role, then what you do is subvert that civilization from within the household itself. It’s not the only time we see commodification deployed as a weapon of war: so is “development” (increased and more regulated incorporation into the capitalist world economy) and “democracy” (meaning multi-party elections only, with “representatives” who are available for sale to influence peddlers, like in the U.S.).
Girls to the Front Lines
And as Thomas Friedman confirms in his continuing outline for domestic subversion:
Which is why it was no accident that Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — spent half a day in order to reach Mortenson’s newest school and cut the ribbon.
Mike Mullen informed those Afghans present that this was not just their school, to serve their purposes alone:
The focus of today is opening a school for our children, and our future together depends very much on our children’s education.
May this just be one of many, many more schools to open up for our youth in Afghanistan.
When you repeat something four times in a short speech, it is not “misspeaking;” it is intentional. Either the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has laid claim to Afghanistan’s children, or, he has used his powers as one of the de facto military governors of the country to unilaterally naturalize himself as an Afghan, thereby entitling himself to speak as if he were one of them, indeed, one with them. In both instances, on his Twitter page and in his speech, the predominant motif is no longer one of bagging the enemy, but rather the “responsibility to protect” — to protect civilians…civilians that such protection in fact puts in harm’s way. It is a cruel and cynical exercise of geopolitical destabilization at the household level.
The person behind the building of the school, Greg Mortenson, told Friedman:
When a girl gets educated here and then becomes a mother, she will be much less likely to let her son become a militant or insurgent. And she will have fewer children. When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother. The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.
In this dreamscape of imperial democracy, the media will necessarily perform the function they are told to perform, which is more domestic counterinsurgency. Girls, future little mommies, will no longer raise militants or insurgents (a sideways hat tip that acknowledges their current role in doing so) — perhaps they will just be mechanics and insurance salesmen. Most striking of all: “she will have fewer children.”
Is “education” then the Final Solution for Afghanistan? Will American and NATO occupiers — now conquerors of civilizations — use “education” in a manner akin to a Nazi sterilization campaign, or akin to American eugenics?
It would seem so, because the point is not lost on the Taliban. Friedman — not one of the slickest or smartest of the pundits — slips up (the stopwatch says this was about to happen at any moment). He provides the very data to show not just the Taliban reaction, but the degree to which American implementation of this imperial dream has seriously endangered the same little girls:
It is no accident, Mortenson noted, that since 2007, the Taliban and its allies have bombed, burned or shut down more than 640 schools in Afghanistan and 350 schools in Pakistan, of which about 80 percent are schools for girls….down south in Helmand Province, where the worst fighting is today, the deputy minister of education said that Taliban extremists have shut 75 of the 228 schools in the last year.
Of course they would. When US/NATO forces erect themselves to the position of global marital dispute resolution agency (see the article on NATO and the Shia marriage law), and place girls and their education on the front line of battle against the Taliban, then the Taliban must respond. They are meant to: these girls serve as bait. The US/NATO want to project themselves as “protectors” of civilians now — after having killed thousands in air strikes over the past eight years. Protecting them against whom? Protecting them from US/NATO forces? No, of course not: protecting them from the Taliban because the US/NATO placed these girls on the front lines.
Furthermore, Friedman should be worried about his own prescription coming back to haunt him. If it is perfectly reasonable to use violence to engage in cultural transformation, to raise any army against values, then he should watch out that no Americans pick this up as a lesson to be adopted at home.
Women and Children as Human Shields?
The damage is much worse than what happens to little girls who suffer acid attacks on their way to a school about to be dynamited. It delegitimizes education and it invalidates any talk of women’s rights. From now on, both of these will be remembered as tools of imperialism. And those who took action against forms of collaboration with empire, will be remembered as revolutionary heroes, pure altruists who were ready to sacrifice their own flesh and blood rather than surrender it to imperialism. What the US/NATO are doing is effectively erasing women’s rights and women’s education from the Afghan cultural register. It’s as if the US and NATO have decided to become the perverse, grunge version of King Midas — where everything they touch turns to maggot-ridden excrement.
Some could have valid questions about intentionality. Do the founders of these schools establish them with the intention of provoking a Taliban response? In the case above, Mortenson is aware, in advance, of what the Taliban will likely do. Moreover, the building of the school is posed as a direct challenge to the Taliban, as a way of confronting them. These are not just schools built in a war zone, these are schools that are built to be part of the war zone. Others might object that to use the girls in this way was not the intention, that it really is about education, and the Taliban response is not something that can be controlled or predicted with certainty. Others still might place the onus of blame entirely on the Taliban — no one is forcing them to destroy these schools or harm children, regardless of who built the schools and why.
Feminism for War, Afghan Women Against Imperial Salvation
The US Congress now cares about the Iranian people. This is as vapid as when the Feminist Majority (which used to sell on its website pieces of Burqah to express solidarity with women in Afghanistan–although it did not sell plastic black eyes to show solidarity with victims of domestic violence here in the US) feigned concern over the women in Afghanistan. — As’ad AbuKhalil
We need to be suspicious when neat cultural icons are plastered over messier historical and political narratives; so we need to be wary when Lord Cromer in British-ruled Egypt, French ladies in Algeria, and Laura Bush, all with military troops behind them, claim to be saving or liberating Muslim women. — Lila Abu-Lughod
In the corrupt misappropriation of feminist ideals — ideals that suddenly the “traditional family values” set of American imperial conservatives discovered with enthusiasm when their nation invaded Afghanistan — it is disappointing to see the Feminist Majority Foundation lending its voice to war. In “Pentagon Enlists Feminists for War Aims,” Tom Hayden argues, “the Feminist Majority is being used by the Pentagon to advance its war aims,” while two Afghan women’s activists themselves took note of the fact that the FMF has applauded Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, referring to the escalated military campaign as an effort to “expand peacekeeping forces.” Sonali Kolhatkar (in the first video below as well) and Mariam Rawi also emphasize, in “Why Is a Leading Feminist Organization Lending Its Name to Support Escalation in Afghanistan?” that “the tired claim that one of the chief objectives of the military occupation of Afghanistan is to liberate Afghan women is not only absurd, it is offensive” (see Laura Bush, for example, in the first video below). As Kolhatkar and Rawi explain,
Waging war does not lead to the liberation of women anywhere. Women always disproportionately suffer the effects of war, and to think that women’s rights can be won with bullets and bloodshed is a position dangerous in its naïveté. The Feminist Majority should know this instinctively.
As for how “well” Afghan women have fared in NATO-occupied, post-Taliban Afghanistan,
Here are the facts: After the invasion, Americans received reports that newly liberated women had cast off their burquas and gone back to work. Those reports were mythmaking and propaganda. Aside from a small number of women in Kabul, life for Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban has remained the same or become much worse.
Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children.
Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war.
The only gains afforded to Afghan women were on paper, and little paper was expended. Rapist war lords and other patriarchs serve in the cabinet of Hamid Karzai.
Malalai Joya, the noted Afghan member of the National Assembly who has suffered several assassination attempts in her fight for Afghan women’s rights, has been especially critical of the US/NATO occupation:
Just as the US air strikes have not brought security to Afghans, nor has the occupation brought security to Afghan women. The reality is quite the opposite. The now infamous ‘Family Law’ is but the tip of the iceberg of the women’s rights catastrophe in our occupied country. The whole system, and especially the judiciary, is infected with the virus of fundamentalism and so, in Afghanistan, men who commit crimes against women do so with impunity.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, echoing the same condemnation of the invasion and occupation, have also pointed out the depths of despair to which Afghan women have fallen since the start of the occupation: self-immolation — suicide by lighting oneself on fire — has never before been an epidemic in Afghanistan as it is today (source).
Women in the Liberating Army
One might be forgiven for thinking that if women’s rights and the dignity of women is so high on the American agenda for Afghanistan, and fobbed off as a trademark of Western civilization and modernity, that even if women continue to fare poorly in Afghanistan then at least women in the occupying army must be doing much better. After all, they offer an example. Don’t they?
Instead, as Congresswoman Jane Harman learned last year, at least 41% of American female veterans say they were the victims of sexual assault while serving in the military. In fact, 29% say there were raped during their military service. “We have an epidemic here,” she said. “Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.” Only 8% of reported sexual assaults in the military were prosecuted. The Pentagon went as far as ordering its expert on sexual abuse, Dr. Kaye Whitley, to ignore a Congressional subpoena to testify about the military’s handling of sexual abuse within its own ranks. It gets worse: the General Accounting Office found that perhaps as many as 50% of cases of sexual assault are never even reported. (Read more from Rep. Harman here.)
To help fill the gap in support, a website was established: the Military Rape Crisis Center, for those who suffered sexual assault, sexual harassment, and/or rape while in the military. It says that 80% of rapes are never reported, and that one in seven women will experience sexual assault while in the military. As many as 85% of those actually convicted of rape or sexual assault are honorably discharged, and the crime does not appear on their records. The overwhelming majority, more than 90%, of American women who report sexual assault while in the military, are discharged before their contract ends, 85% of those against their wishes.
As I have insisted before, do not venture abroad claiming to address the ills of other nations that you yourselves have not solved at home, or even properly addressed.