Colonial Feminism, Liberal “Progress,” and the Weakness of the Left


[Max Forte: Welcome to Brendan Stone who, along with Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill, joins ZA as a writer.]

In view of Quebec’s Charter debate, the resurgence of discussions of the burqa and the niqab, and the continuing stories in the Western press of women’s oppression in Afghanistan, readers may be interested in this update of a paper written in 2010/11 on the relationship between liberalism, colonial feminism, and NATO’s attempt to provide justification for its continued presence in Afghanistan:

On March 26, 2010, internet leaks repository Wikileaks provided an on-line copy of a Central Intelligence Agency document concerning public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the document, the low level of public support for the war in Western Europe had become a direct threat to its continuation:

The fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan demonstrates the fragility of European support for the NATO-led ISAF mission. […] If some forecasts of a bloody summer in Afghanistan come to pass, passive French and German dislike of their troop presence could turn into active and politically potent hostility.[1]

If politicians continued “listening to the voters,” France and Germany might withdraw their troops. The report suggested “tailoring” the message for war according to the specific issues that interested this civilian population.

Conversely, messaging that dramatizes the potential adverse consequences of an ISAF defeat for Afghan civilians could leverage French (and other European) guilt for abandoning them. The prospect of the Taliban rolling back hard-won progress on girls’ education could provoke French indignation, become a rallying point for France’s largely secular public, and give voters a reason to support a good and necessary cause despite casualties.[2]

The report also suggested that “appeals by President Obama and Afghan women might gain traction,” and that “Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role.” It ultimately suggested submitting the testimonials of Afghan women to broadcast media with large audiences.[3]

Four months after the document was released, a cover article together with a video appeared in Time Magazine, featuring a graphic photo. The message: “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.”[4] Some commentators noted the apparent synergy between the CIA memorandum and the Time Magazine article that reflected its intent.

Whether or not the Central Intelligence Agency document was genuine, the Time article conformed to the near-decade long approach by Western governments to frame the war as a crusade for women’s liberation. The CIA document merely highlighted the zeitgeist of our times. Since the end of the Cold War, the transition into a Dickensian, “neo-liberal” world and the “new imperialism” have necessitated a corresponding transformation of ruling class ideology.

The reorganization of imperialism and capitalist relations within the imperial “Western” metropole has rejuvenated economic liberalism alongside a mutated, militarized political liberalism. Although Western liberals continue to play the role assigned by Chomsky and Herman’s “Propaganda Model,” what is most interesting, from an activist perspective, is how a number of “left-liberal” or even “socialist” voices have aligned with the imperialist state. As Seymour suggests, the “Enlightenment” left is susceptible to an “othering” philosophy that manifests particularly in relation to Islam. Consent for war is often manufactured through a Manichean dichotomy between the “West,” and barbarism. Overall, the liberal imperialist discourse, an assimilating strategy that is presented as an alternative to a warlike conservative discourse, limits debate both by bracketing the available policy options presented to the public, and by limiting discussion within the left. The bourgeois imagination is able to dichotomize its colonized subjects within the civilization-versus-barbarism dynamic, yet it can also shift this dichotomization into one of socialism-versus-“natural”-class-based societies. It is important for members of the “left” to avoid legitimizing any of these dichotomies, even if they originate from “liberals.” Otherwise, the first world “left” loses opportunities to dialogue and struggle with the “othered” people of the Global South. Unlike radical socialism, liberal imperialism encourages metropolitan white liberals to speak for the oppressed. Less visible, however, is the manner in which the radical left unconsciously seeks voices from those who themselves resemble the Western left.

Manufacturing Consent for Civilizational War

The Wikileaks documents concerning women in Afghanistan suggest a clear intent to “manufacture consent” for the war. Chomsky and Herman detailed the process of opinion management within liberal-democratic societies. “Powerful sources” attempt to “manage” the media by selectively distributing certain information, while also blanketing journalists with news releases conforming to a certain viewpoint.[5]

During the Cold War, the “national religion” of anti-communism also served as a powerful propaganda tool, or “filter” of information. Because communists and socialists directly threatened the interests of the Western ruling classes, the corporate media and affiliated academic and ‘expert’ bodies characterized such movements as an evil threatening to destroy Western civilization. This characterization served to justify any actions against socialist movements or countries, and also placed the domestic left-wing on the defensive.[6]

It is evident, however, that the “national religion” of anti-communism could, at times, overlap with colonial attitudes occurring naturally within imperialist countries. During the Cold War, William Hinton and Felix Greene documented Western reporting on Communist China. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. news reports on China characterized the country as an unknowable, hidden, regimented land of peasants who were plotting in ant-like conformity to overthrow the Western way of life. The news services and travelling journalists portrayed every known action in the country in the most sinister fashion.[7]

According to Greene, the xenophobic portrayal of China immediately following the 1949 revolution was a result of Western elites’ wounded reaction to the revolution, perceiving this upheaval as a blow against Anglo-American stewardship of the country. Colonial attitudes certainly factored into U.S. opinion on China, and arguably the early American hostility to the Chinese Revolution. Greene recounts the early U.S. trade with China, and the nineteenth-century dispatch of missionaries with the intent to “win China for Christ.” The imperialist suppression of the Boxer Rebellion shaped American consciousness:

I raise these painful memories to remind us of what was then the normal attitude of civilized Western people toward the Chinese. It was based firmly on the conviction of Western, Christian superiority. This assumption of superiority ate like a corrosive acid deep into the sensitivities of a very proud and ancient people. To Westerners, the Chinese were uncivilized and almost less than human. They quite clearly stood in need of God’s grace; it was manifestly America’s destiny to lead them to it.[8]

The American feelings of “kindly benevolence” were again shattered after 1949.[9]

Although the initial narrative about Communist China as a dangerous, villainous hive of insanity arguably reflected an instinctual, colonialist reaction to an upset ‘natural order,’ it is important to note that Western ruling classes are capable of adopting different narratives with reference to designated “enemies.” These differing narratives partly reflect policy options available to these elites.

Journalists and ‘experts’ demonstrated a certain flexibility in representing events in China. For, in addition to comparisons between a ‘godless’ East and ‘civilized’ West, many reporters eventually chose to contrast the ‘natural’ traditional China to the ‘unnatural’ Maoist China. In particular, Western social scientists and journalists romanticized and idealized China’s traditional, pre-capitalist social and economic relations, while denouncing socialist construction as “foreign” and “alien.”[10] Market economists reveled in demonstrating how state intervention in rural development led to environmental and human disasters. These critics similarly portrayed the work of peasants as futile and self-defeating under socialist leadership.[11] While early Cold War accounts portrayed all of mainland China as a hostile and alien “other,” it is evident that Western ideologues were able to transfer this “other” to the communist system itself.[12]

Scholars’ ability to pivot the cultural contradiction from China/West to Communism/China suggests that the Anglo-American political establishment was able to recover from its initial xenophobic reaction to the establishment of a socialist Asian republic, and return instead to the defense of traditionalism that it had employed in other parts of the world, including Russia. Dichotomization is an integral component of Western propaganda techniques, but this Manichaeism is configured according to the particular circumstances of class and national struggles.  As Amin-Khan explains,

The one significant continuity between the Cold War era’s targeting of Marxists and leftists and the current attacks on political/militant Islam is the United   States’ continued reliance on culturalism to promote its imperial dominance. Western political leaders and the media, and the liberal capital state’s organic intellectuals have been steeped in culturalism since the heydays of the post-1945 era and the launching of Modernization theory – creating binaries between “traditional” and “modern” cultures, and “freedom” and “totalitarianism” to contrast the “free enterprise” Western capitalist culture broadly as a superior culturalist paradigm than other preceding or prevailing non-Euro/American cultures.[13]

Western elites can embrace traditionalism in one circumstance, namely the battle against socialism. At the same time, they claim in the name of democracy to oppose traditionalism. They adopt the latter strategy when independent movements in the Global South retain traditional elements. The bourgeois model of society is held as the standard, ‘natural,’ sane model, and no movement shall be allowed to move forward or backward in history. The exception to this rule occurs, of course, when capitalists are presented with a need to support reactionaries against socialists, or bourgeois nationalists. As Fukuyama famously put it, liberal-democracy is the ‘end’ of history.

Chomsky and Herman assert that dichotomization and the religion of “anti-communism” serve to narrow the acceptable range of opinions that are presented. The public is often presented with a conservative “kill them all” perspective, versus a liberal “we will civilize them” narrative. The radical viewpoint does not reach a mainstream audience. Since the 1990s, however, anti-communism has arguably been replaced with “anti-terrorism”[i] and a “Clash of Civilizations” based on cultural essentialism. According to Amin-Khan, “this culturalism of political Islam conceals the social and economic disfigurement caused by capitalist globalization and redirects political questions on to the terrain of culture.”[14] As in the case of Communist China, however, the strategy of culturalism can shift its axis. Since political Islam is capable of employing this dichotomizing strategy, imperialists are prepared to draw other rhetorical tools from their box. Yet culturalism remains as a key element of contemporary discourse. Since it is the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie that is influencing the “left” at present, their ideological transfusion is perhaps best encapsulated, post-9/11, in the release by British intellectuals of the “Euston Manifesto.”

Euston, We Have a Problem[ii]

The Euston Manifesto is a picture-perfect demonstration of colonial attributes endemic to liberalism within the imperial metropole. A response to the post-911 anti-war movement and the growth of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, it served as a release valve for certain pent-up values among liberals and “socialists.”

Published by such luminaries as Norman Geras and Nick Cohen, the Euston Manifesto called for socialists to reach out to liberals, and together embrace the common ground of egalitarianism. The authors counterpoised the “authentic values” of the Enlightenment left against that of “apology for tyranny,” and cultural relativism. The document advocated opposition to anti-Americanism, and brought special attention to an alleged growth of anti-Semitism on the left. Unity was sought against terrorism, particularly “terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology.”[15]

Overall, it was a remarkable battering of ‘alien’ ideologies, lumping Stalinism and Maoism together with “suicide-terrorism,” and “Jihadist and Baathist thugs.” It presented “Holocaust-deniers” together with the “international Communist movement” as falsifiers of historical truth.[16] Indeed, it presented everything from Communism to Islamism as deviations from a perfect ‘liberal telos,’ as Choudry described it. For the Eustonites, a world progressing towards liberalism is the only legitimate option.[17] The authors even condemned attempts to comprehend ‘anti-democratic regimes.’  There was very little discussion of the actual “socialism” that the document sought to protect. Indeed, the defense of “socialism” appeared identical to the defense of liberalism, giving credence to both Chomsky and Seymour’s assertions that imperial liberals exist in order to provide additional legitimacy for the right-wing. Needless to say, the Euston document endorsed “humanitarian intervention” as a means of ordering the Global South.

The Eustonites did not emerge from thin air. Much in the same way that 9-11 propelled a reconstruction of conservatism, allowing reactionaries to combat what they understood as a pervasive liberal decadence in the Anglo-American countries, the terrorist attack on the U.S. likewise permitted a reimagining of liberalism. Seymour explains that, following the ideological collapse of the Soviet Union, many on the ‘left’ came to see the military and “hyperpower” of the United States as an ally for historical progress against the perceived forces of reaction, be they feudalism, Islam, or nationalism. As Bricmont explains, this reshaping of the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie was in part necessitated by the growing popular aversion to total war, alongside the legacy of state sovereignty achieved by the former colonies, both products of Hobsbawm’s “short twentieth century (1914-1992). In the “end of history,” historical progress would result from brief, selective military interventions under a UN fig-leaf, all under the aegis of “humanitarian intervention.”[18]

Bricmont described the transition from classical liberalism to what Seymour also criticizes as a sort of ‘muscular liberalism.’ The new liberalism relies on the “big state,” including the U.S. military, to protect liberal “values.”[19] Most notably, the Euston Manifesto set out to protect Israel and America. As Seymour indicates, liberalism has always been about the individualism and freedom of the European – the colonized people were understood to be nonexistent, or worse.[20] “As Edward Said explained, contemporary Europeans categorized their own values as liberal, humane, and rational, whereas they characterized non-Europeans as fanatical, lazy, and despotic.”[21] The authors of the Euston Manifesto would not have felt out of place leading the England of 1850. In essence, white liberals choose to speak for the universality of Western values. Nowhere is this tendency more evident than in the Western liberal feminist appropriation of the struggles of Afghan women.

White Liberals to the Rescue

The events of 9/11 and subsequent focus on the Taliban in Afghanistan presented a challenge for feminist organizations, particularly in the United States. The Taliban appeared as the embodiment of patriarchal values, repressive towards the advancement of women. A portion of feminists and feminist organizations in the United States openly supported the war effort. In her special address to the nation as the First Lady, calling for an end to the repression of Afghan women, even Laura Bush became a feminist. Afghanistan, then, revealed an important distinction between feminists who cling to U.S. military might, and those who reject U.S. imperial power as a force for positive change. Miller criticized what she called “politically expedient, hegemonic feminism,” which bears a similarity to the Euston Manifesto: the adoption, implicit or otherwise, of an idealized liberal, modernizing democracy versus orientalized, regressive Islam. The “rescue narrative” is here relevant insofar as the liberal feminist program involves denying the agency of colonized women. “Victims” must be “developed.”[22] Critiquing the liberal framework, Kolhatkar suggests that Western feminist activists are more concerned with fetishizing why third world men may wish to oppress women, than with the actions of their own governments.[23] Inevitably, “saving” leads to violence.[24]

It is perhaps in the White House and the offices of the National Organization of Women where the greatest concern for Afghan women has been exhibited during the War on Terror. President Bush could well have shared a podium with the leading feminist and human rights organizations in his campaign to use the ‘greatest force of liberation known to mankind,’ the U.S. military, to free the Afghan women from Afghan men. There exists no shortage of written material on the theory and practice of dominant liberal organizations with reference to the occupation of Afghanistan. The objectification of women for the express purpose of manufacturing consent has received extensive treatment in the academic literature, even if it has not reached the general public. Ayotte, Choudury, and Kolhatkar have contributed a variety of radical feminist perspectives on how liberal feminism reproduces empire and war. Odetola and Hunt synthesize and further develop these critiques.

As a subset of liberalism, liberal feminism is teleological – assuming a march from backwardness to liberal modernity. In particular, the Western woman is the ideal towards which other women aspire. Liberal feminists emphasize the barbarism and cruelty of the male “other,” as opposed to the human suffering produced by imperialism and neo-colonialism: “We” are not responsible. As in the Cold War manufacturing of consent, liberals provide a different flavour of the same narrative, which is that “they” must become like “us.” Metropolitan citizens are exposed only to the testimony of these liberal feminists who, in a form of “epistemic violence,” appropriate the voices of Global South women and deny their agency.[25]

Uncovering their Bodies

Perhaps it is the fetishization of the veil that best demonstrates the reductionism inherent in liberal feminist thought. Following the occupation of Afghanistan, in a mirror of the French in 1950s Algeria, major U.S. news organizations delivered special programming highlighting the “lifting” of veils from previously “imprisoned” Afghan women. The news organizations were joined in their enthusiasm by such groups as the “Feminist Majority.” “Far more interested in portraying Afghan women as mute creatures covered from head to toe, the Feminist Majority aggressively promotes itself and it’s campaign by selling small squares of mesh cloth, similar to the mesh through which Afghan women can look outside when wearing the traditional Afghan burqa.”[26] The burqa-clad Afghan therefore occupied one end of a polarity, the opposite being, as Odetola portrays, the near-naked, ‘liberated’ makeup-drenched blonde. The endpoint is clear: the lipstick-wearing, global metropolitan woman seen in Western advertising.[27]

Not discussed within the Napoleonic milieu of muscular liberals was the history of the Burqa. It preceded Islam in Afghanistan, although it eventually became associated with religious devotion. Nowhere in the liberal narrative could women choose to wear the burqa as a symbol of that devotion, as a statement against colonialism, or in connection with anti-Taliban activities. Instead, the burqa became a mechanism for constructing civilizational binaries, namely the “Islamic world,” presuming the existence of an Islamic world that comprises only the Middle East.[28][iii]

Also forbidden from polite discussion was the role of the United States in fomenting and encouraging those forces who were involved in forcing women to wear this clothing. Miller refers to the narrative promoted by Ms. Magazine and other liberal feminist publications in which Taliban atrocities were highlighted, without reference to the period in which the United States supported the misogynist Northern Alliance warlords.[29] It was left to radicals to point out the Cold War support of Saudi-financed terrorists in Afghanistan, a case of “historical amnesia” that, for years after the outset of the war, was relegated to the marginalized territory of tinfoil-hats. As Seymour indicates, it is the responsibility of the “decent left” to serve as gatekeepers preventing such impolite facts from reaching mainstream distribution.

At the same time, the accounts of U.S. soldiers sexually dominating and destroying women’s bodies in the Middle East, as well as the rape epidemic within the U.S. military, were much delayed in reaching American shores. Kolhatkar suggests that Western feminist activists are more concerned with fetishizing third world male oppression than the actions of their own governments in fostering repressive and regressive movements worldwide. Cooke also points out that metropolitan liberals focus upon rape, and frequently employ salacious sex crimes to elicit sympathy for powerless victims.[30][iv] The stories about U.S. soldiers, however, did not fit the “rescue” narrative.

Women Who Speak For Themselves

There exist women in Afghanistan capable of self-determination, although not typically acknowledged by liberals.  Most of the radical feminists involved in the critique of liberalism have brought attention to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan [RAWA]. This remarkable organization has inspired activists and academics alike, showcasing the activities of independent, left-wing feminists locally-engaged in popular struggles.

Consistent with the radical feminist critique, liberal organizations did not devote attention to RAWA following the introduction of the War on Terror. According to Miller, mainstream feminist awareness of RAWA actually declined after 9-11, because RAWA did not conform to the narrative of powerless Afghan women. Kolhatkar suggests that supporting actual or potential revolutionary organizations is simply too dangerous an enterprise for colonial feminists.[31]

Although the support for RAWA among radical feminist and anti-war organizations presented an actor in Afghanistan outside of the West/barbarism dichotomy, some have argued that the left-wing spotlight on RAWA itself reinforces the civilizational binary. Hunt points out that in certain respects, RAWA is linked more closely with the West than with Afghans. As internet-connected users in Afghanistan, at the turn of the millennium, RAWA already represented a small minority. Moreover, RAWA is anti-’fundamentalist,’ despite the strong religious affiliations throughout the country.[32]

RAWA’s position that radical change is necessary in order to restore and protect women’s rights in Afghanistan is one that differs from almost all other Afghan women’s groups. RAWA also stands apart from other activists in their demand that all fundamentalists including the Northern Alliance be excluded from present and future Afghan governments. They are one of the few women’s groups working to transform the political situation in Afghanistan by establishing a secular, democratic government.[33]

Hunt commends Western feminists who sought voices from RAWA in an effort to avoid speaking “for” Afghan women. The danger facing these feminists and peace organizations is the possibility of transforming RAWA into a “native informant,” a “stand-in” for people of colour. Because RAWA maintains an internet presence, it is easy to activists to succumb to painting the organization as one that represents all women in Afghanistan. Although RAWA members have claimed to represent all women in Afghanistan, the organization stands apart from the many religiously-observant Afghan women who lack meaningful access to the digital world. Those Western activists who support RAWA, argues Hunt, do so in some instances because RAWA is the “voice of difference” that they long to hear.[34] Hunt further suggests that had RAWA not adopted a “very Westernized radical approach,” it would have garnered less support from Western activists.[35]

The ‘adoption’ of RAWA activists, although intended as a measure against colonial feminism, signifies a deeper problem for the radical, non-liberal activist left. Although left-wing activists, anti-war advocates, radical feminists, and the occasional liberal are willing to showcase the voices of colonized women, they eschew the voices of colonized men and religiously-observant women alike. In particular, the militant Muslim male has occupied the ‘untouchable’ status once enjoyed by the militant black male. It is highly uncommon to find interviews with or analysis on the subject of the various resistance groups in Afghanistan or Iraq, not to mention representatives of the Islamic and secular governments and movements in the Middle East that oppose U.S. and Canadian foreign policy.

Compounding the denial of speech, the “decent left” intimidates the activist community and the general populace with fears of “Islamofascism,” again mirroring the right-wing narrative. The demonization of Islamic resistance to colonialism is hardly new, and socialist left is no exception. The French occupation of Algeria mobilized famous liberals – including Albert Camus – against the ‘terrorist’ resistance. Gaulists and members of the Communist Party denounced the ALN as “fascist.”[36]

It is important to conceptualize the Islamic world as a site of resistance to imperialism, not only by Westernized women, but also by colonized men and women together resisting the imposition of an inhuman socio-economic system. Odetola explores the association between neo-liberalism and Western cultural values in the Islamic world. The economic devastation caused by neo-liberalism has led to “endemic hunger, hopeless unemployment levels, mass homelessness and limitless poverty.” Prostitution has become the main income source for millions of women from East Europe to Central Asia.  Simultaneously, the liberal-democratic discourse accompanying these sweeping economic changes promoted “the mini skirt and casual sex,” and the advertising of consumer products via “naked female flesh.” Working-class Muslim men and women came to perceive “the tiny rootless urban elite, who wear sunglasses, lipstick, and look like they jumped out of the front page of Glamour” as a foreign element.”[v] Meanwhile, Islamist organizations provide material support to the poor, often preventing the need for certain forms of sexual exploitation.[37]


The “left” embrace of liberal human rights imperialism is symptomatic of the general crisis of the Western radical left following the victory of monopoly capitalism during the Cold War. Although the essence of Enlightenment liberalism is egalitarianism, leveling, and a bourgeois “freedom,” it is deaf to the plight of the colonized, the plunder of the world by warring capitalists, and the inevitable extinction of a system predicated upon overproduction, a falling rate of profit, and systematic immiseration of the vast majority of the world’s population.

Radical socialism, conversely, openly conceptualizes difference, opposites, and struggle, seeking to recognize and destroy unequal relationships. Liberalism, as a philosophy based upon classical, now mythical freedoms, as well as contemporary informational interconnectedness, only offers women in the Middle East “the right to Tweet, but not to eat,”[38] as Maximilian Forte put it. As Odetola explains, “In the past a radical left would have mobilized these women under easily grasped, powerfully relevant slogans demanding and struggling for jobs, houses, living wages, and socialism – slogans that embarrass a lot of today’s left who prefer the anodyne, inoffensive and abstract ones of women’s rights, the environment, democracy and “freedom.”[39]


[i] It is notable that even in their Cold-War-era work, in reference to the third “filter” on media-government symbiosis, Chomsky and Herman referred to the growing emphasis on “terrorism.” [Chomsky and Herman (1988), p. 13.]

[ii] “Euston, We Have a Problem” title taken from McLemee, Scott (2006).

[iii]  “…to assume that the mere practice of veiling women in a number of Muslim countries indicates the universal oppression of women through sexual segregation not only is analytically reductive, but also proves quite useless when it comes to the elaboration of oppositional political strategy.” [Ayotte and Husain (2005), p. 117.]

[iv] There were even erroneous reports of female genital mutilation in Afghanistan. [Kolhatkar (2002).]

[v] “Imperialism and its local acolytes have turned two thirds of the planet, the home of the overwhelming majority of the world’s females to one giant brothel, underneath the blazing neon lit legend, forever flashing – “Women’s Rights.” [Odetola (2005).]

[1] Central Intelligence Agency, and Red Cell, “CIA Report into Shoring up Afghan War Support in Western Europe,” Wikileaks, N.p., 26 Mar. 2010, Web.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Baker, Aryn, “Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban,” Time 09 Aug. 2010, Web. <,9171,2007407,00.html&gt;.

[5] Chomsky, Noam, and Edward S. Herman, “Manufacturing Consent: A Propaganda Model,” Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon, 1998.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Greene, Felix. A Curtain of Ignorance. London: J. Cape, 1965, and Hinton, William, Through a Glass Darkly: American Views of the Chinese Revolution, Monthly Review Press, 2006.

[8] Greene (1965), p. 6.

[9] Ibid, p. 8.

[10] Hinton (2006), p. 129.

[11] Ibid, pp. 152-153.

[12] See, for example, Hinton (2006), p. 93.

[13] Amin-Khan, Tariq, “Analyzing Political Islam: A Critique of Traditional Historical Materialist Analytic,” Monthly Review, 21 Mar. 2009, p. 3.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Geras, Norman, and Nick Cohen, “The Euston Manifesto,” 17 Apr. 2006, 27 Feb. 2009 <;.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Choudry, Cyra A., Empowerment or Estrangement?: Liberal Feminism’s Visions of the “Progress” of Muslim Women, 2008, MS 08-10, Florida International University College of Law, University of Baltimore Law Forum, Florida International University Legal Studies, 21 June 2008, Web, <;.

[18] Bricmont, Jean, Humanitarian Imperialism Using Human Rights to Sell War, (New   York: Monthly Review Press, 2006).

[19] Bricmont, and Seymour, Richard, The Liberal Defence of Murder, (Brooklyn: Verso, 2008), pp. 1-12.

[20]Seymour (2008), p. 28.

[21] Ibid, p. 32.

[22]  Choudry (2008), and Miller, Elizabeth, “An open letter to Ms. Magazine re: Afghan women,” 20 Apr. 2002, Socwork, <;.

[23] Kolhatkar, Sonali, “‘Saving’ Afghan Women,” RAWA, 9 May 2002.

[24] Ayotte, Kevin J., and Mary E. Husain, “Securing Afghan Women: Neocolonialism, Epistemic Violence, and the Rhetoric of the Veil,” NWSA Journal 17 (2005), p. 112.

[25] Ayotte and Husain (2005).

[26] Kolhatkar (2002).

[27] Odetola, Kola, “Islam, Sex And The Western Left,” Global Echo, 16 Aug. 2005, <;.

[28] Ayotte and Husain (2005), p. 117.

[29] Miller (2002).

[30] Cooke, Miriam, “Saving Brown Women,” S I G N S (Autumn, 2002), p. 468.

[31] Miller (2002) and Kolhatkar (2002).

[32] Hunt, Krista, “Getting Connected? The politics of mobilizing a transnational feminist response to the war on terror,” Wagadu 2 (2005).

[33] Hunt (2005) and Kolhatkar (2002), p. 58.

[34] Hunt (2005).

[35] Ibid.

[36] Proyect, Louis, “Looking Back at the Battle of Algiers,” MRZine 12 Aug. 2005, Web.

[37] Odetola (2005).

[38] Forte, Maximilian C., “Libya — Lather, Rinse, Repeat — Syria: Liberal Imperialism and the Refusal to Learn,” MRZine 10 Aug. 2011, Web.

[39] Odetola (2005).

5 thoughts on “Colonial Feminism, Liberal “Progress,” and the Weakness of the Left

  1. Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill

    Indeed, the irony is that before the mad cowboy Reagan armed and funded the Islamic fundamentalists, Afghan girls nearly all went to school, wore short dresses and no veil.

  2. Habbat Kibzai

    i find so many references in the article to the work of Egyptian feminist writter Lila Abu Laghud especially her work entitled Does Muslim Women Need Saving about the veil as site of power contestation almost with same theme.However regarding Afghan society still dependant on pre industrial mode of production ,the social order went through drastic changes over four decades seems not focused in the work of none writters interested in the region and history as a whole.

  3. Habbat Kibzai

    Lila Abu Laghud the Egyption feminist writter and one of the renowned activists of Arab spring who in her work entitled Does Muslim Women Need Saving immediately following the interview of Laura Bush after US Intervention in Afghanistan in whichLara justified intervention on the ground of setting free Afghan women from the shackles of Taliban. she exclusively focused the pivot of Purdah/Veil with its different Etymological,cognitive ,historical and cultural manifestations and meaninings as a site of power contestaion in the perspective of Orientalism and binary western opposion. same theme seems dominant here but without mentioning of her or refering to her work at the end.Nevertheless the historical study of mode of production of tribal study of Afghan/Pashtun based on the structuring foundation of Pashtunwali(divided between private and public spheres like other middle eastern societies) with itse economic base and its sustenace as intact process inbetween on the brinks of two neighbouring and interacting civilisations of India and Persia;furthur reducing Asiatic mode of production and applying to the commnities inhabited the margins of peripheries from the centre of civilization whether such communities were directly interrelated through economic ties in mutual co existence or inverse proportion particulaly in the case of Pashtun/Afghan in valleys areas of both Indian and Persian civilization.But how down the centuries social structure went through changes in accordance with subsequent changes referring to later events of empire formaion,monarchy,democracy,soviet backed regimes and consequenly the present situation.soviet backed socialism and west inspired RAWA’S Feminism,Pakitsna branded Islam all togather one and after espcaped the centrifugal boundaries are blurred no clear cut demarcations can be drawn between neither muscular liberals or native seculars and liberals nor conservate and fundamentalis nor bewteen none.

  4. Maximilian Forte

    Just a small note on a relatively minor matter here:

    I would not expect to see the supposedly obligatory reference to an anthropologist in an article by a non-anthropologist, nor do I think this is a significant point. Nor do I think Abu-Lughod has any monopoly on Laura Bush’s comments on women in Afghanistan, since these received lots of commentary. For that matter, on these issues we could add Lutz & Collins, and quite a few others, stretching back to Edward Said.

    Thus what matters is the substance of the argument, not the credit roll.

  5. Brendan Stone

    Hello Habbat,

    Thank you for your interest in the article. I am not familiar with Lila Abu Laghud, but it is good to see that I am not alone in my thinking. I drew upon articles predominantly from the Autumn, 2002 issue of S I G N S, a journal incorporating the writings of a number of prominent radical feminists, for the section on Afghanistan. My intent was to reflect some of the key, relevant arguments within that scholarly discussion. It is likely that their arguments are further reflected in Abu Laghud.

    One area of agreement in the radical feminist discussion of Afghanistan is the complexity of Afghan history and politics. There is a corresponding critique, by these feminists, of the manner in which Western publics are presented with a simplified, distorted, and decontextualized narrative of Afghanistan. I explored how this decontextualized narrative facilitated a style of reporting that promoted Western intervention as the solution to Afghan problems.

    The lack of sophisticated discussion of Afghanistan’s history is consistent with, and necessitated by, the West’s imperial approach. From your comments, it appears as if Abu Laghud has more to say on this subject, and others. In fact, she appears to have developed a coherent theory of how a number of these elements interact. If I write a sequel or follow-up to this article, I will see if I can include her commentary.

Comments are closed