I definitely took pause reading this excellent column by Michele Goldberg at the American Prospect about the potential for a feminist justification of war. She writes,
Women for Afghan Women (WAW), a nongovernmental organization that runs women’s shelters, schools, and counseling centers in three cities in Afghanistan, has watched with alarm as American opinion has turned against the occupation. An American withdrawal, its board members say, would be catastrophic for the women they work with. “Every woman who we have talked to in Afghanistan, all the Afghan women in the NGOs, in the government, say the United States and the peacekeeping troops and NATO must stay, they must not leave until the Afghan army is able to take over,” says Esther Hyneman, a WAW board member who recently returned from six months in Kabul.
As an anti-war feminist, it is hard for me to hear that women in Afghanistan would want to keep the troops. She goes on to write that there has been reluctance in coming to this positive, however many activists believe this is what is best for women. Part of what makes this challenging to read is because these types of sentiments are often interpolated by the right to justify military expansion covertly for the purpose of the war on terror, not actually feminism. In their book Just Advocacy, Wendy Hesford and Wendy Kozol, write about the strategic use of women’s rights as a justification to expand troops in Afghanistan.
Both the events of 9/11 and the subsequest use of women’s rights to sell the Bush administration’s war on terrorism in the weeks following 9/11 (Smith) renewed interest in the anonymous Afghan girl depicted on the 1985 cover. In her radio address to the nation on November 17, 2001, Laura Bush claimed that, “the brutal oppression of the women is a central goals of the terrorists….Civilized people throughout the world are speaking out in horror–not only because our hearts break for the women and children of Afghanistan, but also because in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us…I hope Americans will join our family in working to insure that dignity and opportunity will be secure for all the women and children of Afghanistan.
This is a compelling narrative, if it were not drenched in racism and colonial fantasy. A feminist narrative for increasing troops in Afghanistan is not a new one, however, it is new when it is coming from women in Afghanistan, or is actually feminist, not just a cover up. And like any other country women have different positions on the presence of troops and align themselves with different parts of the political sphere in Afghanistan, some for and others against the occupation, but it still forces us to ask what role should the military have in Afghanistan?
This competition in narrative from what they want and what we want, is a plague to US based progressivism, where often what we are calling for is not what “others” may want in their home countries, but our ideology on war, terror, justice and feminism guides our political affiliations nonetheless. I suppose I am at a loss in finding a way to reconcile this difference, but I do wonder if Obama truly has democracy as his intention for increasing troops in Afghanistan, we have greater leverage to demand that military presence be for feminist good. But I don’t have that kind of faith. Will the American public or military support such an initiative or is the focus perpetually on the terror threat?