March 17, 2005

March 19th: Hands off Iran!

From Over our dead bodies!, Reza Nasri's blog:

We are [two] days away from March 19th. (The day we stood against the whole world to nationalize our oil industry!).
I had previously suggested that we all change the titles of our weblogs on the anniversary of this day to a slogan that would show the world that we (iranians) still stand by our sovereignty and are still committed to the same noble principles that made us fight for our rights 54 years ago.

Many people have come up with great suggestions for the slogan. My favorite one is "Hands off Iran". I think it is simple and has a good connotation to it.

Of course, everyone is free to add other words to this slogan if they wish to, but I suggest that we keep "Hands off Iran" as the common denominator.

We just have [two] days left, so I encourage everyone to promote the campaign on their weblogs and invite others to join.

Posted by NoWarOnIran! at 08:01 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 12, 2005

Gendered War

We have written about different issues pertaining to war on this blog. But, one issue that has not been tackled here is the way gender is implicated in the rhetoric of war. There are many questions that one can ask in relation to militarism and its relationship with notions of masculinity and femininity. How do different discourses and practices, including nationalism, militarism, and neo-liberalism, which are present in these times marked by the "war on terror" create subject positions for men and women? What kinds of gendered and sexed subjectivities are produced through performances of nationalism in different locations? How does war effect gender relations in both national and transnational contexts? These are some issues that I hope to bring to this blog through paying attention to politics of representation in different media, from paper print to television, and of course, by looking at my favorite medium, weblogistan.

But for the purposes of this post and in order to lay out a theoretical positioning, I would like to post a piece that was written by a group of feminist scholars, shortly after Sepetember 11, 2001. This piece, in my opinion, is one of the most thought-provoking responses that came out after 9/11. Obviously, it is important to see whether or not the points raised in this article apply to the current situation. Hopefully, that will be a part of the on-going discussion about gender and sexuality on this weblog.

This piece was circulated on-line in October 2001 and was later published in Meridian 2.2 (2002).

Transnational Feminist Practices Against War

A Statement by Paola Bacchetta, Tina Campt, Inderpal Grewal, Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, and Jennifer Terry (October 2001)

As feminist theorists of transnational and postmodern cultural formations, we believe that it is crucial to seek non-violent solutions to conflicts at every level of society, from the global, regional, and national arenas to the ordinary locales of everyday life. We offer the following response to the events of September 11 and its aftermath:

First and foremost, we need to analyze the thoroughly gendered and racialized effects of nationalism, and to identify what kinds of inclusions and exclusions are being enacted in the name of patriotism. Recalling the histories of various nationalisms helps us to identify tacit assumptions about gender, race, nation, and class that once again play a central role in mobilization for war. We see that instead of a necessary historical, material, and geopolitical analysis of 9-11, the emerging nationalist discourses consist of misleading and highly sentimentalized narratives that, among other things, reinscribe compulsory heterosexuality and the rigidly dichotomized gender roles upon which it is based. A number of icons constitute the ideal types in the drama of nationalist domesticity that we see displayed in the mainstream media. These include the masculine citizen-soldier, the patriotic wife and mother, the breadwinning father who is head of household, and the properly reproductive family. We also observe how this drama is racialized. Most media representations in the US have focused exclusively on losses suffered by white, middle-class heterosexual families even though those who died or were injured include many people of different races, classes, sexualities, and religions and of at least 90 different nationalities. Thus, an analysis that elucidates the repressive effects of nationalist discourses is necessary for building a world that fosters peace as well as social and economic justice.

Second, a transnational feminist response views the impact of war and internal repression in a larger context of global histories of displacement, forced migrations, and expulsions. We oppose the US and European sponsorship of regimes responsible for coerced displacements and we note how patterns of immigration, exile, and forced flight are closely linked to gender oppression and to the legacies of colonialism and structured economic dependency. Indeed, history shows us that women, as primary caretakers of families, suffer enormously under circumstances of colonization, civil unrest, and coerced migration. Taking this history into account, we critique solutions to the contemporary crisis that rely on a colonial, Manichean model whereby "advanced capitalist freedom and liberty" is venerated over "backward extremist Islamic barbarism." Furthermore, we draw upon insights from post-colonial studies and critical political economy to trace the dynamics of European and US neocolonialism during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. Thus questions about the gendered distribution of wealth and resources are key to our analytical approach. Neo-liberal economic development schemes create problems that impact women in profound and devastating ways in both the "developing regions" as well as the "developed world." So while middle-class Euro-American women in the United States are held up as the most liberated on earth even while they are being encouraged to stand dutifully by their husbands, fathers, and children, women in developing regions of the world are depicted as abject, backward, and oppressed by their men. One of the important elements missing from this picture is the fact that many women in Afghanistan are starving and faced with violence and harm on a daily basis not only due to the Taliban regime but also due in large part to a long history of European colonialism and conflict in the region. The Bush administration�s decision to drop bombs at one moment and, in the next, care packages of food that are in every way inadequate to the needs of the population offers a grim image of how pathetic this discourse of "civilization" and "rescue" is within the violence of war. We see here a token and uncaring response to a situation to which the US has contributed for at least 20 years, a situation that is about gaining strategic influence in the region and about the extraction of natural resources, not the least of which is oil.

Third, we want to comment on the extent to which domestic civil repression is intrinsically linked to the violence of war. Thus the effects of the current conflict will be played out in the US and its borderzones through the augmentation of border patrolling and policing, as well as in the use of military and defense technologies and other practices that will further subordinate communities (especially non-white groups) in the US. Such state violence has many gendered implications. These include the emergence of patriarchal/masculinst cultural nationalisms whereby women�s perspectives are degraded or wholly excluded to create new version of cultural "traditions." And, for many immigrant women, other devastating effects of state repression include increased incidents of unreported domestic violence, public hostility, and social isolation. In practical terms, policing authorities charged with guaranteeing national security are likely to have little sympathy for the undocumented immigrant woman who is fleeing a violent intimate relationship, unless her assailant fits the profile of an "Islamic fundamentalist." Thus we need an analysis and strategy against the "domestication" of the violence of war that has emerged in these last few weeks and whose effects will be felt in disparate and dispersed ways.

Fourth, we call for an analysis of the stereotypes and tropes that are being mobilized in the current crisis. These tropes support, sustain, and are enabled by a modernist logic of warfare that seeks to consolidate the sovereign (and often unilateral) power of the First World nation-state. When President Bush proclaims that "terrorist" networks must be destroyed, we ask what this term means to people and how it is being used to legitimate a large-scale military offensive. The term is being used to demonize practices that go against US national interests and it permits a kind of "drag-net" effect at home and abroad which legitimates the suppression of dissent. We also want to inquire into constructions of "terrorism" that continue to target non-native or "foreign" opposition movements while cloaking its own practices of terror in euphemisms such as "foreign aid." Deconstructing the trope of "terrorism" must include a sustained critique of the immense resources spent by the US in training "counter-terrorists" and "anti-Communist" forces who then, under other historical circumstances, become enemies rather than allies, as in the now famous case of Osama bin Laden. We are concerned about the ways in which the "war against terrorism" can be used to silence and repress insurgent movements across the globe. We also emphasize how racism operates in the naming of "terrorism." When the "terrorists" are people of color, all other people of color are vulnerable to a scapegoating backlash. Yet when white supremacist Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 men, women, and children, no one declared open season to hunt down white men, or even white militia members. The production of a new racial category, "anyone who looks like a Muslim" in which targets of racism include Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, and any other people with olive or brown skin, exposes the arbitrary and politically constructed character of new and old racial categories in the US. It also reveals the inadequacy of US multiculturalism to resist the hegemonic relationship between being "white" and "American." Finally, the short memory of the media suppresses any mention of the Euro-American anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist "terrorist" groups of the 1970s and 1980s. A critical attention to the idioms of the present war mobilization compels us to deconstruct other politically loaded tropes, including security, liberty, freedom, truth, civil rights, Islamic fundamentalism, women under the Taliban, the flag, and "America."

Fifth, we recognize the gendered and ethnocentric history of sentimentality, grief, and melancholy that have been mobilized in the new war effort. We do not intend to disparage or dismiss the sadness and deep emotions raised by the events of 9-11 and its aftermath. But we do think it is important to point out that there has been a massive deployment of therapeutic discourses that ask people to understand the impact of the events of September 11 and their aftermath solely as "trauma." Such discourses leave other analytical, historical, and critical frameworks unexplored. Focusing only on the personal or narrowly defined psychological dimension of the attacks and the ensuing war obscures the complex nexus of history and geopolitics that has brought about these events. We are not suggesting that specific forms of therapy are not useful. But the culture industry of "trauma" leads to a mystification of history, politics and cultural critique. Furthermore, therapeutic discourse tends to reinforce individualist interpretations of globally significant events and it does so in an ethnocentric manner. Seeking relief through a psychotherapeutic apparatus may be a common practice among Euro-American upper- and middle-class people in the United States, but it should not be assumed to be universally appealing or an effective way to counter experiences of civil repression and war among people of other classes, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. Signs of the current trauma discourse�s ethnocentricity come through in media depictions staged within the therapeutic framework that tend to afford great meaning, significance, and sympathy to those who lost friends and family members in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. By contrast, people who have lost loved ones as a consequence of US foreign policy elsewhere are not depicted as sufferers of trauma or injustice. In fact, they are seldom seen on camera at all. Similarly, makeshift centers in universities around the US were set up in the immediate wake of 9-11 to help college students cope with the psychological effects of the attacks. They tended to assume that 9-11 marked the first time Americans experienced vulnerability, overlooking not only the recent events of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, but moreover erasing the personal experiences of many immigrants and US people of color for whom "America" has been a site of potential or realized violence for all of their lives.

Sixth, our transnational feminist response involves a detailed critical analysis of the role of the media especially in depictions that include colonial tropes and binary oppositions in which the Islam/Muslim/non-West is represented as "uncivilized" or "barbaric." We note the absence or co-optation of Muslim women as "victims" of violence or of "Islamic barbarism." We note as well the use of those groups of women seen as "white" or "western" both as "rescuers" of non-western women but also as evidence of the so-called "civilizing" efforts of Europe and North America. We see these discursive formations as a result not only of colonialism�s discursive and knowledge-producing legacies, but also of the technologies and industrial practices that produce contemporary global media, and transnational financing of culture industries. We seek especially to analyze the participation of women in these industries as well as the co-optation of feminist approaches and interests in the attack on a broad range of Islamic cultural and religious institutions, not just "Islamicist/extremist" groups. Thus we point out as a caution that any counter or resistance media would need to have a firm grasp of these histories and repertoires of practice or risk reproducing them anew.

Seventh, we call for a deeper understanding of the nature of capitalism and globalization as it generates transnational movements of all kinds. Thus, we seek to counter oppressive transnational movements, both from the "West" as well as the "Non-West," with alternative movements that counter war and the continued production of global inequalities. We note in particular that religious and ethnic fundamentalisms have emerged across the world within which the repression of women and establishment of rigidly dichotomized gender roles are used both as a form of power and to establish a collectivity. Such fundamentalisms have been a cause of concern for feminist groups not only in the Islamic world but also in the U.S.. Feminist and other scholars have noted that these movements have become transnational, through the work of nation-state and non-governmental organizations, with dire consequences for all those who question rigid gender dichotomies. Since these movements are transnational, we question the notion of isolated and autonomous nation-states in the face of numerous examples of transnational and global practices and formations. The recent displays of national coherence and international solidarity (based on 19th and 20th century constructions of international relations), cannot mask the strains and contradictions that give rise to the current crisis. Thus, we need an analysis of the numerous ways in which transnational networks and entities both limit and at the same time enable resistance and oppression. That is, the complex political terrain traversed by transnational networks as diverse as al-Qaida and the Red Cross must be understood as productive of new identities and practices as well as of new kinds of political repression. Transnational media has roots in pernicious corporate practices yet it also enables diverse and contradictory modes of information, entertainment, and communication. Feminist analysis of these complex and often contradictory transnational phenomena is called for.

In closing, we want to make it very clear that we oppose the US and British military mobilization and bombing that is underway in Afghanistan and that may very well expand further into the West, Central, and South Asian regions. We are responding to a crisis in which war, as described by the George W. Bush administration, will be a covert, diversified, and protracted process. At this moment we call for a resistance to nationalist terms and we argue against the further intensification of US military intervention abroad. We refuse to utilize the binaries of civilization vs. barbarism, modernity vs. tradition, and West vs. East. We also call for an end to the racist scapegoating and "profiling" that accompanies the stepped up violations of civil liberties within the territorial boundaries of the US. We urge feminists to refuse the call to war in the name of vanquishing a so-called "traditional patriarchal fundamentalism," since we understand that such fundamentalisms are supported by many nation-states. We are also aware of the failures of nation-states and the global economic powers such as the IMF and the World Bank to address the poverty and misery across the world and the role of such failures in the emergence of fundamentalisms everywhere. Nationalist and international mobilization for war cannot go forward in our name or under the sign of "concern for women." In fact, terror roams the world in many guises and is perpetrated under the sign of many different nations and agents. It is our contention that violence and terror are ubiquitous and need to be addressed through multiple strategies as much within the "domestic" politics of the US as elsewhere. It is only through developing new strategies and approaches based on some of these suggestions that we can bring an end to the violence of the current moment.

Posted by Sima at 07:25 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

March 08, 2005

"People Power" in Lebanon

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan at a White House press conference yesterday:

We want to see the complete and immediate withdrawal of all Syrian military forces and all intelligence services in Lebanon. This [the Syrian decision to redeploy troops along the border] is a half-measure that simply does not achieve that objective. We stand with the Lebanese people. The Lebanese people are the ones who want a country that is sovereign and independent and free from outside interference. And that's who we stand with.
Below are some photos of various protests in Beirut, some from last week, some from today. Some of the protesters are calling for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon. Others are calling for them to stay. The numbers are apparently quite comparable (if not tilting more toward the pro-Syrian side, which has particularly strong support among the Shi'a community, which now comprises 40 percent of Lebanon's population).

Will the real Lebanese "people" please raise their hands?

Update: Juan Cole has some interesting comments about the pro-Syrian demonstrations.

Posted by Alireza at 06:17 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack