You cant fight Misogyny with Imperialism

I’ve spent a week in the dark parts of the lefty blogsphere. First I ventured into Socialist Unity – the home of the UK misogynist left, then I got sucked in to Harry’s Place – the home of the UK imperialist left. If this is representative of the RoUK left, its in a sorry, sorry state.  I’ve dealt with the creepy rape apologism that passes for enlightened comment at Socialist Unity elsewhere, but just as you can’t fight fascism with sexism, you cant fight misogyny with imperialism either.

The white left as defined by Bermuda Radical is

Those segments of the left, both individuals and groups, white as well as non-white, who represent the privilege, power and interests of imperialist white power and settler-colonialism. This can be by either active advocacy/apologism for white power and settler colonialism, or in other ways. The first is being explicitly in the corner of white power, while the second one is implicit. The second type can be seen very strongly in the white “left’s” history of false internationalism, opportunism and parasitism in its relations with revolutionaries of colour….

And quite often the advocacy of, and apologism for white power and settler colonialism is bourne out of a faux concern for Black women.  Women become an excuse for bombing, invading and occupying countries as the West, with its oh so enlightened gender politics, shows them the correct path.  Black women become the objects of liberation to be acted on behalf of by imperial powers controlled overwhelmingly by white men.  They are the white man’s burden, to be protected from the savagery of the Black man. While the country which gave us the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs” has now launched the “War on Women“.

To ‘protect the weak’ has always been the excuse of the ruler and tax-gatherer, the chief, the king, the baron; and now, at last, of ‘the white man’

Jane Addams, Chicago Liberty Meeting against the US invastion of the Phillipines, 1899

In Afghanistan the horrors of the Taliban, an organisation funded and supported by the CIA when it was convenient for them to do so, are used to justify an invasion which has seen women murdered in the interests of their freedom.  In the Congo, US military funding – ostensibly provided to provide security for women – has accelerated an epidemic in which nearly 50 women per hour are raped.  While in Libya while superficial advances mask the widespread sexual violence that occurred against women from ethnicities which tended to support Gaddafi and a turning back of the greater rights that Libyan women had compared with the rest of the region.  In Iraq, the strategic alliances that the invading force used to gain control over the region have undermined the position of women both legally and in practice.

And it is not only abroad that women face violence as a result of military intervention. Riding in on their white chargers is a military force in which one third of its female recruits are raped and two thirds sexually assaulted are sent in to “liberate” them.  Apart from the violence women suffer within the military, women who are in relationships with soldiers face higher levels of domestic violence.  While funding that can be used for domestic education and health care is spent on murdering foreign civilians and maintaining weapons of mass destruction to intimidate the world into acquiescence and call it consent.

Even when there is no overt invasion, the presence of UN peacekeepers and NGOs can exacerbate the sexual violence that women experience in troubled countries.  During the Balkan War, an estimated 80% of the clients of brothels were troops from the US, Germany, France and Italy, with brothels springing up around military bases providing a base for the ever growing sex trafficking racket.  In both Liberia and Sudan, the presence of foreign non-governmental agencies have created a boom in the sex industry.  While other NGOs, of the “raid and rescue” persuasion have seen women imprisoned for involvement in sex industry and children stolen under the pretence of saving them.  While voyeuristic accounts of Third World child rape are peddled for the infotainment of the West.

To fall for the line that the West must save Black women – even if that means killing, imprisoning or raping them in the interests of their “liberation” is to deny their agency in fighting for their freedom, an agency which is key to the struggle against capitalism, and a freedom which is twofold.  As victims of both colonialism and patriarchy, Black women have a unique insight into the kyriarchial structures which uphold exploitation, dancing between them while challenging both in tandem.  Seeking solidarity with feminists when challenging misogyny and with their Black bretheren when challenging imperialism, Black women are critical agents in the fight against capitalism and the narratives which sustain it.  Only Black women have experience of the dual role of colonisation of both land and body, of the exploitation engendered by those who own the means of production, and of the corporeal occupation inflicted on those who form the means of reproduction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 comments
NickD
NickD

Meant to post this before, but reading up on Hobsbawm's death at Shiraz Socialist I came across this piece they'd linked to by Uri Avnery, longtime Israeli peace activist. I don't know whether you are familiar with him or the work of Gush Shalom, but he has impeccable credentials as an opponent of anti-Arab racism and settler colonialism / fanaticism going back to '48, willing to put his body on the line (he was nearly stabbed to death in the 70s, for example, and Gush Shalom has been firebombed). This piece, I think, is a very good summation of why the one-state solution is a non-starter and why the left should back two states on the 67 borders, and if the BDS campaign is serious it has to be willing to address the points he makes, at minimum: http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/avneri-on-romney-and-the-two-state-solution/ I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this, either here or as a blog post. In my view, the BDS campaign, however well-intentioned (although I do not think all of its supporters can be called that by a long streak, and there is a great deal of wishful thinking going on about the kind of people you are in cahoots with, with a lot of historical precedent) functions to ENABLE, not retard, or defeat, those elements of Israeli society that can be reasonably described as fascistic or religiously rabid. A call for two states marginalizes the extremists and is aligned with an imperfect but feasible solution that over the years the majority of both national populations have revealed themselves to be willing to accept (according, for example, to polling data) but reluctant to implement (because, for example, they have been conned into thinking that there is no partner for peace, or have reached this conclusion after the failure of partial withdrawals - Gaza / Lebanon - or partial (and to Palestinians transparently fraudulent), "interim" agreements - Oslo). Then there is always the possibility (and, I'd say, likelihood) of greater social and political integration over the longer term.

Jim Denham
Jim Denham

Very interesting post (which I don't altogether agree with) and very interesting (and civilised) exchange with NickD. I have to say that, like NickD, I tend to respond to the claim (increasingly common amongst Guardianistas and the "anti-Zionist" left) that a two state solution won't work on grounds of pure practicability, with the reply: what about the alternative, then? If two states is not viable, how on earth would one-state work? The only conceivable version of "one state" and the only one that, in reality, doesn't mean driving the Jews into the sea, is bi-nationalism. The prectical problems of this supposed "solution" dwarf the difficulties involved in two states. I discussed this a while back, here: http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/binationalism-and-the-sad-story-of-judah-magnes/ I know my main source, Benny Morris has a record of making dodgy comments (some would say, worse than "dodgy") about the Palestinians, but his writing on Manges and binationalism is well researched and has not, as far as I know, been seriously challenged even by his political critics. One final point: it's pretty obvious to me that many of the people who raise purely "practical" objections to two states, in truth really object to Israel's very right to exist. By your own account, that is clearly your position and I'm sure, coming from you, it's the benign "socialism and unity are the answer" version. But in reality, it could only mean the military conquest of Israel, and "drive them into the sea." Something that (a) isn't going to happen in the forseeable future and (b) no democrat, socialist or genuine anti-imperialist could possible want to see happen. Happily, all the evidence suggests that neither does the vast majority of Palestinians.

admin
admin

"If you think that a two-state solution wouldn’t be viable why do you think there’s any chance that a one-state solution would work, without subscribing to any doomsday type scenarios of the Jews being driven into the sea?" That is actually a very good question - but one far, far too long for a comment. I have a half-written blogpost that I never become happy enough with to publish on the situation of the Jewish residents in a post-Israeli Palestine. Its not an easy question.

NickD
NickD

"its clear that a two state solution would not work because the international community is willing to turn a blind eye to any atrocities committed" If you think that a two-state solution wouldn't be viable why do you think there's any chance that a one-state solution would work, without subscribing to any doomsday type scenarios of the Jews being driven into the sea? I/P is the most over-discussed, analysed and documented area of conflict / oppression / human rights abuse in the world (I mean, relatively). Contrast it with Kashmir, for example, and the almost total media blackout and public ignorance on that. But support for the Palestinians is fragmented by the strategy their most vocal (and, imo, often totally unreasoning) advocates here and elsewhere have adopted - BDS, one-state, delegitimisation. That translates as less pressure on governments to pressurise Israel in turn; no western government would call for a one-state solution.

NickD
NickD

Cuba / US: would you report stories that contradict this? And are you concerned about the internal record of Cuba - the suppression of dissent, free speech, homosexuality? After all, the Israelis also dispatch disaster relief teams internationally, although I'm sure you'd see that as just propaganda. "raises many more questions about the situation of 2nd/3rd generation Israelis who have been born into a situation outwith their control" Well, exactly. Leaving aside the question of Israel's origins - suffice to say, I don't see things as you do, without whitewashing the ethnic cleansing that took place / Nakba - I don't think at this stage in history painting Israel as an illegitimate state is any more productive than it would be to depict Australia or the US or Turkey as illegitimate states because of the genocide that took place in those countries or Iran as an illegitimate state because it murders gay people and communists or Britain because of its history of empire. I share the anarchist viewpoint that in a sense all states are illegitimate. How do you tell an Israeli kid now that her identity is totally illegitimate? What do you think her reaction is going to be? Also, on the subject of "outwith their control" 100s of thousands of Arab Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries particularly in the late forties / early fifties and came to Israel as refugees (the Israeli government helped to obscure this, because they wanted to depict them as ardent Zionists). "Israel does not want Palestine to exist in any form IMHO". Simplistic, in my humble op, although I'm sure most Israelis wished the Palestinians had never existed, as much as most Palestinians wish the reverse. Why is Israel a monolith in a way that other states aren't, in terms of the complexities and shifting strands of public opinion? Various polls and analyses over the last twenty years have revealed a strong majority of the public support for two states, if certain conditions about security are met ("land for peace"). But right-wing extremists and the settler lobby have disproportionate, and growing, power. Sharon / Hamas basically conspired in ensuring that support for a withdrawal from the West Bank was too lukewarm to defeat the settlers (in the familiar dynamic of extremists leveraging internal power in de facto collusion). Sharon knew that the Palestinian leadership in Gaza would not accept a partial withdrawal but he was then able to present the resulting rockets as evidence that land for peace doesn't work. So most Israelis have buried their heads in the sand and the West Bank Palestinians have to some extent given up on politics (for the time being) and to some extent been bought off by the economic boom that the US has sponsored there. As far-off as it is, two states or some kind of federal solution is the only viable option; the alternative is war or - more likely - the continued oppression of the Palestinians and more and more territory seized by the settlers.

NickD
NickD

No offence taken! Say what you want. Don't want to draw you into a over-long discussion of these points, so I'll try to be brief and let you have the final say - I won't reply again. "Not the focus of the post". True; but my basic point was to challenge what I perceived as overly dogmatic / rigid / ideological thinking in your post. The themes you base your argument on have been articulated over and over again in the post-911 climate, but I don't think that there is any possibility of you having any impact on people who don't already share your views unless you engage with critiques of these ideas and absorb them into a more nuanced perspective. You are just talking to yourself. These themes seem to be: - There is never any justification for so-called "humanitarian intervention"; it is always a fraudulent cover for the exercise of imperial power. - We should always follow the lead of oppressed groups in the third world / global south / non-west. - Most of the evils in the world emanate from the west. These ideas often contradict each other. There were calls from Libyan groups and have been calls from Syrian groups for limited military or tactical support in those revolutions (if not troops on the ground). Some Iraqis were in favour of military intervention in 2003, as I recall (not that that swayed me). My experience in Palestine also suggests a great deal more ambivalence to the West and capitalism, than the third point plus the second, taken together, presuppose. I was against Iraq, but I also don't support BDS in its current form despite Palestinian leadership of the strategy because I think a two state solution on 67 lines is the only realistic solution (as unrealistic as even that seems), at least in the short-term. I think those Palestinians who hold onto a maximalist vision for what they can achieve - full ROR - are wrong, and prolonging suffering for their people. I'll add one other thing, which I don't think is totally irrelevant. I used to be a huge Chomsky fan - that is, until I saw how he dealt with his critics, and the immense intellectual arrogance that entails (check out the correspondence with George Monbiot, for example). I see the same thing replicated on a lower level time and time again in how parts of the left deal with criticism, the absolute sense of righteousness and certitude, refusal to acknowledge mistakes or admit doubt. Exactly the attitude that leads people to dismiss you as an imperialist when you have the brazen temerity to challenge apologias for rape. Finally (sorry!) - also slight tangent - I get the feeling that there is some alignment of this blog with anarchism; I find it weirdest of all to see anarchists go along with thinkers so supremely confident of their own authority on areas of knowledge as vast those Chomsky seeks to elucidate, and so dismissive of critique. Not that I am accusing you of this, or denigrating the need for theory / ideological constructs. Anyway - look forward to reading your other posts.

admin
admin

Nah, its OK, argue away, its good to have discussion over these issues. In terms of humanitarian intervention, contrast the support provided by Cuba - who dispatches cuban trained doctors, who work under local direction, and trains foreign doctors in Cuba for free as well as developing and distributing generic version of patented medicines to poor countries, to the US which dumps its unwanted goods on poor countries, in exchange for tax breaks, parachute in teams who work seperately from local leadership and bomb countries in the interests of liberating them. I dont support a two state solution for Israel/Palestine, not only because I believe that Israel is an illegitimate colonial state (which as time goes on and its infrastructure becomes more established, raises many more questions about the situation of 2nd/3rd generation Israelis who have been born into a situation outwith their control) but also because Israel has an unblemished history of not respecting international agreements, UN declarations and the borders of Palestine, and its clear that a two state solution would not work because the international community is willing to turn a blind eye to any atrocities committed. Israel does not want Palestine to exist in any form IMHO. Meh, on the anarchism. I originally come from a Marxist-Leninist tradition (the Communist Party of Great Britain which ended in 92), but have definately gone on a more anarchistic/liberatory trajectory since, although I am still a Marxist. I work closely with anarchists tho, and as I get older have more and more respect for their viewpoints. Quite a few anarchos read or comment on the blog, so I guess there is a level of anarchist influence.

admin
admin

When I said that “I taught girls music who otherwise would have not had these opportunities”, in what way does that indicate that I’m unaware of the roots of the problem or haven’t considered them as seriously as you do? Thats not what I'm saying - it wasnt a personal attack, it was an appreciation that structural factors - where the money comes from, the management and leadership that allows Westerners to intervene in other countries for noble ends can end up reinforcing a situation of dependence - dependance that the intervention was supposed to undermine. I guess to some extent its the way I write - I tend to lay out what I think, and writing that is continually peppered with "and its much more complicated than that", which it is, of course it is, tends to get really annoying. Its a really interesting question you ask in term of if RAWA or other similar orgs request military intervention. What you are talking there of is solidarity action - be that military or otherwise. The most famous request for military solidarity that I can think of is the Spanish Civil War, where people from all over Europe went to fight fascism, in a self-organised manner, rather than as representatives of a state. At the moment, the most well thought international solidarity call that I can think of comes from Palestine, particularly in relation to BDS, which I think explains why Palestine has become such a particular focus of the left, that there is some leadership from the resistance to the Western left, which is absent in a lot of other anti-colonial struggles. Again, the question you ask is about the agency of Pakistan and Saudi men in the situation in Afghanistan, which wasnt the focus of the post - the post was aimed at looking at how the West uses narratives of womens liberation to impose colonialism.

NickD
NickD

When I said that "I taught girls music who otherwise would have not had these opportunities", in what way does that indicate that I'm unaware of the roots of the problem or haven't considered them as seriously as you do? This is what I'm critiquing in your way of thinking. Because I do not lay a glib ideology out, with all ends neatly joined up, you make the totally false assumption that I have not considered the kinds of broader structural issues you raise, even though I indicated this in my post. This idea that you can elaborate a total system of thought, with all questions answered in advance, is dangerous. The kind of ideological rigidity - and absolute certainty- exhibited in the "Bermuda Radical" link you provide is a perfect example of where this leads. A perfect edifice of theory. Too perfect, too sure. I'm not against theory, of course, but it needs to be alive, somehow, and exhibit some sense of skepticism or doubt or possibility for challenge. Otherwise it is doomed to remain in ivory towers or it is imposed. "Within some situations patriarchy is more intense or more widespread, but it operates within a structure which cannot be seperated from the geo-structural context." Fine, but why are you so sure of your analysis of the geo-structural context? Isn't this certainty precisely what leads SU commentors to dismiss you as an imperialist stooge without engaging with your arguments? In what ways do / or would you offer solidarity to women fighting patriarchal systems abroad? If groups like RAWA requested military intervention, for example, what would you say? Fisk - you link to an Independent article ("funded and supported by the CIA" ). Since you haven't answer this question, I'll repeat it: why, when you talk about restoring agency to those you designate "Black women", and presumably non-western actors in general, do you take agency AWAY from the Pakistani and Saudia Arabian actors implicated in the Taliban's origins and ideology by ignoring their involvement in favour of highlighting the role of the USA?

NickD
NickD

"You can’t fight fascism with sexism, you cant fight misogyny with imperialism" As much as I agree with you about the disgusting show at Socialist Unity (and the unpleasant, bullying tone of the responses at Harry's Place), much of this piece is rhetoric rather than argument. There are a series of glib propositions culled from theory, not the kind of detailed & thoughtful analysis you offered before on consent. Anyone familiar with, say, bell hooks, Judith Butler or post-colonial theory can "do" this style, but it's ventriloquism, not argument, and I don't think will persuade anyone who's not already on board - unlike your previous piece. It would be unfair to say you've simply inverted the trope of "the black man's savagery", but there is very little to suggest that the "other" is capable of moral transgression, except for a couple of remarks about (a presumably generic and monolithic) patriarchy, and the evils you describe in detail are all attributable to the "west". Nothing about the degrees to which patriarchal brutality may vary from culture to culture. Or about the practical difficulties in providing solidarity to women in countries with more authoritarian regimes or violent systems of patriarchy. Don't you see the irony in talking about giving agency to "black women", and then highlighting the connection between the Taliban and the CIA, rather than, say, the Taliban and Pakistan, or the relationship between the Taliban and Saudi Wahhabism? This is REMOVING agency from "non-western" actors. My source, btw, is Faisal Devji, a historian from Zanzibar - yours is Robert Fisk, a English journalist notorious for his lax approach to accuracy. I'll take one other thing you say - about NGOs. Do you think their influence is always so detrimental to the causes you support? Not a rhetorical question. Because this is the impression you give. To put my cards on the table, I spent two years working for an NGO in the West Bank / Palestine, and believe me, I thought long and hard about the problematic aspects of our role (cultural imperialism, power imbalances, etc). I eventually concluded that on balance, we were doing some good. I taught a lot of girls music who would not have had those opportunities in the traditional culture. Your kind of theory does not grapple with moral problems as they manifest themselves in action. It is too neat, too tidy, too enclosed.

admin
admin

The post was specifically about the ways in which the narrative of the liberation of women is used to justify imperialist intervention. Where war is seen through the eyes of the West, and women as the objects over which liberation is to be enacted. Of course systems of patriarchy differ. Patriarchy operates differently in the strip clubs of Los Angeles than it does in a Kabul market. Within some situations patriarchy is more intense or more widespread, but it operates within a structure which cannot be seperated from the geo-structural context. But that isnt the focus of this post. I'm not sure where the reference to Fisk comes from, I cant see where I have linked to anything that he has written. In terms of NGOs, no I dont think that their influence is necessarily detrimental, but dependent on funding, management and leadership gets diverted from the purpose that it obstensibly drives towards. Your statement of "I taught a lot of girls music who would not have had those opportunities in the traditional culture", ignores some of the roots of the problem. - why do these girls not have these opportunities - how can traditional culture nurture and develop girls and young women - what is the cultural transmission of music and other arts ...and ultimately by providing these opportunities, what opportunity cost is there: both to the girls and the structural and cultural wellbeing of the society.

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