We will kill you if you go to school

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 28, 2008

Among some groups of ‘Western’ feminists, perhaps especially within academia, there is a reluctance to draw attention to extreme instances of human rights violations in ‘non-western’ countries, especially in (predominantly) Muslim countries. The argument behind this position is that by highlighting the oppressions of women by some Muslim leaders or groups, one is playing into the card of Islamophobia, and contributing to the polarising rhetoric of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Some also argue that Western feminists should focus on unjust global economic and political structures for which Western governments bear responsibilities, rather than on local sources of oppression in non-western societies.

I think such concerns are in many instances justified. Nevertheless from time to time I am struck by the intensity of the violence against women and girls by some groups or leaders in the world (and clearly this is by no means just a Muslim issue). Moreover, it would be hard to deny that it is of a different order than the disadvantages or hampering social structures experienced by mainstream groups of women in Europe or North America.

Take the latest one from the Taliban: they have warned that in North-West Pakistan they will kill all girls who still go to school on January 15th, and that they will blow up schools who will enrol female students after that date. Now one would hope they wouldn’t have the capacity to execute such a threat, yet surely they will be able to kill some girls, just as they’ve killed so many other targets. It is just very sad that these things continue to happen when we are entering 2009. It reached the newspapers and the 8 o’clock news here in the Netherlands – but then, what else is going to happen now? As far as I can tell nothing much – except what must be a terrible decision to be made by these girls and their parents.

{ 122 comments }

1

Katherine 12.28.08 at 7:48 pm

I don’t think there is a single feminist in the world, Western or not, who’ll think this is something they shouldn’t highlight, protest against, and altogether abhor.

One would hope that would in fact apply to the whole of humanity, but clearly it doesn’t.

2

fjm 12.28.08 at 8:07 pm

I have never heard any western feminist express this position. Names please.

3

Slocum 12.28.08 at 8:27 pm

I have never heard any western feminist express this position. Names please.

I guess you’ve never heard the phrase ‘White men saving brown women from brown men’:

Such portrayal of Muslim women as oppressed victims requiring Western rescue symbolized a “benevolent recuperation of the colonialist agenda” (Ganguly, 1992, p. 74), which Gayatri Spivak (1988) has summarized in her statement about “white men saving brown women from brown men” (p. 297). Abu-Lughod (2002) argued that this rhetoric of salvation, which is based on an assumption of Western superiority, needs to be challenged. She pointed out that when one saves someone, one saves that person not only “from something” but also “to something” (p.788). And, it is arrogant to assume that Muslim women want to be saved to follow Western values.

http://lass.calumet.purdue.edu/cca/gmj/fa07/gmj-fa07-mishra.htm

4

Keith M Ellis 12.28.08 at 8:37 pm

This news literally nauseates me. I firmly believe that were the ways women are oppressed worldwide racist instead of sexist, there would be a deafening outcry. Imagine a country where blacks were not allowed to get an education past the age of twelve under penalty of death, and were not allowed to own property or walk in public. A large number of women around the world are de facto slaves and it doesn’t really seem to concern anyone except feminists. This, more than anything else, demonstrates just how far the struggle against sexism lags the struggle against racism.

As for the matter of feminist ambivalence as a consequence of cultural relativism and, in the current political climate, the reluctance to feed Islamophobia, of course it exists. I struggle with this myself. Indeed, I vividly recall a time in the late 80s when I was in the distinct minority among the feminists I knew in my willingness to condemn FGM unconditionally.

Of course, it’s not as if there’s such a thing as the official feminist position and there are often as many differing opinions as there are self-identified feminists. But trends come and go and I think that recent years have seen, as a result of the rise of Islamophobia in the west, an increased reluctance among feminists to loudly decry sexism in Islamic countries for fear of providing ammunition to the bigoted cultural chauvinists who cynically use the plight of women to disguise their ulterior motives. I watched and denounced and, frankly, despised the Taliban from their inception and while for this reason I applauded their downfall during the US invasion, I was never under any illusions that the US would take seriously the matter of securing the well-being of Afghan women in the long-term. Certainly some of the warmongering conservative Islamophobes here in the US secretly admire a culturally conservative society where women are “put in their place”. The thought of being metaphorically in bed with these conservatives disgusts me.

Yet I think those considerations are ultimately minor and relatively unimportant when placed against the enormity of the horror of the plight of these girls and women in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. I yearn for the day when I see college campuses holding marches and vigils protesting the treatment of women around the world such as I recall back in the day protesting apartheid. Twenty-five years ago I would have expected the world to be farther along in the fight against sexism than it is today.

5

harry b 12.28.08 at 8:42 pm

Well, in the responses to Susan Okin’s essay in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women some people who seem to think of themselves as feminists give her a very hard time. Mostly they misunderstand her position (but in some cases seem to do so willfully). I am strongly inclined think that someone who advocates what Ingrid objects to disqualifies themselves from feminism (so, that would include Spivak if she indeed said what is attributed to her in the passage above; and if she didn’t I’ve heard people say much the same thing in numerous, appalling, conversations, though none of them would be the kind of person to put it into print). But that’s a bit of a cheat, obviously.

6

Keith M Ellis 12.28.08 at 8:57 pm

“…argued that this rhetoric of salvation, which is based on an assumption of Western superiority, needs to be challenged…”

I think it needs to be challenged, but for a different reason. It should be challenged in the context of westerners fighting sexism in non-western cultures…and especially in the context of men, like myself, who fight against sexism.

There is something inherently paternalistic in rescuing someone. There’s no avoiding this. And this is especially pernicious in the context where someone has been methodically and institutionally disempowered—”saving” them, though well-intentioned, may change many circumstances but it unfortunately continues the pattern of disempowerment.

This is why I’ve come to believe that an important distinction should be made between fighting against an injustice and fighting for an oppressed group. I think that only members of the oppressed group should fight for themselves; it’s not appropriate (or helpful in the long-term) for outsiders to fight on their behalf. However, it is appropriate and helpful—indeed, I think everyone’s duty—to fight against injustice. The distinction might in practice seem ambiguous and artificial, but I believe that were everyone involved to embrace this distinction where it is relevant, it would have beneficial consequences and reduce a lot of conflict.

It is not our job, as westerners—as outsiders—to specifically fight to improve the lot of Afghan women and to empower them. Ultimately, an oppressed group must empower themselves. But it is our job, and everyone’s job, to fight injustice and to oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves. We can fight sexism in Afghanistan without placing ourselves into a paternalistic position—but only if we are aware of the distinction I am discussing.

Also, of course, I think this is the correct way for men to be involved in the fight against sexism. As it is not the role of westerners to be advocates for Afghan women, it is not the role of men to be advocates for women. Yet all of us can, and should, fight sexism wherever we find it. Fighting injustice and advocacy are two separate things. Being mindful of this will not eliminate the risk of cultural imperialism in the fight against sexism, but it will reduce it.

7

fjm 12.28.08 at 9:01 pm

Slocum, your quotation seems to be an argument from non-Western women objecting to Western feminism. This I have heard, from a number of sources.

I have also heard many western feminists question the rhetoric of liberation/salvation, but never the idea that there are certain fundamental rights to which all people including women are entitled, with *one* exception (which nauseates me) and that is the debate over female genital mutilation, over which some western feminists get themselves into a terrible mess.

8

Chris Waigl 12.28.08 at 9:10 pm

Ingrid, as a “Western” and European feminist and reader of Crooked Timber for many years, I find your post disconcerting and more than a little intellectually deplorable. You start out, using an outrageous statement (a valid rhetorical technique), appearing to address the in itself interesting issue of how to take a stance about things that happen outside one’s own cultural environment. But then instead of having anything interesting at all to say about it, you turn around and instead talk about the horrible threat from one of the world’s most rabid misogynist groups.

If you have a quote from any prominent Western feminist expressing ambivalence about speaking out against this sort of thing, then say so. I don’t know of any who would excuse killing school girls under the pretext or with the excuse of respecting cultural differences.

Being a feminist doesn’t prevent one from being a xenophobe (or Islamophobe, if you will), but the in-group vs out-group activism issue has much more general roots. See bourgeois feminists vs working-class feminists vs black feminists vs queer feminists.

9

roy belmont 12.28.08 at 9:15 pm

Well, the BBC article says “A local Taleban commander ordered parents to stop sending their daughters to school by 15 January.”
So when you say “Take the latest one from the Taliban” you’re already running an “Islamophobic” script.
It’s not from “the Taleban”, it’s from the BBC, a news organization that’s been demonstrably compromised over the past decade, and it’s from the BBC quoting a local Taleban leader.
Lots of people reading the story as it sits will conflate local Afghan Taleban with the entire Muslim world. Everyone on the other side of that news delivery system knows that, and everyone on this side should be made aware of it as well, so we can get closer to the truth of these things.
The parallel would be quoting some fundamentalist compound messiah figure, like David Koresh, or a slick Elmer Gantry like Joel Osteen, or pick your favorite Christian leader/scapegoat, or a rabble-rouser like Jeremiah Wright, and without qualifying it allowing that quote to stand for the whole fundamentalist Christian position, and then allowing that position to stand for the whole Christian position, without ever saying you’re doing that, because you’ve done it all by inference and im[lication.
This is the art form of this time, to create without having created, to inoculate information into the great mass without ever saying anything actionable or even directly referable.
The venomous nonsense coming out of these same major news portals, as well as what’s emanating from the governments of the US and Israel etc., about Hamas and the horrific violence being done to Gaza, has a similar truth-to-lie ratio, and a similar motivation. By obscuring the real context, by eliding the complicity of the “rescuers” and “retaliators”, morally indefensible action can be represented as appropriate, even valiant.
That there are hundreds of children, boys as well as girls, in Afghanistan today, who can never go to school, because they’re dead, because they were killed by Western guns and bombs in actions that are still being publicized as rescue, should be recognized, and that recognition should always accompany this kind of propaganda, however true its immediate subject.
It comes to close to being like those full-page ads of endearingly wide-eyed brown-skinned children in dirty ragged clothes, beseeching the reader for donations to some charity with a nice-sounding name, about which the reader knows absolutely nothing.

10

Mitchell Rowe 12.28.08 at 10:23 pm

Question Keith M Ellis: How can people with no power “empower” themselves without help from the outside? Women have almost zero power in these cultures.

I would also disagree that “something inherently paternalistic in rescuing someone”. When a female firefighter comes to my house and pulls me out of a fire is that “paternalistic”?

11

Mitchell Rowe 12.28.08 at 10:27 pm

roy belmont:
Is it preferable that these children be killed by the Taliban as opposed to by Western troops? At least when the west has killed children it has usually been by accident.

12

sg 12.28.08 at 10:39 pm

Yes Roy, didn’t you know that the West only ever kills children by accident?

I second the call to hear who these evil feminists are who don’t draw attention to non-Western oppression of women on principle.

13

sg 12.28.08 at 10:43 pm

I’d also add that this story didn’t get onto the 8 o’clock news in the Netherlands because of their unbiassed approach to Islam.

14

Keith M Ellis 12.28.08 at 11:02 pm

“Question Keith M Ellis: How can people with no power ’empower’ themselves without help from the outside? Women have almost zero power in these cultures.”

I’m making a subtle but important distinction. They could empower themselves because outsiders have fought against the forces which placed barriers against them. Again, it may seem meaningless to distinguish between acting to help someone and acting to remove the barriers preventing them from helping themselves; but I think it’s a crucially important distinction for activists to make because it alters how they think about and deal with the oppressed group. The perspective of “helping” someone encourages the mindsets of pity, condescension, and paternalism. It’s better to think in terms of fighting against injustice and acting to remove barriers which prevent an oppressed group from helping themselves.

This is most clearly shown in the case where outsiders take it upon themselves to act as advocates for an oppressed group. This is often met with distrust and resentment from the oppressed group, and rightly so. It’s not an outsider’s place to advocate for someone else, unless specifically asked to do so. It is not a man’s place to advocate for women; but, in contrast, it is every human’s place—male or female—to fight the injustices which oppress women. There is a difference between the two.

“I would also disagree that ‘something inherently paternalistic in rescuing someone’. When a female firefighter comes to my house and pulls me out of a fire is that ‘paternalistic’?”

I’m curious that you specified a female firefighter, as if it were not possible for a woman to be paternalistic. Of course women can be paternalistic.

At any rate, your example is a bit contrived, it seems to me. That is an example of a situation of imminent danger, which alters the considerations. If I were to see someone about to kill a woman, and I were able to act, I’d act to help the woman and let the politics of it sort themselves out later. Also, the function of a firefighter is a socially sanctioned one, the firefighter has been implicitly invited to help those inside the burning house.

Unasked, self-anointed “saviours” usually don’t realize how insulting they are, how they often do as much harm as good. And there’s certainly a subset of this group which is of a personality type that is attracted to this role specifically because it’s paternalistic and inherently humiliating to those “saved”. My goal is to provide an abstract framework whereby those who are called to action may do so in a productive, non-insulting and appropriate manner—by concentrating on opposing the injustice rather than “helping” the supposedly “helpless”.

15

R Gould-Saltman 12.28.08 at 11:21 pm

Mr. Belmont:

You assert that the information underlying the original post is untrustworthy because of the source.

Do you claim that it is false, or merely that you don’t trust anything from the cited source? Is it your position that such a position on the part of local Taleban leadership would be so inconsistent with the most “conservative” stream of Wahibist Islamism as to make the assertion that local leaders have stated such a position inherently implausible?

16

roy belmont 12.28.08 at 11:59 pm

#15:
I asserted nothing of the kind, nor did I claim the information was false. I did state a lack of trust in the BBC as an unbiased source.
The presentation of a true thing in a context that leads the unwary reader toward false conclusions is not vulnerable to a flat charge of dishonesty. That was the point of the comment pretty much, the “art form of this time” bit.
As to your second query, my position is that “such a position on the part of local Taleban leadership” is entirely consistent with the extremes of the other two branches of the Abramic tradition, fundamentalist Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity.
Not scholastically, but in a shared misogynist disdain for the feminine, wherever it can be seen.

17

Laleh 12.29.08 at 12:24 am

As a feminist – a Third World [and atheist] one who thinks that Muslim women are not the only women who are ensnared in patriarchal structures and subjected to gendered violence – I would say that what bothers us Third World Feminists is that feminist excuses are often incorporated into the matrix of imperial justifications for military intervention in the politics of the Third (and more often Muslim) World. Lord Cromer of Egypt was a vociferous opponent of the veil and of oppression of Egyptian women. He was also -back home in the UK- firmly against women’s suffrage.

I really recommend the Chandra Mohanty article “Under Western Eyes” for all the well-meaning liberals who want to save Muslim women from those terrible violent Muslim men.

18

R Gould-Saltman 12.29.08 at 12:27 am

#16:

“Leads the unwary reader to false conclusions?” . . . . . . and those’d be?

. . . and that deeply mysogynist strain shared by Islamists with fundamentalist Judaism and Christianity? Would that be official government policy, or even the public party position taken by any major participants in governance, in any non-Islamist county? Last I checked, women could drive cars in the U.S., could attend school with men in Italy, and nobody had stood up in the Knesset, and suggested that maybe prosecution of “honor killers” who kill their sisters after their sisters have been raped wasn’t such a good thing.

19

Soren 12.29.08 at 12:33 am

“I guess you’ve never heard the phrase ‘White men saving brown women from brown men”
This is by far one of the most polarizing attitudes out there. It is stated more forcefully here

Human rights have nothing (but unfortunately everything) to do with sex and race.

20

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 1:06 am

#18:
You write: “that deeply mysogynist strain shared by Islamists with fundamentalist Judaism and Christianity”
and then go off on some folksy rhetorical whirlies, none of which do anything but prove your allegiance to the very things I excoriated.
As enjoyable as it is follow that, and as much as I like being paid attention to, your dishonesty and lack of intellectual rigor mean I’m going to stop replying to you.

21

harry b 12.29.08 at 1:34 am

In what sense is Spivak non-Western? Her intellectual life has been in the West, and she is a prominent propagandist for a French thinker.

And the idea that there are moral values that apply universally emanates from the Middle East, no? (sure, Plato got there first, but it was the Jewish heresy that spread it).

22

Paul 12.29.08 at 1:58 am

Think about this – some of the world (you decide which nations) do not live in 2009 (soon to be). And our mores and morals do not concern them. That’s a fact.

23

Paul 12.29.08 at 1:58 am

Think about this – some of the world (you decide which nations) do not live in 2009 (soon to be). And our mores and morals do not concern them. That’s a fact.

24

Paul 12.29.08 at 1:59 am

Think about this – some of the world (you decide which nations) do not live in 2009 (soon to be). And our mores and morals do not concern them. That’s a fact.

25

Keith M Ellis 12.29.08 at 1:59 am

“…for all the well-meaning liberals who want to save Muslim women from those terrible violent Muslim men.”

I think the world over is filled with terrible violent men who attack women. But the worldwide culture of sexism and misogyny is endemic and a difficult problem to solve. Political and legal institutions of sexism and misogyny, however, are relatively unambiguous and easy to eliminate, especially the most vicious and egregious examples.

There are, of course, numerous other non-Islamic examples; but I think it’s plain that the Islamic nations are more prone to the extremes of institutionalized misogyny and sexism. It’s inconceivable that a nation today which retained legally sanctioned slavery and all its institutional trappings would be anything other than a pariah state, with the weight of the world’s disapproval against it and which utilized everything from diplomatic isolation to economic sanctions up to and including military intervention. But in a number of Islamic states (and, again, others besides) women are as near to slaves as makes little difference yet it is widely considered acceptable or, at worst, somewhat regressive. Why do we tolerate this? Why?

Yes, of course these societies are not alone in their embrace of misogyny and are, in the context of violence against women most broadly defined, perhaps better than many, perhaps better than the US. But, again, the important distinction is between institutional and cultural bigotry and oppression. The former is easy to identify and combat, the latter takes generations. We have to start somewhere; fighting national political and legal structures which institutionalize sexism is the obvious place to start.

26

rageahol 12.29.08 at 2:41 am

i think many of you have dismissed the perfectly valid questions raised by mr belmont.

specifically, the article and news items appear to give no detail as to the reliability or scope of this stated threat. how much area does this commander actually command, if any? how solid is the Taliban’s control over the area in question? these data points would give a more reliable indication as to whether the threat was reasonably expected to be credible or not. it could also be a ploy in order to consolidate greater control over an area that is currently in dispute. reducing it to a soundbite removes context, the understanding of which is absolutely essential to any genuine progress towards equality for women.

27

Matt McKeon 12.29.08 at 2:45 am

The AP just posted a video of a group of schoolchildren in Afghanistan blown up by a suicide bomber at a checkpoint.

28

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 2:46 am

Less than a hundred years ago women were being ridiculed and beaten for demanding the right to vote. In the US and the UK. What they were really demanding of course was the right to be treated as the equals of men in the eyes of the law. And that’s what was being denied them, violently.
100 year old photographs of women in the American mid-West and the English midlands show women whose clothes covered them head to toe.
Women who couldn’t vote, who were violently denied that right among others equally central to an independent and equal social being, women covered for decency’s sake from head to toe.
The condemnation of this unjust treatment, and the violent attitudes that underlay and enforce it, in the behavior of our contemporaries as egregious as it may be, needs to be undertaken with some humility.
Especially as concerns those contemporaries who are being killed, man woman and child, in appalling numbers and right now, for reasons that have nothing to do with our, or anyone else’s, enlightened positions on women’s entitlement to lives free of sexist oppression.

29

Martin Bento 12.29.08 at 2:57 am

Keith, would you characterize the way slavery was abolished in the US, which I assume you agree with (correct me if I’m wrong) as not helping the oppressed but only as fighting injustice? I suppose you could see toppling the Confederacy in itself as that, but there were also attempts to help the freed slaves, and it is difficult to see how freed slaves would manage without such help. Indeed, the help, problematic as it was, was soon suspended, well short of the 40 acres and a mule, and what emerged was a Jim Crow system where blacks were still oppressed though no longer slaves. It is difficult for me to see what blacks, as a minority, could have done, unaided, to stop this, nor when it stopped, was it stopped exclusively through the action of blacks themselves. The only case I know of a successful abolition of slavery imposed by the slaves is Haiti, and there the long term costs were tremendous. Crucial to the rebellion were widespread fires, and the resultant deforestation is a serious problem in Haiti to this day.

30

Martin Bento 12.29.08 at 3:30 am

I don’t think there’s a problem is saying that what the Taliban is doing is deplorable and we should oppose it. The problem is what can and should we do about it. This was one of the problems in Iraq: the liberal hawks tried to reduce all debate to “Is Saddam or is Saddam not a bastard?” Well, OK, he is, or was. And the implication is that those who were willing to do whatever it took to get rid of him were therefore morally superior to those who entertained doubts. At this point, though, we can see that we should have found more entertainment value in the doubts. Instead of just saying “there is injustice, we must do something!”, which offers a bracing blast of righteousness, we have to ask, “there is injustice, it would be good to do something, but we must calculate the human cost of what we can do?” Even in realpolitik, this seems often omitted. In the recent panel of former SOS’s, James Baker was arguing that the costs of going into Darfur were beyond what was politically bearable. Albright responded that then you shouldn’t call it “genocide”. This strikes me as the worst possible answer, and it is not often I side with the Republican over the Democrat. We need to have the intellectual integrity to describe the world as it is, and not let the need to justify our intended actions distort our picture. But we also have to recognize that sometimes we cannot right every wrong.

In Afghanistan, though, we are in it now, and we might as well try to do right by the society; it is in our interest as well as theirs. So I do favor directly fighting the Taliban on things like this. Much of the costs are, at this point, sunk costs, and the place has been decimated largely because we used it as a pawn. I also think those agonizing about imposing our cultural values on the Islamic society should keep this in mind: Afghanistan was a secular society, or at least a secular government, and we supported an Islamic fundamentalist coup to set a trap for the Soviet Union. Brezinski has admitted this, and Robert Dreyfuss has more detail on it in Devil’s Game.

31

jrbarch 12.29.08 at 4:05 am

what must be a terrible decision to be made by these girls and their parents

go to school = DEAD
don’t go to school = LIVE

Where’s the choice?

32

Mitchell Rowe 12.29.08 at 4:38 am

roy belmont: You failed to really respond to his point. While I would never argue that sexism does not exist in the Western world it is not the same, in magnitude or degree, as the sexism you find in countries like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

33

roger 12.29.08 at 4:41 am

¨It’s inconceivable that a nation today which retained legally sanctioned slavery and all its institutional trappings would be anything other than a pariah state…¨

It isn´t inconceivable at all. Saudi Arabia, under heavy pressure from the U.S., supposedly abolished slavery in 1963 – but if they resumed it again, it wouldn´t make a pause in the usual uberhypocritical Western rhetoric that includes Saudi Arabia among the democratic nations and Iran among the totalitarian one- a specialty of Tony Blair, in fact, in his last disgusting year as prime minister.

Interestingly, when women are threatened with starvation by the Israeli blockade of Gaza, you hear little about it from Western feminists, and nothing from Western governments. I wonder why that is?

34

Righteous Bubba 12.29.08 at 4:45 am

Interestingly, when women are threatened with starvation by the Israeli blockade of Gaza, you hear little about it from Western feminists

Huh?

35

Mitchell Rowe 12.29.08 at 4:45 am

Keith M Ellis :
I just don’t see the difference that you are trying to create and I also do not agree that the act of saving is humiliating to those being saved. Sorry.

36

Mitchell Rowe 12.29.08 at 4:52 am

Roger: You make no mention of the Israeli women killed by Hamas rocket attacks. I wonder why that is….

37

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 5:10 am

#33:
Interestingly, when women are threatened with starvation by the Israeli blockade of Gaza, you hear little about it from Western feminists

Huh?

Duh.

38

R Gould-Saltman 12.29.08 at 5:13 am

Mr. Belmont:

Another accusation of dishonesty? I assume you’ll disregard a request for an explanation or example, as you ignored my prior one; instead, you’ve stated that you’re taking your dolly and dishes and going home. I infer that you can’t explain or cite examples, but are engaged in mere trolling…

39

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 5:19 am

Mitchell Rowe #31:
While I would never argue that carnage does not exist in the European or North American world it is not the same, in magnitude or degree, as the carnage you find in Gaza.
You failed to really respond to his point.
You should say whose point, and which point, that way I’ll have something more to work with than just vague feelings of inadequacy and failure.

40

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 5:26 am

Infer away R G-S!
I have not gone home!
In this regard.
I have never left home!
In this regard.
As low as my standards of reply have become, i.e. my responding to #33, you have managed to sink entirely beneath them, almost, saving this itself, which has now, itself, come to conclusion.

41

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 5:31 am

The html behind “Duh” #36 rendered its link perfectly well in preview.
Again I say it.
Duh.

42

roger 12.29.08 at 6:13 am

Roger: You make no mention of the Israeli women killed by Hamas rocket attacks. I wonder why that is….

Well, hmm,maybe it is because the number of women killed by Hamas rocket attacks in the ceasefire that Israel cynically let expire was approximately zero. Although I´m sure that zero woman suffered terribly. Meanwhile, Israel paid no attention to the terms of the ceasefire and continued the food blockade of the one million five hundred thousand people of Gaza, as a form of collective punishment.

So now you know why that is. Time to pretend that this didn´t happen now. Be sure to use the word terrorist, and ¨no other country in the world would be condemned for defending itself¨, one of the laugh lines that excludes almost every other country in the world, including Turkey (which suffers much more from incursions by Kurds from Northern Iraq), India, Afghanistan, Chad, and Lebanon, which has been invaded twice by a certain neighbor from the South.

The deathtoll mounts, and Western governments still do nothing.

43

matt mckeon 12.29.08 at 1:24 pm

Self righteousness seems to be in ample supply this holiday season.

Back to schoolgirls scheduled to be killed on January 15th. Assuming our hearts and minds are in the right place to do something about it, does anyone have any suggestions?

44

Eszter Hargittai 12.29.08 at 2:01 pm

This thread is about the schooling of girls and the unbelievable approach by some Taliban leaders to keep females away from education. If you want to bring Israel into this discussion then the on-topic issue is that Israel’s literacy rates are extremely high (the highest in the region) and girls/women enjoy equal access to education as boys/men. (Even if you broke this down to subpopulations, you’ll find that Israeli Arabs as well as female Israeli Arabs have higher literacy rates than their counterparts in neighboring countries.)

Back to schoolgirls scheduled to be killed on January 15th. Assuming our hearts and minds are in the right place to do something about it, does anyone have any suggestions?

Precisely. Where would one even start?

45

Nick 12.29.08 at 2:11 pm

There is something inherently paternalistic in rescuing someone.

Why not call it “maternalistic” instead? Seems to me that by picking the word “paternalistic” you are creating an anti-feminist connotation ex nihilo.

46

Ingrid Robeyns 12.29.08 at 2:11 pm

CT was down the entire European morning, and I only have little time now, so let me just try to make one clarification.

I am NOT saying that there are feminists who think these actions by the Taleban (or others) are OK. I am saying that there are feminist who be hesitant to *write* about it, to *highlight* it, to *discuss* it, to *raise* it in a public forum, not because they think the issues at stake are horrible, but because by raising them and discussing them, one is only making things worse by feeding the fires of islamophobia and western hegemony etc etc. So it is a question about what, as a feminist, would be the things one chooses to write/talk/discuss about. Those who take the position that I describe in my post would indeed ask why not write about the situations of sans-papiers in Europe, or the racism/islamophobia experieced by muslim immigrants/citizens in Europe, or the global economic structures which benefit North America and the EU and disadvantage the countries from the ‘South’ or something else.

For those of you who condemn me, I would like to ask you to read my post again. I do write that I think this is justified strategy in many instances, since one has to be aware of how one’s (feminist) intervention will be used and abused for other’s peoples agenda’s. I am pointing out that I think that nevertheless sometimes one is so struck by some cases, that the option of staying silent (not because one doesn’t care but because one thinks talking will do more harm), doesn’t look appealing either.

I agree with those who would say that more details are needed. Yet I take BBC to be a reliable source. There was another website which mentioned that the Taliban had already destroyed 252 schools, mainly those where both boys and girls got education, but for some technical reason I couldn’t make a link. I’ll try again here: http://www.france24.com/en/20081225-taliban-reportedly-threaten-kill-schoolgirls-

Please: don’t let this escalate to one of those hopeless Palestine-Isreal discussions of which we’ve had already too many here at CT. This post is not about them, but surely there are other places on the web where you can discuss that conflict (or war, if that’s a better word or the word you prefer).

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Ingrid Robeyns 12.29.08 at 2:14 pm

By the way, new commenters please note that you need to provide a valid e-mail address if you want your comment to be passed through the moderation queue. See our small print, i.e. ‘the rules of the game’.

48

Matt McKeon 12.29.08 at 2:31 pm

Well, those naughty “western feminists” got a good talking to anyway.

49

Beryl 12.29.08 at 2:51 pm

Brings to mind an interesting talk I once had with an old Canadian communist (small ‘c’) who had found himself in Moscow in 1968 when Soviet tanks were bringing the Prague Spring to an end. He had access to Western news and was appalled (he had just come from Czechoslovakia and had experienced the situation first hand). He was in Moscow for a meeting of anthropologists and they were drafting a letter criticizing the Canadian government’s aboriginal policies, an issue he was involved with personally and professionally. He hesitated to sign the letter for fear that it would be construed as supporting current Soviet actions in Czechoslovakia. But, eventually, he did. I don’t remember his exact words, but their gist was that the welfare of Canadian aboriginals should not be held hostage by Soviet tanks.

50

Picador 12.29.08 at 3:23 pm

Keith:

This news literally nauseates me. I firmly believe that were the ways women are oppressed worldwide racist instead of sexist, there would be a deafening outcry. Imagine a country where blacks were not allowed to get an education past the age of twelve under penalty of death, and were not allowed to own property or walk in public.

Yeah, imagine a country where Palestinians are kept in concentration camps and slaughtered just because of their ethnicity. Surely there would be a deafening outcry, and the US would pledge military troops to liberating the Palestinians.

Or, you know, maybe not.

It might be worth considering — as the aforementioned feminist scholars have pointed out — that bad behavior is everywhere, but somehow political enemies of the West get singled out to have their bad behavior corrected, especially when they’re behaving badly on top of a big oilfield.

51

Zamfir 12.29.08 at 3:35 pm

Ingrid, are you sure there is an important difference here between western feminists and the west in general? By far most westerners would agree that the position of women in many islamic counties is deplorable, and I guess that even in most conservative Muslim countries there is little support for the bombing of children.

As for the difference between racism and sexism: oppressed women are in general the mothers, daugthers and sisters of their oppressors, and a good number of them do not consider themselves to be oppressed. That doesn’t make the situation right, but does make it a lot harder and more subtle to change.

52

Slocum 12.29.08 at 3:48 pm

Ingrid Robeyns: I do write that I think this is justified strategy in many instances, since one has to be aware of how one’s (feminist) intervention will be used and abused for other’s peoples agenda’s. I am pointing out that I think that nevertheless sometimes one is so struck by some cases, that the option of staying silent (not because one doesn’t care but because one thinks talking will do more harm), doesn’t look appealing either.

This strikes me as a self-defeating. If right-thinking westerners stay silent except in a few of the most egregious cases (murdering girls for attending school), is their tardy, hesitant, conditional advocacy really of any value (other than, perhaps, to make said westerners feel a bit better)? Suppose the Taleban were only barricading the schools or burning them down at night when empty — would that then tip the balance of staying silent to avoid inflaming Islamophobia? Suppose we took up a collection to have this thread translated into Pashtun, printed up, and sent to the girls and their families? Do you think it would be a morale booster?

Keith M Ellis: Certainly some of the warmongering conservative Islamophobes here in the US secretly admire a culturally conservative society where women are “put in their place”.

No, they absolutely don’t. That’s nonsense. Full stop. Spend some time among culturally conservative U.S. evangelicals. Yes, they’re creationists and pro-lifers, and most probably believe that women should stop working and stay home with young children if possible (which, BTW, is not a belief unknown among feminists). But they educate their daughters, they prepare them for careers, and don’t be mislead by the the male preacher figureheads — women make up a majority of the worshipers and run those churches (as they do virtually all churches in the U.S. not headed by the Pope — and even then…) If it were left up to the men, an awful lot churches would be empty and have to close their doors. To imagine culturally conservative Christians are anything close to the Taleban is to make up convenient bogeymen out of whole cloth.

matt mckeon: Back to schoolgirls scheduled to be killed on January 15th. Assuming our hearts and minds are in the right place to do something about it, does anyone have any suggestions?

Sure — think voice and exit. We’ve been talking exclusively about voice, but in this case exit seems a much more viable strategy. The article mentions that families who can afford to do so are moving. How about financial support to allow poor families move out? Or how about support for girls boarding schools outside the Swat valley?

53

Russ 12.29.08 at 4:03 pm

In three Cups of Tea, the author suggests we don’t spend billions of dollars on drones, that kill many civilian, and just enrage the locals, but use the money to build non-Taliban schools, in places where chieftains are likely in a position to provide adequate protection.

54

Keith M Ellis 12.29.08 at 4:09 pm

“No, they absolutely don’t. That’s nonsense. Full stop. Spend some time among culturally conservative U.S. evangelicals. “

My sister is a culturally conservative evangelical. She’s not like this. I know some who are.

55

strasmangelo jones 12.29.08 at 4:10 pm

I’m certainly glad there’s been nothing going on in Israel lately.

56

Righteous Bubba 12.29.08 at 4:28 pm

Again I say it.
Duh.

Again it didn’t work. Try getting advice from the parrots.

57

Righteous Bubba 12.29.08 at 4:29 pm

Oh, it worked fine. My duh.

58

Mrs Tilton 12.29.08 at 4:34 pm

Slocum @51,

To imagine culturally conservative Christians are anything close to the Taleban is to make up convenient bogeymen out of whole cloth

That’s right. The American religious right would never murder a girl for going to school, unless maybe she went on after school to work as an abortion provider.

59

Matt McKeon 12.29.08 at 4:39 pm

Three Cups of Tea does provide an attractive model for change.

60

Matt McKeon 12.29.08 at 4:40 pm

Can the local leaders successfully resist the Taliban? Right now, Pakistan is gearing up for a dandy war with India.

61

Righteous Bubba 12.29.08 at 4:54 pm

Here’s a show about a woman – a Canadian Tory – attempting to make good things happen in Afghanistan. There are pictures, but it’s an easy listen.

http://www.cbc.ca/sunday/2008/10/101908_1.html

62

Russ 12.29.08 at 5:39 pm

Matt,
“Can the local leaders successfully resist the Taliban? Right now, Pakistan is gearing up for a dandy war with India.”

I’d forgotten that; the future does look bleak. Still, in some areas the Taliban is not strong.

63

Righteous Bubba 12.29.08 at 5:42 pm

Given that Pakistan is base or a source of funds for militants the distraction of war focused elsewhere shouldn’t really be a boon to the Taliban should it?

64

Soren 12.29.08 at 6:59 pm

“My sister is a culturally conservative evangelical. She’s not like this. I know some who are.”

I think you are on to something here, but it seems unnecessary to throw out the evangelical label. Traditionalists (or cultural conservatives) that want to ‘keep women in their place’ are more often than not, merely uneducated small town folks.

Education (or lack thereof) has more bearing on these matters than faith.

65

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 8:12 pm

Your second duh, point of fact, Bubba. Or third depending on whether my second one counts, and we don’t count your repetition of it. So this would be the what? Fourth? Fifth? I’m losing count.
Eszter H:
This thread is about the schooling of girls and the unbelievable approach by some Taliban leaders to keep females away from education. If you want to bring Israel into this…
This thread is about Ingrid calling the larger group’s attention to some appalling news from Afghanistan that concerns behavior that invites moral condemnation.
As I took pains to illustrate above, the behavior of a “local” Taleban leader will be conflated by many, as Ingrid herself did in her post, with the entire Taleban organization, itself in turn conflated with Muslims generally. And thus be very useful as propaganda, for anyone wanting to paint Muslims as morally inferior and deserving of condemnation. As has been happening for some years now.
My suggestion being that’s why she even heard about it in the first place. And thus my insistence that it be looked at in that context. And that the historical moment in which it appears, in a news portal that has become progressively less trustworthy, which has been for some time consistently biased by omission to military attacks against that conflated group, should be taken into account.
Otherwise even discussing this local Taleban behavior as a discrete thing is complicit with the intent of those who are controlling, and distorting, the news.
Though I can see why professional academics would want to avoid that. Because confronting it for what it is and doing nothing makes it difficult to see yourself as a moral being, without seeing yourself as hypocritical. And we all want to see ourselves as moral beings.
Better not to think about why that story appears now. Better not to notice the bizarrely flattened news landscape it appears in.
Better to pretend it’s still possible to get an accurate picture of the world from CNN and the AFP and the BBC.
Best to “keep studying that reality . judiciously, as you will . as we act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

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Mitchell Rowe 12.29.08 at 8:16 pm

#41 Roger “Well, hmm,maybe it is because the number of women killed by Hamas rocket attacks in the ceasefire that Israel cynically let expire was approximately zero”

Oh Really?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1552313/Hamas-rocket-kills-Israeli-woman-in-Sderot.html

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/28/africa/28mideast.php

http://b5.net/news/archives/2008/12-December/27-Saturday/%5B84193%5DMID:-Israeli-woman-killed-by-Gaza-rocket.html

Sorry to bring this up again but I could not let Roger’s comment stand. Innocent people have died on both sides due to the stubbornness of the leaders involved. We do a disservice to the dead when we pretend otherwise.

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Righteous Bubba 12.29.08 at 8:23 pm

Better not to think about why that story appears now. Better not to notice the bizarrely flattened news landscape it appears in.
Better to pretend it’s still possible to get an accurate picture of the world from CNN and the AFP and the BBC.

Or Roy Belmont and his feathered friends.

68

novakant 12.29.08 at 8:52 pm

This strikes me as a self-defeating. If right-thinking westerners stay silent except in a few of the most egregious cases (murdering girls for attending school), is their tardy, hesitant, conditional advocacy really of any value (other than, perhaps, to make said westerners feel a bit better)?

I fully agree with Slocum here – this tactical approach to Human Rights is shameful, all human rights abuses everywhere should be documented and decried on a daily basis.

It’s also completely ridiculous: if the power players in the US or wherever decide to invade a country, I’m sure they don’t check with feminists, left-leaning academics or human rights advocates first. AI and Human Rights Watch have meticulously documented human rights abuses in Iraq under Saddam, yet they were outspoken opponents of the war. It’s really not that difficult to have a principled position on human rights, yet some parts of the left never seem to get this.

69

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 9:12 pm

I notice that I have received zero comments on any of my 46 previous Blogs, how could that be as I know that they’re widely read?

Posted by Righteous Bubba at 10:27 AM 0 comments
Duh?
You could emulate a more engaged writer:
Abbas Raza at 3QD.
Have to find your backbone to do that, though.

70

strasmangelo jones 12.29.08 at 9:28 pm

So when did CT start recycling 2002-vintage right wing talking points about feminist apathy in the face of the savage Mussulman?

71

Righteous Bubba 12.29.08 at 9:40 pm

As I took pains to illustrate above, the behavior of a “local” Taleban leader will be conflated by many, as Ingrid herself did in her post, with the entire Taleban organization,

So the local commander does not want girls in Pakistan to receive schooling and Ingrid mistakenly conflates this with the entire Taliban organization which also does not want girls to receive schooling.

72

roy belmont 12.29.08 at 10:07 pm

Bubba, no more.
The most immediately obvious difference between you and Mr. Gould-Saltman is he clearly can’t help it.
Which puts you beneath him on my reply-or-not-o-meter.

73

Adpositional 12.29.08 at 11:57 pm

In a rather more pro-Taliban-leaning source than the BBC, IslamOnline, two other groups of Pakistani Taliban are quoted saying that girls should be going to school, and criticising the “warning”. So there’s no reason to doubt this report – but (if this source is correct) it does represent the action of a local faction of the Taliban, rather than the whole Taliban.

In a way, that lessens the “us vs. them” angle: if the quotes are sincere, even most Pakistani Taliban realise that this is a bad thing. In another way, it’s beside the point; as long as he’s on roughly the same side as they are they don’t even seem to be willing to condemn his activities wholeheartedly, let alone try to stop him. (Kind of like the way a lot of Americans think about Israel, actually.)

And neither the Taliban’s half-hearted tut-tutting nor Western bloggers’ most eloquent condemnations is going to make much difference to the girls of Swat. A better functioning Pakistani government would, or even a local armed movement of more sensible people; but only Pakistanis can set those up. All that we gain from talking about it is the shadowy satisfaction of being better-informed, and possibly the fiery pleasure of righteous indignation.

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Righteous Bubba 12.30.08 at 12:37 am

A further link runs down a list of Pakistani militant groups claiming they all support Mullah Omer; the one coming out in favour of education for girls supposedly has government support.

75

minneapolitan 12.30.08 at 4:35 am

What precisely is the intent behind “highlighting” and “drawing attention to” the perfidy of the Taliban, or indeed, of any officially recognized enemy group? It’s not as though we, as western feminists, can mobilize people to do anything worse to Afghanistan and western Pakistan than is already being done in our name. Nor are the objects of our critique likely to respond in even the most trivial ways to being excoriated in the media of the first world. Should we work to spread the word that the Taliban, the ISI, and their various fellow travellers are Extremely Bad People, what might we expect to come of it? Theoretically, here in the belly of the beast, we could hope to influence the policies and practices of our own governments, which have copious amounts of blood on their own hands, but just what is shaking our fists at a bunch of global pariahs supposed to do, exactly? I don’t see any answers I can support in the discussion above. If such protests would have any effect, it seems to me that the most plausible outcome would be more cluster bombs, more machine-gunned wedding parties and yes, more xenophobia and racism here at home. This call for stern criticism of the Taliban smacks of those agitprop posters from the World Wars, where the “Hun” or “Jap” is a lurking, bloody demon, about to ravish and devour a fainting white lady. Remember Belgium?

Anyway, here we are with George W. Bush still in office, and the neo-Popular Front is already disintegrating along the most predictable lines. Expected, of course, but still somewhat stupefying to behold.

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Praisegod Barebones 12.30.08 at 8:51 am

Minneapolitan:

‘What precisely is the intent behind “highlighting” and “drawing attention to” the perfidy of the Taliban, or indeed, of any officially recognized enemy group? It’s not as though we, as western feminists, can mobilize people to do anything worse to Afghanistan and western Pakistan than is already being done in our name.’

Well, one thing we could (collectively) do is make it easier/harder for families from areas like these who are able to leave and choose to do so to seek refuge or asylum elsewhere; and work towards making doing so a realistic option.

Why assume that the only ways in which ‘we’ can intervene involve guns and bullets? Doesn’t that show a lack of imagination? In fact, why assume that the only way that ‘we’ can help involves states and governments? That shows a lack of imagination too.

No doubt there’s little to be done without some form of collective agency, but to think that acting collectively has to involve acting via state apparatus seems like a mistake. (and for what its worth, an odd mistake for anyone who thinks of themselves as either a feminist or on the political left)

77

minneapolitan 12.30.08 at 12:11 pm

Hey, I’m absolutely in favor of opening all borders to refugees. In fact, I’m in favor of opening all borders to anyone, from anywhere. I live in a city that’s been at the forefront of efforts to resettle refugees for 30 years and more. And it’s great. When I get a chance to help refugees (including economic refugees, but that’s another debate), I take it. But that’s not what is being asked of us in this post. No, rather we (as Western feminists, and presumably other types of leftists) are essentially being asked to preface our discussion of everything with some kind of laundry list of all the people in the world who do bad things, and express our disagreement with them. So fine, here we go, I hope you’ll forgive me that the preface comes in the middle of the comment, which only seems appropriate in a discussion whose politics are already so topsy-turvy:

“I, anonymous leftist commenter minneapolitan, hereby renounce and abjure the Taliban, the FARC, the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Provisional IRA, the Janjaweed militias, the 1970s-1980s Sendero Luminoso, the 1970s Black Panther Party, certain elements of the American Indian Movement, the RAF, the RZ, the PLO, the PFLP, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Khmer Rouge, the Japanese Red Army, and anyone else who has committed crimes against people, even though they were nominally opposed to US policies.”

There, see how much that helped potential refugees? Now, a lot of people might think that it would make more sense to go chain myself to the doors at Alliant Techsystems, seeing as how that might possibly, infinitessimally reduce the chance that some 6 year old Afghani girl will pick up a cluster bomblet an blow her arm off, but doesn’t it make feminism that much stronger to denounce the Taliban?

78

strasmangelo jones 12.30.08 at 2:34 pm

Seriously, this is a rehash of a debate that antiwar liberals already had with the “decent left” back in 2002. Why are you people still running up to kick the football when you know the other side is just going to pull it away?

And I find it pretty revealing that someone on a soi-disant liberal blog would think to themselves, in the middle of a US-approved mass slaughter in Gaza, that the most pertinent thing that needs commenting on in the Muslim world is an isolated instance of thuggery from the Taliban.

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Righteous Bubba 12.30.08 at 4:39 pm

And I find it pretty revealing that someone on a soi-disant liberal blog would think to themselves, in the middle of a US-approved mass slaughter in Gaza, that the most pertinent thing that needs commenting on in the Muslim world is an isolated instance of thuggery from the Taliban.

Along the lines of agenda-hijacking, it might be noted that the brutality of Israel is a very convenient propaganda tool for various monarchies and dictatorships in the area, as they get to jump up and down about the latest atrocity outside their borders while ignoring their own abuse of their citizens.

80

Righteous Bubba 12.30.08 at 4:48 pm

Please: don’t let this escalate to one of those hopeless Palestine-Isreal discussions of which we’ve had already too many here at CT.

Oops, but the point I was trying to make was broader than Israel/Gaza: agendas can be hijacked by more than one party for more than one reason. I think it’s worth noting injustices anywhere, but make yourself hard to misquote and be unambiguous about what you think solutions might be.

81

salient 12.30.08 at 5:52 pm

s. jones: And neither the Taliban’s half-hearted tut-tutting nor Western bloggers’ most eloquent condemnations is going to make much difference to the girls of Swat. A better functioning Pakistani government would, or even a local armed movement of more sensible people; but only Pakistanis can set those up. All that we gain from talking about it is the shadowy satisfaction of being better-informed, and possibly the fiery pleasure of righteous indignation.

And rather than helping one another become better-informed and in the process indignantly reclaiming, grain by fiery grain, some recalibration of morality that’s been disoriented in the erosion of eight years under Bush–dear God, I’ve found myself trying to explain to people why tearing someone’s fingernails off is immoral, these people would feel genuine joy with the vices in their hands, ‘information gleamed’ irrelevant, they just so very badly want to hurt someone–rather than sharing with one another some reminder that deeply wrong things are indeed going on in the world, in a time when to be honest with you many Americans (for example) would very much rather just retreat from the world right now in a puerile total withdrawal and try to get some economic security back under our feet, pretending self-centeredly that other than our absurdly destructive GWOT there’s nothing going on, what would you suggest we do?

Hell if talking about it will help them, right now, this is true. But here’s our situation. Say Rome’s burning and you’re gazing on telescopically from let’s say Spain and all you’ve got is a fiddle. No water, no bucket, you’re not equipped to go put out the fire (and anyhow, you’re too far away and don’t speak their language; you’d be an ineffectual oaf, trying to help directly, it would be pathetically amusing, imagine a troop of well-meaning but angst-prone college kids with Amherst letter jackets spiriting themselves into Rwanda, with no guns and a translation dictionary). So anyway, in this sort of situation: Silence or alarm? People around you can’t/don’t see the blaze. None of them have water, or buckets. Do you let them know what’s going on?

Literally, I/ you/ “we” can’t parachute into Pakistan and disarm the Taliban, or even go disempower this one commander that everyone’s fighting over whether he’s a rogue or a spokesperson or like what on this increasingly overwhelmingly stupid thread.

82

Keith M Ellis 12.30.08 at 7:01 pm

The cynicism in the above comments is disheartening. There are all sorts of human rights abuses in the world and all of them deserve attention. I happen to care a great deal about the oppression of women, in Afghanistan and everywhere else in the world. The reported story is egregious and horrifying. I’m going to care about and talk about and raise awareness of this kind of oppression of women regardless of where it occurs and how politically inconvenient it might be to myself, my allies, and anyone else. I’m not so cynical and calculating as the rest of you.

83

R Gould-Saltman 12.30.08 at 7:15 pm

“an isolated instance of thuggery from the Taliban”. Isn’t that essentially an oxymoron?

84

strasmangelo jones 12.30.08 at 7:36 pm

Please: don’t let this escalate to one of those hopeless Palestine-Isreal discussions of which we’ve had already too many here at CT.

Right, let’s not talk about subjects about which people strongly disagree, because people might strongly disagree about them. Instead let’s all whistle pleasantly and pretend nothing’s going on, and hope it all goes away on its own.

85

strasmangelo jones 12.30.08 at 7:41 pm

The reported story is egregious and horrifying

Yes, and what are you going to do about it? Hey, I’ve got an idea – let’s get a bunch of Western countries together to invade Afghanistan and depose the Taliban, because that should take care of the problem! Oh, wait.

In the meantime, many, many more women are being killed, starved, maimed and intimidated right now with the blessing of the United States government, a government that nominally works for me and that I’m supposed to have some sway over. From a purely practical point of view, it seems to make sense to focus on the lives we can do something to improve, rather than posturing about problems we can’t really do much about.

86

Righteous Bubba 12.30.08 at 7:48 pm

From a purely practical point of view, it seems to make sense to focus on the lives we can do something to improve, rather than posturing about problems we can’t really do much about.

You could send a few bucks to http://www.futuregen.ca/ which spends money in Afghanistan on development projects. From a purely practical point of view it’s pretty easy to pony up some dollars where the cost of keeping people alive is relatively cheap.

87

lemuel pitkin 12.30.08 at 8:11 pm

Since no one else has mentioned her yet, I’d just like to point out that Katha Pollit, one of the most visible American feminist writers, was writing frequently and eloquently about the Taliban’s treatment of women back in the 1990s, long before almost any non-feminists.

In general, I would say that, contrarry to Ingrid’s suggestion, feminists are much *more* attuned to these issues than other Westerners.

88

roy belmont 12.30.08 at 9:02 pm

One thing that could be done by anyone and everyone is compassionate recognition of the humanity of even the least human seeming figures out there in the world.
The IDF, the Taliban, Hamas, FARC, Blackwater, whoever.
They’re all made up of people, humans, us.
They all started life as babies.
We’ve been essentially brainwashed in the West to forgive inhuman behavior on the part of the Israelis because of the history of suffering attached to them.
The bombs and guns of the IDF are carried forward on the wheels of the Holocaust.
Islam originated in a physical landscape that was and is very unforgiving, even cruel if you look at the natural world that way. Suffering of a different kind and another order but it’s suffering just the same.
No sane person could say that there is no suffering in the Muslim world today, right now.
Are we to forgive egregious inhumanity because of the suffering borne by its causal agents, but only in select cases?
All these behaviors have an origin in very human responses to what life can be. If we have a better way it needs to be made plain, but without scorn, without an assumption of superiority that’s based on little more than circumstance, and that rises mainly out of insecurity and fear.
Choosing sides is what we’re programmed for, but those programs are failing us.
The real enemy here is invisible, nearly substanceless, more idea than thing, and it feeds on hatred and violence.
All of us can reject that, loudly, and defend against it by care .

89

MarkUp 12.30.08 at 9:13 pm

On the bright side we [US, and others] had a bumper year for arms sales, and ’09 seems likely to be even better and of course having the CIA dispensing Viagra to the “good” guys in Afgh is sheer genius.

90

Danielle Day 12.30.08 at 9:38 pm

Imagine you live in Chicago, and you are surrounded by your dire, implacable enemies in Indiana, Wisconsin, and the rest of Illinois (the scale is about right.) A particularly loony, violent faction starts lobbing rockets at you from Oak Park. Every truce, peace initiative, “land-for-peace”, or cease-fire has, for the past 60 years, has only resulted in more violence. What would you do?

91

salient 12.30.08 at 9:56 pm

Right, let’s not talk about subjects about which people strongly disagree, because people might strongly disagree about them.

This being commentary from the same s. jones that was abstractly critical of this post because it talks about something we can’t do anything about, less than six hours ago. Shucks.

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salient 12.30.08 at 10:06 pm

A particularly loony, violent faction starts lobbing rockets at you from Oak Park.

Loony how? They have well-defined objectives. The most egregious common error of twentieth-century conventional wisdom was to try to understand violent acts as evidence of madness, if and only if the violence is committed by someone whose agenda we don’t personally support.

What would you do?

Personally? I’d move. Purely out of self-interest. I’d find out who’s launching the rockets & what they want, and I’d get myself out of the way and help pretty much anyone else who wishes to likewise get themselves out of the way. They want land, they intend to take it by force and by killing its occupants, and I’m not giving my life to prevent a resource-grab, much less a holy-land grab whose value is much more arbitrary. My concern is people, their life and sanity. So I help people get themselves out of the way and reorganize themselves and recover life.

You forgot to mention I’m also supposed to believe I live in a holy land which was carved out of the geography for me by God, which is my divinely rightful place and which I am responsible for defending, by force if when necessary.

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novakant 12.30.08 at 10:47 pm

From a purely practical point of view, it seems to make sense to focus on the lives we can do something to improve, rather than posturing about problems we can’t really do much about.

You’re missing the point: raising awareness and even simply being aware of human rights abuses is “doing something about it”. Much of the work done by AI, HRW and others consists of just that. As organizations they can do a bit more than an individual, but their options for “doing something about it” are severely limited. Yet their work has had an impact and is very important. It would be silly to tell them that they should ignore all the cases in which there is little chance of success in the near future. Similarly it would be silly to tell individuals to not care about such cases.

94

roy belmont 12.30.08 at 10:51 pm

Imagine you were born in Chicago, fully fledged, as an adult with no past, no history, yet surrounded by enemies, because those enemies are simply evil, by their nature, as you are simply good, by your nature.
Imagine the atrocities this fantasy will justify, imagine the inhumanity it will excuse.

95

Helen 12.30.08 at 10:58 pm

The argument behind this position is that by highlighting the oppressions of women by some Muslim leaders or groups, one is playing into the card of Islamophobia, and contributing to the polarising rhetoric of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Some also argue that Western feminists should focus on unjust global economic and political structures for which Western governments bear responsibilities, rather than on local sources of oppression in non-western societies.

The feminist blogs I read, Twisty’s, Pandagon, Feministe, and many other smaller blogs, all highlight the oppression of women by Muslim leaders or groups and leaders or groups of other religions or affiliations. What they do generally agree on is that the corollary is not that we should go and bomb the crap out of them. They also generally do not advocate going out, missionary-like, to lecture either Muslim feminists or Muslim society in general, because as one prominent feminist pointed out, we westerners just don’t have the standing in that society to redirect peoples’ actions. We just don’t.

We’re conditioned by Hollywood and superhero narratives to believe that every international problem can be solved by swooping in and just, you know, fixing it. Just because most feminists recognise that the military solution is not capable of doing this doesn’t mean they are reluctant to engage with it.

96

strasmangelo jones 12.30.08 at 11:05 pm

You’re missing the point: raising awareness and even simply being aware of human rights abuses is “doing something about it”

Do you really imagine that anyone reading this post is unaware that the Taliban is unpleasantly and violently anti-feminist? What kind of awareness was being raised by this post, especially with the gratuitous and ill-informed dig at Western feminists for not caring about Muslim women?

97

Righteous Bubba 12.30.08 at 11:08 pm

Do you really imagine that anyone reading this post is unaware that Israel is bombing Gaza? What kind of awareness was being raised by your comments, especially with the gratuitous and ill-informed dig at Western feminists for not caring about Palestine?

98

MarkUp 12.30.08 at 11:47 pm

“We’re conditioned by Hollywood and superhero narratives to believe that every international problem can be solved by swooping in and just, you know, fixing it.”

That conditioning started well before the advent of films with institutions like the R Catholic church and the mission to spread the good word and save a few soles and dispense largely with women as being much than servants.

99

sg 12.31.08 at 12:03 am

Am I the only person in the world who received that feminist chain letter in the late ’90s/ early 00s decrying the violence being visited on the women of Afghanistan and demanding western governments do something?

This shit is so old that by the time we invaded Afghanistan, that feminist chain letter was already dead (the target email address had changed and the chain letter was meaningless). Feminists have been talking about this topic and demanding change for at least 10 years. They were ignored, but then Mr. Bush decided to bomb Afghanistan back to the stone age in 2001 (just when the taliban was starting to stabilise it!). I still remember him speaking about Afghan women’s rights as if they were a revelation, as if feminists hadn’t ever spoken about them.

It was bullshit then coming from him and it’s bullshit now in this post.

100

Righteous Bubba 12.31.08 at 12:08 am

Afghan women’s rights

The rights being discussed in the post are Pakistani.

101

salient 12.31.08 at 12:11 am

Do you really imagine that anyone reading this post is unaware that the Taliban is unpleasantly and violently anti-feminist?

I, after reading this post, am newly aware of a specific terrorist threat, and preparations for specific violence that it is said will begin to occur on January 15th. That’s information. It tells me something about the details of what is happening the world that I didn’t know before. That’s one reason I check CT.

I’m not sure if you’re pretending to omniscience, or what. Omniscience seems about right to me, though; I get the distinct impression you’re pretending we all know about all this stuff, the January 15 topic included, and thus posting about the 1/15 threat instead of Gaza is inherently immoral, because it prioritizes incorrectly. I suppose it can feel really good to pretend that you know what all’s going on in the world, and it feels righteously good to display that (pretense to) knowledge by admonishing others for not adhering to priorities.

My supposition underlying this, s. jones, is that you really wanted a Gaza thread on CT today and you didn’t get one, so shame on Ingrid for bringing up something else. In that spirit, I’ll share that FDL has a lively Gaza discussion going, last time I checked. Here’s the link, and good day to you: http://firedoglake.com/2008/12/30/those-who-dont-learn-from-george-bushs-mistakes-are-destined-to-repeat-them/#comments

If that’s not the issue at hand, and if you’re being sincere in this philosophical bent, then you live in a strange world, believing every paragraph written ought to somehow conform to a universal ethic in which it proportionally directs our attention to the worst moral grievances.
1, You’re not following that peculiar dictate yourself, in your comment responses.
2, You’re not spending any time redirecting our attention to additional information or perspective that would be useful to the CT audience, from your perspective.
3, Why not go and criticize the other recent CT posts, which I remember being about Amazon Prime and some dinosaurs-live-with-humans comic books, and which (though I wouldn’t levy this criticism myself) even more clearly fail to adhere to this ethic of yours?

That conditioning started well before the advent of films with institutions like the R Catholic church

True, but I think the pecularities of twentieth-century media bear closer investigation; films are doing things to shape the conventional wisdom that the RC church just technologically couldn’t.

102

salient 12.31.08 at 12:19 am

People are really oddly and personally testy about Ingrid’s accusation that in “some groups of ‘Western’ feminists, perhaps especially within academia, there is a reluctance to draw attention to extreme instances of human rights violations in ‘non-western’ countries.”

I think the truth of that statement ends up resting on a questionably stretched application of “some groups… within academia”* but that’s hardly something to get worked up over. Those of you who are acting personally wounded by this statement should probably at least explain why it wounds you (and receipt of a chain letter isn’t much of an explanation for taking personal offense).

*After all one could truthfully say “some groups… within academia” believe climate change isn’t significantly influenced by fossil fuel use.

103

strasmangelo jones 12.31.08 at 12:46 am

Do you really imagine that anyone reading this post is unaware that Israel is bombing Gaza?

No, but I think there are plenty reading this post that don’t really care.

104

lemuel pitkin 12.31.08 at 12:55 am

really oddly and personally testy about Ingrid’s accusation that in “some groups of ‘Western’ feminists, perhaps especially within academia, there is a reluctance to draw attention to extreme instances of human rights violations in ‘non-western’ countries.”

Is it odd and testy to expect that a serious accusation against a specific group of people will be backed up by evidence? I’m sure Western academic feminists (TM) could do more about the rights of women on the Afghan-Pakistan border region. But as I and others on this thread have ntoed, you are much more likely to hear about the situation of such women from feminists — academic or otherwise — than from most other groups of Westerners, so Ingrid’s singling out of feminists in this case really calls out for anexplanation — or an apology.

I mean, if I wrote in some prominent setting “Crooked Timber bloggers (and especially commenters) take an almost sexual pleasure in the idea of bombing brown people for liberalism,” you would rightly respond that actually CT has had lots of good critiques of liberal interventionism and ask me to come up with some examples of what I was talking about. And “well, somebody who reminded me of Crooked Timber was gushing over JDAMs at this party I was at” wouldn’t do.

105

strasmangelo jones 12.31.08 at 1:01 am

Salient, the lack of any post here on Gaza is particularly galling in this post because (1) this is the first post on civil liberties and the Muslim world that’s appeared on this blog in ages, and it deliberately ignores a front-page bloodbath taking place in the Muslim world right now, and (2) Ingrid is using this post to trot out a tired right-wing talking point – namely, that Western feminists don’t care about atrocities committed in non-Western countries. As I’ve said twice before in this thread, this is a discussion that has taken place dozens of times since America launched its self-styled War on Terror, between feminists and antiwar liberals on the one hand and warmongers and the “decent left” on the other. The pro-war side isn’t arguing in good faith, and the antiwar/feminist side are acting as suckers to engage them.

106

roy belmont 12.31.08 at 1:42 am

People are really oddly and personally testy about Ingrid’s accusation that in “some groups of ‘Western’ feminists…
I never took the time to say it directlybut I’ve been aware since I first read it that what Ingrid was disturbed by, the threat made against girls wanting to go to school, was something that we all should be disturbed by.
It’s just the larger context, which is crucial now. For instance salient above , saying:
I… am newly aware of a specific terrorist threat, and preparations for specific violence that it is said will begin to occur on January 15th….
This is the mind-set that the story works on to the detriment of all of us.
“Terrorist”. Terrorist!. TERRORIST!!
Or the even larger context in which pointing out the egregious ill treatment of women by fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan Pakistan ignores completely as if it were irrelevant the sickening carnage being delivered on Muslims, not just in Gaza but worldwide, from Indonesia to Iraq. And by ignoring it helps to rationalize it, if not justify it.
This was spoken to far more cogently than I’m able to by Minneapolitan, and others, above.
A helpful parallel might be from the Civil Rights era in the US, when examples of criminal behavior by blacks were set before an awakening public, without any lines of connection being drawn. Goosing the polarity by implication.

107

Adpositional 12.31.08 at 12:38 pm

novakant: “…raising awareness and even simply being aware of human rights abuses is “doing something about it”.”

I wish I could believe that, but I don’t. At best, raised awareness may lead to doing something about it. In the case of AI or HRW, what they actually do about it is write letters and organise demonstrations – and that sometimes yields actual results, when you’re dealing with a government concerned about its image abroad. I can’t see that sort of thing changing any Swat Taliban’s minds, least of all from this far away. Personally, I’d as soon be aware – no point in trying to ignore unpleasant realities – but in cases like this I don’t see who it helps.

108

matt mckeon 12.31.08 at 12:48 pm

As someone noticed, this specific threat is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, the Taliban existing in both places. As I, and others noted earlier, Pakistan and India are reving up for their own war. I not sure if this will aggravate this specific situation or not, but its a safe bet that it will make things worse. Certainly it will be more relevant than the bloodletting in Gaza. I don’t mean the Gaza killings aren’t of vital concern. Because of the US’s close relationship with Israel, it is also an area where the US could play a more positive and useful role, more feasibly than in Pakistan.

I can understand if some people don’t want to jump on a bandwagon that could be hijacked to justify a military intervention they oppose. But as the original post remarked: there are some things you can’t ignore.

109

salient 12.31.08 at 5:34 pm

This is the mind-set that the story works on to the detriment of all of us.

Bah, you caught me in crossfire. I wasn’t fearmongering, and the use of the word “terrorist” was literal (threat designed to terrify people into changing their behavior; though perhaps it’s a word that needs to be retired for all the connotations it invokes). It wasn’t meant to be a full and complete analysis of the context and connections surrounding this incident; I was just explaining to s. jones that even if we were all completely aware of all the contexts (which this person was alleging was true, and which according to s. jones meant nobody should bother to talk about it), the post was useful insofar as it provided information on new and disturbing developments, so we should talk about the new and disturbing developments in Gaza instead. You’ll notice I went so far as to go find a large-scale community discussion about Gaza on another blog for s. jones.

You’ll also notice this same person’s still hacking on about “the lack of any post here on Gaza is particularly galling in this post” (which aside from the syntax is noteworthy, once again, because this person hasn’t been trolling the dozens of completely civil-liberties-unrelated posts on CT, just Ingrid’s. Why? Because it’s a civil liberties post that dares to not address Gaza! For some reason talking about comic books is alright in the midst of crisis, but talking about other civil liberties violations isn’t: I was addressing the absurdity of s. jones attempting to enforce a civil-liberties-reportage ethic exclusively on this post.)

Anyhow. That having been said, I’d agree there’s some parallel as you mentioned: we have all this spine-chilling report of a threat, but maybe not enough context to determine whether it was just some attention-seeking rogue whose statement’s being trumped up. Is the “Threatening Islamist/Taliban Commander” the new “Angry Black Man” in media? Should his threat be taken at all seriously? Did some reporter go find some isolated nut to trump up falsely as the representative face of the entire Taliban? We notice the original BBC report says a local Taleban commander, and Ingrid attributes the threat to “they” (the entire Taliban). Is this accurate? These are fair questions.

For the answer, I’d take my cue from this sentence: Those who can afford it have already moved out of the region, but the poor have no other option than keeping their daughters at home, our correspondent says. So, it sounds like there’s a legitimate ongoing threat to the safety of schoolgirls in the region. People don’t just up and move in significant numbers when an isolated nut is raving, unless that nut has sufficient power to carry out violence in the region. Sounds like the 1/15/09 threat is only one component of ongoing actualized violence. It looks like Ingrid checked this out as well, given the extra source in comment 46.

I guess we can see this violence as the result of oppression, but it’s still not possible for me to buy that being oppressed justifies planning and carrying out the killing of schoolgirls in one’s region. Feel free to comment on how this makes me a horrible person because I just don’t understand what they’ve gone through, or that I’m not sufficiently sympathetic to have a full comprehension of cause and effect, etc.

110

Kaveh Hemmat 12.31.08 at 6:25 pm

I think lemuel’s point at 87 & 104, that Western feminists have in fact been *more* outspoken on this issue than other Westerners, and for longer, testifies to the importance of roy’s point @65, concerning the overall effectiveness of the original post. Sensitivity to context is a particularly important kind of discipline to maintain when discussing such issues.

111

Soren 12.31.08 at 6:41 pm

Helen:

“They also generally do not advocate going out, missionary-like, to lecture either Muslim feminists or Muslim society in general, because as one prominent feminist pointed out, we westerners just don’t have the standing in that society to redirect peoples’ actions. We just don’t.”

Have you ever thought that the position you’re describing is just as much a form of paternalism as any search-and-rescue operation in the middle east? These women literally don’t know what they’re missing! Persuading them otherwise is the ethical thing to do if you truly believe in equal rights. Censoring yourself out of humility, or worse, to “protect” them from islamaphobes, is true paternalism.

112

Kaveh Hemmat 12.31.08 at 7:12 pm

Soren @111,
re lecturing, a Nobel Peace Prize went to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian feminist. I don’t think it’s asking too much to suggest people see what Middle Eastern feminists like her have to say before getting outraged over an article about the Taliban and suddenly forming an opinion on what Afghan women need, from a news environment that considers the evils of the Taliban far more significant than the good done by people like Ebadi.

Censoring yourself out of humility, or worse, to “protect” them from islamaphobes, is true paternalism.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Islamophobes in question are not rude guys who stare at women in headscarves on the street in Toronto, they are people who can influence a superpower’s decision to drop bombs on the very girls whose access to schools we are talking about. In fact, shutting out the voices of Middle Eastern feminists is one of the major strategic goals of said Islamophobes.

113

Righteous Bubba 12.31.08 at 8:58 pm

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Islamophobes in question are not rude guys who stare at women in headscarves on the street in Toronto, they are people who can influence a superpower’s decision to drop bombs on the very girls whose access to schools we are talking about.

I really have a hard time believing that the most recent spate of bomb droppers give a shit about what feminists have to say about an issue; at best feminist ideas get to be a cudgel to beat anti-war folks with. No small thing when the decision’s on a knife-edge I suppose, but going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq had precious little to do with women’s rights.

Maybe, though, it’s even more sensitive to write about this now, that is if you believe the new US administration will do things differently.

114

MarkUp 12.31.08 at 9:55 pm

”that is if you believe the new US administration will do things differently.”

Change is coming Bubba. Research in the past half life, err, half decade has stumbled upon a vast improvement to the Neutron bomb; gender specific radiation targeting with blast dampening. Amazing really, and tests should be coming to a country half a world away from you soon assuming the right appropriations are made to continue protecting the homeland. Early tests heve been positive, though the current yields makes the effects only noticeable over a few generations [projected].

115

sg 01.01.09 at 1:33 pm

righteous bubba, if people had paid attention to feminist protests (and human rights activists more generally) in the 90s, then maybe the Taliban wouldn’t be in Pakistan now. Pretending these things are unrelated is pretty silly, just as is pretending western feminists have not been active on this issue. Maybe it’s just that recently, feminists have given up on protesting about the behaviour of a bunch of brigands in a war zone, and a more interested in the behaviour of their own governments’ soldiers in that war zone (bombing wedding parties is probably a feminist issue too, I suspect).

But given we’re 114 comments in with still no evidence of this feminist movement to ignore the issue, it seems kind of irrelevant.

116

jayann 01.01.09 at 3:12 pm

(so, that would include Spivak if she indeed said what is attributed to her in the passage above

The Spivak phrase is from ‘The Subaltern Cannot Speak” (on interpretations of sati); I quote further from it

“Obviously I am not advocating the killing of widows”

117

Righteous Bubba 01.01.09 at 3:29 pm

Pretending these things are unrelated is pretty silly, just as is pretending western feminists have not been active on this issue

I assume this is a follow-up to you at 12.31.08 at 12:03 am: I agree that Afghan/NWFP Pakistani approaches to women’s rights are now related and I agree that western feminists have been active in bringing Taliban oppression to light.

118

sg 01.01.09 at 4:17 pm

This fantasy about feminists not caring for muslim women was invented from whole cloth by the neo-cons in 2001, back when they believed the brown chicks were a few bombs away from bikinis and beauty contests. Both ideas were equally wrong. It’s kind of sad to see it repeated in the years hence on left wing websites, and on the (thankfully infrequent) occasions when it rears its ugly head I have never seen any support for the original claim.

I can’t be bothered looking for evidence, but my memory of the response to feminist campaigns for muslim women’s rights in the 90s was that feminists are just a bunch of racist meddlers and anyway its futile because those poor muslims prefer it that way.

119

noen 01.01.09 at 7:40 pm

“by highlighting the oppressions of women by some Muslim leaders or groups, one is playing into the card of Islamophobia, and contributing to the polarising rhetoric of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.”

Yeah, there is a certain legitimacy to that position. All my life I have been confronted with images of poor black children in dire need. Biafra, Bangladesh, Africa and now Afghanistan and thereabouts. The message seems clear, “There are these horrible injustices in the world and for a small donation you can buy off your white guilt.” More importantly, it keeps them over there, far away from me so I need not be discomfited by their pain and need never question how I may be contributing to it in the first place.

I never see needy poor children, white or black, from the US or other first world countries though they do exist. I also don’t see in the general media any discussion about why those children (Islamic girls in this case) are in that condition in the first place. How do the economic and military policies of my country contribute to those injustices?

I think that issues like these tend to function as a distraction from those larger questions.

120

virgil xenophon 01.02.09 at 7:29 pm

Well, noen, all I know is that Oprah is on record as saying that the reason that she donated all that money to set up that school in South Africa rather than in , say, New Orleans for the poor black victims of Katrina, was that American blacks were unappreciative of such help and would inevitably trash the school and steal anything not nailed down.

And I think your FIRST question should be: “How do the economic and military policies of the COUNTRIES IN QUESTION contribute to those injustices? Whiling away your hours pondering THAT question would be a more profitable use of your precious time. America’s contribution to the misery of those you are concerned with
is often not without effect, but the primary responsibility is to be found with the leadership of the nations where these conditions exist and their indigenous populations themselves.

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Righteous Bubba 01.02.09 at 8:08 pm

Well, noen, all I know is that Oprah is on record as saying

Where?

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noen 01.02.09 at 9:07 pm

Who knows RB. I’m still trying to parse that. It looks to me like once you remove the racist rant and then the bitter sarcasm you’re left with a big fat zero.

I guess I’m not supposed to ask what role the US has played in creating and promoting the Taliban or Osama bin Laden himself. Clearly the only parties that bear any responsibility are our puppet regimes and the tin pot dictators we install. Most of all, it would seem that Virgil feels the “primary responsibility” lies with the girls themselves. When, Oh when will the rule of 11 year old Islamic girls end??

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