Not all feminists love escalation in Afghanistan
Dana Goldstein has a piece called "Why Feminists Love the Surge" in the Daily Beast. Her prime example is Eleanor Smeal, founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which has advocating for women and girls in Afghanistan since 1996. Smeal believes that long-term U.S. military occupation is the only way to save women and girls from the horrors of another Taliban-style regime.
Yet, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the nation's oldest and most illustrious feminist group, opposes the U.S. occupation. RAWA argues that the real enemy of women's rights in Afghanistan is religious fundamentalism, not the Taliban, per se.
RAWA sees the U.S. occupation entrenching a regime stuffed to the gills with fundamentalists, reactionaries, misogynists, criminals, and warlords. As the group says on its website:
The US "War on terrorism" removed the Taliban regime in October 2001, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism which is the main cause of all our miseries. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US administration is replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. The US government and Mr. Karzai mostly rely on Northern Alliance criminal leaders who are as brutal and misogynist as the Taliban. RAWA believes that freedom and democracy can’t be donated; it is the duty of the people of a country to fight and achieve these values. Under the US-supported government, the sworn enemies of human rights, democracy and secularism have gripped their claws over our country and attempt to restore their religious fascism on our people.
At feministe, Frau Sally Benz links to an interview with a RAWA spokeswoman known only by the pseudonym "Zoya." Zoya's on a speaking tour, but her face is blurred out for her own safety. Even in occupied Afghanistan, it's dangerous for women to speak out.
Westerners usually frame the debate over U.S./NATO policy in Afghanistan is usually framed as a choice between handing the country back to the Taliban or propping up the Karzai regime. The latter is assumed to be a dramatically better option for women's rights.
Karzai pays lip service to women's rights, but jettisons them whenever he needs to make a compromise to stay in power. It should be noted, for example, that the Karzai government was responsible for the infamous Shia Family Law which legalized marital rape within Shia marriages.
Last month, Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, told Michelle Goldberg of the Daily Beast that the situation for Afghan women is every bit as bad under Karzai as it was under the Taliban. Joya is also concerned that civilian casualties are fueling popular support for the Taliban.
RAWA and its grassroots allies think that pro-democracy forces could transform the country on their own without U.S. military occupation. That's a point of view we seldom hear in U.S. media.
I don't know how realistic it is to think that pro-democracy forces could prevail in a two-front struggle against Karzai's warlords and the Taliban, but the question hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the issue of whether the U.S. could force reform at gunpoint. Maybe RAWA and its allies would have a better shot at power if the occupation wasn't shoveling billions of dollars to the most reactionary elements in society.