The impact on women in Palestine, Afghanistan and Rojava – Medya News
The largest annual gathering of feminists in the UK organized by FiLiA, an event regularly attended by 1000-1200 women, is a good entry point into issues of concern to British feminists. But what is atypical for British feminism, it has a strong internationalist perspective. At the conference, held recently in Portsmouth, I moderated a session where women from Afghanistan, Palestine and Rojava came together to discuss how occupation and fundamentalism clerics crossed paths to weaken their fight for rights.
I posed a number of provocations. The first being: can occupation ever be a force for good? After all, this is how the media has portrayed the US occupation in Afghanistan, especially on the issue of women’s rights. A new generation of women had been educated who would be much fiercer in their opposition to the Taliban this time around. Nelufer Hadayat, a British Afghan journalist writing in the Guardian, said: “It is true that, on the whole, the occupation of Afghanistan since 2001 was a good thing. Kind of. There were pockets of progress. I have seen it myself in my years of reporting and visiting, and listening to the stories of all my family who still live there. She cites statistics on increasing literacy rates for boys and girls and improving life expectancy rates. But it also refers to the poverty and terrorist attacks that continued under US occupation and took the lives of thousands of Afghans.
Selay Ghaffar, spokesperson for the Afghan Solidarity Party who joined us via Zoom, said emphatically that “they [the US] “educated” a small group of Afghan women who were not “prepared to fight for their rights” but to get along and associate with misogynists and depraved criminals, the mafia and corrupt politicians. She firmly believed that these women were primarily interested in “the money and resources they earned from parliament, ministerial posts and travels abroad”. In fact, these American adopted women and daughters stabbed Afghan women from behind, undermining the struggle of Afghan women for their rights.
Ghaffar argued that Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan was promoted by the United States to prevent progressive forces from gaining ground. This is precisely what happened in Israel where Hamas was nurtured in order to weaken the once secular and more progressive forces of Fatah. Why do occupying powers destroy democratic, pro-women and progressive forces in the occupied territory and promote reactionary forces like the Taliban or Hamas? Why are they more afraid of democratic opposition, especially when so many of these invasions are carried out under the guise of democratic nation building? In any case, if the United States does not have real democracy at home, how can it build it elsewhere?
This led me to the following provocation: does it make things better for the occupied if the occupying force claims to be committed to the values of democracy or equality? Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East – and yet it continues to destroy the lives of Palestinians under occupation who have neither vote nor voice. What kind of democratic values can exist in an apartheid state where Palestinians are second-class citizens?
Zeinab Al-Ghonaimi, a legal researcher and women’s rights activist in Gaza, who also joined us via Zoom, explained how women’s rights have been shredded by the pincer movement of the twin forces of Hamas and the Israeli occupation . She argued that “women were the main victims of this ideological shift” under Hamas where the lack of political pluralism has aggravated the deterioration of humanitarian conditions caused by the occupation.
While Zeinab was very clear that Hamas and the Israeli occupation should be resisted at the same time, some Palestinian feminists are in conflict as I have explained elsewhere. They see Fatah as corrupt lackeys of the Israeli state and Hamas as the only true representatives of the national struggle, so they are willing to put aside their discomfort with Hamas’ anti-woman and religious fundamentalist agenda. Zeinab observed that feminists, deprived of any place at the table, had to “push for minor changes to separate texts of the Penal Code and the Personal Status Law”.
In contrast, the women of Rojava (AANES, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria) gained unprecedented power which they used to achieve equality, introducing some of the laws most favorable to women in the world and by banishing religion from the public. sphere. However, the rights acquired by this revolutionary and popular democracy have been reversed in those regions, such as Afrin, which have been invaded and occupied by Turkey under the dictatorship of a misogynist and Islamist regime, as pointed out by Rohash Shexo, representing British member of Kongra Star, the umbrella organization for women in Rojava.
In fact, Rojava needed the United States to remain as a bulwark against their own dictator, Assad, Erdogan of Turkey and ISIS against whom the fight is not yet over. If the US-led coalition had not provided air cover during the famous Battle of Kobane in 2014, Kurdish resistance to ISIS might have crumbled. And we may not have had a feminist revolution to inspire us.
The United States was not an “occupying” power. Their intervention was absolutely necessary to enable the people of Rojava to win the battle against Daesh. Why didn’t the United States stay and become an occupying power? Given the widespread use of “democracy” as cover for its invasions around the world, it would have made sense for the United States to stay behind to protect this fragile democracy. Or is real democracy just too threatening for the United States?
One could argue that the US occupation continues through the back door through its proxy, Turkey, which is a NATO ally. Former Islamic State fighters joined the Turkish army as mercenaries and invaded parts of Rojava with impunity, in part because the United States looked the other way.
Was the American intervention in Rojava an example of the doctrine of liberal interventionism as adopted by Tony Blair who used it to justify the Western invasion of Iraq, Kosovo and Sierra Leone? Iraq, in fact, has turned into an occupation. Does occupation differ from liberal interventionism only in duration, when the country’s resources end up being exploited by the invading power?
For Tony Blair, staying until the job was done successfully was a key part of his strategy. In his famous speech on liberal interventionism, he asked, “Are we ready for the long term? In the past, we talked too much about exit strategies. But having made a commitment, we cannot simply walk away when the fight is over; better to stay with a moderate number of troops than to return for repeated performances with a large number.
And yet, this strategy has failed in Afghanistan.
How do we understand the interventionism of the United States in Rojava which had a positive impact in prolonging the revolutionary struggle? Many on the anti-imperialist left, in their instinctive hatred of the United States, also refused to support the revolution because it was seen to have gotten its hands dirty working with the United States.
All of these conflicting positions compete for women’s bodies and minds. For religious fundamentalists, the control of women is central to their project. For the liberal democratic forces of the world, the liberation of women is a vaunted part of their project. And yet, these same forces sell us again and again by encouraging (at worst) or ignoring (at best) the growth of religious fundamentalism.