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9/11, the left, and women’s human rights

Tuesday 13 September 2011, by siawi

Source :

Sunday, September 11, 2011 - 16:20

by Meredith Tax

Portside, the leftie elist, asked a number of people to write a response to the anniversary of 9/11. Here’s mine. It doesn’t say everything because we had a 500 word limit, but it says one of the big things. You can find other people’s responses, and lots of other news, at

The US left was theoretically unprepared to deal with the attacks of 9/11 and the resulting upsurge of nationalist politics. There had been no widespread effort after the end of the Cold War to sum up the history and problems of “actually-existing socialism,†much less to examine the way globalization was creating a surge of rightwing fundamentalist movements.

The global feminist movement had been warning of this danger since the civil war in Algeria. In the nineties, a wave of political fundamentalism began to sweep the world, expressed in movements like Shiv Sena, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jewish settlers, the Christian Coalition—all groups that mobilize religious identity in the service of rightwing goals. 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror†were global manifestations of the kind of struggle that went on in Algeria, where salafi-jihadis attempted to control local communities through terror, rape, and murder; the government responded with counter-terror, kidnapping, and murder; and civil society was caught in the middle.

Long before 9/11, feminists were aware of this terror/counter-terror dynamic because control of women’s bodies and lives is a primary object of political fundamentalism. Far from being one-sided, the global women’s movement also recognized the ways neoliberalism was destroying local communities, livelihoods, and environments. We responded to both threats by reframing women’s economic and social problems in terms of human rights, enlarging traditional definitions to include reproductive and sexual rights, and to address crimes committed by “non-state actors†—militias, fundamentalist groups, fathers, brothers, and husbands. We had to fight to be heard; but through the nineties the global feminist movement developed an analysis and praxis which departed from previous leftwing politics by making human rights—including economic and social rights—central.

Then came 9/11. Instantly, complexity went out the window and we were drowning in binary politics. Either you were pro-US, pro-war, and pro-human rights (as defined by the administration) or you were anti-US, anti-war, and only interested in human rights if they were being violated by the US. In some circles, even mentioning women in Afghanistan led to jeers and accusations of being like George W. Bush. It was “out now!†and “support for the insurgency!†Very few in the US left seemed to grasp that it is necessary to oppose both US militarists and jihadis, for both are enemies of human freedom, security, and social solidarity.

So what do we do now? The war in Afghanistan has to end; the problems there cannot be solved by military means. But the US has really messed up that country and we cannot just walk out and leave people there to clean up the mess we’ve made. We need to listen to those on the ground, in this case the Afghan Women’s Network, a fifteen year old mass coalition with specific recommendations about how to reintegrate Taliban fighters while at the same time protecting women and civil society. A pdf file of their program, Recommendations on Afghanistan’s Reconciliation, Reintegration, and Transition Processes, can be found here.

Unfortunately, nobody in the US government seems to be paying attention to this program. So how about some real solidarity?—not just mouthing slogans but giving political support to the concrete program of progressive people who are asking for help. Strengthening the voices of Afghan progressives would be a ground-breaking way to commemorate 9/11.