Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mills Response 3.25.08

Charles W. Mills to me
show details 10:45 am (2 days ago)

Hi Caitlin: No, I didn't know (by coincidence I came to work a while ago
and found an e-mail from a guy called Deven, who says they just won CDA
[?]--maybe it's they?). I don't agree that WS should be a "prior" issue
for every debating subject, obviously. There are many oppressions, the
"big three" of class, race, and gender, and others also. If you want,
you could look at TRC, where you'll see that in that long endnote near
the start (137-38, n. 3) I do explicitly cite other oppressions, while
saying that race is what I want to focus on in the book and also that I
believe race has had differential significance in this complex system of
multiple intersecting oppressions. But that's different from saying race
is the ONLY oppression, and the only one we should be talking about. So
you'd be citing the authority of Mills. For empirical stuff, let me
recommend a 2007 book by Douglas Massey, Categorically Unequal, which is
full of useful facts, figures, and graphs on the multiple inequalities
in the U.S., of class and gender as well as race. Paula Rothenberg has a
well-known anthology that has gone through multiple editions with a lot
of valuable readings on the legal and historical background of these
oppressions in the U.S. context. I'm blanking on the exact title, but
look her up on amazon, and you should be able to identify which one it
is. There are a huge number of anthologies on intersectionality, e.g.,
The Black Feminist Reader, ed. Joy James and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting
and Words of Fire, ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall. Finally (not to seem to be
plugging my own work, but if I'm being cited already...), you could look
at my most recent book, Contract and Domination, with Carole Pateman,
especially my ch. 6 (were you there at the launching? I can't recall).
How would a "black aesthetic" work in debating?!
Congratulations on the NU acceptance! It was good to have you in the
class (though you need to speak up more--especially now that I've
discovered you're a debater!), and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Keep me
informed re the debate stuff, since I may be "advising" both sides!
Charles Mills

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

solvency article for the rawa aff

The Problematic
Rhetoric of
Investment in the
Afghan Women’s
Holly Johnson
COL 633
Criticism: Rhetoric,
Psychoanalysis and
Professors Ernesto
Laclau and Joan Copjec
December 20, 2002
It Comes as a Package
On November 21 of this year during The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, Anne Taylor
Fleming delivered an essay entitled “Faces of Women” in which she “considers the
relationship between burqas and botox” (Fleming). She states that she “will always
remember those fist pictures of the women coming out of post-Taliban Afghanistan. It
was as if, after all the darkness, the loss, the war, the sun was shining again in those
beautiful faces—a gender freed.” But a gender freed from what, and now free to do
what? For Fleming these questions are easily answered.
She continues her essay by addressing the “extraordinarily lucky and blessed American
woman”, (while at the same time having to admit to her that “even in your own country,
the poverty rates are up and single mothers are struggling to raise kids.”) A woman who
is not one of the exceptional suffers, yet ironically, somehow maintains solidarity not only
with oppressed women at home but around the world. Fleming says “you are kin to
them, conscious of them always, if only in the back of the brain, as you drive, work, go to
the gym, laugh with men, at them, laugh to be alive, laugh at your freedoms, grateful for
them while taking them for granted.” And then, she says, “you read about Botox parties
in LA and New York… and you are both amused and ashamed.”
Fleming announces that the “disparities [between life in a fundamentalist Muslim country
and the U.S.] are astonishing.” But she suggests that those disparities seem less harsh
once “you hear about a dab of makeup, a flick of lipstick beneath a burqa during the
Taliban days, a touching assertion of femininity in a dark, male, veiled world.” Beauty
parlors have sprung up in Kabul, and cosmetics are now available. “Can botox be far
behind? It’s a strange thought”, she is willing to grant, “from burqas to Botox in the blink
of an eye. It’s sort of distasteful and sort of wonderful at the same time—because it
means freedom of choice for women—no more, no less.” Fleming closes her essay by
reminding us that of course, with this “flowering of vanity” the Afghan women also gain
literacy training and schooling for girls. “It comes as a package,” she concludes, “just as
it does here.”
But what exactly is this “package” we are offering to Afghan women? In the rhetoric that
has fueled the United States bombing of Afghanistan since the beginning, the image of
the oppressed, veiled, violated woman has figured as a central motivation for
intervention. Yet this rhetoric has too often created a kind of fetish, a focus on what is
literally the superficial concealment that deflects us from the greater underlying, and
possibly inassimilable, issues of democratic self-determination and identity for Afghan
women. Too often, as in the example of Fleming’s essay, “freedom” and “vanity” have
been conflated, not only in terms of physical appearance and of feminine sexuality
mediated by products, but also “vanity” on a much more subversive level. The efforts to
“bring democracy” to Afghanistan will be in vain as long as they are simply rhetorical
strategies for creating coherence at home and justifying a war whose primary aims is not
to serve humanity, but rather U.S. hegemony. It is not freedom we want, but free
Could this be one of the reasons that, too often, the “freedoms” supposedly bestowed on
Afghan women are not tangible democratic realignments that allow for engagement and
expression in their political domain, but rather the opportunity to buy—not only cosmetics
and other Western products, but American ideology. It comes, after all, as a package.
There are abundant examples of this. One article from the New York Times on
November 18th, 2001 entitled “In Kabul, DVD's and TV's Fill the Shopping Bags; Burqas
Sit on the Shelves”1 reports that “all around Kabul, sales of satellite TV's are soaring.
Cosmetics and high-heeled shoes are flying off shelves. DVD's and videocassettes are
filling shopping bags. It seems that only burqas, the head-to-toe veils required by
conservative Muslims, have stopped selling” (Rhode). Yet almost every woman the
reporter speaks to is wearing one. The article goes on to say that “Kabul is hurtling into a
future it does not know. Babrakludin, a barrel-chested 31-year-old money trader,
summed it up: 'This is a revolution.'” In an editorial from around the same time on “The
Veiled Resource”, Nicholas Kristof reveals what this new freedom could mean for the
Afghan woman, including the right enjoyed by so many Asian women to become lowwage
workers in factories. “Across Asia, the fuel for economic expansion has been
literate women workers churning out toys, shoes and clothing. The owner of a Kabul
raisin factory I visited said that girls are more careful workers than boys, and now that
the Taliban is gone he plans to fire most of his 50 male employees and hire female
replacements.” Kristof also takes this as a sign that “perhaps the revolution is
These logical inconsistencies between the appearance of freedom for the women of
Afghanistan and the actual causes and effects of the U.S. invasion are glossed over for
the sake of creating coherent support here and elsewhere in the West. This coherence is
more difficult to maintain from within the reality of Kabul today. What I aim to explore,
however, is the process by which this rhetorical strategy has developed. In order to do
so, one must construct a backdrop of some of the complex political, economic, and
psychological factors at play in the conflict between the United States and its perception
of “Muslim fundamentalism”.
1 David Rohde, “In Kabul, DVD's and TV's Fill the Shopping Bags; Burkas Sit on the Shelves” in
The New York Times, November 18, 2001.
Throughout this analysis I will endeavor to avoid assigning motivations to Muslims, to the
people of Afghanistan, to the men of that country, to the Taliban or to the terrorists, as
the subjects-supposed-to-know. What I will attempt to critique rather, is the Western
positions towards this Other that develops precisely out of an attempt to assign
meanings based on a definition of mulitculturalist “difference” without a mediating notion
of equivalence. In the guise of humanitarian missions designed to liberate the
unknowable, aggressive, and unstable Other from himself, what the West engages in is
a violent, hypocritical and chauvinistic intervention on behalf of its Real. This intervention
projects onto the reality of countries in civil conflict the Real forces of capitalism and
Western ideology. It is in this rupture between the reality of lives for women, children and
men living in the targeted countries and the truth of the desires which motivate the
intervention that the acts lose all ethical validity and undermine the very notion of an
ethical act.
As Slavoj Zizek writes in Welcome to the Desert of the Real, “the problem with the
twentieth-century ‘passion for the Real’ was not that it was a passion for the Real, but
that it was a fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was
the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real.” The problem with this “Real Thing”
is that it is “a fantasmatic spectre whose presence guarantees the consistency of our
symbolic edifice” as the Great Democracy of the world, as the liberator of women, “thus
enabling us to avoid confronting its constitutive inconsistency (‘antagonism’)” inherent in
the absorption of Afghanistan as a society dependent on the West for its political and
economic survival, even it cultural definition. The fantasmatic Real Afghan woman,
transformed from burqa-wearer to Botox-user, would perhaps “laugh at her freedoms”,
as Fleming does, while on her way to school, to work, to workout, to shop. But this would
somehow remove her from the contingencies of reality: that the schools may not remain
open under a Western-installed regime that could prove as oppressive as the Taliban,
that the schools may not function at all with no social infrastructure to support them. It
ignores the questions of how she will ever gain safe and satisfying employment for which
she will receive reasonable wages and a degree of social equality, or how women who
have lived through the extreme deprivation of decades of warfare and refugee life will
ever experience the luxury of needing to lose weight by working out. It also refuses to
consider that the shops themselves could prove to be their own kind of oppression.
Ethical Engagement in a Pluralistic Universe
But is reality enough? Are these realities not merely the realities of the body, of the
human animal? Without undermining in anyway the human claims for safety, security, or
sustenance, can we not go further and demand, not the unnamable or the unattainable,
but the right to participate in the process of naming or attaining? For the multiplicity of
our individual demands to coordinate with what is universal, or infinite, in humanity—that
which one human cannot contain but which includes her. This is where the
“humanitarian intervention” fails in its efforts to “free” the people. In attempting to
address and redress the particularities of the situation, intervention of this kind reveals
its very self-interest, its own particular demands, that can ostensibly be fulfilled by the
intervention, in the same way that we could individually count how many refugees we
have fed. Yet feeding even every refugee does nothing to address the root of the
refugee situation. And eating doesn’t permanently cure hunger.
An intervention that intends to bring freedom, or performatively free the people from
some oppressor, can do nothing to affect the underlying conditions of oppression. It only
serves the immediate needs of the intervener, and not even those permanently, since
they were needs that were already attached to the particular situation. Thus their
temporary satisfaction in no way closes the moment. The moment simply passes. We
have not found Osama Bin-laden in Afghanistan, so we have moved on, not even to look
for him somewhere else, but to look for someone else, Saddam Hussein. It was the very
particularity of the situation that created the conditions for the metonymic replacement of
one Arab Despot with another. Just as the particularities of ridding Afghanistan of the
Taliban allowed us to replace them with a regime, the Northern Alliance, whose name
may be different, but whose face could be the same.
Thus, in addressing the particular needs of women in Afghanistan, we may temporarily
relieve her needs as a human animal, but we do nothing to participate in her humanity,
her universality. To understand why this is true, we should turn to the analyses offered
by Zizek and Alain Badiou of the concept of the victim. While Zizek and Badiou differ in
the ways they categorize the ontological principles constituting the subject of an ethical
act, both agree that what is perhaps most dangerous about a definition of the beneficiary
of humanitarian intervention as a victim is that it presupposes that a human being is
merely the sum of her basic needs, who is indifferent as to how, or by whom, those
needs are met.
In the chapter of the Fragile Absolute entitled “Victims, Victims Everywhere”, Zizek
criticizes the Western (specifically NATO) invasion of the former Yugoslavia. Zizek writes
that an apparently “militaristic humanitarian” intervention such as this is an “Orwellian
oxymoron” precisely because it “thoroughly depoliticizes the military intervention,
changing it into an intervention in humanitarian catastrophe, grounded in purely moral
reasons, not an intervention in a well-defined political struggle” (Zizek 57).The sum effect
is then that universal human rights are depoliticized. The “subject-victim” of the
intervention is no longer a “political subject with a clear agenda, but a subject of helpless
suffering, sympathizing with all sides in the conflict, caught up in the madness of a local
clash that can be pacified only by the intervention of a benevolent foreign power, a
subject whose inmost desire is reduced to the almost animal craving to ‘feel good
What is essential is that this subject remains depoliticized, that is, remains within the
realm of the particular animal needs without attempting to participate in a political act
which would define her outside of those needs. Needs can be met, but political demands
can’t be. Thus both the Western interveners and the subject-victims are never ethically
constituted, but only serve the Real of desire. Zizek’s uses as an example the images of
suffering Kosovo victims which almost directly parallels the current media fascination
with women in burqas and the impulse to depict them as transformed consumers.
What we encounter here again is the paradox of victimization: the Other to be
protected is good in so far as it remains a victim (which is why we are bombarded
with pictures of helpless Kosovo mothers, children and old people, telling movie
stories about suffering); the moment it no longer behaves like a victim, but wants
to strike back on its own, it magically turns all of a sudden into a
terrorist/fundamentalist/drug-trafficking Other… The crucial point is thus to
recognize clearly in this ideology of global victimization, in this identification of the
(human) subject itself as ‘something that can be hurt’, the mode of ideology that
fits today’s global capitalism. This ideology of victimization is the very mode in
which—most of the time invisible to the public eye, and for that reason all the
more ineluctable—the Real of Capital exerts its rule (60).
The subject-victim is therefore never fully constituted as a subject, since it cannot act,
even by fulfilling its own needs, but rather is the object of the other’s act. The gap
between the universal and the particular has been foreclosed by the intervention of this
other. Thus the subject-victim remains permanently lodged in the realm of positivity,
since its needs are always-already met by the other who not only fulfills the needs, but
who also created them by deciding which are legitimate and which are not. Within this
domain, the unconstituted subject has no negativity to express as such, since it is
always a lack that has been filled. This leads Zizek to conclude that “the struggle for
hegemony within today’s postmodern politics does have a limit: it encounters the Real
when it touches the point of actually disturbing the free functioning of Capital” (55).
Badiou also interprets the ethical definition of victims as a gross reduction of humanity to
the sum of its needs. In Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, Badiou
dismantles the “self-evidence” of a Kantian theory of ethics, which is based in part on
belief that “’Human rights’ are rights to non-Evil: rights not to be offended or mistreated
with respects to one’s life… one’s body… or one’s cultural identity (the horrors of
humiliation of women, minorities, etc.).” Badiou argues that this interpretation of the
ethical claims of humanity reduces the subject to self-interest, the desire not to be hurt.
Thus, man is defined as a victim, or rather, the “being capable of recognizing himself as
a victim.”2 Badiou argues that this definition reduces woman to little more than an
animal, and that in this role of the victim, “[s]he is worth little more.” Yet how then does
one account for that aspect of a human which does not coincide with her animal
substructure, with the identity of the victim? What is it, to use Badiou’s example, which
allows for the fact that with the survivors of concentration camps, what we are dealing
with “is an animal whose resistance, unlike that of a horse, lies not in his fragile body,
but in his stubborn determination to remain what he is… something other than a mortal
being”? For Badiou this determination is the right of the Immortal, of the Infinite, which
resists even the “contingencies of suffering and death.” Thus the subject is constituted
as something independent of its particular needs by the decision that instantiates this
2 Alain Badiou, trans. Peter Hallward. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. (London:
Verso, 2001), p.12.
infinity, by its continuing fidelity to an act in which it demonstrates its irreducible
Perhaps what is most crucial about Badiou’s argument is that “every human being is
capable of being this immortal.” If we do not accept this, then woman remains a victim,
and as such is contemptible. It is this lack of decision, our infidelity to her immortality,
which creates the conditions for chauvinistic interventions in the name of humanitarian
aid. Badiou asks, “Who can fail to see that in our humanitarian expeditions,
interventions, embarkations of charitable legionnaires, the Subject presumed to be
universal is split? On the side of the victims, the haggard animal exposed on television
screens. On the side of the benefactors, conscience and the imperative to intervene.
And why does this splitting always assign the same roles to the same sides? Who
cannot see that this ethics which rests on the misery of the world hides, behind the
victim-Man, the good-Man, the white-Man?”3 Compare this to Zizek’s description of “the
‘reflexive’ Politically Correct racism: the multiculturalist perception of the Balkans as the
terrain of ethnic horrors and intolerance, of primitive irrational warring passions, to be
opposed to the post-nation-state liberal-democratic process of solving conflicts through
rational negotiation, compromise and mutual respect.” A Western intervention based on
the proposition that the victim is a victim of its own inanity reduces the beneficiary to a
gross stereotype, one incapable of making a rational decision or acting on anything other
than its ethnic peculiarities.
Badiou, like Zizek, argues that this concept distorts the underlying political realities of the
conflict by reframing it in terms of human rights, and therefore precludes the ability for
3 I would also argue that there is another level of splitting going on—that of the Afghan woman
against the Afghan man. By choosing her as the victim par excellence, as the object of his
political action or even political thought that addresses the singularity of the situation.
Instead, because we begin on the level of the suffering of the victim, what it reinforces is
the “sordid self-satisfaction” of the Western belief that “the misery of the Third World is
the result of its own incompetence, its own inanity—in short, its own subhumanity” and
not the result of deeper political situations. This makes the invention of political
alternatives almost impossible. Badiou seem to suggest that, as in Zizek’s argument, this
stalemate is created in part by the logic of Capital.
The ethical conception of man, beside the fact that its foundation is either
biological (images of victims) or ‘Western’ (the self-satisfaction of the armed
benefactor), prohibits every broad, positive vision of possibilities. What is vaunted
here, what ethics legitimates, is in fact the conservation by the so-called ‘West’ of
what it possesses. It is squarely astride these possessions (material
possessions, but also possessions of its own being) that ethics determines Evil to
be, in a certain sense, simply that which it does not own and enjoy. But Man, as
immortal, is sustained by the incalculable and the un-possessed. He is sustained
by non-being. To forbid him to imagine the Good, to devote his collective powers
to it, to work towards the realization of unknown possibilities, to think in terms
that break radically with what is, is quite simply to forbid him his humanity as
For both Zizek and Badiou the cultural relativism that motivates a Western humanitarian
intervention in the civil conflicts of another nation effectively undermines the political
efficacy of both the benefactor and the beneficiaries. In some ways, the subjects lose
part of what makes them human when they are reduced to their particular needs. What it
also entails is that the intervention must never come to an end. Since the victim can
never be trusted to be left to its own devices, because it would regress to the state we
had saved it from, the inanity of its animal needs and ethnic prejudices, how can the
conscientious Western benefactor ever end its intervention? Presumably, since there
was no universally constituted subject that could be responsible for its own behaviors, it
must remain forever the protectorate of the West, or else fall into chaos. This logic
oppression, our sympathy lies with her against him. It seems to be a move to further divided the
Other against itself, to pull her closer to our truth and farther from that of her own.
4 Badiou, p.14
therefore, is not only behind the intervention, but it is the justification for the installation
of regimes mandated by the West through the practice of “nation building.” The new
regime which is created must meet the conditions of Western ideology and Western
capitalism. This is exactly the kind of leader Hamid Karzai appears to be. Shortly after he
was instituted as the premier of Afghanistan, one reporter commented that he had never
commanded anything more imposing than a cavalcade of limousines. “Exiled” for most
of his life as a deposed prince living in London, Karzai has experienced a level of
Western luxury unthinkable by most of the people he now leads. This makes him the
ideal rube in the West’s game; since his experience is rooted in our culture and not his
own, he will struggle to maintain consistency with the only life he has known. Thus, in
the figure of Karzai, the Western intervention is ongoing.
Rhetoric and the Real: Creating a Monster
In November of 2001, the President’s wife, Laura Bush, delivered her husband’s regular
radio address in order to speak about the conditions that the women and children of
Afghanistan had to endure under the rule of the Taliban. She told the nation that
Only the terrorists and the Taliban forbid education to women. Only the terrorists
and the Taliban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish.
The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human
cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control.
Civilized people throughout the world are speaking out in horror - not only
because our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan, but also
because in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on
the rest of us.
All of us have an obligation to speak out. We may come from different
backgrounds and faiths - but parents the world over love our children. We
respect our mothers, our sisters and daughters. Fighting brutality against women
and children is not the expression of a specific culture; it is the acceptance of our
common humanity - a commitment shared by people of good will on every
Here again we encounter the Politically Correct racism, the emphasis on the “right” to
cosmetics, the suggestion that the Taliban are somehow less civilized than Western
nations, and that for the benefit of humanity, our intervention is necessary. We also
encounter the fear that the Other will impose its way of life on us, while it is perfectly
acceptable that we impose ours on it. What is blatantly lacking, however, is any question
of how that Other came to be, that is, how the Taliban came to occupy this position of
power in the Western psyche. To explain the omission, we need to examine the creation
of the Muslim Other in Western conception, by media and by the government, and the
opportunistic way this concept is selectively applied and distorted to suit our interests.
One of the simplest tests for critiquing Mrs. Bush’s statements is to simply replace one of
our Arab ally nations for the statements regarding the Taliban. In Saudi Arabia, for
example, women must wear a niqab, the most conservative women’s dress, and can be
beaten on the street by religious police for showing their ankles. While women are
allowed to hold jobs, they account for less than four percent of the workforce.5 The
majority of public spaces and essential services, such as banks and hospitals, are
strictly segregated, and a woman may not travel without the written permission of her
husband, son, or grandson. Women are forbidden to speak to men outside their families
unless it is absolutely necessary.
Yet the President’s wife is not demanding liberation for Saudi women, or suggesting that
we should begin bombing Saudi Arabia tomorrow before they bomb us. Even Maureen
Dowd, in a rather biased New York Times editorial (in which she refers to Eastern history
as “sensual and scientific” and calls the Taliban “barbarian puritans”) raises issue with
the sudden concern for women’s rights in Afghanistan. She writes, “This belated
promotion of women as a moderating, modernizing force in the Islamic world sounds
hollow. Bush senior went to war to liberate Kuwait, yet America has not made a fuss
over the fact that Kuwaiti women still can't vote or initiate divorce proceedings. We also
turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia's treating women like chattel."
So what is the reason for this discrepancy and disingenuousness? Put very simply,
Saudi Arabia is one of the favored Arab nations that participate with the United States in
controlling world oil markets. Very little is said in American media about life in Saudi
Arabia because it would serve no purpose. It is not necessary to mount an ideological
campaign against a nation that cooperates with us, no matter how oppressive it is.
Especially if that oppression works in our favor. I agree wholeheartedly with Zizek’s
remark that “in order that these countries can be counted on for their oil reserves, they
have to remain undemocratic (the underlying notion, of course, is that any democratic
awakening could give rise to anti-American attitudes.)”6 In fact, I will argue that the U.S.,
in the case of Afghanistan and elsewhere, has intervened to prevent democratic (or even
worse, socialist) movements from developing in Middle Eastern countries whose oil
reserves we rely on.
Michael Parenti develops a convincing argument along these lines through a historical
analysis that demonstrates the selective nature of the so-called humanitarian
intervention. He points out in The Terrorism Trap that neither George Bush senior nor
Bill Clinton “ever placed Afghanistan on the official State Department list of states
charged with sponsoring terrorism, despite the acknowledged presence of Osama Bin
Laden as a guest of the Taliban government” because of a vested interest in the vast oil
5 Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, (Anchor Books,
1995), pg. 168.
6 Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, (London: Verso, 2002), p.42.
and gas reserves in the region and the necessity of building a Caspian pipeline. “Such a
‘rogue state’ designation” Parenti writes, “would have made it impossible for a US oil or
construction company to enter into an agreement with Kabul for a pipeline to the Central
Asian oil and gas fields.” In fact, right up until we started to bomb them, the Taliban were
given credit for maintaining a high degree of stability in a nation known for violent
uprisings and tribal conflicts.
But what of these conflicts? We have already seen that assuming that it is merely in the
nature of the Afghan people to fight each other is a gross reduction of the singularity of
their political positions. In fact, when examined closely, many of the past conflicts in the
region have been the direct result of the interference of the US, who used Afghani civil
conflicts as a proxy for its own opposition to Marxism, destabilizing the internal
development of a participatory Afghan government. Parenti observes that “all we usually
hear about Afghanistan’s history is that in 1980 the United State intervened to stop a
Soviet ‘invasion’ in that country.” Parenti argues, however, that the Marxist-led coalition
government, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which came into power in 1978, did
so without Soviet intervention or intention. He quotes John Ryan, a retired professor who
was living in Afghanistan at the time and who believes that the new government “was a
totally indigenous happening. Not even the CIA blamed the USSR for it.”7 This new
government “legalized labor unions, and set up a minimum wage, a progressive income
tax, a literacy campaign, and programs that gave ordinary people greater access to
health care, housing, and public sanitation.”8 It also dedicated itself to gender equality
and the education of women and children.
7 Michael Parenti, The Terrorism Trap (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2002), p.54.
8 ibid., p.57
Internally, the tribal mullahs who had held sway over Afghanistan for centuries mounted
a violent opposition to the creation of greater equality for women. Externally, “because of
the egalitarian economic policies the government also incurred the opposition of the US
national security state.” By the logic that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the CIA
intervened on the side of the feudal lords, funding and training their radical guerilla force,
the mujahideen. Later, in 1979, an armed coup was led by one of the top leaders of the
PDP, Hafizullah Amin, believed by many to be supported by the CIA, who executed the
party’s poet/novelist leader, Noor Mohammed Taraki, and placed himself in power. Amin
was in turn overthrown by the remaining factions of the PDP. Only then did the Soviet
Union intervene, embroiling itself in a battle with the mujahideen that was to last over a
decade. During that time, however, there were periods of stability, social cohesion and
gender equality. Parenti quotes from a report in the San Francisco Chronicle which
notes that during the early 1980’s especially, women enjoyed a high degree of freedom.
Fifty percent of University students were women. They were able to hold jobs (including
serving as members of parliament), travel freely, and go on dates. Yet, “in keeping with
the ideological self-censorship that characterizes the US press, at no time does this
story point out that women were doing all these things during the reign of a Sovietsupported
Marxist government.” 9
Though the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the PDP government did
not collapse until 1992 under pressure from the tribal lords who continued to be funded
by the US. Once the PDP had fallen however, the factions of feudal leaders fell into
conflict with each other, and began migrating into other portions of the Middle East,
taking their weapons and their training with them. To contain the strife, the CIA and its
Pakistani off-shoot, the ISI, supported a group of chieftains called the Taliban in the
9 Parenti, p.60.
conflicts with the other lords, in the hopes that they would end the factional fighting, and
stabilize the region long enough that the US company Unocal could build a pipeline
through Afghanistan. Before long, the Taliban instituted the extreme measures against
women that they have now become infamous for, and the US did nothing to deter them.
In fact, “as recently as 1999, the US government paid the entire annual salary of every
single Taliban government official.”10 It was not until September 11th that US policy
toward the Taliban changed, and not until it became necessary to justify the bombings
that the issue of women’s oppression became a rallying cry for the Bush administration.
After a revision on such a scale as this, we are left with perhaps more questions than
answers. Several phenomena seem to be in effect. On the surface, it would appear to be
quite straightforward that the US position towards Afghanistan would change when it
was politically and economically expedient to do so. What is missing is the ideological
component that might explain why this revision can occur so easily. When the rhetoric of
the Bush administration turned against the Taliban, there was a ready-made signifier of
the Muslim Other waiting for them. How has the signifier come into existence? And is it
being taking advantage of by both the Western neoliberals, and the Islamic
We have seen that US has participated in the dismantling of democratic politic
movements in the Middle East, seeming to favor the extreme fundamentalist elements in
some situations. The fundamentalists, in turn, have perhaps embraced the stereotype of
extremism in order to differentiate themselves from the Western, capitalist way of life.
We should turn to the work of Edward Said on the issue of the Western (mis)perception
of Orientalism, and on the media coverage which enhances the misinterpretations. Yet
10 ibid, 64.
we should also consider Benjamin Barber’s argument that it is precisely the
homogenizing influence of globalization that somehow enhances and exacerbates the
reification and overdetermination of divisive identities.
In Covering Islam, Said makes the point that “the image of Islam in the West generally
and the United States in particular… ultimately reveal[s] as much about the West and
the United States as they do, in a less concrete and interesting way, about Islam.”11
Throughout his book, Said argues against the Western arrogance that presumes the
“Muslims today react only because it is historically, and perhaps genetically, determined
that they should do so; what they react to are not policies or actions, or anything so
mundane as that. What they are fighting on behalf of is an irrational hatred of the secular
present which…is “ours” and ours alone.”12 He agrees with the an article in the 1979
issue of the Columbia Journalism Review which suggested that the US media’s
coverage of the regime of the shah of Iran, had “by and large accepted the shah’s
implicit argument that the best his people can muster in the way of ideological resources
[was] religious fanaticism.”13
But when the West undertakes this line of thought, it is its own desires that it is
revealing. Said concludes that:
In the end, though, there is never any simple escape from what some critics have
called the interpretive circle. Knowledge of the social world, in short, is always no
better than the interpretation on which it is based. All our knowledge of so
complex and elusive a phenomenon as Islam comes through texts, images,
experiences that are not direct embodiments of Islam (which is after all the
apprehended only through instances of it) but representations or interpretations
of it. In other words, all knowledge of other cultures, societies or religions comes
about through an admixture of indirect evidence with the individual scholar’s
personal situation… as well as the overall political circumstances. What makes
11 Edward Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the
Rest of the World, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Press, 1997), p.4
12 ibid., p.xxxiii.
13 Said, p.110.
such knowledge accurate or inaccurate, bad, better, or worse, has mainly to do
with the needs of the society in which the knowledge is produced.14
One of the insidious predications of the subjective rhetoric is that it serves the needs that
it creates, for an image of a dangerous other who is by some teleological twist,
dangerous because he needs to be gotten rid of, because he threatens to be threat to
our way of life. It is this kind of rhetoric that is currently fueling the movement towards a
“preemptive strike” against Iraq, another nation which became a threat only once they
began to behave as we expected them to. Hussein was also armed and funded by the
US military, who provided him with all the means to become the dictator we now
What Benjamin Barber seems to argue in Jihad vs. McWorld is that the Muslim Other
has in some ways adopted this fallacious rhetoric, that it has fulfilled this Western
perception of itself as despotic and extreme. At times, Barber even seems to accept the
validity of this perception, noting that “although Islam is a complex religion that by no
means is synonymous with Jihad, it is relatively inhospitable to democracy and that
inhospitality in turn nurtures conditions favorable to parochialism, antimodernism,
exclusiveness, and hostility to ‘others’”, all the characteristics that Barber says constitute
the ideology of Jihad. (Here we should of course be very suspicious of the word
“complex” which seems not to imply the undeniable singularity of the religion, but its
ultimate unknowability, in other words, its irrationality.) What is provocative about
Barber’s argument in my mind, however, is the recognition that the revival and
propagation of fundamentalist movements has been concurrent with the growing
strength and influence of globalism. The Other has absorbed its rhetorical difference as
14 ibid, p.168.
its identity precisely to differentiate itself from the homogenizing evils of global
Barber concludes however, that both options are hollow in terms of actual democratic
engagement for the individual. By a very different path Zizek arrives at a similar, though
much more complicated, conclusion when he ask whether or not “something structurally
similar [to Adorno’s description of the pact between the Superego and the Id at the
expense of the Ego] is going on today at the political level, the weird pact between the
postmodern global capitalism and the premodern societies at the expense of modernity
proper? It is easy for the American mulitculturalist global Empire to integrate premodern
local traditions—the foreign body which it effectively cannot assimilate is European
modernity. Jihad and McWorld are the two sides of the same coin, Jihad is already
So what are the two sides of the same coin that is the Afghan woman? On one side, we
have the image of her constructed by the mullahs, as a potential object of destructive
allure, as perhaps the very embodiment of (capitalist) libidinal desire. She must be
concealed and controlled so that this desire can be kept in check. Do not the mullahs
argue that the burqa is a way of respecting the woman, as opposed to the Western
perception of the woman as a sexual commodity? Yet on the other side of the coin, we
have the image of the “liberated” Afghan woman put forward by Fleming and Kristof, of a
woman free now to “conceal” her identity in new ways, with cosmetics and disposable
consumer goods. She is now free to become a subject in the service des biens. What is
missing is a third option, a woman who perhaps has no correlate in the Muslim or the
15 Zizek, Desert p.146.
Western world. A woman who might accept the emptiness of the signifier, and evolve an
alternative to both multiculturalist capitalist democracy and fundamentalist extremism.
The Idol of Absence
Before we begin to imagine this woman, it is important to dismantle the notion put
forward by the Bush administration, Western media, and some feminists that the Afghan
woman is now free in a complete sense because of the humanitarian intervention. In
tandem with this argument, we need to consider some of the impulses that have made
the veiled Afghan women such an attractive image in the Western psyche. It should be
obvious to us, using Lacan’s theory of the veil from Seminar IV, that the burqa actually
serves to sexualize a woman to a greater degree, by creating her as an absence on
which the subject’s desire can be projected. (This is true even from the perspective of
the Taliban, who conceived of woman solely as an object of temptation and often used
sexual assault as a punishment for perceived profligacy, raping women considered to be
adulterers or other libidinous threats. Thus the price of the veil was an enhancement of
the gaze, and the price for imposing a sexual threat on the society was the violent
imposition of sex back on the woman.)
But if, in keeping with Lacan’s argument, the veil is the cause of desire, why the impulse
in the West to strip it away? Wouldn’t it then need to be replaced by another kind of veil?
As Lacan argues
This is nothing other than the function of a curtain, whatever it may be. The
curtain gets its value, its being and its consistency, from being clearly that upon
which absence is projected and imagined. The curtain is, if one may say, the idol
of absence. If the veil of Maya is the most common metaphor in use to express
the relation of man with everything which captivates him, that is not undoubtedly
without reason, but surely sustains the sentiment that man has a certain basic
illusion within all the relations woven from his desire. It is indeed that in which
man incarnates, makes an idol of, his feeling of this nothing which is beyond the
object of love.
So can one say, then, that in the act of adopting the image of the Afghan woman without
a burqa as a symbol of Western humanitarianism, with all the fallacies that we’ve seen it
to entail, is its own act of veiling, of imposing another mediating object, between the
Western subject and the gulf of the Other, the Woman who can’t be summed up by such
simple signification? Has sympathy become a fetish which deflects the potential for the
chain of equivalence that might articulate the engagement of Western feminists with the
women’s movement in Afghanistan?
Too often in the critiques that purport to be “feminist” or empathetic with the women of
Afghanistan, what we encounter instead is a patronizing sense of sympathy for the
suffering woman. The point de capiton for this sympathetic signification is almost always
the burqa. Zoya’s Story: An Afghan Woman’s Struggle for Freedom is perhaps one of
the most insidious examples of this effect. This book is in fact not written by an Afghan
woman, but is instead told by John Follain and Rita Cristofari, who interviewed a 23-year
old RAWA (Radical Association of the Women of Afghanistan) activist “Zoya” who they
knew because they had “read” about her. The story is recounted in a tone that is naïve
and simplistic. In one passage “Zoya” says “I was proud of the fact that we girls ran the
RAWA safe house. We had our own daily budget, and we divided up the different jobs
and drew up a timetable of who would do what when. None of us could cook properly,
and we ate just because we had to. One of the jobs was sentry duty, and at night we
organized a series of two hour-shifts for watching over the house. We kept a gun in the
house and hoped that we would never have to use it.”16 Their depiction makes RAWA
sound less like a radical and subversive organization that has survived underground for
16 John Follain and Rita Cristofari. Zoya’s Story, (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p.114.
more than twenty years in one of the world’s most dangerous repressive regimes and
more like a particularly rough and tumble girl-scout troupe.
Of course the story both begins and ends with the cliché of the burqa. In the prologue
“Zoya” sneaks back into Afghanistan to distribute radical literature, disguised by a burqa.
She says that it “weighed on me like a shroud. I began to sweat in the June sunshine
and the beads of moisture on my forehead stuck to the fabric. The little perfume—my
small gesture of rebellion—that I had put on earlier at once evaporated.” Somehow the
perfume has become more rebellious than the radical literature. The whole book is
dedicated to such dramatized portrayals of the burqa as the unifying symbol of
repression. The final chapter in which “Zoya” reaffirms her commitment to the struggle is
called “Beyond the Veil.”
In the Postscript, Follain and Cristofari unveil some of their own opinions, describing how
“Zoya’s” stories “often seemed inconceivable to us.” Yet, as they listened, “she led us
into her world. We felt, with her, the claustrophobia of the burqa, we heard the Taliban's
whip whistling through the air, and we saw the tears of the mothers who had lost their
sons.”17 Except for the fact that they explicitly did not experience any of these things, it
makes for compelling rhetoric. But what is almost impossible to discern in this projected
rhetoric is what “Zoya” herself actually felt or did—one can never quite believe that she
is anything but a fiction. The author’s own sympathetic tone almost completely silences
her, and her real identity is as much in quotations as is the pseudonym that they assign
to her “for her own protection.”18
17 ibid., p.234
18 It is also impossible to discern what the woman’s motive may have been in speaking to them.
They tell us that she “said she wanted to the book to stand for the suffering of all Afghan women,”
which alludes to the reductive nature of this story. But it also suggests a kind of media savvy that
Western reporters seem to encourage. In one NY Times article, “Afghan Women Trade Shadows
Another Western reporter, Geraldine Brooks, has written an entire book on the subject of
the Middle Eastern woman called Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic
Women. In it, Brooks delivers a somewhat more evenhanded description of the role
woman play in Muslim society, and the role the various Muslim coverings play in the
lives of women. Yet even she falls prey to patronizing sympathy. When one friend in
Egypt decides to begin wearing a chador Brooks describes the scene: “I opened the
door and faced a stranger. The elaborate curls were gone, wrapped away in a severe
blue scarf. The makeup was scrubbed off her and her shapely dress had been replaced
by a dowdy sack. Sahar had adopted the uniform of a Muslim fundamentalist. It was like
watching a nature film run in reverse: she had crumpled her bright wings and folded
herself into a dark cocoon.”19 How does this reversal make her choice somehow
Brooks notes several times that the return to the coverings in many Middle Eastern
countries was part of various movements for Islamic self-determination, for example,
among supporters of the Khomeini who opposed the Western-imposed shah of Iran. Yet
she attempts no analysis of those political situations that gave rise to the movements.
Throughout the book, Brooks attempts to base her arguments against the oppression of
women on her reading of the Koran, an apology that is hopelessly undermined by the
fact that, despite many years living in and reporting on Middle Eastern countries, she
doesn’t speak or read Arabic, and explains that she uses two translations to compensate
for this fact.20 On more than one occasion she presumes to explain to Muslims what the
for Washington's Limelight” (November 30, 2001) Elizabeth Bumiller reports that as guest of the
White House and the UN, a group of Afghan women exiles “also received something very
American: training to better present themselves in their now regular interviews with reporters.”
19 Brooks, p.7.
20 ibid., p.23.
Koran really says. In her descriptions of daily life for Muslim women, she avoids
righteous indignation, but often falls into a tone of pity and confusion, both about the
reasons that women wear the chador and what she should do about it. “Is it even our
fight?”21 she asks, yet answers her own question in the affirmative. Brooks also ends her
book with a description of a friend sitting with her on the beach wearing an abaya. “That
woman had made her choice: it was different from mine. But sitting there, sharing the
warm sand and the soft air, we accepted each other. When she raised her face to the
sun, she was smiling.”22 Brooks seems surprised that a covered woman is capable of
enjoyment that is equal to her own.
What is problematic about both of these perspectives on the Middle Eastern woman is
the notion that, with the veil, she is a “stranger”, yet somehow, once she has taken it off,
we can assimilate her experiences into our own. This is done through language, but it is
always in the language of the Western mediator, the reporter, that the story must be told
to in order to reach anyone. Note that though “Zoya’s” story is written based on oral
interviews, it is not presented as a transcript, but as a narrative with all the
characteristics of a Western novel. Brooks, in turn, offers the caveat that the Koran
cannot be fully translated, yet holds forth her opinions on the book and the Muslim
religion anyhow. Said criticizes the practice of Islam scholars in the West who do not
speak Arabic in Covering Islam, making the obvious observation that we would never
accept a scholar of French history or culture who did not speak French.
I agree that we should be very wary of any story which is “told” through the filter of
language of the more empowered party. As Trinh Minh-Ha writes in Woman, Native,
Other, “to denounce Third World women’s oppression with notions and terms made to
21 ibid., p.237.
reflect or fit into Euro-American women’s criteria of equality is to abide by ethnographic
ideology, which depends on the representation of a coherent cultural subject as a source
of scientific knowledge to explain a native culture and reduces every gendered activity to
a sex role stereotype. Feminism in such a context may well mean ‘westernization’.”23
This is not to say that language or translation fails—that is, that it can’t nor ever will
communicate information between two subjects as removed as the Western and the
Afghan woman. What we should be skeptical of is the transformation of language into
rhetoric, from a system of information exchange to a slide show of images. It is in this
turn that the distortion of both meaning and purpose occurs.
Perhaps this is what is at the root of the Western fascination with the burqa; it is an
image which condenses all other contingent meanings and makes revelation, the
communication of a transformative change, elusively simple. The burqa is the cloth on
which we project our repressed fears, but in this reduction, we also simplify the
complexities of taking it off, of freeing not the woman, but ourselves, of those fears. In
the end, this act of unveiling is merely the addition of another veil, one which conceals
an even more frightening Other, the Woman whose lack would create a dangerous
negativity, one capable of dismantling not only our illusions about fundamentalism, but of
our own dream of democracy. Thus what we are hiding is our own limit, and what we
refuse to grant her is a new horizon.
Agonized Musings
But can we leave the analysis on this note? Or can we take this act of closure as an
opening from which to begin? This point of potentiality is the Afghan woman herself, and
as a salvo to the critique of Western rhetoric I would like to end by considering some of
22 Brooks, p.289.
the perspectives offered by women directly engaged in the struggle for women’s rights in
Afghanistan. Once we begin down this path, we will not only eradicate some of the
myths propagated by the media and the Bush administration, we may also find some
hope of a truly democratic, indigenous struggle for self-determination.
The first myth to dispel is that Afghan women consider the burqa to be the primary
impediment to their hegemony. As Sunita Mehta, the founder of the New York-based
Women for Afghan Women (WAW), explains, “as a group we have unanimously decided
that we just don’t want to talk about the burqa. But when it is brought up, usually by
American women—we explain that it is not an issue for Afghan women. The issue is
war, disease, hunger, famine and the Afghan women in our group do not want to talk
about the veil or make it the focus of our work.”24 The article goes on to say that “many
Muslim women in the United State gripe about the excessive attention the media has
been paying to what they call ‘behind the veil’ stories.” One WAW member describes
herself as “frustrated with the Western media’s misconception about the burqa and the
women of Afghanistan…They see it as a symbol of oppression, but the burqa has been
part of Afghan tradition for centuries. And as long as women wear it as a matter of
personal preference, how can you say that it’s a symbol of women’s oppression.” RAWA
also contends that, while the imposition of the veil on a woman is part and parcel of
fundamentalist dogma, the choice by a free woman to wear one is part of a democratic
The second myth we should divest ourselves of is that since the invasion of the US
forces, Afghanistan has become a safe place for women where they feel comfortable
23Trinh Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), p.106.
taking their burqas off. As the ABC article reports, Homaira Mamoor “watched in dismay
as newscasters eagerly waited for Kabuli women to shed their burqas in a sort of
symbolic personal celebration of their socio-political liberation.”25 The reality is not nearly
so simple. The United Nations Coordinator’s Office for Afghanistan reports that
Following the routing of the Taliban from power media coverage showed some women
throwing off the burqa—an act which gave the impression that women were ready to
show their faces in public and stop wearing the all-encompassing garment. In fact,
women in Kabul and Herat continue to wear burqas on the street…Many women
interviewed said they were afraid to walk on the streets uncovered. Their reasons varied
but the common response was “fear of the men with the guns”… Westerners have
undeniably focused too much attention on the burqa issue. In the post –Taliban political
climate the burqa has become a barometer of the level of insecurity women feel more
than a women’s rights issue.26
The cause of the continuing fear is that the Northern Alliance regime has done very little
to improve conditions for women—on the contrary. Belquis Ahmadi, the Afghanistan
coordinator for the International Human Rights Law Group, writes in an editorial in The
Washington Post that “despite rosy news reports, some forms of discrimination have
even worsened for women since the fall of the Taliban.”27 Ahmadi reports that in addition
to the street level oppression women must endure (riding in the back of the bus, etc.)
prominent women attempting to reenter the political arena in Afghanistan have received
open threats from their opponents. Despite the fact that the Loya Jirga, the Afghan
parliament of regional rulers, has been reconvened, it too has often become an arena for
denouncing women like Sima Simar, the former minister of women’s affairs. In Ahmadi’s
opinion, “given [her] experience, the widespread willingness to declare that assembly an
24 Jacinto, Leela. “Veiled Options: The Veil is Not Oppression, It’s Chic, Say Muslim Women”,
ABC Daily News. March 2002. http://abcnews.go.com/sections/world/DailyNews/veil020307.html
25 ibid.
26 Statement by United Nations Coordinator’s Office in Afghanistan, February 2002. Reproduced
at http://www.rawa.org/hrw-women.htm
27 Belquis Ahmadi,“Reality Gap in Afghanistan: Despite rosy reports, women’s rights remain
wishful thinking”, in The Washington Post, July 8, 2002.
unmitigated success is a mystery to [her] and, [she hopes], to all those who put reality
before rhetoric when it comes to women’s rights.”28
Unfortunately, this reality is grim. RAWA and numerous other independent human rights
groups report ongoing violence and sexual predation from members of the Northern
Alliance directed towards women. Reports of rapes, beatings, kidnappings and
executions are ongoing. Many condemn the Northern Alliance leaders as warlords who
threaten to undermine any efforts for women’s self-determination, and thus, for a truly
democratic government in Afghanistan. One would not be too cynical in fearing or
predicting that perhaps in ten years, it will be the Northern Alliance we are bombing.
So how can this situation be prevented? The efforts of groups like the Revolutionary
Association of Afghan Women in tandem with other democratic associations can foster
the necessary changes. As RAWA writes in a statement on International Women’s Day,
“to give voice to such agonised musings is by no means an indication of despair or lack
of faith in a better tomorrow.”
RAWA was founded in 1977 by a woman named Meena who was later assassinated in
Pakistan. In the twenty years since its development RAWA has survived the
Russian/mujahideen wars, the intervention of the CIA in Afghanistan, the gradual
collapse of the PDP into ineffectuality, and the reign of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They
have taken the current moment as an opportunity to speak out for women’s rights in
Afghanistan, to represent their cause to the world community. Yet they have also
denounced the US-led bombings which have taken civilian lives, and continue to criticize
the imposition of the Northern Alliance as a “democratic” solution to Afghanistan’s
28 ibid.
political needs. As they say in their statement on International Women’s Day on March
8th of this year, “One fundamentalist band cannot be fought by siding with and supporting
RAWA also resists the notion that the humanitarian intervention can actually do any
good for the people of Afghanistan. Instead, they have “repeatedly and consistently
asserted that under the prevailing circumstances no power except the Afghan people
themselves can or will succor them against fundamentalism, and there is no precedent
in history wherein a foreign nation or nations who have themselves been patrons and
abettors of agents of bondage and fundamentalist affliction have granted liberty to a
nation held in thrall by those very same agents.”30 Instead, RAWA calls for a democratic
engagement with the exigencies of national political life by all the citizens of their
country, by their neighboring countries, and by anyone who desires democracy for the
people of Afghanistan. These exigencies include the a reconfiguring of the Loya Jirga,
prosecution for human rights abuses, amendments to the constitution which would
establish secularism, abrogate torture, and guarantee women seats in parliament.
While RAWA calls out for international support to establish peace and an independent
government in Afghanistan, they are clear that it should be just that, independent, and
not an ongoing intervention into the rights and affairs of the Afghan state and its people.
In a statement on the US strikes on Afghanistan entitled “Taliban should be overthrown
by the uprising of Afghan nation” RAWA condemns the aggression launched on their
country, allowing the “hungry wolves” of the Northern Alliance to seize power in the
29 RAWA Statement on International Woman’s Day, March 8, 2002. http://www.rawa.org/mar8-
30 ibid.
chaos. RAWA calls upon their all their compatriots, not just women, to eradicate the
Taliban. This can be the only solution to the crises.
Only an overall uprising can prevent the repetition and recurrence of the catastrophe that
has befallen our country before and with or even without the presence of UN peacekeeping
force this uprising can pave the way for the establishment of an interim
government and preparation for elections. We believe that once there is no foreign
influence, especially of a fundamentalist type, all ethnic groups of all religions, with no
regard to the devilish designs of the fundamentalists, will prove their solidarity for
achieving the most sacred national interests for the sake of a proud and free
What RAWA is calling for is an organization of immortals, individuals who exist beyond
the torture and deprivation they have endured. In doing so they have changed the terms
of what they are against; it is not just the particular crimes of the Taliban or the US, but
of fundamentalist repression as an enemy of a democratic society composed of engaged
individuals. Solidarity is born not only out of the negativity of confronting a common
enemy, but in pursuing the receding horizon of freedom. This horizon will never be
reached, but it is its very lack that creates the potential for change. There will never be a
final stage in which the democratic project is complete; it is exactly this fallacy that is the
erroneous justification of humanitarian interventions. Rather there is only the precarious
incarnation of the infinite, the fragile truth that may be uncovered, but will never be
31 RAWA Statement on the US strikes on Afghanistan. http://www.rawa.org/us-strikes.htm
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Cover Images
Window scene from The Burqa Project: on the borders of my dreams I encountered my
doubles’ ghost by Jean Ulrick Desert. Photo by the artist.
“Mothers of the Revolution” Marching in the 9th anniversary of the Saur Revolution on
April 1988 in Kabul © 1995, Richard Ellis.