A Brief Rejoinder

Against the Current No. 19, March/April 1989

R.F. Kampfer

WHILE I UNCONDITIONALLY support the movement for women’s liberation, one cannot view this, or any other struggle, in isolation. Christy Brown has pointed out some of the factors that complicate the equation in the Middle East, and I would like to underline a few more.

In the first place it should be clear that by inviting or accepting the Soviet invasion (an event she fails to mention); the PDPA forfeited any hope of gaining the allegiance of the Afghan people, regardless of its program.

The invasion marked a fundamental and qualitative change in the nature of the Afghan struggle. If anybody knows of any society in recorded history that has been willing to accept “progress” imposed by a foreign army of occupation, I would like to hear about it The withdrawal of the Soviet troops should not cause us to expect the contending Afghan forces to negotiate a compromise as if the unfortunate incident had never happened.

What annoys me is the way some Stalinoids have used the undeniable oppression of women in Afghanistan to justify the invasion in a manner that replicates the “white man’s burden” theme. Foot-binding, female infanticide, clitorectomy, and suttee, were all used to excuse imperialism to previous generations. As much as we oppose widows being burned alive, it would not lead us to support the British conquest of India. To reverse the analogy, the loss of Iranian women’s rights under Khomeini does not mean that we call for the return of the Pahlavi dynasty.

Reforms granted, or imposed, from above are rarely done out of altruism. They serve the needs of the ruling class, whoever else may benefit. During World War II, American women first gained access to well-paying industrial jobs. This did not happen because Roosevelt was a nice guy but because he needed men for the army. We did not advocate that women refuse the jobs because of this, but neither did we support the war.

There is little agreement over the course that the fight for women’s liberation should take in the Middle East, even among Middle Eastern feminists. I certainly don’t have all the answers and it would be irrelevant if I did. What I object to is the simplistic stereotype (which I do not attribute to Brown) that Afghan women are divided between liberated supporters of the POPA and those who would eagerly join them if they were not suppressed by the mullahs.

Life is never that simple. Even in this country, under much less complicated conditions, there is great disagreement among women over such basic issues as abortion, protective legislation, no-fault divorce and the Equal Rights Amendment. One thing I am certain of is that, to paraphrase Marx, “The liberation of women is the task of the women themselves.”

I do find it surprising that Brown seems to minimize the significance of Benazir Bhutto’s election, and condescending that she should attribute it primarily to her father. Obviously, being a woman does not inherently make one a progressive. I feel strongly that the election of any woman to lead a Moslem state, regardless of family or ideology, indicates a weakening of Islamic fundamentalism.

One final point about the role of Islam in Afghanistan. The Roman Catholic Church served exactly the same function in feudal Europe. The rise of national monarchies required the breaking of the secular power of the Church as well as that of the nobility. My point is that Afghanistan, with temporary exceptions like the reign of Abdur Rahman, never reached that level of national development Jerry Falwell, of course, has nothing to do with anything.

March-April 1989, ATC 19

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