How does the world crisis look from where you are sitting?
Women's WORLD, international
December 1, 2001
Women’s WORLD held an online board meeting, in December 2001, to discuss the world crisis. Here are some of the responses of several board members: Joan Ross Frankson (Jamaican, living in the US); Paula Giddings (African-American); Ritu Menon (Indian); Micere Mugo (Kenyan, living in the US); Mariella Sala (Peruvian); and Annamaria Tagliavini (Italian).
1) How does the world crisis look from where you are sitting? Was your country already in crisis before Sept 11? If so, have things changed since Sept. 11?
Ritu Menon: Things look grim from here , especially the continuing hard line taken by the US. And the total lack of opposition to it from the Western powers. My country has been at the receiving end of various kinds of "terrorism" for the last 20 years, so I'm not sure what is meant by "crisis." September 11 only highlighted the fact and presence of wildcat terrorism worldwide.
Paula Giddings: I saw a student of mine in the grocery store, soon after September 11. She said, "I don't know which is worse—the horrible attack on the World Trade Center—or what this country is bound to do in response to it." Since then there is another question: which is worse, the attack on Afghanistan or how US policy will ultimately affect future global politics. In the Middle East, the US example has provided Israel with the rationale to systematically obliterate Palestine in the name of protecting itself from terrorists. Deals have been made to look the other way while Russia and China crush the independence movements within. Egypt feels that it has a go-ahead to sustain and perhaps become even more oppressive with its military tribunals. With the re-focus of resources, support for AIDS and other needed projects in Africa and the Americas will be even more neglected.
Micere Mugo: First of all, of course, I want to say that what has happened is very tragic. I am saddened by it, as I am by the loss of every innocent life globally, whether due to systemic oppression, impoverishment, disease, or by wanton acts of war/terror. What I cannot believe, however, is how easily the law makers in Washington, DC, have signed onto President George Bush's agenda to finalize his father's project on creating a so-called "new world order," which translates into endorsing corporate capitalism as providing the defining ethos in imposing America as not just the single super power, but global "civilization." Watching polls in which more than 85% have gladly endorsed war, military expenditure, the spending of Social Security savings and even the tapping of their telephone lines (!), have all been painfully instructive and chilling illustrations as to how dangerous myopic nationalism can be.
Joan Ross Frankson: I am a Jamaican living in New York City. At home our government is, as usual, fawning all over the US, but while the public is generally appalled by the 9/11 incident, there is also a widespread view that the US government’s unilateral foreign policy is at the root of the attack. There have even been editorials and talk-shows devoted to this view and a million and one Internet jokes about bin Laden attempting to take over Jamaica (and failing of course because of our waywardness and refusal to be tamed by anyone, anywhere). The danger is that we blind ourselves to Bin Laden's extreme fundamentalism because we are so anti-U.S. domination.
Annamaria Tagliavini: The situation here is very difficult because the electoral defeat of the progressive forces at both the local and national level has determined a deep crisis. We are in fact part of the US alliance and actually sending troops in Afghanistan. The right-wing Berlusconi government has a lot of consent on this matter. There is an opposition movement, in which women play an active part, but it is rather isolated from the audience reached by the media.
Mariella Sala: The September 11 crisis has made the foreign policy of all the Latin American governments become more pro-USA. Before there were some critics, but now every politician, at least in Peru, feels committed to support and approve whatever the US is doing in Afghanistan and, of course, US policy towards our countries.
2) Are people speaking out?
Menon: In India, people are speaking out volubly and critically.
Tagliavini: At the Centro delle Donne, we are working very hard to organize discussions and opposition to war with different women's groups. A national women's meeting against war was held successfully in Rome last weekend. People are speaking out, very much.
Ross Frankson: In New York, people are stunned and there is much flag-waving and patriotism.
Sala: Nobody in Peru speaks against the USA, everybody speaks against "fundamentalists." And everybody now speaks out about Afghan women, which is right, but before they did not care. They say now that Afghan women are free because of US intervention. Also people feel a lot of solidarity for people in the US, and this make them forget other people in the world who seem much farther from their lives. Only intellectuals and feminists have a critical view of the situation. My country was very dependant on the US and US aid and on multilateral organizations like the World Bank. Now this is getting worse.
Mugo: For those who may not know, I am based at Syracuse University, where I work as a full professor in the department of African American Studies. Immediately following September 11, progressive groups at Syracuse University (some, faculty-based; others, student-led and yet others, community-oriented) organized teach-ins on the situation. After we had been assaulted from right and center by mainstream media, it had become quickly obvious that alternative "texts" reflecting on the situation were critical as well as urgently needed. To supplement the teach-ins, a number of us also "extended" the classroom space and set syllabi available to us in an attempt to convert "the crisis" into a "teachable moment."
The hysteria that permeated the country rendered such activities frightening liabilities. Anyone who did not support the "new war" was looked upon as a traitor. The presidential and state text amounted to: if you do not support the war you are "America's enemy." Those who dared to break the silence and silencing, therefore, did so at great risk, especially if they were "foreigners." Women were in the lead. The Women's Studies' Program at Syracuse University was among the groups that organized a teach-in. I am on the program's Advisory Board and so agreed to participate in a panel discussion. The presentations made by the panelists were so powerful that they helped me emerge from the terror of silence in a manner I had not expected. As time went on, I encountered similarly empowering statements from feminists, progressive women and other activists. All these propelled my own agency during some of those "frozen" moments that I remember so well.
Giddings: In the US, a conservative administration and a right-wing attorney general are usurping civil liberties, re-justifying racial-profiling, and giving themselves new powers to eavesdrop on phone and internet communications. New tax breaks to corporations, plans to drill for oil in protected wilderness sites, even consumerism—despite increasingly joblessness and the termination of welfare benefits—is now wrapped in a red, white, and blue bundle of patriotic duty. I hear that the attorney general wants to include in the definition of a "terrorist" anyone who negatively affects the economy of the country! Even those few officials sincerely appalled by these developments are circumscribed by the lack of popular support for their positions. Of course, those of us who know the race/gender discourse in this country are bracing for the worst. As rabid nationalism constructs the "true American" who is white, male, conservative, and certainly not poor, more of us will be seen as enemies of the state. This dynamic, combined with a market economy, creates all kinds of censorship, including self-censorship. Any media communication that does not underline this pseudo-unity and good/evil dichotomy will be marginalized. This is worse than being silenced. You can fight for a voice, but it is much harder to make a whisper heard by the many. And, this marginalization, it will be said, has nothing to do with censorship. What we have to say just doesn't sell.
3) What can we do?
Menon: Try to make voices of dissent heard as widely as possible.
Tagliavini: I completely agree with Ritu's statement.
Mugo: I cannot agree more as to how urgently we need to break these silences and write dissenting texts.
Giddings: One can name increasing disparities of wealth, the interminable race and gender problems , and the fact that Bush is president as pre-September 11 examples of "crisis" in the US And as the Christian Coalition's Jerry Falwell profoundly revealed, fundamentalism, that is, the inability to negotiate the "modern," has as deep a seam in the US as anywhere else. The separation of church and state—which this administration is also trying to undermine—is a very important element in keeping those fools at bay. One interesting thing is that the Taliban is so awful, that women have now come to be the symbol of the modern—as technological prowess certainly isn't. Perhaps we can take advantage of this. I can think of no better way of showing the relationship between healthy societies and the treatment of women than through stories, plays, and journalism.
Sala: We should also make alliances with all peace movements around the world and try to stress the importance of peace, focussing on slogans like: "Peace Without Dignity Is Not Peace, Peace Without Freedom Of Expression Is Not Peace," and especially that we can't accept murder in the name of peace. But, I can´t find many people willing to do this in Peru. People are more concerned about lack of money and unemployment. Truly, things are getting worse.