A New Counterterrorism Strategy: Feminism
Barbara Ehrenreich, USA
May 10, 2005
I've been reading Bin Ladin—Carmen, that is, not her brother-in-law Osama (she spells the last name with an "i")—and I'd like to present a brand-new approach to terrorism, one that turns out to be more consistent with traditional American values. First, let's stop calling the enemy "terrorism," which is like saying we're fighting "bombings." Terrorism is only a method; the enemy is an extremist Islamic insurgency whose appeal lies in its claim to represent the Muslim masses against a bullying superpower.
But as Carmen Bin Ladin urgently reminds us in her book Inside the Kingdom, one glaring moral flaw of this insurgency, quite apart from its methods, is that it aims to push one-half of those masses down to a status only slightly above that of domestic animals. While Osama was getting pumped up for jihad, Carmen was getting up her nerve to walk across the street in a residential neighborhood in Jeddah—fully-veiled but unescorted by a male, something that is an illegal act for a woman in Saudi Arabia. Eventually she left the kingdom and got a divorce because she didn't want her daughters to grow up in a place where women are kept "locked in and breeding."
So here in one word is my new counterterrorism strategy: feminism. Or, if that's too incendiary, try the phrase "human rights for women." I don't mean just a few opportunistic references to women, like those that accompanied the war on the Taliban and were quietly dropped by the Bush administration when that war was abandoned and Afghan women were locked back into their burqas. I'm talking about a sustained and serious effort.
We should announce plans to pour U.S. tax dollars into girls' education in places like Pakistan, where the high-end estimate for female literacy is 26 percent, and into scholarships for women seeking higher education in nations that typically discourage it. (Secular education for the boys wouldn't hurt, either.) Expand the grounds for asylum to all women fleeing gender totalitarianism, wherever it springs up. Reverse the Bush policies on global family planning, which condemn seventy-eight thousand women to death each year in makeshift abortions. Lead the global battle against the trafficking of women. I'm not expecting such measures alone to incite a feminist insurgency within the Islamist one. Carmen Bin Ladin found her rich Saudi sisters-in-law sunk in bovine passivity, and some of the more spirited young women in the Muslim world have been adopting the head scarf as a gesture of defiance toward American imperialism. We're going to need a thorough foreign policy makeover—from Afghanistan to Israel—before we have the credibility to stand up for anyone's human rights. You can't play the gender card with dirty hands.
If this country were to embrace a feminist strategy against the insurgency, we'd have to start by addressing our own dismal record on women's rights. We'd be pushing for the immediate ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified by 169 countries but remains stalled in the U.S. Senate. We'd be threatening to break off relations with Saudi Arabia until it acknowledged the humanity of women. And we'd be thundering about the shortage of women in the U.S. Senate and House, an internationally embarrassing 14 percent. We should be aiming for a representation of at least 25 percent, the same target the Transitional Administrative Law of Iraq has set for the federal assembly there.
If we want to beat Osama, we've got to start by listening to Carmen.
From AlterNet, May 10, 2005. This is an excerpt from Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (Inner Ocean), edited by Code Pink co-founders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans.
Barbara Ehrenreich has written more than ten books, including Blood Rites and Nickel and Dimed. She is a frequent contributor to Esquire, Harper's Magazine, Mirabella, The Nation, the New Republic, The New York Times, and Time. Ehrenreich became involved in political activism during the Vietnam War and has been an activist and feminist ever since.