Essay: Thoughts on transnational feminism and anti-imperialism

Shahrzad Mojab
"One of the most profitable sources of wealth for imperialist powers is war. Currently, most of the world population is either living under the condition of war in Asia, Africa and the Middle East or in a 'state of war,' as in Iran, Europe and N. America"
"The Campaign Against Islamic Apartheid Laws"

My Salute on this International Women's Day:

*To 500 missing aboriginal women who have disappeared in the last 20 years in Canada.

*To Abeer, a 14 year old Iraqi girl, who was raped by four American soldiers. To Haddel, Abeer's 5-year-old sister and their parents who were also murdered.

*To Afghan women who "live with the risk of: abduction and rape by armed individuals; forced marriage; being traded for settling disputes and debts; and face daily discrimination from all segments of society as well as by state officials." (Amnesty International 2005).

*To more than 3000 Iranian women political prisoners who were executed by the Islamic regime in the 1980s.

*To more than a 500 women of Ciudad Juárez and the city of Chihuahua in Mexico who have been abducted and brutally murdered in the last 10 years.

*To Palestinian women who have been raped, beaten, and imprisoned by their fathers, husbands, brothers, and the occupying forces of Israel.

*To women in Zambia where every week five women are murdered by a male partner or family member (Joni Seager 2003); to women in South Africa where 147 women are raped every day.

*To over 20 million women who live with HIV/AIDS globally, majority of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

*To one in every eight women in the industrialized countries who will develop breast cancer; this number was one in every 26 women in 1986, a 26% increase (Joni Seager 2003:46).

*To all poor, homeless women of Canada; to war refugee women who live in unbearable conditions of war-perpetuated violence on the borders of Sudan, Somalia, Sir Lanka, Congo, or Columbia; to millions of women who are being trafficked into the prostitution market around the world; and to all women who are forced to join the global migrant workers and labour under the condition of modern-slavery.

This is a partial list of the litany of crimes committed against women around the world by patriarchal structures of power. This patriarchy is an integral component of the capitalist logic of exploitation and oppression.

We should understand the implications of these atrocities committed against women in the 21st century, which according to some accounts are unprecedented in modern history, in the long history of patriarchal and racialized colonialism and imperialism. It is this history that has created the condition where we now face an appalling phenomenon of 'surplus humanity' (Mike Davis, New Left Review 26, 2004) where children, women and men's lives are deemed redundant and inessential, and thus, could be traded, slaved, killed, raped, violated, kept poor and hungry. It is this history that has made the condition of patriarchal capitalist accumulation of wealth by dispossession possible (David Harvey, New Imperialism, 2003). Dispossessing women and men workers, peasants, and urban settlers of clean air, water, and soil; of access to affordable and safe food, schooling, shelter, and clothing; and of right to fair wage and just working conditions.

One of the most profitable sources of wealth for imperialist powers is war. Currently, most of the world population is either living under the condition of war in Asia, Africa and the Middle East or in a 'state of war,' as in Iran, Europe and North America, where states use the pretext of threat by 'external enemy' or 'war on terror' to create a culture of fear and restrict the citizens' rights. The increasing militarization of imperialism has unleashed the patriarchal forces of nationalism and religious fundamentalisms globally. No wonder, then, that we are witnessing the rise of economic, political, social, and cultural violence against women committed by state and non-state actors or are reading in the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports about the emergence of 're-trabilization' of Iraq and Afghanistan. The imperialist powers and religious fundamentalist forces have formed an 'unholy' alliance.

Let me be blunt and claim that women's movements and feminist activists have either failed to fully comprehend the implication of this alliance or have willfully dismissed it. This has been a major setback in building solidarity in women's movements. This means that Aboriginal women of Canada, women of Afghanistan, Burundi, Columbia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Palestine, Peru, or Sudan are left alone in fighting against national and global forces of subjugations and exploitations.

Little effort is undertaken by feminist activists of Canada to confront boldly, without any hesitations, both imperialist aggressions and religious conservative forces. Do you recall the debate last summer when we were organizing against the Israel aggression on Lebanon? Do you remember how some women argued in support of Hezbollah, a religious conservative group, as an anti-imperialist, resistance force? Some went as far as carrying the portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and Sadr, two symbols of women's oppression. It was not unusual to hear some anti-war feminist academics cloak their support for the patriarchal-religious force in the 'cultural relativist' argument which privileges the 'indigeniety' of patriarchy. My question is why feminists, specially those with a progressive, anti-racist, anti-war, anti-globalization agenda, in recent years, have repeatedly failed to uphold a multi-edged banner of resistance? What has failed us to see the multiplicity of contradictions in patriarchal capitalism? We should search for the answer, I would like to propose, in the following:

1. The theoretical turn in feminism in the last three decades has had a devastating impact on women's struggle globally. The exaggerated emphasis on 'identity,' 'voice,' 'agency,' 'location,' and 'experience' has reduced patriarchy to question of culture and religion. This means that patriarchy as an institution of women's subordination is separated from capitalist relations of exploitation, from imperialist domination, and from the rise of nationalism and fundamentalism. This myopic view of patriarchy, rooted in cultural relativism, supported shari'a -based arbitration in Ontario and endorsed the colonialist 'liberation' agenda for women in Afghanistan and Iraq.

2. The political implications of this theoretical shift has been even more disturbing. Feminism with the potential of being a strong opposing social force has been reduced to fragmented, disjointed, and coopted tendencies. The outcome of which is the re-emergence of colonial and imperialist feminisms, on the one hand, and nativist feminisms which perpetuate patriarchy under the banner of culture, on the other hand.

3. Three decades of cooptation and fragmentation of women's movements through the instruments of the UN, World Bank, International Monitory Fund, and a vast network of NGOs coincides with the turn to right in the feminist movement. These capitalist institutions supported, funded, and promoted patriarchy by turning the struggle of women to de-politicized and liberal notions such as 'gender mainstreaming' and 'women's empowerment.' In this imperialist feminist scheme, women were trained to lead NGOs, to participate in the political structure of conservative and pro-Western states, to engage in alienating, pacifying training programs for the capitalist 'democracy' and join the army of workers to build 'civil society.' In this version of women's struggle, capitalist relations of power, and the institution of state and patriarchy are left untouched.

4. The post-9/11 condition has added more complexity to this already messy feminist situation. In the West we are faced with the rise of the state suppression of individual rights and civil liberties under the name of 'security,' and 'war on terror.' State sponsored racial profiling is on the rise, and Islamophobia, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim racism are growing. Most of feminist responses is at best ambiguous to this environment of fear and terror.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that, this theoretical and political shift in feminism has not escaped the sharp criticism of many academics and activists around the world. Women are developing new strategies, providing new analysis, and building new alliances throughout the world. They are insisting on re-claiming the radical feminist approaches to the eradication of capitalist-patriarchy. The Campaign Against Islamic Apartheid Laws, organized by Iranian women in diaspora, is such a political action. In this campaign, we argue that Iranian women have resisted the misogynist Islamic regime for 28 years and have fearlessly fought this brutal theocracy on streets, in schools, factories, universities, and at homes. Their fight has also captured their imagination and therefore the struggle is depicted on films, are written as poetry, novels, satire and comics. This resiliency does not need 'rescuer'! Iranian women and men are capable of removing the Islamic regime from its throne.

In the current global power struggle, the Campaign proposes, we should be aware of the US imperialist intentions and plans for the Middle East. The media hype around the Islamic regime's capability in making atomic bomb or a military action against Iran by the US or Israel, or even jointly, though should be pursued and analyzed seriously, nonetheless, should be understood by progressive and anti-war feminist activists as altercation between two reactionary forces. It should be clear to us that the quarrel between Ahmadinejad and Bush, does not constitute a contradiction between 'dictatorship' and 'democracy.' Imperialism and fundamentalism often collaborate and cohere in suppressing and exploiting women. This understanding will help us to develop a feminist anti-war strategy which loudly and clearly announces 'No to Imperialism!' and 'No to Fundamentalism!'

The Campaign, however, urges us to even go further and think about what should be the alternative. We all know that United States is already working to recruit or purchase collaborators in the student, labour and women's movements of Iran and in the diaspora. This is done directly through financing activists in these movements; or financing human rights activism and anti-government websites. At the same time, American officials in Iraq have contacted all Iranian opposition groups and have offered financial and military aid in order to conduct military operations against the Islamic regime. The goal is to change the regime without leaving any room for a revolutionary transformation of Iran. In other words, the goal of the Bush Administration is to prevent revolution in Iran and at the same time change the Islamic regime into a pro-American regime, or neutralize it as it was done with Libya, to prevent Iran from emerging as a regional power capable of challenging the United States and Israel.

The alternative to the imperialist project is a revolution to overthrow the Islamic theocracy and replace it by a secular, democratic and independent regime, which will not allow imperialist domination over the country. Iranians are fully capable of deciding their own destinies, and change this theocratic regime. Maybe there is a lesson for us in the struggle of women in another country of Asia. In Nepal, within a decade, revolutionary women were able to dismantle the only Hindu theocracy and are moving to un-seat the Monarchy. They achieved this by resisting the US, India, and China imperialist forces on the one hand and patriarchal, caste, religious, feudal conservative forces, on the other. In the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg, they said NO to reformism and chose the path of revolution. Iranian women are also saying "No to Fundamentalism!" "No to Imperialism!" and will force the Islamic regime out of power and replace it with a new democratic regime.

Shahrzad Mojab, Ryerson University, Canada