The Cruel Lie: Bombing To Liberate Women

The Cruel Lie: Bombing To Liberate Women

by Debra Sweet

Ten years ago, when the Taliban had mostly wrested control of Afghanistan from former fundamentalist warlord allies of the United States, the U.S. government turned a cold and deaf ear to testimony about the suffering of Afghan women. Then, suddenly, after her husband announced a “war on terror” to last “generations,” Laura Bush told us in November 2011 that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was “a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

U.S. activists for the global rights of women quickly differed over what has become the longest U.S. occupation. A number of us asked, where, ever, had U.S. bombs, contractors, armies and money brought liberation for women? A section of feminists, led by the Feminist Majority Foundation formed up in support of the Bush regime’s aim of removing the Taliban. While deploring violence, they lobbied for humanitarian aid programs to be part of the war, and for women to be included in the U.S. puppet government. Initially, some were, but the cynical inclusion of women in occupied governments has been meaningless, largely done to fool outsiders.

While Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq, a much more populous, developed country than the impoverished Afghanistan, destroyed that country, driving more than four million people into internal exile, and killing somewhere between 120,000 and over a million Iraqis, the world’s attention was focused on the sectarian disaster it sparked. But at least no one made a serious argument that this was saving the women of Iraq.

Dropped Bombs Kill Indiscriminately

When change came along in 2009, Iraq was suddenly the “wrong” war, and Afghanistan the one worth doubling down on. President Barack Obama sent 100,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Through changes in command, counter-insurgency plans, and surges and offensives, the U.S. has succeeded in killing additional civilians. Successive U.S. commanders refuse to stop night raids, the tactic that most enrages Afghans. Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have risen every year under Obama.

Kathy Kelly, a leader of numerous Voices for Creative Non-Violence delegations to Afghanistan told me, “The U.S. is spending two billion dollars per week to maintain the occupation while relying on aerial bombardment, drone attacks, night raids, assassinations and death squads to gain the upper hand against the Taliban. When the U.S. commits war crimes that kill and maim civilians, it could very well serve as a recruitment tool for the Taliban.”

It’s necessary to listen to the victims of Obama’s “good war” to evaluate whether the claims that women are better off, are true. Malalai Joya, an elected member of the Afghan Parliament who was suspended for criticizing the Karzai government said in early 2011, “Day by day [NATO] is bombing from the sky and killing innocent civilians — most of them are women and children — even bombing our wedding parties, what they did in Nangarhar and Nuristan. In my own province last year these occupation forces — American troops — they bombed 150 civilians in one day, even used white phosphorous. And also most of them were women and children …..”

Joya’s life has spanned the Soviet occupation, which forced her family into exile in Pakistan; the civil war in 1992-1996 between the raping warlords and Taliban; the Taliban era; and the U.S. occupation. She is from western Afghanistan, where the Karzai government does not reach. Under the U.S. occupation, says Joya, “Women are ‘free’ to beg in the streets under the cover of the burqa; they are ‘free’ to resort to prostitution to feed their families; they are ‘free’ to commit self-immolation as the only way out of the cycle of humiliation, destitution, and despair.”

Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and Mariam Rawi wrote in 2009, “The U.S. military may have removed the Taliban, but it installed warlords who are as anti-woman and as criminal as the Taliban. Misogynistic, patriarchal views are now embodied by the Afghan cabinet, they are expressed in the courts, and they are embodied by President Hamid Karzai. Paper gains for women’s rights mean nothing when, according to the chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court, the only two rights women are guaranteed by the constitution are the right to obey their husbands and the right to pray, but not in a mosque.”

While the Obama administration has controlled the Afghan government, the country went from second to top in one thing: it’s now the worst place in the world to be a mother. The report on the State of the World’s Mothers 2010 concludes that “the well-being of mothers and children is at the highest risk in Afghanistan. One in eight Afghani women will die during pregnancy or in childbirth and 78 percent of Afghanistan’s general population does not have access to safe water. Thirty-nine percent of Afghan children are malnourished; and only two girls for every three boys are enrolled in primary school.”

Women Are Not Faring Better

The United Nations reported on a study in 2010 that “Rising numbers of women and girls aged 15-40 are attempting suicide in Afghanistan,” even as the Karzai government in 2011 is moving to shut down shelters for abused women funded by international aid organizations, western governments and private donors. New rules being drafted by president Hamid Karzai’s government would bar private safe houses for women who are fleeing abuse and place new rules on those seeking refuge in the country’s 14 public shelters, including forcing women to submit to medical examinations and evicting them if their families want them back, according to an article in the Washington Post on March 5, 2011.

Bombed 150 civilians in one day —
most of them women & children.

“Was any of this done for the “rights and dignity of women?” Joya asked recently. “Not only are women still denied their rights in Afghanistan, but also, in a cruel irony, the cause of women has been used to justify and perpetuate a brutal occupation of my country.”

We could leave this at the feet of George Bush, leader of the U.S. war on terror, who said in April 2011 that the U.S. should not withdraw from Afghanistan. “Laura and I believe that if that were to happen, women would suffer again. We don’t believe that’s in the interests of the United States or the world to create a safe haven for terrorists and stand by and watch women’s rights be abused.” But Bush is so over.

Is the Obama administration, with a reputation of being more liberal on social issues than the Bush regime, helping the cause of women’s rights in Afghanistan? Consider this from “a senior administration official involved in Afghanistan policy” speaking to the Washington Post in March 2011. “’Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities,’ said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. ‘There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.’”

The raping, maiming, and slaughter of women by U.S. allies, the warlords and drug smugglers who populate the Karzai cabinet, and by the Taliban, are relegated to “gender issues” by the administration of the President Obama, a Nobel Peace Laureate. The child-birth suffering, starvation, and waste of the lives of half of Afghanistan’s humanity is dismissed in a casually sexist analogy. “Success” will not be measured in the lives of women.

The idea that the U.S. occupation could even tangentially improve the lives of the mass of women in Afghanistan did damage, in that it confused people into supporting an unjust, immoral war by the United States to control a strategic country in its own interests. Malalai Joya told me recently, “In Afghanistan, the people have three enemies: the Taliban, the fundamentalist warlords, and the occupiers. At least if one gets lost, we can deal with the other two. Justice loving people in the U.S. should demand that government end this brutal war.”

Debra Sweet is the Director of World Can’t Wait, based in New York City, which engages in efforts to stop occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, among other projects related to torture, detention, surveillance and the criminalization of abortion and immigrants. Since the age of 19, when she confronted Richard Nixon during a face-to-face meeting and told him to stop the war in Vietnam, she has been a leader in the opposition to U.S. wars and invasions. Sweet has worked with abortion providers for 25 years, organizing community support and helping them withstand anti-abortion violence.

Also see A Feminist Looks at Masculine Rage and the Haditha Massacre by Kathleen Barry in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See the Poet’s Eye in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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