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Minnie Bruce Pratt
Women's Liberation and 'The New War'
Dear Friends of Women's Liberation:
I am writing to you out of a deep concern that matters of women's liberation are being cynically used by the U.S. government to gather support for the current war - a war that, I believe, is being waged by the U.S. for unjust geopolitical and economic gain. I hope that, after reading the following, you will give support to any statement or action about women's lives in Afghanistan only if that statement/action also demands "Stop the War! U.S. Out of Afghanistan!"
Perhaps you feel that's an extreme statement, given current events. But please, read the following to see why I feel so strongly about this.
I am writing to you after reading an article in Sunday's NY Times (November 11, 2001, p. B6) with the headline "Adept in Politics and Advertising, 4 Women Shape a Campaign." The women, who included chief Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, are described there as "among the Bush administration's most important shapers of the words and images that the allies are seeking to convey to a global audience."
The final quote of the article is from Mary Matalin, chief political adviser to Vice Presiden Dick Cheney. She says of her committment to advocating for the war: "I think we [the 4 women] probably bring - and I don't mean this to sound sexist - but we probably have more of a subconscious outrage at these issues...This is something that crosses my mind every day: a third of these women in pre-Taliban days were doctors, lawyers and teachers. You can't help but be outraged."
I am outraged by this cynical use of the lives of women. Here is a historical context for Matalin's remarks (sources at end if not cited in text):
In 1978 a secular government came to power in Afghanistan. This government immediately moved to improve the terrible feudal conditions of women. It set up literacy programs especially for women, whose illiteracy rate was 96%. It trained more teachers and published textbooks in local languages. It trained brigades of women to go into countryside to provide medical services and by 1985 increased hospital beds by 80%. It prohibited the brideprice and gave women freedom to choose their marriages. It prohibited punishment of women for losing their virginity before marriage, It made it possible for women to train and then work as doctors, teachers, and lawyers. The government also cancelled mortgage debts of laborers and tenants; these debts had been inherited over generations so that feudal warlords held landworkers as virtual serfs.
It was this government that U.S. President Jimmy Carter set out to overthrow by beginning to send money and equipment to fundamentalist opposition groups in 1979. This inital effort grew into even more extensive U.S. backing of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance and other factions, all of which drew their power from the feudal landlord class.
The secular goverment that promoted the welfare and liberation of all women was a young socialist movement, the Progressive Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). "The CIA actually created Osama bin Laden's organization back in the 1980s to attack...the progressive government in Afghanistan. As vice president, George Bush Sr. oversaw the operation. In the Agency's employ, bin Laden's troops murdered teachers, doctors and nurses, disfigured women who took off the veil, and shot down civilian airliners with U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles.
The U.S. has known all along the reactionary position on women of the U.S.-financed and trained fundamentalist groups - and the U.S. government did not care. Instead, U.S. government policy has been to support the interest of U.S. oil in the Central Asia region. These oil corporations have been trying to get a pipeline through Afghanistan for about 10 years.
From a May 26, 1997, New York Times article by John F. Burns: "While deploring the Taliban's policies on women and the adoption of a penal code that provides for the amputation of thieves' hands and the stoning to death of adulterers, the United States has sometimes acted as though a Taliban government might serve its interests. The Clinton Administration has taken the view that a Taliban victory would end a war that has killed 1.5 million Afghans; would act as a counterweight to Iran, whose Shiite Muslim leadership is fiercely opposed to the Sunni Muslims of the Taliban, and would offer the possibility of new trade routes that could weaken Russian and Iranian influence in the region. For example, a proposal by the Unocal Corporation of California for a $2.5 billion pipeline that would link the gas fields of Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan has attracted strong support in Washington, though human rights groups are likely to object to the plan.... The Afghan project, strongly endorsed by the Taliban, is part of a broader concept under which the vast mineral resources of the former Soviet republics would be moved to markets along routes that would offer these countries a new autonomy from Moscow."
In May 1998, Time magazine reported that the CIA had "set up a secret task force to monitor the region's politics and gauge its wealth. Covert CIA officers, some well-trained petroleum engineers, had traveled through southern Russia and the Caspian region to sniff out potential oil reserves. When the policymakers heard the agency's report, [Secretary of State Madeline] Albright concluded that 'working to mold the area's future was one of the most exciting things we can do.'"
After some setbacks to U.S. efforts, Caucasuswatch.com (which describes itself as an intelligence service for the oil industry) wrote in January 2001: "With the coming of a Sino-Russian pact of mutual assistance and an Iranian acceptance of the Russian proposal to carve up the Caspian Sea, any chance the U.S. had of cementing alliances in the region seemed doomed. The incoming American administration, heavy in oil and related interests, will likely try to reverse this trend. How effective they will be is open to question."
A more recent entry on the Caucasuswatch Web site tied U.S. "Big Oil" future in the region to: "the success of the Central Asian counterstrike." That article was posted on April 24, 2001.
The U.S. has cared not a whit for women who were "doctors, lawyers and teachers" when they were flourishing under a secular government - nor did it care for the Afghan women of the countryside living under feudal conditions.
The U.S. armed and trained the Taliban because the U.S. power interests hoped the return of the feudal warlords to power would give the U.S. oil companies a chance at that pipeline - a chance that a secular socialist government would not give them. (A historical note here: The U.S. began its war against the secular government six months before the U.S.S.R. intervened with troops. [p. 146, "From the Shadows," an autobiography by Robert M. Gates, former Director of the CIA, Simon & Schuster, 1996])
Now the U.S. government is trying to use the very women whose lives were crushed and ended by U.S. interference and power politics! The U.S. is dishonoring women twice.
The U.S. engineered events in Afghanistan that resulted in the fall of a secular government attempting to liberate women, and that resulted in the terrible abuse and deaths of women under fundamentalist forces.
Now the U.S. is trying to use the very deaths of women that _it caused_ to consolidate U.S. power in Central Asia.
We who are dedicated to the liberation of women can not let ourselves be manipulated. We know that the full liberation of women can not be accomplished within a framework of injustice, inequity, and imperialist violence.
Please - tie your support for the women of Afghanistan to the demand "No U.S. War! U.S. Out of Afghanistan!"
As always, yours in the struggle,
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