Is The War In Afghanistan Good For Women?

This week,had a graphic cover depicting a woman who was maimed by the Taliban, along with the tagline, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." Just when everyone was beginning to ask, "What is going to happen if we stay much longer?"

All week, I've been discussing how remarkable it is that these WikiLeaks disclosures resulted in a stunning and hitherto unvoiced consensus from the media that the "conventional wisdom" is that the War in Afghanistan is not going well -- and that hearing about it all over again in the form of a document dump from Julian Assange was "nothing new." Now, we've come to the end of the week, and Time magazine has a graphic cover depicting a woman named Aisha who was maimed by the Taliban, along with the tagline, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." Just when everyone was beginning to ask, "What is going to happen if we stay much longer?" (As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, there may already be an answer to that question.)

Obviously, the Taliban are a disaster for women and a blight on the face of human civilization. But this cover story, by its own admission, concerns itself with what we are doing there, what we hope to accomplish.

Why are we in Afghanistan? I gather from the limited excerpts of the article available online that the ongoing list of purposes -- war is good for our national security interests, war is good for the fight against terror, war is good for the creation of a stable democracy -- should now be superceded by this idea: war is good for women. Seems to me that history has already rendered a judgment in that regard. There is this ancient story, called "The Iliad", which recounts how the Greeks went to war for the sake of a woman. There's another story, called "The Trojan Women" that reveals how that worked out for everyone. Hell, there's also another story called "The Lysistrata" that's relevant here -- let's recall that it was a popular story from the feminist heyday of 411 B.C.

In an editors note, Time's Rick Stengel writes:

I would rather confront readers with the Taliban's treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.

It's strange: if the combination of war and Time cover stories is good for the women of Afghanistan, how do you explain the hot sack of nothing-at-all that's been deployed to protect the women of Ciudad Juarez?

But the pretense that putting the woman's picture on the cover is politically neutral is fake naivete, covering over a real and dangerous naivete. The headline on this non-political image is "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan."

It is a gut-wrenching assertion of what's at stake in the Afghan war -- except, as a photo caption, it is completely false. A correct and accurate caption would be "What Is Still Happening, Even Though We Are in Afghanistan."

We invaded Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in 2001. This young woman's nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban in 2009.

I'm going to read this story with interest, because I want to assess whether Afghani women show up with actual agency, and are not just used as props in a grand melodrama of emotional manipulation. And I'll measure it against this story that Laura Dean wrote for these pages just under a year ago: "Women's Groups Split By Afghanistan Policy".

Because here's the rub: Dean found that in August of last year, the "Feminist Majority Foundation and the Afghan Women's Mission [were] locked in a bitter controversy over what's best for the women of Afghanistan." Those divisions should inform your reading of this Time cover story, because the essential division arose as a circumstance of distance -- the view of the war from America, versus the view from Afghanistan. To wit:

The Afghan Women's Mission, along with an associated Afghan feminist group, contends that more troops and more fighting will only result in further casualties on both sides and fuel the already-flourishing insurgency.

Sonali Kolhatkar, founder of the Afghan Women's Mission (AWM) and Mariam Rawi of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) wrote last month on AlterNet:

[C]oalition troops are combat forces and are there to fight a war, not to preserve peace... Women always disproportionately suffer the effects of war, and to think that women's rights can be won with bullets and bloodshed is a position dangerous in its naïveté.
Kolhatkar, in a subsequent interview with the Huffington Post, added that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would actually "take away the rationale of the Taliban: the foreign occupiers."

Kolhatkar went on to say, "Women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions" as they did under the Taliban, "with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war."

Laura Dean: Women's Groups Split By Afghanistan Policy

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