The White Man’s and the White Woman’s Burden: An Editorial in Al Jazzeera

This week’s cover story in Time Magazine, “Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban,” with the subtitle, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan,” triggered a long editorial on the website of yesterday’s Al Jazeera from its senior political analyst Marwan Bishara. He castigates the West for its hypocrisy in claiming to wage wars to liberate Muslim women. Why do centuries of Western military intervention, he asks, have so little to show? If Western wars “liberate” Eastern women, he argues, Muslim women would be – after centuries of Western military interventions – the most “liberated” in the world.

“They are not, and will not be, especially when liberty is associated with Western hegemony.… The same Orientalist civilizing rationale that was used over centuries to justify bloody colonial wars is being used nowadays to manipulate a war-averse public into supporting military escalation in Central Asia….

“No explanation has been offered as to why, eighteen years after the deployment of half a million U.S. and British troops to liberate Kuwait and defend their ally, Saudi Arabia, Saudi women still cannot vote or drive.

“The great majority of Pakistanis and Afghans who already voted against the Taliban – and in the case of Pakistan in favour of a secular party headed by a Westernized woman, the late Benazir Bhutto, who was allegedly assassinated by the Taliban. Indeed the founders of Pakistan were no less secular than many of their Western counterparts….

“Recent months have shown that the Pakistani government is capable of confronting the Taliban when necessary. And when Pakistani television showed the public flogging of a 17-year-old woman, it led to widespread outrage among the more than 170 million Pakistanis.”

Marwan Bishara’s point, in short, is that preponderant opinion in Pakistan and elsewhere is already pro-secular and anti-Taliban and that the crusade to liberate Eastern women is hypocritical, especially since it has – paradoxically – seriously hurt American women.

“In the U.S., violence against women in war veteran families is three to five times higher than in average families. This is literally a ‘White Woman’s Burden.’ Men do not go to war to save women. Rather, according to war historian Martin Van Creveld, men go to war to run away from their wives and families in search of ecstasy. Not exactly a woman’s cause now, is it?”

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5 responses to “The White Man’s and the White Woman’s Burden: An Editorial in Al Jazzeera

  1. Delusional rantings.

  2. Well, the man has a point. Certainly a lot of people who were saying ‘why do we let the Taliban so oppress Afghan women?” before 9/11 then came to oppose the war. It’s a fair question whether women will once again suffer when NATO leaves and the Taliban take over again. Then the answer to the same question will be “we spent 10 years proving that it’s out of our control.”

    I think Al-Jazeera is way too optimistic (or calculating) about the general view of women’s place in society in Muslim countries – otherwise Muslims would object more openly to their oppression. But to doubt that ‘the West’ is doing all these battles for women is well founded doubt. That’s one element, but not an important element when it comes time to settle, or withdraw, or declare victory.

    The Muslim country that gave women the most autonomy was Iraq – why did the US and its servile coalition go in there again? Not for the women, I guess.

    • I agree with all your points. One would assume that Marwan Bishara knows better and distorted the facts for his reasons. He also overstated the degree of secularization in Pakistan. But we must give him credit for his ingenious polemics about the plight of American women.

  3. We did not go in to liberate women, but that was a significant side effect. I can’t really say to what extent. I would like to discuss this point further.