Cultural change at the barrel of a gun?

Peter Daou’s heart is in the right place when he tweets:

Negative reaction from (male) liberal peers when I suggest oppression, rape & slaughter of women/girls might justify military intervention


Keep getting asked if we should also consider intervention to save raped and ravaged women/girls in Congo and elsewhere. Answer: of course.

I understand where Daou is coming from. He is arguably the the most committed male champion of women’s rights I’ve seen in my lifetime. Unfortunately, military intervention solely on the behalf of women is just not what happens. Ever.

I’m torn over the current Time cover. On the one hand, I know that this issue must be made real to the rest of the world and images like this one assist in that goal. On the other hand, the use of the image to imply that ending our military operations in Afganistan will lead to more Aisha’s is beyond the pale. We must stay in Afghanistan, we are told, or terrible things will happen to women!

When I look at the cover, I see what has been done so many times: women being used as pawns, as currency, as bargaining chips. Their bodies are being used to manipulate our emotions and to fan the flames of war.

But there is an elision here between these women’s oppression and what the U.S. military presence can and should do about it, which in turn simplifies the complexities of the debate and turns it into, “Well, do you want to help Aisha or not?”

How is this any better than using the fear of another 9/11 (or worse!) to both dampen dissent on one side and to gain public support for the case for invading Iraq on the other? This woman’s image is being used as cover for our continued military presence in Afghanistan, pure and simple.

Abuse of women, physical and psychological is a global fact. I don’t write this saying I have a solution since atrocities against Afghani women are deplorable and it has yet to be seen if we can support the women of Afghanistan the way we would want to or would be the most effective. But I do take issue with the consistent practice in Western media to use women’s bodies to prove a point, because it creates a fantasy about what our motives are, obscuring the politics that are at play.

We must stay to protect the women, we are told. Really? Our military is already there and their presence did nothing to save Aisha.

The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband’s house. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn’t run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Aisha’s brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose.

This didn’t happen 10 years ago, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It happened last year.

Short of giving every woman and girl a military escort, and one that be with her 24/7, how do we protect all the Afghani from the culture they swim in? The culture that sees women as not human, as property, as deserving of having their ears and noses slashed off for disobeying their husband? Does anyone see this culture changing at the barrel of a gun, or the bomb from a drone?

A gun is useful to stop a thief or murderer. I’ve never seen a bullet cause a genuine change of heart. Would that they could. I’d take up arms to make it happen.

I don’t have an answer. Just saying my piece.

7 thoughts on “Cultural change at the barrel of a gun?

  1. An American war against evil-doers, anywhere in the world, just because they are evil-doers and until they are gone and their societies are at least up to minimal standards of decency is a really bad idea.

    Even if the evil in question is oppression and abuse of women, or gays, or Christians, or Jews, or atheists, or whatever minority we might personally especially identify or sympathize with.

    And even if the evil-doers are notorious for their violence and for producing terrorists and warriors against whom we are already fighting.

    If I am wrong then we should certainly invade Iran and North Korea, but certainly also Saudi Arabia and the other states of the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf, and at least follow Ann Coulter’s advice to the point of extirpating the local versions of Islam (where applicable) in a vast and glorious, global culture war.

    And that’s just to get warmed up.


    Woodrow Wilson, eat your heart out.


    1. There is a part of me that agrees wholeheartedly with this, and yet, I think…stopping the Holocaust was good.

      And yet, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of holocausts since then that we’ve ignored (Congo) or stood on the side of the oppressors (Saudi Arabia, et al). Hell, the Taliban came to power because we armed them against the Soviets.

      So, yes, if our “defense” policy is now to rush in to protect Afghan women, then our policy must be to intervene militarily any place there is cultural misogyny or bigotry or homophobia, because surely, we can change the hearts and minds of the cultural infidels by blasting some (or all) of them off the face of the earth.

      Whether the context is religious or not, isn’t that exactly the definition of a holy war?


  2. Interesting how many people think the Holocaust, and only that, retrospectively justifies American participation in the Second World War – in Europe, anyway, if not in the Pacific.

    But we arrived far too late to do any real good in that regard.

    Hardly seems worth it.

    Especially when you consider it was far from an affair of volunteers.

    Our government actually drafted adolescents and young adults, even with families, and told them to go kill and die, or else.

    I personally cannot believe it can be right to do that except for the defense of our own country from very considerable harm, indeed.

    Some would say it can be right only when needed to defend against not mere harm nor even mere conquest but the physical destruction of the country and the slaughter of at least very many of its people.

    And no American army has had to defend against anything remotely like that since the war of 1812.

    Send your neighbor’s kid to risk death?

    Can’t do that lightly.

    And never, I think, for the good of a country not his own or people not his own countrymen.

    Not even, I think, if he was fool enough to volunteer for service in our own forces.

    After all, if he really wanted to volunteer to go kill and die for the good of people in other countries he could do what people did in the 1930s, he could go fight with the Lincoln Brigades in Spain or the RAF in Britain.

    Or, in the Great War, if he was all that worried about the Kaiser winning in Europe he could join the Canadians in France or the La Fayette Escadrille, or the ambulance corps with the Italians like Hemingway.

    It seems to me the least questionable war the US ever fought was the Civil War, and that only because it was a war to end slavery in the US, itself, and prevent a part of the US from tearing away to found a horrific slave empire right here in North America.

    And even that was questionable; a war easily described as kidnapping free men at the North to make them go kill and die to set other men free.


    1. Point taken.

      But we arrived far too late to do any real good in that regard.

      Something that I almost added to this post, and rifs on your comment, is that if Germans had not already been conditioned to despise Jews, and see them as “the other,” the Holocaust would likely never have occurred. The same could be said of any mass genocide. There are conspirators and enablers within each of those societies that permit these atrocities to happen.

      Again, we can’t impose culture or respect for human rights by force. There has to be a cultural shift that cannot be done at gunpoint.

      How to encourage that is the stickier issue. It’s much easier to believe the fairy tale that wiping the offending society off the face of the earth will somehow make everything ponies and rainbows.


  3. I agree with this post. Short of mass genocide, I don’t believe Western countries have a right or a duty to intervene in countries not bound to us by alliances.

    I also don’t see what the purpose is of highlighting women’s oppression as somehow more worthy of military (or other) intervention than other types of oppression. How about the fact you cannot convert away from Islam under the Taliban? The penalty is death. Atheists, democrats, trade unionists and gay males never get a mention either. The focus of discussion seems to suggest that the Taliban would be ok if they weren’t oppressing women.

    This presumption seems to have gone unquestioned in your post, but to my mind it ties into a broader problem of seeing violence against women as a graver problem than other forms of political violence.

    A life is a life – the fact that the violence is gendered is irrelevant to that outcome.


    1. I agree to a point, Jake. My post does note that this is a cynical ploy by the Powers-That-Be to whip up war fever. If atheists or trade unionists or gays got the kind of attention that women do, I’m sure we’d be seeing pictures of them on the cover of Time too. This cover will tug at more heart strings, pure and simple. I don’t really think the PTB care about women any more than they care about any “other.” They just want to get their war on, and whatever they can do to get us behind it is fine by them.

      Also not mentioned in my post, but implied, is the question: why should we be negotiating with the Taliban at all? They supposedly stand for everything “we” and supposedly the new Afghan government, stand for. Or do they?

      As many of have learned in the last several months, many groups and/or principles are expendable in pursuit of a political end. The “win” is all there is.


  4. Your thoughts are similar to mine on this issue. On the one hand it’s about time the world paid attention to this issue. On the other, it looked an awful lot like one of those silent films where the damsel is tied to the train tracks by the villain, who is trying to lure the hero. The woman doesn’t even have a stake in the mechanations of the men of war, but she is used as leverage nonetheless. It keeps happening. Remember Serbia?


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