When analysing the way
in which the Bush administration proceeded to enforce their feminist stance it
is clear the government was completely misled. Female rights discourse became
strongly fixated on the burqa, but this seems to have been a propaganda tool,
used for “geopolitical manipulation” (Fluri, 2011). Following
interviews and participant observations with Afghan families, Jennifer Fluri
revealed that in fact the complexity of the burqa was not understood by US aid
workers and that rather it seemed they were regurgitating requests from the US
government or simply following development ideologies (Fluri,
2011).
It seems that there was unwanted concern surrounding female body and dress. This
begs the question of why then was the government so concerned with the corporeal?
It is likely that this was because of its use as a visual propaganda tool. The
imagery of Muslim women dressed in a burqa acted as tangible evidence of the oppression
they were submitted to under the Taliban; visually differentiating the ‘liberated’
Western women from the oppressed and victimised Muslim women, and helping to
reinforce the West as an archetype of civilisation. When the Taliban was
defeated images of Afghan women ripping off their burqa were mass-produced and circulated
by US media, in effort to relay the success of the ‘War on Terror’ campaign (Steans,
2008).
However in reality the situation did not vastly improve for women under the new
US supported regime, despite this their voices were no longer heard. Afghan
women had served their purpose and were no longer of use or of interest to
political elites (Steans,
2008).
Thus demonstrating that the Bush administration’s concerns for women’s rights
were a façade. In addition, analysing the relationship between the RAWA
(Revolutionary Assosciation of the Women of Afghanistan) and the Bush
administration is very insightful. Women from the RAWA were invited to
contribute to the table of high politics following the declaration of the ‘war
on terror’ and the subsequent promise to protect women’s rights. However their suggestions
were often ignored, for example they strongly advised against intervention, believing,
as many other Muslims did, that this would cause “resentment of US
imperialism and create the conditions in which fundamentalist and terrorist
groups would flourish” (Steans, 2008). Further they
asked the US “not to support other fundamentalist regimes that denied women
their most basic rights” (Steans, 2008) such as the
Northern alliance. But the ignorance of these requests exemplifies the
dismissive attitude of Western men toward women, and shows us that the promise
to protect women’s rights was a political guise.

Throughout the ‘war on
terror’ there is a sense of Western men glorifying themselves as the
benefactors of freedom but as such they are exerting dominance over women in a
backhanding way; they hold the power to grant them rights and to give them
involvement in the cause. In reality, however, it is all on their terms and
serves them a purpose. The idea of men as the protectors of women was
cultivated right from the initial media coverage of 9/11 which seemed to
completely ignore the courageous efforts of female fire fighters, police
officers and other on ground workers, in an attempt “masculinise” the ‘war on
terror’ (Steans,
2008).
This would domestically ingrain the idea of men as the protectors and women as
those to be protected, which would subsequently feed into the international
conflict. The trend of “white men saving brown women from brown men” (Chakravorty Spivak, 1985) has been
prevalent throughout history. Much like the claims to defend women in the ‘war
on terror’, during the 1800s, the British abolition of the Hindu suttee ritual
was justified as a protection of women. However, this was also an example of Orientalism,
of the West imposing its values onto the East and using women to validate imperialism;
as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak outlines in her essay ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’
“The gravity of imperialism was that it was socially cathected as a ‘social
mission'” (Chakravorty Spivak, 1985). As we have
seen, the ‘social mission’ is sometimes gendered, but the West’s claims to
superior masculinity and women’s rights are often flawed. The basis of women’s
rights should not be, men deciding which rituals and practices they think are
‘good or bad’, but rather giving women the freedom and power to decide for
themselves. 

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