Bulletin #201



7 October 2005
Grenoble, France

Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,

Social movements are growing in the United States, as they have done historically whenever ruling class interests become significantly divided and the political elite are, as a result, weakened.

A brief history of democratic movements and popular culture.
During the Puritan Revolution in England (1642-49) we saw the
Parliamentarians struggling against the Royalists for political power, and in order to mobilize the masses for their support against King Charles I, a laissez-faire attitude was adopted by the new power elite --new democratic forms of expression were tolerated if they would help mobilize the masses in support of the Puritan faction in their war against traditional aristocratic rule. From these democratic movements sprang new traditions in Anglo-American popular culture --the "Diggers," the "Levelers," and the "Ranters" (the latter representing the original free speech movement in Anglophone history)-- all made important contributions to British popular culture. These traditions have been handed down from generation-to-generation for centuries, long after King Charles I was executed (on 30 January 1649) and long after Cromwell's repressive Puritan Commonwealth was displaced by the Restoration of the more tolerant King Charles II (in 1660).

In France, we see again divisions within the ruling class, as a result of the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870, when the military defeat of Emperor Louis-Napoleon and the collapse of the Second Empire saw a democratic uprising, and again new traditions in the popular culture were born. Before the new ruling class was able to consolidate its power (with the help of their recent enemy Otto von Bismarck) by creating the Third Republic, democratic demands for economic equality, and political justice were heard in urban areas across France. One of these sites was the Paris Commune (March to May 1871), and before the political elite of France could succeed in reconsolidating their power (with the help of French troops released from Prussian captivity), some 20,000 workers were slain in a period of a few days, which became known in French popular culture as "bloody week".

In U.S. history, the Vietnam War period (1964-74) represents such a schism within the ruling class, when the American masses were able to expand democracy and mobilize against an increasingly counter-productive war. The anti-war faction of the ruling class used this democratic movement to seize political power, with President Jimmy Carter representing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. What followed is our contemporary history. . . 

But history also shows that following revolutionary moments, such as the ones mentioned above, new democratic elements in popular culture are often created, and once they are brought into existence these traditions can not be easily destroyed.

Today, in the United States, we can see again democratic movements growing and counter-cultural activities evolving, as the War in Iraq becomes increasingly costly.

A view on the horizons.
Our research center, CEIMSA, has received these past months several items of interest suggesting that another historic moment might be approaching when democratic forces are mobilized to effect political change. A period of rapid evolution in popular counter cultures might be expected.

Placing in their historical and global context these democratic forces and the radical debates which they spark is the aim of this selection of articles we have recently received at CEIMSA.

Item A. is an essay on feminism by Eric Hobsbawm, who has reviewed Göran Therborn's book; Between Sex and Power , which is a comparative survey of the world's family systems, and seeks to correct some misconceptions about the condition of women in the 20th century who living outside the United States.

In item B. Yoginder Sikand interviews Cassandra Balchin, a feminist activist working in London with the organization Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), in which they discuss the contemporary conditions of Muslim Women.

Item C. is Amee Chew's, article from the magazine Left Hook discussing "What Place for Women in the 'Anti-war Movement'?"

Item D. is an article by our research associate, Judith Ezekiel (at Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail), on the predictability of right-wing bigotry as a response to the "criminal negligence" of government officials in New Orleans, at the time of Hurricane Katrina.

And finally, item E. is an article from MS Magazine forwarded to us by our Grenoble graduate student in American Studies, Shirley Doulière, who is taking an interest in the political discussions around President Bush's second supreme court nominee, Ms. Harriet Miers.

Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble-3

from Eric Hobsbawm :
London Review of Books
August 01, 2005

Retreat of the Male
by Eric Hobsbawm(*)

          The family is a subject on which, for obvious reasons, there is no shortage of public or private views.
          Google records 368 million items under the word family, as against a mere 170 million under war.
          All governments have tried to encourage or discourage procreation and passed laws about human
          coupling and decoupling. All the global religions (with the possible exception of Buddhism) and all the
          20th-century ideologies have strong convictions on these matters. So have masses of otherwise
          politically inactive citizens, as the rise of electoral support for religious fundamentalism indicates. It
          has been plausibly argued that moral issues (i.e. abortion and homosexual marriage) won George
          W. Bush his second term in office.

          The passion with which these opinions are held is almost always inversely correlated to knowledge of
          the facts, even in the holder's own country: most of the public discourse on the relations between
          men, women and their offspring is both unhistorical and deeply provincial. G�� Therborn's
          comparative survey of the world's family systems and the ways in which they have changed (or failed
          to change) in the course of the past century, the result of eight years of intensive thought and
          research, is a necessary corrective in both respects. Thanks to its global perspective and unique
          accumulation of data, it should from now on be the standard guide to the subject. In addition, it
          makes available the sometimes surprising results of a generation of demographic, ethnographic and
          sociological researches recorded in a bibliography of more than forty pages. How many people knew,
          for example, that up to the middle of the 20th century by far the highest rate of divorce ever recorded
          -- up to 50 per cent -- was to be found among nominally Muslim Malays, that there is less gender
          bias in domestic work in Chinese cities today than in the USA, that the highest divorce rates in the
          second half of the 20th century were to be found among the main protagonists of the Cold War, the
          USA and Russia, or that the most sexually active Western people are the Finns? It is far from
          common knowledge that the two or three decades of the mid-20th century "were the age of marriage
          and of intra-marital sexuality in modern Western history" -- in 1960, 70 per cent of American women
          aged between 20 and 24 were married, as against 23 per cent in 2000.

          Therborn, whose previous books include European Modernity and Beyond: The Trajectory of
          European Societies 1945-2000 (1994), is here particularly concerned with three themes, all of them
          involving changes both in family values and in actual practice, although the text does not always
          make it easy to follow them. (Therborn's Scandinavian commitment to ending "humanity's long
          patriarchal night" is not an analytical asset.) Two of these themes -- the decline of patriarchy and
          growth of birth control -- are unproblematic, unlike the third, clumsily described as "the role of
          marriage, and non-marriage, in regulating sexual behaviour, and sexual bonding in particular".

          Despite some common global developments, notably the spread of birth control, the world's family
          patterns have not converged; the process of "family change . . . has been neither evolutionary nor
          unilinear". The world in 1900 was divided broadly into five family systems -- the European (including
          the New World settlements), the sub-Saharan African, the East Asian, the South Asian and the West
          Asian/North African -- belonging to the two major branches which the social anthropologist Jack
          Goody has taught us to recognise, the African and the Eurasian. Therborn prefers a "geocultural"
          division to one based on religion, since, as he sees it, geoculture generally prevails. Hindu and
          Muslim family practices in North India are similar but markedly distinct from Hindu practices in South
, and African Christianity has had to make substantial practical concessions to African
          polygyny. The South East Asian and Creole American are "interstitial systems". In the former, "the
          rigid patriarchies of Confucianism, Islam and Catholicism were mellowed by Buddhist insouciance in
          family matters"; and in the latter, European conquest created the curious combination of rigid
          patriarchy among rulers, mass miscegenation, and an uprooted non-marital family pattern among the
          conquered indigenous and the imported slave populations. The imperial conquest of the Western
          hemisphere, Therborn suggests, produced the first sudden transformation of family structure before
          the 20th century.

          Among Creole Americans male power was macho rather than institutional, but for the great majority
          of family systems up until the 20th century it was patriarchal, even in the minority of matrilineal
          systems. It rested on the power of older males over the young of both sexes and on the
          institutionalised superiority of men over women, though Europe, South-East Asia and Africa proved
          less unfavourable to women than elsewhere. The West European family, we are reminded, "was by far
          the least patriarchal in a very patriarchal world".
          Unexpectedly, women also benefited in the only region of systematic mass polygamy, south of the
          Sahara, thanks perhaps to the fact that the African family was essentially non-nuclear ("kin was
          always more important than spouse") and to the early public recognition that sex is a legitimate
          human pleasure. Patriarchy also rested on the overwhelming prevalence of marriage, not necessarily
          indissoluble, even in South-East Asia and Africa, where weddings are not central rites of passage.

          Therborn holds plausibly that, unlike social structures of power and production, "family systems do
          not seem to possess an intrinsic dynamic -- their changes are exogenous": i.e. in the absence of any
          push from outside, they will reproduce themselves. Of course, the ways in which human groups earn
          their living -- both limitations and opportunities -- have always led to adjustments in marriage (by
          abstention or varying the age of partners) and in child-bearing (by varying the birth-rate or infanticide).
          The very earliest 18th- century demographers regarded it as almost axiomatic that in any year the
          number of marriages varied inversely with the price of corn. More generally, the long-established
           "West European marriage system" that prevailed west of the historic line from Trieste to St
          Petersburg, the original "Iron Curtain", assumed that marriages would lead to new households ("neo-
          locality"), which required the new couple to have initial resources -- in agrarian societies, access to
          land. But, Therborn argues, in settled regions like those of medieval and early modern Western
this required systems of land transfer between generations by inheritance. This, he suggests,
          is what led to the characteristic "Western" marriage system (later exported to settler societies
          overseas): late marriages at variable ages, a high proportion of the never- married, and "a combination
          of . . . non-hierarchical sexual informality . . . with a strongly normative sexual order". On the other
          hand, in Africa, where the majority of subsistence farming, not to mention, in some parts, commerce,
          was carried out by women, marriage was more than elsewhere a crucial form of labour supply.

          What are the outside impulses that lead to changes within the family of unparalleled historical
          Somewhat unexpectedly, what Therborn feels obliged to explain is the long delay in the 18th and 19th
          centuries before the rapid decline and fall of Western patriarchy in the 20th. Would we not have
          expected industrialisation to weaken it by severing the place of work from the place of residence,
          proletarianisation to deprive fathers of power both because they had no property to transmit and
          because they were now clearly themselves dependent on the owners of land or capital? Did
          urbanisation not weaken authority as such? Indeed, had male dominance not appeared to retreat, at
          least among the poor, in the era of "proto-industrialisation"
          (what used to be known as the putting-out system)?

          In fact, the rise of industrial capitalist society protected and reproduced patriarchy, not least because
          up until the rise of corporate business it was not, and could not yet be, a system operating primarily,
          let alone uniquely, by market rationality (in many countries this is still the case). The patriarchal
          family was not only "a heavy social anchor" but an essential mechanism of economic enterprise.
          Moreover, as 19th-century British industrialisation shows, a prosperous industrial capitalism was to
          turn its proletarians into a manufacturing working class, very probably class-conscious, but also
          increasingly composed of males functioning as the primary bread- winners of their family. This
          became "the normative aspiration of the European working classes".

          Perhaps some of Therborn's surprise is due to what he sees as the priority of anti-patriarchal
          argument over changes in actual behaviour, although he shows that ideas were not translated into
          national state action before the 20th century. He dates the argument back to the emergence in the
          18th-century Scottish Enlightenment of the idea that the position of women in society was an
          indicator of social progress, though this did not yet mean equal rights of the sexes. Possibly, it had
          links to radical Protestantism which, with (atheistic) socialism, Therborn sees as the major
          19th-century challengers to patriarchy. While the American and French Revolutions were not
          concerned with the liberation of women, this was to be a central element in socialist and Communist
          ones. Hence, in the 20th century he sees the major "broad ideological currents behind determined
          thrusts into the fortress of patriarchy" as, in order of importance: the revolutionary socialist/
          Communist movement (notably via the vast effects and influence of the Russian Revolution); the
          non-Western "nationalist developmentalists" (notably in Turkey); feminist women's movements, which
          he does not think were of major significance outside the Anglo-Saxon regions; and "a secularised
          liberalism mainly of Protestant Christian or Jewish -- seldom Catholic -- provenance".

          From a global point of view it makes obvious sense to insist, with Therborn, that "international
          Communism played a crucial, if not overwhelming role" at all the major leaps forward in the
          20th-century retreat of patriarchy -- World War One, the aftermath of World War Two and the great
          turn from the mid-1960s to the 1980s.
        However resistant actual family behaviour was to the imposition of Lenin's model of egalitarian
          modernism or Ataturk's westernisation, the massive 20th-century changes between the Balkans and
          the China Seas could hardly have happened but for the impact of revolutionary supercharged state
          power. Though Therborn antedates its death, the best expert in the field (Karl Kaser) holds that it was
          the decades of Communism that put paid to the traditional Balkan zadruga, the ultra- patriarchal
          extended family.

          In the West the decline and fall of patriarchy, far greater than elsewhere until the last third of the
          century, was based on indigenous dynamics. The impact of organised ideology and state power -- the
          latter chiefly concerned, until the unexpected post-1945 "baby boom", with encouraging childbirth --
          was therefore less significant and less necessary. Compulsory primary state education for girls as
          well as boys and the prohibition of child labour, both of which raised the costs of children to parents,
          were the main ways in which state action directly affected the family. The modern model was
          pioneered not in the core countries of capitalist development, but on its margins -- among
          (non-Catholic) white settler societies, in Australasia and the North American Midwest and West, but
          especially in Scandinavia. (Therborn warns us against simple and unilineal models of the relations
          between economic and cultural transformation, apart from the patent economic correlation of
          variations in the age of marriage and family planning.)

          The general Western pattern appears to be that ideas favouring modernity spread within societies
          from secularised and educated (middle-class) elites and "progressive" political movements, and
          outwards by the imitation of influential models of modernity abroad. The progress of birth control in
          Sicily, analysed in a beautiful study by Jane and Peter Schneider, is an excellent example. Even so,
          except for the mass decline in child-bearing from 1880 onwards, ideology and legal change ran far
          ahead of change in actual family and sexual behaviour until the 1960s. This did not become dramatic
          until the last third of the 20th century even in the West. In fact, the last third of the 20th century saw
          the most rapid and radical global change in the history of human gender and generational relations,
          though it has not so far penetrated very deeply into the rest of the world. Therborn is better at
          recording and monitoring this unprecedented revolution in human behaviour in the developed capitalist
          countries, and the corresponding upheavals in the post-Communist regions, than in analysing its
          causes and its relation to the extraordinary acceleration of socio-economic growth and transformation
          of which it is a part.

          Somewhat unexpectedly, his conclusions about the state of the family at the end of the last
          quarter-century of behavioural revolution are undramatic, not to say trite. Humanity is likely to
          continue to carry on with varieties of the old family ("the modal pattern of long-term institutionalised
          heterosexual coupling')  only -- at least in the post-1968 West -- in a less standardised bourgeois
          form. Some recent developments are worrying, notably the "commodification" of sexual and personal
          relations, but none is "necessarily fatal or even threatening to the existing institutional set- up. They
          only indicate that the future will have its problems too". Such statements are surprising, because they
          are at variance both with Therborn's own analysis and with some of the evidence to which he draws
          incidental attention.

          He has himself formulated the problem lucidly: family systems are held in balance. When they are
          disturbed by internal contradictions or -- in this case -- exogenously, a given set of social
          arrangements is destabilised. The disruption may or may not be managed by re-equilibrating,
          restabilising mechanisms. If it isn't, "there arises the need for a second phase of change . . . a phase
          of setting a direction of change and of organising the institution anew". But if this does not succeed
          "there will be a shorter or longer period of anarchy, after which the institution in question will either
          change (including disappear) or relapse into its previous form". It can hardly be denied that the
          developments surveyed by Therborn amount to a historically sudden and spectacular disruption of the
          long-lasting norms and arrangements by which genders and generations were linked in societies, at
          least since the invention of agriculture. When the number of extra-marital births in developed
          countries rises, in 40 years, from 1.6 to 31.8 per cent (Ireland), 1.4 to almost 25 per cent
          (Netherlands), 3.7 to 49 per cent (Norway), or when, as in Canada, the mean number of children per
          woman falls from 3.77 to 2.33 in the single decade of the 1960s, we are clearly facing a revolution in
          social and personal behaviour. One might have expected a less superficial enquiry into the
          consequences of this extraordinary disruption. The only aspect Therborn considers seriously is the
          strictly demographic, which is likely to reduce Europe from holding a quarter of the world's population
          in 1900 to a fifteenth in 2050.

          Here Therborn's own strong identification with the Scandinavian ideals of progressive gender and
          sexual emancipation gets in the way of his analysis, skewing his view of the family's historic social
          functions. It is perhaps no accident that the book's index contains more references to "divorce" than to
          "children", to "sexuality" han to ‘inheritance', far more to "marriage" than to all these put together and
          none to any form of "adoption" or other constructed forms of kinship. His book considers marriage
          primarily as a sexual order, separate from though intertwined with the social order, which incidentally
          allows him to open it to same-sex partnerships. For him this comes before its other functions ("a
          choice deriving from early 21st- century experience"): as an arrangement for procreation and bringing
          up children, as a mechanism for social exchange and integration into wider communities, and as an
          establisher of social status of age-groups and householding. Curiously, he seems to show little
          interest, at least in this context, in the parent-child or tri-generational unit as a medium of material
          and cultural transmission and as a system of social support within and between generations, or with
          the married couple as an income-generating unit.

          Is it still adequate since the 1970s, as economic inequality rises sharply within developed capitalist
          societies, to see the decline of "the housewife family" from its mid 20th-century zenith as entirely
           "driven not -- as later in many poor countries -- by poverty but by a new life-course priority, of
          independent income and of a career"? Incidentally, Therborn's own findings suggest that marriage as a
          sexual order is historically a social norm or ideal rather than a description of reality, except insofar as
          in some systems it forces all women into formal marriage as virgins and makes (heterosexual) sex
          virtually impossible for them outside it. Quite apart from the Creole zone, "the classical area of
          centuries of massive coupling outside the norms of the Church and of the law", he observes the
          historic informality of the sexual order in sub-Saharan Africa, in parts of which the frequency of marital
          sex runs a clear second to non-marital sex, and in some regions of Europe, e.g. in the Austrian Alps
          and north-west Iberia, with their "historically accepted proletarian or minifundist deviants from the law
          of the Church" and, he might have added, from the celibacy of the priesthood.

          Therborn's own data suggest a less complacent view of the situation created at the start of the 21st
          century by the earthquake shaking the traditional family. Probably the basic trend of the 20th century
          -- essentially, the emancipation of women from their age- old position of social and institutional
          inferiority to men -- still prevails, but he also observes that "where fathers and husbands do not rule,
          phallocracy or asymmetrical male sexual power may dominate the socio- sexual order, as in popular
          Creole societies or in the swollen slum cities of Africa". Or, as he notes in the post-Communist
          context, "while the power of fathers and husbands does not seem to have increased, that of pimps
          certainly has". In the very period of the most dramatic collapse of traditional standards of sexual
          morality and behaviour, the male-dominated family has been reinforced by strong religious revivals,
           "often with intense patriarchal preoccupations". Strongest though this is in Islam, it is far from clear
          that the victories of US Christian fundamentalism are as "Pyrrhic" as Therborn suggests. Indeed, at
          present it looks as though under George W. Bush it is about to score further victories in "the first and
          so far the only country to see a successful anti-feminist backlash in the area of the European family

          Therborn also acknowledges that the supremacy of the ideal which liberal emancipation shares with
          consumer capitalism -- namely, the satisfaction of individual desires, including the sexual -- has
          some aberrant
          consequences: not merely the fall of Western fertility far beyond replacement rates but the birth of
          fewer children than women actually want. He does not mention the consequences, especially in a
          market society, of the novel and rapidly increasing human capacity to manipulate the genetics of our
          species (cloning etc).
          They will inevitably be substantial, unpredictable and almost certainly troubling. The problems created
          in male-preferring societies in the 1990s, by the combination of birth control and parents' ability to
          discover the sex of embryos, are already obvious. In 1995, the Chinese sex ratio at birth was 117
          boys to 100 girls. I refrain from commenting on Therborn's own prediction that the market will solve
          this in the long run by raising the scarcity value of girls.

          This is a deeply impressive book by a major sociologist, original and mostly persuasive in its
          historical analysis and remarkable in its survey of the global marital and sexual scene. However, it
          underestimates the actual and potential effect of the recent revolutionary changes in the human
          family, unprecedented in their scale and speed, both globally and in the Western societies in which it
          has gone furthest. In my view it also underestimates the relationship between effects on the family of
          the Western cultural revolution of the last third of the 20th century and its economic equivalent, the
          belief in a theoretically libertarian capitalism which thinks it can function without the heritage that
          gave it much strength in the past, the rules of obligation and loyalty inside and outside the traditional
          family, and other proclivities which had no intrinsic connection with the pursuit of the individual
          advantage that fuelled its engine. As neo-liberalism triumphed in economics its inadequacy could no
          longer be concealed. In the light of the contents of this book, it may be suggested that we are also
          reaching this point in the ideology of cultural libertarianism.

(*)Eric Hobsbawm has taught history and written in Britain, the US and elsewhere. His most recent book is an autobiography, Interesting Times: A 20th-Century Life. He is president of Birkbeck College.

from ZNet | Culture :
7 February 2005

Muslim Women
by Cassandra Balchin and Yoginder Sikand

          Cassandra Balchin works with the London-based Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)
          network. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand she talks about the work of her organization.

          Q: How did you get involved in research and activism related to Muslim women?

          A: I was in Pakistan for 17 years; 1983-1991 as a journalist and 1991-2000 with the Lahore-based
          women's group Shirkat Gah, which is the Asia Regional Coordination Office of the WLUML network,
          and I helped them with their publishing programme. Then, in 2000 I left Pakistan and came to London
          to help the network set up its international coordination office.

          Q: How would you define the Women Living Under Muslim Laws Network? What is its agenda?

          A: The network aims basically at providing linkages and support to women whose lives may be
          affected by Muslim laws. Mind you, here I use the word 'Muslim' laws, instead of 'Islamic laws', to
          stress that what is precisely 'Islamic' is often recognized as extremely debatable and contestable by
          many Muslims themselves, This suggests the obvious human element in constructing several notions
          related to shari'ah and fiqh or Islamic law, which many seek to impose as divinely mandated. Laws
          considered as 'Islamic' sometimes vary radically across cultures and regions. Likewise, what is
          considered as 'Islamic' in a particular context is often heavily influenced by local culture and customs,
          and the distinction between customary laws and practices and 'Islam' is generally blurred.

          The network's goal is to strengthen women's struggles in Muslim countries and communities. We
          seek to highlight the rich diversity within the larger corpus of what are considered as Muslim laws,
          because this can help contest legal notions that have seriously deleterious consequences for women.
          We also seek to help promote broad alliances between women's groups in Muslim countries and
          communities, and with the wider global women's and progressive human rights movement.

          Q: What sort of activities is the network engaged in?

          We carry out research, publications, provide individual women support and advice, conduct urgent
          international alerts, link women in different contexts and facilitate capacity-building. We have
          published numerous books on various aspects of Muslim laws and what they mean for women, some
          of which are also available on our website http://www.wluml.org/ . Some of our books have been
          translated into Arabic, French, Farsi, Tamil, Dari, Urdu and some other languages as well so they
          can be accessed by women who are not normally able to access international debates. Our main
          themes are fundamentalism, militarism, peace-building and sexuality.
          Some networking groups also work with figures such as qazis, which enables our ideas to have a
          broader reach.

          Q: How would you describe the network's approach to Islam as a belief-system?

          A: The network as such does not privilege faith-based discourse. We are not a faith-based
          organization. We regard religion as a private matter.

          We, however, bring together both practicing Muslims as well as people who define themselves in
          other ways. The dichotomy between faith-based and secular discourse is very distinct in the West,
          where the two are generally seen as opposed to each other. The distinction is much less sharp in
          other contexts. Thus, for instance, Sisters-in-Islam, a leading Malaysian feminist group that works
          from a faith-based perspective, works closely with secular human rights groups. I think this owes in
          some way to the fact that in non-Western contexts religion is so much part of people's daily
          experiences that people are more aware of what harm can sometimes be done in the name of
          religion. In turn, this means that they can also be more confident in challenging conservative or
          reactionary interpretations of religion. This sort of thing does not happen much in the West, where
          faith-based groups and secular groups rarely, if ever, interact. For instance, here in Britain, women
          from non-white communities see racism as the principal source of their oppression and so tend to
          cling to their community identities, which leaves little or no room for challenging patriarchal forms of
          This is bolstered by what is called multiculturalism, with the state privileging religious discourse and
          male religious leaders in the name of community authenticity, and more often than not it privileges
          conservative, patriarchal interpretations of religion over other competing understandings. At the same
          time, secular human rights groups or white feminist groups, who could be allies of women in
          non-white communities, are so terrified of being accused of being being racist that they often fall into
          the trap of cultural relativism, allowing for patriarchy to remain largely uncontested.

          Q: How do you see the fact that controlling women is so central to the agenda of conservative
          religious groups, Muslim as well as others?

          A: In conservative religious discourses women come to be seen as custodians of community identity
          and authenticity, as bearers of tradition. Possibly this is because of their role in bearing and rearing
          children. Hence, defining and controlling women comes to be seen as central to a revivalist religious
          agenda. Along with this comes a host of burdens that are sought to be placed on women as bearers
          of the normative communitarian ideal. Let me cite an instance to substantiate this argument. One
          sight in Lahore that never ceased to amaze me was men wearing baseball caps and T-shirts
          displaying the US flag, riding motorcycles with their wives or sisters, heavily draped in black burqas,
          sitting behind them. No one ever seemed to question the men's identity as Muslims, but I presume if
          the women sitting behind them refused to veil up they would be damned as bad Muslims or even

          Q: What possibilities do you see for developing what could be called an Islamic feminist theology? In
          this regard do you see any significant difference in the attitudes and approaches of the traditionalist
          'ulama and various Islamist groups?

          A: Traditionally, in almost every community, the interpretation of religion has always been a male
          monopoly. But things are changing now, with women in all traditions demanding the right to interpret
          their religion for themselves. That's also happening among Muslim women, and our network is trying
          to facilitate this process. That said, I would also add that not every interpretation of religion by a
          woman is necessarily more gender-sensitive or women's friendly. Likewise, it is equally important to
          recognize that not all male religious scholars are necessarily upholders of patriarchy. I can cite the
          names of several modern male Islamic scholars have produced remarkably feminist  exegesis of
          Muslim scriptures.

          I certainly would not lump the traditionalist 'ulama with the Islamists into one category. I have found in
          the course of my work that although many traditionalist 'ulama might initially work with standard
          stereotypes of feminism, once one begins to engage and interact with them they can begin to
          appreciate that we are not anti-Islam but that our work can, in fact, actually help the Muslim
          community. In contrast, the Islamists have a political agenda, which we do not share, so I presume
          they would not agree with us, although this does not preclude our discussing with certain individuals
          who might be associated with certain Islamist groups. We in the network do not agree with the
          standard Islamist perception of privileging religion as the only structure through which society should
          be organized.

          This is a politically far-right position which we are opposed to. Our position is that there are multiple
          ways of being and that they should all be allowed to exist. Within each of our communities we need
          to allow for proper democratic dialogue and discussion of what is or is not beneficial, within a human
          rights framework, but this is something that many Islamists are vehemently opposed to. However,
          Islamism is not the only way of imagining Islam, and I see very promising possibilities of working with
          progressive Islamic theologians who do not share the same basic premises as the Islamists. One
          good example is Nasiruddin Nasaruddin 'Umar, the vice-rector of a leading Islamic University in
          Indonesia, who is a man but is also very feminist in his approach. We've even translated one of his
          books on women and Islam.

          Q: Feminists are often accused by the Muslim religious right of 'conspiring' to divide the community,
          setting women against men and thus playing into the hands of what are routinely branded as the
          'enemies of Islam'. How do you respond to this sort of accusation?

          A: I could cite the names of several progressive male Muslim theologians who share the same social
          vision as us to counter this silly argument.

          We also have a number of like-minded men on our decision-making bodies.

          We aren't an exclusively women's group and nor do we champion women's exclusivity. We talk of
          gender justice, not simply justice for women. We are not seeking to replace one form of gender
          injustice-rule by men-by another form. And as for the accusation of dividing the Muslim ummah, I can
          only say that there has always been a tradition of internal debate among Muslims. Such debate and
          dissent is, in fact, invaluable, because its absence would lead to stagnation. Every community needs
          debate in order to evolve or even simply to survive.

          Now, as far as the charge of Islam being in danger because of feminist demands is concerned, the
          least said the better. This slogan is routinely deployed to silence debate and dissent within the
          community by those who seek to preserve and promote their own powers and privileges.

          Precisely what aspect of Islam is supposedly under threat? Is it Islam as a religion of social justice or
          is it simply the patriarchal order that seeks legitimacy under an 'Islamic' label? Now, it is true that
          today several Muslim countries have been targeted by imperialist forces, but this owes not to any
          inherent anti-Islamic 'conspiracy' as such but mainly to the combination of deep-seated racism and
          the workings of the imperialist-capitalist system. It is important not to confuse the issues of racism
          and imperialism with religion. So, for instance, in Iraq today the problem is essentially one of western
          neocolonialism and global capitalism, and has little or nothing to do with any supposed anti-Islamic
          'conspiracy'. However, both radical Islamists as well as right-wing Christian evangelists tend to frame
          this in religious terms, and so religion comes to be used essentially as a mobilisational tool.

          I, for one, do not buy the clash of civilizations argument. In fact, it is remarkable how fundamentalists
          in all religious traditions speak the same language and often work together against progressive
          movements, or at least feed on each other.

Cassandra Balchin can be contacted on cassb@wluml.org

from Left Hook :
3 August 2005

Framed Out : What Place for Women in the "Anti-war Movement"?
by Amee Chew

          Three years ago, the Women of Color Resource Center released a statement about the War on Terror
          that's still relevant: "Women, Raise Your Voices!" They listed ten reasons for opposing the War on
          Terror, chosen to illustrate the gendered effects of militarism and imperialism.

          Today, deep into the quagmire of the unjust and brutal occupation of Iraq, segments of the anti-war
          movement continue to point out connections between war, and patriarchy or domestic inequality. For
          instance, these marginalized parts of the anti-war movement draw attention to the U.S. military as not
          only a racist, but also a misogynist institution; or to social budget cuts which disproportionately
          impact women and communities of color. But a gendered analysis – an understanding of the
          connections between imperialism and U.S. patriarchy – is hardly an integral part of a movement
          which only recently began taking the racist poverty draft seriously, and which is still struggling to
          rebuild itself after the invasion.

          As the anti-war movement grapples with how to grow from its diminished state, there is a trend which
          seeks to build the movement by focusing it on a "lowest common denominator": ending the
          occupation of Iraq and bringing the troops home now. In the activist circles I'm a part of in Boston,
          some advocate presenting this LCD to the exclusion of other issues, as the unifying 'slogan' or focus
          of events, rather than building events around multiple, related issues. When I raised the possibility of
          adding a reference to the military's misogyny or homophobia in an advertisement for a
          counter-recruitment protest, this was dismissed as too potentially divisive, a dilution of focus – even if
          such information is perfectly relevant to potential women recruits.

          At the same time, these activists' purported adherence to the LCD is somewhat disingenuous,
          because the same individuals are willing to pair it with other slogans exploring militarism's economic
          impact – "Money for Jobs and Education, Not War and Occupation" – and more recently, the "racist
          poverty draft." Even while arguing for the need to focus on an LCD, they convene several directions of
          analysis. Apparently these activists have made a decision about which issues they think will have the
          most (white male) mainstream appeal, to build the biggest movement as fast as possible.

          But activists play a dual role in both building an inclusive and growing movement, as well as helping
          raise the political consciousness of this movement. Some argue that allowing a variety of speakers,
          workshops, and literature at events can cover the role of expanding people's consciousness, even as
          the movement strives to preserve a limited, uniting focus. While I support having these spaces for
          exploring a deeper analysis of the war, slogans, advertisements, the very way a movement is
          *framed*, are also important vehicles for introducing new ideas to people as well as creating a
          movement that is truly inclusive. An inclusive movement does not just use the footwork and labor of
          minorities, but prioritizes their interests in a deep sense by trying to challenge the complex ways
          they are oppressed and exploited.

          At stake is the position of minorities and women in "the anti-war movement." Will concerns which
          affect them remain at the margins, or will the movement strive to make these more central? Will the
          average non-activist who lives in a neighborhood of color, who lacks healthcare, affordable housing,
          decent work, who has perhaps faced sexual violence, feel this movement is actually relevant to her
          immediate life – will she know the power of struggling in a movement closely connected to the
          concerns directly affecting her, or will she have to choose *between* priorities due to the movement's
          myopia? People's lives do not operate around a single, de-contextualized issue. The unwillingness of
          anti-war activists I have met to even be open to exploring ways of deepening this movement's
          framework, only appears evidence of the kind of exclusion that feminists of color are up against within
          leftist organizing. Perhaps I can only say that my experiences left me enervated and discouraged.
          How this movement is built around an LCD will have important ramifications for minority activists and
          communities of color.

          Some anti-war activists have blamed 'multiple issue' agendas as the reason for ANSWER and UFPJ's
          decision to cease working together and host separate same-day protests in D.C. this September. I
          see this split as more a matter of the lack of joint input, mutually respectful collaboration, and
          involved decision-making. Ideally, democratic decision-making would help facilitate collaborations,
          and the identification of common ground, between different organizations.

          Multiple issues can still revolve around a central focus or set of priorities! Rather than condemning
          every case of 'multiple issues,' the task of anti-war activists should be to figure out how various
          analyses can be introduced to audiences in ways that meet them at their level of consciousness –
          both including the converted, *and* pushing people to make new political connections. For example,
          few in the general public may understand a reference to patriarchy, but most people are against rape.
          We can speak out against misogyny in the military without resorting to obtuse terminology.

          The organization Global Women's Strike coined the slogan, "Invest in Caring, Not Killing," to draw
          attention to connections between the undervaluing of women's unpaid labor – such as through public
          cutbacks in welfare and healthcare – and militarism. I have been told by certain activists that this
          term is too "abstract" to actually use. Would it be so incomprehensible if paired next to our favorite
          old line about public versus military spending? (Or is "caring" just too touchy-feely for masculinist

          As soldiers returning from the front speak out against the war in growing numbers, and inspiring
          struggles against military recruitment increase, it will be a challenge for us to keep the full spectrum
          of who is impacted by imperialism – not simply our boys – in the movement's radar.

          Third world feminists, anti-racist, and immigrant rights activists potentially have an important
          anti-imperialist critique to offer this movement. We can position ourselves to demonstrate the links
          between foreign and domestic policies in ways that implicate not only class exploitation, but a
          racialized and gendered economic system. Moreover, we can be vigilant about grounding this
          movement in the local struggles of immigrants and people of color.

          Yet it is only by actively organizing around issues that affect immigrant women and women of color,
          in connection to the war, that we can raise them to prominence and ensure they are not dropped from
          a national anti-imperialist agenda. We must ensure that a movement against the occupation of Iraq
          seeks to link the issue of U.S. foreign policy to our local community struggles, and honors those
          affected by gender oppression and sexual exploitation. But furthermore, perhaps we should go
          beyond this to create an anti-imperialist movement that actually enriches rather than marginalizes
          these community struggles.

          The anti-war movement is in a period of soul-searching as it grapples with how to build and grow. The
          time to act is now. We must create our own radical feminist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist
          organizations, when others neglect this agenda.

          * * *

          The Women of Color Resource Center's statement is online at
          http://www.coloredgirls.org/content.cfm?cat=publication&file=antiwar . Of use to future organizing is a
          detailed brochure, "The 'War of Terror' Intensifies Violence Against Women of Color, Third World
          Women, and Our Communities," produced by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence "a national
          activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against
          women of color and their communities."

Huibin Amee Chew, 23, is a recent graduate of Harvard University. She is active in local anti-imperialist, immigrant, and feminist organizing. She can be reached at hachew@gmail.com.

from Judith Ezekiel :
2 September 2005

Hello, Francis
A note I wrote this morning


      The current catastrophe is such a remarkable prs of the state of America.  Intensification of storms due to global warming in which the US--from the Kyoto Accords and the SUVs, to misinformation campaign to smear environmentalist-scientists (1)--plays a major role.  Lack of preparedness due to Bush's militant refusal to value the environment and human life over profit (budget cuts, dismantling of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (2), draining wetlands (3), etc.).  Impact of the (immoral) War at home as shown by the absence of National Guard troops and equipment commandeered for Iraq (4). Bush's sneering, smug refusal (withdrawn) for aid from the likes of France; America can stand alone.  Percentage of presidential speech devoted to oil.  Racism and class interests demonstrated by the abysmal neglect of and threatened violence towards a predominantly black, disproportionately poor population (5).   The breakdown of an already appallingly insufficient social system, evident in the call for charities to provide relief and the public sector to make (tax-deductible) donations (6).   The dismantling of the wall between Church and State as shown by Pat ("assassinate Chavez" [7] ) Robertson's fundamentalist organization being number three in the White House's select charities (8)
     A Green Party friend here reacted saying, "Maybe now the US will sign the Kyoto Accords."  Yet partisan politics (New Orleans being Democrat), shameless use of a catastrophe, and Christian fundamentalism (God's cleansing Sin City, rife with gays [9], godless music, and abortion clinics [10]) will no doubt allow Bush to divert criticism away from the environment and social issues.
     Judith Ezekiel

1. http://www.truthout.org/docs_05/printer_011905G.shtml
2. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_09/007023.php
3. http://www.salon.com/opinion/blumenthal/2005/08/31/disaster_preparation/index_np.html
4. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/090105Q.shtml
5. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article309684.ece
6. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/09/20050901-3.html
7. http://mediamatters.org/items/200508220006
8 http://www.fema.gov/press/2005/katrinadonations.shtm
9. http://www.operationsaveamerica.org/articles/articles/business-banned-on-bourbon-st.htm
10. http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/index.html?blog=/politics/war_room/2005/08/30/hurricane/index.html

from Shirely Doulière

7 October 2005

Note this Miers is also a Christian fundamentalist from Texas...


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