Women speak out
Women across the world have spoken out against terrorism, militarism and violence of all kinds as an unacceptable strategy for resolving differences and conflicts. Terror, Counter-Terror: Women Speak Out, edited by AMMU JOSEPH and KALPANA SHARMA, is an anthology of women's writing over the last decade, which makes a powerful statement against all terrorism, as well as any counter-terrorism that uses the same violence to deal with it. Among the writers included in this volume are Susan Sontag, Amira Hass, Kamila Shamsie, Suheir Hammad, Barbara Ehrenreich and Nelofer Pazira. Exclusive excerpts from the introduction.
THE events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath provoked this anthology. But it is not only about these events. It is an attempt to draw together a range of writing and thought from women around the world. It is their view of terror, of war, of conflict, of flight, of loss, of suffering, of struggle, of dissent, of courage. It is their perspective on a world where might has truly become right, where rights and wrongs have been buried under the weight of big power politics.
There is no doubt that the events of 9/11 were in themselves shocking and tragic. They resulted in the deaths of at least 3,000 human beings from about 115 countries, not only in the buildings hit by aircraft turned into missiles but in the four hijacked planes used in the attacks. They caused widespread sorrow and suffering, fear and panic. They also led to considerable economic loss to individuals, families, companies and, indeed, economies across the globe.
They have had political repercussions, too, with an appreciable erosion of human rights, civil liberties and democratic values within many nations, including the U.S. and India (the world's largest democracies), and the virtual suspension of established norms for the settlement of international disputes through peaceful, bilateral or multilateral negotiation and action. They have provided fuel and fodder to the ideology of militarism and the process of militarisation across the world, with even normally sensible and peaceable persons succumbing to the bizarre notion that violence is the only solution to violence.
It is for nothing that 9/11 has come to be widely regarded as a turning point in the history of the world. In today's unipolar world there is no doubt a growing and disquieting tendency to assume, and accept, that when the U.S. sneezes the rest of the world must perforce catch a cold. However, the significance of 9/11 goes beyond such a follow-the-leader response. Indeed, it goes beyond the events of that day to encompass the reaction and response to them, especially by the American government. The fact is that a 9/11 syndrome has come into being that is, and will continue to be, invoked across the world, by governments as much as by militants, to justify violent means to achieve questionable ends.
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Women are in a position to challenge the renewed faith in violence that is an integral part of the 9/11 syndrome because they have long dealt with it at the experiential, practical and theoretical levels. They have faced violence in various forms and in different spheres of life from time immemorial. In times of peace as well as war their right to physical security is routinely violated through a range of violent acts, including rape, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. During periods of social upheaval or political discord, they experience heightened levels of violence and trauma, both physical and psychological, both within the home and outside it. Tension and strife are often used to curtail women's human rights in the name of culture and tradition, nationalism and patriotism.
In times of conflict, they bear additional social and economic burdens as they often find themselves solely responsible for their families (including the very old, the very young, and the sick) under circumstances where even food and shelter are not always available. Yet their political right to participate in decision-making and governance is generally ignored, with their views seldom taken into account when wars are waged or when peace is negotiated.
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Few feminist scholars hold on to the illusion that all women are peaceful by nature; many now highlight the need for more analysis of women's material and ideological contributions to the militarisation process, and their own propensity to violence in certain circumstances. However, most acknowledge that women as a group have a special stake in peace, as demonstrated by the fact that women's movements have long been involved in struggles against violence of all kinds, at all levels of society. Another significant feature of the 9/11 syndrome is a resurgence of narrow definitions of nationalism, national interest and national security. Women are particularly well-equipped to question these concepts. Feminists have routinely challenged the traditional assumptions on which national security doctrines, not to mention patriotism, are based. For example, most do not accept that the nation-state is the only or most significant source of political identification or allegiance. They propose that real security has to be less state-centric and more society-centred, and that there can be no security without social and economic justice, political liberty and egalitarian democratisation. They do not differentiate or discriminate between domestic, social and public violence, viewing all of them as equally violative of human rights. They perceive peace as the absence of violence in both the private and the public spheres, and believe that real security includes security within the home.
Women are also well-placed to challenge the 9/11 syndrome in terms of the legitimacy and respectability it has afforded to the "clash of civilizations" theory that divides the world into "us", symbolising all that is good and civilised, and "them", representing all that is evil and barbarous. If there is an intimate relationship between violence, militarism and patriarchy, there is an equally strong bond between that unholy trinity and what has come to be known, somewhat inaccurately, as "fundamentalism". Women's rights are among the first to be diminished by reactionary forces within society, <243>including religious fundamentalists cutting across creeds and nations, rich and poor...
... Thanks to their long engagement with many of the problematic issues that underlie the 9/11 syndrome, women in general, and feminists in particular, are in a unique position to shed light on issues relating to war and terror. They have been writing on these issues for years. And, after September 11, women from different parts of the world responded to the events themselves and the processes they triggered off, drawing on the strengths of women's experience, activism and knowledge over several decades. Many of these writings were scattered across publications, most of them inaccessible to people across the globe except via the Internet, which is still not widely available in many countries, including India.
As editors, we had a wide variety of material from which to choose. There were essays, trenchant journalistic comment, poetry and statements. Those that are included in this anthology represent but a sliver of the range of writing and thoughts that have, over time, emerged from the pens and keyboards of women writers, activists, academics, journalists reflecting on war and conflict.
War today is justified in the name of building a "safer" world but instead the world is being pushed into a higher state of insecurity. Thus, the U.S. administration is pushing for a war against Iraq. But will this rid the world of terror? And, on the subcontinent, both India and Pakistan have justified their development of nuclear weapons in the name of "national security". But after the nuclear tests of 1998 both countries have faced more insecurity and been closer to war than at any time in the last 30 years.
Worse, the consequence of the "war against terror" has manifest itself through greater insecurity and heightened divisions within nations as identity politics constructs a permanent atmosphere of hostility and fear with a majority backed by the state and a minority forced to defend itself by any means.
As the world hurtles towards greater conflict, fragmentation, poverty and deprivation, where are the voices of sanity, of hope, of conciliation, of healing? As this anthology will demonstrate, many of these voices are of women in many different parts of the world. What they say has relevance over time, even if their words were prompted by particular moments in time.
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