Crusade! I Mean Democracy! You Know: Women!

By Cooke, Miriam | The Middle East Women's Studies Review, Fall-Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Crusade! I Mean Democracy! You Know: Women!


Cooke, Miriam, The Middle East Women's Studies Review


"Wars, even small ones, are often helpful to capitalism" (Miyoshi, 1998, 252). This straightforward statement articulates the self-evident that the advocates of war must hide if they are to succeed. No war can be openly said to be fought for economic gain alone if it is to attract support. The casus belli must be transcendentalized, its outcome universalized in a such a way that it be seen to serve the common good.

The tragedy of September 11, 2001, hurled the US into a retaliatory war. The nineteen terrorists had to be made to stand in for something much bigger than themselves so that they might be confronted. The Taliban, Afghanistan, Islam, Usama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda, Iraq, hardliner Muslim rulers have all at one time or another served as worthy opponents in what has become a transcendental, universal struggle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. In less than a week, the US president and his aides called for a "crusade" (briefly called campaign "Infinite Justice") against the "evil doers" to avenge the crime against humanity. Muslims around the world bristled at the implications of a renewal of the 11th and 12th century Christian wars fought against their ancestors. Although he retracted the use of the word crusade when it did not sit so well with some, the US president continued to invoke its spirit while wrapping it in the secular garb of "democratization" and the not-so-secular "civilizing mission." Conveniently for US military ambitions in the region, the attack on the symbols of US economic and political power rekindled the US imperial project in the oil-rich Middle East and Central Asia.

On November 17, 2001, the First Lady, Laura Bush, furthered the imperial project in her highly gendered appeal to a world conscience. How could civilized people stand by when Afghan women were so oppressed by their men?! In her radio address to the American people, she split Afghan women from their men in order to place them on the side of civilization and their men on the side of barbarity. Civilized people could not fail to be horrified by the behavior of these men and the world they "would like to impose on the rest of us." (www.whitehouse.gov) The war against the Taliban/the terrorists/the Afghans/Iraq is justified by this American woman's appeal to a common humanity represented by Central Asian women whose oppression reveals the barbarity of their men.

On January 20, 2002, the U.S. president's State of the Union address signaled a dramatic return to transcendental language. The focus of the speech was the identification of an Axis of Evil producing the eternal binary: the good US/Self versus the evil Them/Other, comprising North Korea, Iraq and Iran. World War II terminology (Axis) slipped easily into God talk (Evil) in the imbrication of three leaders and their countries: the self-preening Kim Il Jong, the butcher of Baghdad and the theocrats of Iran.

Resistance to this pietistic jingoism was strong, even if unavailing. In April 2002 anti-globalization activists joined with war protesters in the streets of Washington DC to strip away the moral veneer lying light over the economic interests. Making the kinds of links between "politics, economics, culture, and religion" that Sherif Hetata (1998, 273) claims is natural for the victims of globalization, these protesters have insisted that it is oil and empire building that underlie the civilizational and religious rhetoric of warmongering.

A month later, Bush added three "rogue states" to the Axis of Evil: Syria, Libya and Cuba, with their leaders, Bashar Asad, Muammar Qaddafi, and the aging Fidel Castro. Thus did the authoritarian rulers of six countries, four of which are Muslim, become identified with their people, whom they routinely terrorize. The dehumanization already well underway accelerated into a process of demonization that cleared the way for a holy war, whose language, as the columnist Hal Crowther writes, "in the mouths of men who can fill churches and stadiums, may be our most disgusting, dangerous, retrograde religious disturbance since the Salem witch trials" (Crowther, 2003, 5). …

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