Plugged in Praxis: Critical Reflections on U.S. Feminism, Internet Activism, and Solidarity with Women in Afghanistan (1)

Article excerpt

Abstract

Cyber-space presents many contradictions to those seeking to use it for activist ends in a transnational world. This paper explores some of these contradictions by examining various uses of the internet in efforts to raise awareness about the situation for women in Afghanistan during the period the Taliban came to power and controlled a majority of the country. I explore differences in approaches, images, and tone within examples of internet activism, emphasizing the Web work of the Feminist Majority Foundation, set in comparison with that of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Due to the prominence of the chadari in the images and campaigns of the Feminist Majority, a central part of the work is devoted to careful consideration of the image of veiling. As I note in the body of the paper, interact activism around the crisis for women living under the Taliban shows the potential for its usefulness as a tool in raising cross-global consciousness. At the same time this research reveals the need for caution, care and a critical eye when exploring and utilizing the internet and Web as a means of activist education and organization. In the end, I hope this critical reflection on these examples were feminists have utilized the tools of cyber-space will help in building, especially within the U.S., more careful and nuanced approaches as we seek international solidarity.

Key Words: Internet activism, International solidarity, women in Afghanistan

Introduction

In this paper I explore feminists' efforts to raise awareness about the situation for women in Afghanistan under the Taliban by utilizing the internet. (2) This paper adds to a growing body of research examining various aspects of the rise of the Taliban and their specific policies toward women, as well as looking at feminist international mobilization around these policies (for examples see Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, 2003; Shahnaz Khan; 2001; Sonali Kolhatkar, 2002; Valentine Moghadam, 2002). My focus on the internet echoes Myfanwy Franks' call for approaches that start in "the metaphorical kitchen in which we might find ourselves, with the materials that are available," hence I am most interested in examples of feminist internet uses that were readily available to me as I sought out information on these topics from within the U.S. (2002, 9). I concentrate on internet sources that were prominent in feminist campaigns, referenced by writers and others both on and off the internet, offered in English, and located using readily available search engines or sent to me via e-mail from various sources. (3) While a variety of examples of internet based information is explored, the heart of the paper focuses on a comparative reading of information found on the Web sites of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

For all the publicity it has recently received, I believe many in the U.S. know little about Afghanistan or the history of the Taliban. (4) I first learned about the Taliban in 1997 through a National Public Radio report on decrees imposed on Kabul after the Taliban takeover. As a feminist I was outraged by what I heard. However, I was skeptical of my immediate reactions to this story due to various aspects of my own positions in the world set in relation to this tragedy (for example that I was listening to a report from a major media outlet in the U.S.). (5) Mindful of Edward Said's influential indictment of orientalism (1979), my historical understanding of the country and situation were newly gained, clearly limited, and also somewhat dangerous. (6) Over time, my awareness of the situation for women under the Taliban grew, in part, thanks to the many powerful ways activists and organizations utilized the internet as a tool for intervening in this crisis. The growth in the internet has spawned a host of international and national activist projects worth more systematic theoretical consideration and exploration. …

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