Academic journal article Social Justice

Geopolitics, Culture Clash, and Gender after September 11

Academic journal article Social Justice

Geopolitics, Culture Clash, and Gender after September 11

Article excerpt

Culture clashes were essential to the success of racial myths, for throughout history the foreigner outside the tribe has never been truly welcome.--George L. Mosse (1985: xxvii)

... the imperialist feminist desire to emancipate the Muslim woman is part of a system based on the disciplining and normalizing gaze of modern colonial disciplinary power.--Meyda Yegenoglu (1998:111)

The modern woman is first and foremost an imperialist.--Rosemary M. George (1993-1994: 97)

THE ATTACKS ON THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AND PENTAGON ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, have resulted in 'antiterrorism" measures that have included surveillance, stigmatization, and the actual incarceration of men considered "Muslim looking or Arab looking." In this climate, to write about violent Muslim men guarantees royalties and the prestige of being on bestseller lists. When the writing is done by Western feminists, both Muslim and non-Muslim, it provides ideological justifications for the "War on Terror" and the U.S. bid for empire. The post-September 11 climate has also enabled Western feminists to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as evidence of the violence of Muslim and Arab men. In recent years, there has been a steady stream of books and articles announcing that the current Israeli administration is entirely justified in its treatment of Palestinians and that those who criticize Israel are simply being anti-Semitic. (1) In many of these texts, the violence Muslim women endure at the hands of Muslim men becomes a marker of Muslim men's barbarism and a reason why the claims of Palestinians, who are mainly Muslims, are unacceptable. This logic is available at a glance in subway posters in San Francisco in which a blond woman announces that she has just been to Israel, a land where women have equal rights.

In this article, I argue that the convergence of the U.S. "War on Terror" and its inextricable links to U.S. support of Israel has produced a particular geopolitical terrain in the post-September 11 period that has enabled blatant racism to be articulated in the name of feminism. As I will show, the seemingly disparate strands of this political position are bound together and given coherency by the notion of "culture clash" in that the West, Jews included, are caught up in a violent clash with the Islamic world. The clash is cultural in origin: Islam is everything the West is not. Furthermore, as fatally pre-modern, tribal, non-democratic, and religious, the barbarism of Islam is principally evident in the treatment of women in Muslim communities.

Of course, this approach is not new. As Edward Said (1992: 25) pointed out long ago in The Question of Palestine, the argument that turns colonial dispossession of a people into a story of an empty land awaiting European improvement draws on "the picture of a handful of European Jews hewing a civilization of sweetness and light out of the Black Islamic sea." Yet if the notion of a Black Islamic sea has long been marshaled in support of the state of Israel's oppressive policies toward Palestinians, today it has gained greater currency and the bodies of Muslim woman have been useful to the argument.

What are the implications for feminists of these two geopolitical conditions, in which the Muslim woman's body is constituted as simply a marker of a community's place in modernity? First, the pervasiveness of violence against women in the West is eclipsed. Additionally, saving Muslim women from the excesses of their society marks Western men and women as more civilized. Observing that "the declaration of an emancipated status for the Western woman is contingent upon the representation of the Oriental woman as her devalued other," Yegenoglu (1998: 105) reminds us that women can only enter the privileged space of the universal through "a masculine gesture." Just as men claim the universal for themselves by confining women outside of it as non-rational subjects, so the Western woman requires the culturally different body to make her own claim of universality. …

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