No accomplices

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Ariane Brenssell, Waltraud Schwab: Keine Komplizinnen. Seite

Ariane Brenssell / Waltraud Schwab

No accomplices

The correlation between war and gender-relations is complex. To reduce it to the slogan “war is masculine” doesn’t pay tribute to the chance that an analysis of the gender-related aspects of the current political situation does offer. A deeply gender-biased view provides a critical perspective on the dominant argumentative context that professes that war is the only solution when it comes to responding to the terror of September 11th . What we should be thinking about however are alternatives to this assumptions.

War is the political response of some of the countries of the west to the terror-attacks in New York and Washington. Women like Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy or Saskia Sassen who fairly immediately commented on the terrorist attacks put the events in a context beyond terror and retaliation. Instead they demanded, that the 11th of September should be read in terms of the politics of the countries of the west and the bloodletting that these politics do cause in most other countries. Thus they analysed the terror-attacks and the war, that was started on the 7th of October, outside of or beyond the context given by the countries of the west that is to say the USA. But whoever dismisses this given context, does not consent to war as a solution. The critical zone for demagagogues of war begins at this point, because nobody should ever doubt that war can solve problems. In visionary terms Susan Sontag commented on the impact of this in society when she wrote in her article of September 15th in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “Let’s by all means grieve together. But let‘s not be stupid together”.

Civilisation, barbarism and women

The USA did define the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as a declaration of war. Aside from the power to define “when war begins”, “against whom a war is fought”, “when a war is a success” and “when a war is finished” the USA has also taken hold of the power of defining “why there is a war”. A simple and comprehensive scenario is being laid out in which defining the good side automatically points at that party which stands for the bad side. Marianne Schuller, an academic of literature and her collegue Volker Kaiser have found marvelously appropriate words for this dualism. Referring to the 11th of September they wrote: “Understood as an attack against the whole (western) civilization, this immediately demands a counterpart in form of the uncivilized. As a consequence of this, the USA does not only become an incarnation of the civilized world but at the same time it is forced and legitimized, to fight the war of civilization against counter-civilisation.” Civilisation versus barbarism – this dualism lends plausibility to the idea, that war is a solution. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, pointed out who in this scenario holds the position of the good side and who the position of the bad side. On a visit to Berlin he publicly declared that the west is culturally superior to the islamic world.

There is one argument which guarantees broad approval among advocates of war but also among its sceptics for this dualism or division of the world into good and evil and the idea it entails of retaliation: It is the plight of women in Afghanistan. The circumstances of life of women in Afghanistan is deplorable. They were made prisoners in their own country just because of their female sex. Feminists wanted this to be put on the agenda already at the UN conference of women in Beijing in 1995. The breach of human rights on women by the Northern Alliance and later the Taliban has however never made western governments to feel compelled to intervene, neither politically nor militarily.
It causes some disbelief when politicians and journalists suddenly focus on the fate of the women of Afghanistan in order to legitimate the war based on the concept of human rights. Considering that 90% of the victims in a war are civilians, mostly women, children and elderly people shows that this argument may well be a farce. (UN figures of 1990)

War, women and everyday-life

It is in the interest of the politicians in the USA to maintain that their wars are clean wars and that in their wars almost no civilians are being killed. What about the refugees? In thousands they die of hunger, illness, failing hygiene, expulsion, injuries caused through explosions of mines, hypothermia. Are they no victims of war, because they are not hit by bombs directly? The USA has thrown scatterbombs in the thousands onto Afghanistan, although these bombs are internationally outlawed. Victims hit directly are considered ‚collateral damage‘. Victims who are going to be killed later when they step on duds, die in ‚accidents‘. The question must therefore be allowed, whether the concept of war has to be extended to where it has so far not yet been applied to: That is everyday life.

Under genderspecific consideration the organisation of everyday-life and everyday-existence are major tasks of women worldwide. Women are responsible for the reproduction, education, and in many cases also the production or procuring of food, and the maintenance of family. “Economies of care” are the equivalent UN-terms. This is domain of women.
For women it is of utmost priority also in wartime to organize everyday-survival. With this however in mind women already act beyond all logic of war. From a female point of view neither terror nor war but a fair distribution and justice come into focus. But when you do not only look at distribution in gender-neutral terms but under gendered perspectives the injustice of the worldorder is further highlighted: Two thirds of the poverty of the world affects women. Two thirds of all analphabets are women. Two thirds of the work done worldwide is being done by women.

War and gender-hierarchies

Feminist sociologists of military issues like Ruth Seifert have pointed at the correlation between the ideology of the armed forces and the degradation of women in general. In this context the production of gendered stereotypes is of utmost importance. In military logic emotion is female, rationality is male. Emotion looses, toughness wins. This is a preliminary condition for hierarchies within military structures.

The German chanceller Schröder (male) and the chief of the Green Party Claudia Roth (female) had an encounter which shows clearly what is at stake. Like Mary Robinson, the High commissionar of human rights at the UN Claudia Roth demanded publicly that there should be a halt to the bombing in order to be able to care for the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. Because of her intervention Schröder called her a “whiner”. Because she was no military expert she couldn’t make an informed judgement of what is necessary, he said. While Schröder was praised by the media as a real statesman when he showed his feelings at his visit at Ground Zero, Claudia Roth is being derided as woman because she is touched by the misery of the refugees plight.
The peace researcher Astrid Albrecht Heide proved in her work on the correlation between military forces and gender, that military forces can be considered a “direct proof of patriarchal power relations”. Linked with it is a “Ramboisation of everyday-life” as Maria Mies, a pioneer of the feminist movement in Germany said. The situation in Afghanistan serves as an example. The wars of the last twenty years in Afghanistan – representative wars of the super powers – provided the conditions for installing the rigid gender-hierarchies which deprived women of the rights of education, health care, and a self-supported existence. The “war against terror” may have as one positive result that the plight of the women in Afghanistan has become an issue of public interest to the media and the politicians in these parts. However only blind confidence in the logic of war will take a now unveiled face of a women in Afghanistan as proof that war in general liberates women.

War-business and the bodies of women

There are however even more genderspecific dimensions of war. The female body itself is an object of discussion. Theoretically the rape of women in war is now considered a warcrime and is prosecuted at the international court in De Hague. This impresses neither the Taliban nor the armed forces of the Northern Alliance as the UN reports. In any case sex as a means to appease the soldiers will play a part in Afghanistan too. Rape is just one aspect. Prostitution is another one.

Take the prolonged presence of armed forces of the west in Indochina. It shows how prostitution and trafficking in women has created new local economies. The profits are enormous. They can be compared to the profits in drug-dealing. Women profit the least from it all. With the military presence of the West in Afghanistan there too such a new sex-market will get established. War is a platform for businesses, one of which is business with women.


Whoever analyses the events of September 11th and its aftermath under a gendered perspective will touch upon contradictions within the argumentative context of those governments which try to purvey the idea that war is a solution. These contradictions should not be revealed. They harm the image and self-image of the western countries and they unmask their mission.

Does this explain why feminists of the western countries whose analysis of the war and of the politics of the USA did not comply with the standard version of why war is an adequate answer to terrorism are faced with prosecution like the Canadian professor Sunera Thobani? Does it explain why others are being ridiculed like the north-american writer Barbara Kingsolver? “I have already been called every name in the Rush Limbaugh handbook: traitor, sinner, naive, liberal, peacenik, whiner” she wrote. Still: “It is not naive to propose alternatives to war.”
Does this also explain, why abortion clinics of “Planned Parenthood” have received anthrax-threats since 1998? The Boston Globe reports it on the 17th of October. Neither anti-terror-agents nor the media seemed to bother until after September the 11th. The sender of the letters may well spell his name as Christian Fundamentalist.
Does this also explain, why there is broad media coverage of the conference about the future in Afghanistan that was held on the Petersberg near Bonn, but no media coverage of a womens conference on Afghanistan in Bruxelles at the same time? Mary Robinson opened the conference. She said that without women there is no future in Afghanistan.
Does this explain, why members of the “Afghan Women Council” or “RAWA” have not appropriately been invited to participate at the conference in Bonn? These women’s organisations, located in Pakistan and secretly operating in Afghanistan, were the only opposition that stood for years against the Taliban. They organised clandestine schools for girls, they documented violence against women, they organised health care and other humanitarian relief programs.
The influence of women on the future political development of Afghanistan will have to be watched for carefully anyway. This is crucial because the members of the conference on the future of Afghanistan which was held near Bonn did not decide on whether the juridical system will be based on secular law or the sharia.


In the first government in Afghanistan after women were given parity of rights in 1964 women were represented in high positions . 20 years of war have obliberated the memory of those times. But why do the western governments still hang on to the misogyn and fundamentalist Northern Alliance as representatives in a new government even today? With the Northern Alliance come all the Taliban fighters who deserted to the Northern Alliance, too. Must we assume, that these groups do guarantee more reliably that the interests of the Western countries and Pakistan are met. Why? “To make sure that the international corporations and global players do have access to the not yet exploited oil and gasfields on Afghan terretory” says Mariam Notten, a sociologist of Afghan origin who lives in Berlin.

Oil may not be the only reason for the war, that would ignore the terrorist attacks. At the same time anti-terror-action cannot be the only reason for the military intervention either. For that other measures would be more effective.
In order to understand terror and war it seems necessary to focus on the global world-order and its inherent injustice when it comes to access to ressources and standards of living. This fuels hate, says Fatima Mernissi, feminist, sociologist and writer from Morocco. In an interview shown on German television on the 4th of November she talks about a Mr Keller, representative of the transnational oil-company Unocal, which built pipelines in Afghanistan. Mr. Keller was happy, when the Taliban took over power in 1996, she says. Refering to the present situation she explains: “The attack, the violence against New York can be understood as follows: Mr Keller divided the planet in two parts. In one part of the planet women - such as his wife and his daughter - are protected through laws. In the other part of the planet Mr Keller supported criminals who attacked women and destroyed their laws. To him this boundary was something natural. In a bloodbath the terrorists showed, that this barrier which divides the world in two zones, one in which violence is legitimate and one in which it is forbidden, is no longer valid. This I think is the major lesson learnt”, she says.
In the German parliament Joschka Fischer the exterior minister polemically asked how terrorism and the Taliban could be stopped other than with war. With that question he suggested, that there is no alternative to war and therefore no other answer than war is possible. Yet there is an answer to this question. Dialogue is an alternative, openly revealing the geopolitcal, strategic and economic interests is an other alternative, a radical change of perspective which takes into consideration the points of view of those who care of survival even under the severest conditions and politics that do not ignore all this are alternatives. In this context points of view of women do matter, because for gender-specific reasons women do until today hold all those positions in life that are most strongly affected by the negative consequences of the economic politics and the politics of war.
In order to have war seem a plausible solution, the above mentioned alternatives need to be ignored. Only then in a state of self-afflicted ignorance does the conviction that the status quo of the countries of the west must be continued make sense. Feminist economists therefore call this attitude a “strategic silence”. This silence needs to be broken.


According to the German newspaper the “Tagesspiegel” of the 4th of November the former president of Italy Cossiga, not a spotless figure by the way, said, that polygamy could be helpful in the fight against terrrorism. He suggested that as a “necessary concessions” to the muslims they should be allowed to gain “legal authority” over more than one wife if this helped to shape compromises in negotiations. It can hardly be expressed more explicitly, that women are the assets that are being thrown into the arena without great regret and that women should tolerate this silently, not only in islamic countries but on the homefront, too. Once revealed however, it should become more difficult, to turn women into accomplices of the politics of war.

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