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                             BOMBS AND IDEALS                                                                                                   By Cathrine Holst


IN 2002 THE SPRING issue of the magazine Ms came an article with title “Coalition of Hope written by journalist Janelle Brown. This article celebrated the fall of the Taliban-regime in Afghanistan as a victory for feminism. Brown described the regime’s brutal oppression of women in heart-breaking details. 

AND THEN, THE HORROR was over. The future seemed bright, in the eyes of the Ms’ reporter. The transition government, led by the Northern Alliance, was “the coalition of hope” to Afghan women. Finally they could take of their burkas, finally saved by the USA and their allies.

THE INVASION of Afghanistan was humanitarian, a victory to the global solidarity among women. On this they agreed, the feminist Brown and the US President wife Laura Bush. The first lady received the news about Taliban’s fall with strong emotions in front of the TV cameras broadcasted all over the world. Something glittered on her jacket, a burka pin. Later she spoke emotionally on the 8th of March, the women’s day. Now they were free, our Afghan sisters. 

THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED that does not happen often. The native struck back. This time it was not a book salesman from Kabul that took the initiative, but the Afghan feminist organisation RAWA. On the 20th of April 2002 RAWA’s spokeswomen answered to Brown’s hit reportage in Ms and of course they did not defend the Taliban.

RAWA ACTIVISTS fought against women’s oppression and violations of human rights for 25 years. They bitterly fought the Taliban – risking their lives and health. “But also against those who ruled Afghanistan before the Taliban”, the RAWA-women point out to the Ms. They fought against “assaults” from Soviet invasion forces and their local supporters. But also against the “jehadine”, later called the Northern Alliance, and their “criminal” Islamist regime. Because this regime also violated “women’s rights”, and “destroyed their lives” – “armed and supported by USA”. At that time we did not hear a single voice from the feminist majority in the West, reports RAWA spokeswomen. Now the same majority speaks a lot and very loudly about these “violators” as “rescuers”. 

THE AFGHAN FEMINISTS are obviously disturbed with Western feminists’ unreasonableness and hypocrisy; with how easily Western feminists adopt their struggles to “big powers’ national security strategies”, with their light-heartedness in relation to war horrors. Nobody knows how many died during the USA-led war in Afghanistan. 

PEOPLE SEE the airplanes in the sky and they do not know if they will receive help-packages or if they will be bombed. With which right do we forget their anxiety? writes Drucilla Cornell, philosopher of law and literature in her book Defending Ideals, War, Democracy and Political Struggles. A lot can go wrong when we “defend ideals”, she concludes. The traps connected to idealism are many, but Cornell is idealist just like many of us others. “Despite all our mistakes we continue to defend ideals, freedom, equality and peace”, while “we contest their meaning”. What else should we do? 

THOUGHTS ABOUT A “complex and nuanced idealism” Cornell finds in the philosophy of Marx and Adorno, Kant and Rawls, the Indian Gayatri Spivak, and the Italian Giorgio Agamben. She finds inspiration in literature, in daily life. 

CORNELL DWELLS a lot on Ms. vs. RAWA. The controversy can teach us something about how difficult it is to be idealist without getting lost. A lot of Western feminists, possibly the “majority” went from one trap of idealism into another during the Afghanistan conflict. What happened? When did she go wrong, the feminist from the West? 

SHE MADE A MISTAKE when she believed that everyone who spoke her language shared her cause – when she believed that all those who spoke about women’s rights were feminists. She made a mistake when she assumed that freedom, peace and feminism were Western ideals, exclusively – that the civilisation had to be introduced from the outside while Afghan feminists for years have fought and sacrificed themselves for freedom and peace – amongst others even against a regime supported by the West. 

SHE MADE A MISTAKE when she idealised herself, rather than her ideals; the Western life form rather than the universal morality. And she failed when she said that the war promoted the highest of goals – human rights, women’s liberation, but did not care enough to check whether this was really the case. 

ANYWAY, we have to try again, the art of the impossible, to fight for ideals without stepping on them, for freedom that does not cost someone else their freedom, for a peace that does not cost someone else their peace. 

IF WE GIVE UP on idealism, we give in to the “right of the strongest” Cornell writes. We let might become right. Someone profits from that, and they are not the powerless ones.






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