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    An Agenda of Disdain: Cultural Imperialism and the Western Media View of Afghanistan “I said it last year, and I say it again. Make no mistake about the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 24, 2001
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      An Agenda of Disdain:
      Cultural Imperialism and the Western Media View of
      Afghanistan

      �I said it last year, and I say it again. Make no
      mistake about the objectives of such publications and
      organizations. Their goal is not to see you, the
      Muslim woman, liberated within the boundaries of your
      religious beliefs. Their cries for "life choices" are
      not meant for you to choose the hijab, to choose
      purdah, to choose Islam. The goal of such people is to
      see you "liberated" from your hijab in the same way
      their models have been liberated of their human
      dignity.�




      Cultural Imperialism and Values
      -------------------------------
      Part of the disdain that Western organizations and
      groups such as the Feminist Majority Fund (FMF) have
      for the culture and society of Afghanistan and the
      Taliban (and by extension, Islam) stems from the fact
      that Western society tends to place a great deal of
      emphasis on "individual freedom," with the individual
      making the life choices that will please him the most,
      giving little or no consideration as to how this
      choice will effect the family or the larger society.
      On the contrary, the Islamic value system places more
      value on the good of the society as a whole, and on
      the need for the individual to have the utmost
      consciousness of how his or her behavior affects not
      only the family, but the society as a whole. Thus,
      what Westerners view as a restriction on personal
      freedom, Muslims view as the assurance that the
      society as a whole, as well as the individuals
      themselves, are benefiting from restrictions on
      behavior and dress. The view of the cultural
      imperialist is that her way, her views, and her values
      are somehow superior and "more right" than those
      belonging to the people whom she wishes to convert to
      her way of thinking.

      In the last century, the outright colonization of
      Eastern countries by Western powers has fallen out of
      vogue. Protests erupt on the streets of the U.S. and
      Europe when soldiers from Western megapowers march
      into a tiny South American or Eastern country with the
      aim of fixing that country's political situation to be
      more in line with the "New World Order." Since
      military colonization is no longer an option, the West
      has discovered the much more effective colonization of
      cultural imperialism. No need to put the lives of
      soldiers at risk, just send over some satellite
      dishes, and we've got them. Instead of transmitting
      Western values through the bureaucratic institutions
      that were de rigeur in the colonial period, we can now
      transmit them through television, radio, movies, and
      music, and turn a profit at the same time. Whenever
      one culture or group resists even these addictive
      means of cultural imperialism, then are then labeled
      as "backwards" and "uncivilized." Such is the case
      with Afghanistan, a country which time may have
      forgotten, but in which civility is known and
      practiced.

      Protesting Value Imperialism
      ----------------------------
      Many Afghanis hold the view that the Feminist Majority
      Fund (FMF) and similar groups are attempting to impose
      the same sorts of Western secular values that they
      spent a ten year war fighting to rid their country of.
      After all, the Soviets and their Afghani lackeys
      didn't so much propose outright rejection of Islam
      (though to be sure, they persecuted religious leaders
      and shut down many mosques) as they did attempt to do
      away with traditional values and religion through a
      series of programs designed to "re-educate" the
      Afghani people. Afghanis, from childhood to old age,
      were forced to attend gender integrated schools. For
      adults, especially women, this experience was twice
      humiliating. First, it highlighted their illiteracy
      and implied that they were "inferior" to the well
      educated Afghani communists who ran the schools.
      Second, it was the first time that many of them had
      been in a gender integrated setting. On a religious
      level, men were forced to shave their beards, and the
      burq'a was forcibly removed from women. When the
      Soviets came to town, they brought with them an
      alcohol distillery and drunk driving. Drunkeness soon
      became common not only among Soviet soldiers, but
      among Kabuli citizens as well. It got so bad that
      there were billboards in the capital of this Muslim
      country warning people of the hazards of drunk
      driving.

      Although it might not occur to them (and they would
      probably vehemently deny the charge if it did), the
      FMF et al hold some of the same views that the Soviets
      and their Afghani counterparts held. Both view the
      Afghani people as backward and uncivilized, as a
      culture mired in the "Dark Ages," mainly due to the
      people's adherence to traditional Islamic values.
      (Unlike the FMF, however, the Soviets / Afghani
      Communists unleashed a campaign of brutal oppression
      upon these "backwards" people.) The Afghani people
      fought a ten year war to keep secular values from
      their land when the Soviets invaded, so it should come
      as no surprise that they reject them in other forms
      more than a decade later.

      Last year, at a Hollywood event held by the FMF to
      "shine a light" on Afghani women, Afghanis from all
      over the United States, some of them Taliban
      supporters, and many of them not, stood outside the
      facility and protested what they viewed as another
      attempt to impose on the Afghani people the same
      values that they had already rejected. The FMF and
      their supporters, convinced of the truth and outright
      superiority of their values, react with confusion and
      incredulity when the Afghani people protest and reject
      their attempts to tell them how to run their country
      and society. Sarai, an Afghani refugee in Pakistan who
      lives in complete purdah, told journalist Jan Goodwin,
      "No, I don't want what you foreign women call
      'freedom.' Our way is better, kinder, I think."
      (Goodwin, 91) In a "culture of disbelief," (as Stephen
      Carter termed our modern society) there is disbelief
      that not everyone thinks the Western secular way is
      the best way. Those who disagree have then become the
      barbaric and uncivilised enemy.

      To be sure, the FMF et al have used every Afghani or
      Muslim voice that nominally (or wholeheartedly)
      supports their views as though they represent the vast
      majority of (apparently voiceless) Afghani and Muslim
      people. This has led to groups like the Revolutionary
      Women's Association of Afghanistan (RAWA) being given
      the same sort of credibility as a more established
      group like Amnesty International, despite the fact
      that a brief glimpse at RAWA materials shows that they
      have their roots in Maoist Communism, and that many of
      their claims about the Taliban actually have nothing
      to do with the Taliban themselves, just the horridness
      of all Afghani men and Muslims in general. RAWA goes
      so far to make fun of a Muslima convert wearing hijab
      (RAWA has declared that there is no Islamic
      justification for hijab, and claim that the RAWA
      members who wear do it as a badge of Afghani
      nationalism), who publicly bemoaned the fact that
      young teenage Muslims would rather play video games
      instead of pray when the adhan is called (RAWA thought
      her statement was hysterically funny). So who does
      RAWA represent but the remnants of the Afghani
      Communists and secularists?

      Citing Kabul
      ------------
      A Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
      article issued in August 1998 (JAMA 280) was widely
      circulated and quoted in the media as evidence of the
      brutality of the Taliban. The article reports on the
      status of women's mental health in Afghanistan, and in
      the refugee camps. The dire statistics of depression
      and suicide attempts were held up as validation that
      the average Afghani woman would rather kill herself
      than continue to live in an Afghanistan where the
      Taliban, with their traditional Islamic values and
      code of Pushtunwali (Pushtun honor), were dominant.
      The authors of the report themselves touted it as the
      "experiences and concerns" of Afghani women. However,
      a more careful reading of the report beyond the
      sensationalistic introduction and media reports shows
      that there is more than meets the eye.

      What was not mentioned in the media and by
      anti-Taliban grooups was the fact that 82% of the
      women had lived in Kabul for at least 18 years and
      that 62% worked in Kabul before the Taliban takeover.
      What this means is that it is highly possible that
      they came from families who supported the Communist
      regime (directly or indirectly), and that they may
      have worked for the Communist regime (directly or
      indirectly). (There is no mention in the study of the
      political affiliations or views of the women or their
      families, although there is specific mention that
      women who supported the Taliban were excluded). Of
      course, those who benefited the most from the old
      regime were the most likely to resent the new one.

      Among the respondants, the median amount of education
      was 12 years, far more than the average Afghani woman
      in a country with a female literacy rate of 4%. Only
      14% of the respondants were of the dominant Pashtun
      ethnic group, a fact worth noting because of the
      resentment that many non-Pashtuns feel towards the
      Taliban for no other reason than that they are
      predominantly a Pashtun group.

      What this means is that although these women can speak
      for the experiences of non Pashtun Kabuli women during
      this time, they would have no connection to the
      experiences of either rural women or women in cities
      like Kandahar, which is a Taliban stronghold. The
      survey can hardly claim to speak authoritatively for
      all Afghani women. Although Kabul is a relatively
      conservative city compared to places like New York or
      Tokyo, the fact is that the majority of Afghani
      people, men and women alike, viewed Kabulis as having
      little or no concern for their traditional religious
      and cultural values. Kabul is the city from which the
      Communism that plunged them into a ten year war
      emerged, and that the majority of these people
      resented the policies which were imposed on them by
      Kabul during the period in in which the respondants
      lived and worked in Kabul.

      Completely excluded from the project were women who
      voiced support for the Taliban, or who had family
      members working for the Taliban. I suppose their
      experiences, and their mental health after 20 years of
      war didn't count. It is also worth noting that Taliban
      morality decrees have been enforced in Kabul with much
      more rigor than they have in the rural areas, where
      people are generally left to live and dress as they
      always have. (For his part, Mullah Omar, the leader of
      the Taliban, has repeatedly issued decrees and pleas
      for the Taliban enforcers to treat the people of Kabul
      with kindness).

      If It Ain't Broke... Make It Up!
      --------------------------------
      In their desperate campaign to discredit the entire
      Taliban government (and to a lesser extent, Islam as a
      whole), feminist organizations and the media have gone
      so far to make up the most bizarre claims, none of
      which I personally could substantiate in my research.
      For example, in the March issue of 'Glamour' magazine,
      there appears an article on the Taliban by one Ms. Jan
      Goodwin. Anyone familiar with Ms. Goodwin's 1994 book,
      Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence
      on the Islamic World, is well aware of the
      condescending attitude she apparently holds for
      religious Muslims (especially Muslim men), and her
      disdain for Islam (and religion) in general. Hardly an
      "objective jouranlistic voice." (Reading her section
      on Afghanistan in this book is particularly
      illuminating, given the claims she now makes about the
      Taliban.)

      In her article, she claims unequivocably that the
      Taliban castrated Communist ex-President Najibullah
      and his brother, a claim I could not find seconded
      anywhere else in the media or in human rights reports.
      (Apparently, the only thing everyone agrees on is that
      the man is dead. This was the first time I have ever
      read anything claiming that he had been castrated.)
      Instead, what I found from Peter Marsden, a veteran
      observer of Middle Eastern affairs, was that not only
      could it not be confirmed that the Taliban were
      responsible for Najibullah's death, but that there
      were numerous groups that had a far larger interest in
      seeing the longtime head of the secret police dead.
      The Taliban, who would gain enormous support among the
      people for claiming this death, have never taken
      credit for the two assassinations.

      'Glamour' et al also claim that children's toys are
      banned, that picnics and wedding parties are banned,
      and that magazines, newspapers, and books are all
      banned. In press reports, the Taliban have refuted
      these claims as "completely ridiculous," and one
      Taliban supporter pointed out to me that cassettes of
      Iranian and Indian love music are very popular and
      widely available in Afghani markets. The difference
      between then and now is that the music is not
      permitted to be played in public.

      When it comes to women, the claims become every more
      exotic and bizarre, and again, can not be confirmed
      through any other media source or human rights
      reports. Other claims of brutality and atrocity
      against women are attributed to the Taliban when I
      found that these incidents were actually carried out
      by pre-Taliban mujahideen forces (the ones that fight
      against the Taliban) or by the pro-Soviet puppet
      regime of the '80's. They claim that white socks and
      shoes are banned (the reasons why vary from feminist
      to feminist. Some say they are banned because that is
      the color of the Taliban flag, others say they are
      banned because the Taliban say that they are sexually
      alluring), that eyebrow plucking is illegal (though
      they don't say how the Taliban enforcers will know if
      a woman's eyebrows are plucked, since she allegedly
      has to wear an all-covering burq'a in public), that
      jewelry is forbidden and so on.

      One of the more ridiculous claims is that in the
      "Taliban's Afghanistan," a woman can not breastfeed in
      public. I find this amusing for several reasons. One
      is that the Afghani people, and indeed, the Muslims as
      a whole, have not attached a sexual stigma to nursing
      as Westerners have, and so, it has never fallen out of
      practice among Muslims as in the West (where it is
      expeirencing a sort of radical "earth mother"
      revival). Because of this lack of a sexual stigma on
      nursing, Muslims often do not give nursing a second
      thought, and unlike many Westerners, they do not view
      it as a shocking and backwards practice. The second
      reason this claim is so amusing is that if any group
      of people have perfected the art of discreet nursing,
      it is the Muslimas, with our codes of modesty and our
      long khimars. The final reason I find this claim so
      amusing is that in the United States women can be and
      are arrested for breastfeeding in public ("indecent
      exposure"), or kicked out of shopping malls and other
      public facilities. The claim is hypocritical, to say
      the least.

      Whose Values Are These Anyway?
      ------------------------------
      For those unfamiliar with American magazines,
      'Glamour' is a women's fashion magazine which claims a
      "feminist stance" on women's issues. The cover stories
      of the same issue that had the story on Afghanistan
      included tips on how to have "outstanding orgasms,"
      tips on "NC-17 (x-rated) seduction moves," "applause
      worthy foreplay," masturbation, how to tell if your
      man really loves you, and how to have the "prettiest"
      face this spring. And that was just the cover.

      One fashion feature, "Be A Gem," includes pictures of
      emaciated women in shirts with V-necks that plunge to
      waist level, and backless dresses that plunge to the
      small of the back. The models are posed in what is
      obviously meant to be a sexually alluring position.
      (Alluring to who? It is, after all, a "women's
      magazine.") Another fashion feature, entitled "Foxy"
      featured a very thin young woman dressed in the same
      skimpy clothes we would have seen on a hooker in the
      late 1970's. In the feature on Afghanistan,
      photographs of women in hijab (with no face covering,
      the way the majority of hijab observing Muslimas
      dress, even in Afghanistan) and burq'a are captioned
      with statements of oppression and misery, while color
      photographs of Afghani women without hijab (and quite
      a lot of makeup) are captioned with statements about
      freedom.

      So who exactly is it that objectifies women? Who
      places a value on them comparable to an inanimate
      object or worse, a mere sex toy? What kind of a "gem"
      is a woman who wears a shirt that is open to the
      waist? How foxy is an anorexic-looking young girl in a
      skimpy bikini top? (And what sort of sick fetish does
      that image play into?) Why does 'Glamour' (as well as
      other groups and publications) extoll and celebrate
      this woman, while demeaning and pitying the woman who
      has covered herself out of modesty? Where does
      'Glamour' get off harping about the women of
      Afghanistan while they pimp their own sisters (in
      gender)? Who is 'Glamour' to complain about hijab and
      burq'a when they themselves are sending very
      oppressive messages about body image and sexuality to
      the insecure and impressionable young women who read
      their publication?

      If these are the values of 'Glamour,' are they really
      values that we would want to be practiced in our own
      homes, by our daughters or wives? If these are the
      values of the editorial staff at 'Glamour,' then why
      would any Muslim accept them as a credible voice for
      Afghani women? After all, the majority of non Muslim
      Americans do not dress like this, or permit their
      daughters to dress like this, nor do they discuss the
      topics listed on the cover of the magazine at the
      dinner table. If part of the values of the editorial
      staff at 'Glamour' say that it is okay to put
      emaciated young girls in extremely revealing clothing,
      and then have them pose in sexually suggestive
      positions, a "value" which most Americans would
      disagree with, then why should their value judgments
      on Afghanistan (and Islam... or anything else for that
      matter) be taken as serious and authoritative?

      I said it last year, and I say it again. Make no
      mistake about the objectives of such publications and
      organizations. Their goal is not to see you, the
      Muslim woman, liberated within the boundaries of your
      religious beliefs. Their cries for "life choices" are
      not meant for you to choose the hijab, to choose
      purdah, to choose Islam. The goal of such people is to
      see you "liberated" from your hijab in the same way
      their models have been liberated of their human
      dignity. They want Muslim women, or more specifically
      in this case, Afghani women, to have choices, as long
      as Afghani women make the choices that they have
      deemed as appropriate, modern, and civilized. The
      worst part of this arrogant philosophy of cultural
      imperialism is the assumption that the Muslim /
      Afghani woman wants nothing else than what they have
      deemed as "civilized." In this way, they have
      oppressed her as surely as anyone else ever has, by
      removing from her the idea that she has intelligence,
      free will, and rational thought.

      Sources:
      Goodwin, Jan "Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the
      Veil of Silence on the Islamic World,' Little, Brown,
      and Company, New York, 1994.

      Rasekh, Zora, MPH, et al., "Women's Health and Human
      Rights in Afghanistan," Journal of the American
      Medical Association, Volume 280, August 1998, pp.
      449-455



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