On Women: Known and Anonymous (Part One)


October 01, 2010 at 12:31 pm

American society has had a strange relationship with women. We pontificate about the importance of women’s rights and gender equality. Yet, to this day women still earn less than men doing comparable jobs. Nowhere is this glaring disparity more telling than in the financial managerial sector where women earn less than 2/3 of what men earn. Similarly, as a society, we debase women in the most brutal and dehumanizing ways. The clearest example of this is in the burgeoning pornography industry where women are systematically abused and degraded to satisfy the perverse fantasies of morally depraved men. Chris Hedges has written powerfully on this issue in the second chapter of his book, Empire of Illusion.

The hypocrisy implied by situations such as those alluded to above is also displayed by the elites whose interests are served by the existence of a militarized society in America, and the rapacious war machine such militarization facilitates. Hence, there are women from obscure redoubts scattered around the globe whose names become well-known here in America, while others suffer and die in chilling anonymity. Examples of women in the former category are Nada Soltani and Bibi Aisha.

Nada Soltani became a martyr in 2009 when her killing, allegedly by Iranian security forces, was broadcast all over the world. She became the symbol of the effort to protest the brutality of the Iranian regime, and its suppression of unrest in the aftermath of controversial election results. In America, her story was used by opponents of the regime, and many advocates of an attack against Iran, to direct hatred and revulsion against that country, thereby aiding a political climate conducive to an attack.

My purpose is not to question what actually happened to Nada, or to defend the Iranian regime, but to ask why do we know Nada’s name, and why have images of her killing been made so readily available? There are women dying every day at the hands of repressive security apparatuses. Why don’t we know any of their names?

Similarly, tens if not hundreds of thousands of women have been killed in the most brutal fashion by the American war machine during the course of the past decade. Why aren’t their deaths or injuries publicized? Why aren’t we treated to pictures of the charred body of Abeer Qasim Janabi, the 14 year old Iraqi girl who was raped by a gang of American soldiers and then burned along with the rest of her murdered family? Why doesn’t CNN, Fox News or any other American news outlet show the images of the Afghan wedding parties and the mutilated brides blown to bits by Hellfire rockets? The answer is obvious. It doesn’t serve the national “interest.”

The way Nada Soltani was “pimped” by the militarist establishment is surpassed by the shamelessness displayed in the treatment of Bibi Aisha. The picture of her mutilated face on the cover of Time Magazine was made readily available on newsstands and in mailboxes all over the country. The purpose of that image was not left up to the imagination of the viewer. Her picture was accompanied by the comment, “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.”

The associated story blamed the atrocity of what happened to Bibi Aisha on the Taliban. The implication being that if America leaves Afghanistan the Taliban will take over and women will be left defenseless to deal with the militia’s brutal barbarity –as if the US military is in the business of women’s liberation. This base propaganda is flawed on two accounts.

First of all, Bibi Aisha’s mutilation has occurred while US forces are in Afghanistan. The comment accompanying her picture could well have read, “What Happens with Us in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, for every Bibi Aisha who has been brutalized in this fashion hundreds of innocent Afghani women have been ripped apart by American bombs, rockets and high caliber bullets. Again, why don’t we know their names?

Secondly, Bibi Aisha’s face was not mutilated by the Taliban. Ann Jones, writing in the August 30/September 6, 2010 edition of The Nation, gives the following account of what happened to Bibi:

I heard Aisha’s story from her a few weeks before the image of her face was displayed all over the world. She told me that her father-in-law caught up with her after she ran away, and took a knife to her on his own; village elders later approved, but the Taliban didn’t figure at all in this account. The Time story, however, attributes Aisha’s mutilation to a husband under orders from a Talib commander, thereby transforming a personal story, similar to countless women in Afghanistan today, into a portent of things to come for all women if the Taliban return to power.

What are we becoming as a people? Are we so wedded to dominance, hegemony and defending a crumbling empire that we will exploit the most tragic situations and circumstances to advance our so-called national interest? When we shamelessly exploit the tragedy of women who have suffered grave abuses for base political advantage we only further abuse them. When we ignore the suffering of other nameless women, even when we have contributed directly to that suffering, we are only highlighting our hypocrisy.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would frequently paraphrase the words of Theodore Parker, a 19th Century abolitionist, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Sooner or later America will come to know the irrepressible truth of this phrase.

(end of Part One)