Sometimes, when one belongs to the richest and most militarily over-equipped country in the world, there’s a bit of a temptation to overthink things. I was reminded of this at the end of my interview—just published at The Immanent Frame—with the great Pakistani anthropologist Saba Mahmood. I asked the tangled question of what American women can do to help their Afghan counterparts. Some American feminist groups, you might recall, were among those who mobilized to support the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Her reply was thorough, though the gist of it was plain: “Stop bombing them.”
The entire social fabric of Afghani society has been torn apart as a result of, first the war between the United States and the Soviet Union, between 1979 and 1989, and then the U.S. war against the Taliban and now al-Qaeda. There are civilian casualties reported almost every day—the vast majority of whom are women, children, and the elderly—as a result of U.S. bombs and drones. This violence exceeds and parallels the violence unleashed by the Taliban on the Afghanis. We read about these casualties in the media, but I do not see any mobilization by major U.S. feminist organizations to demand an end to this calamity. This silence stands in sharp contrast to the vast public campaign organized by the Feminist Majority in the late 1990s to oust the Taliban. I am often asked by American feminists what they can do to help Afghan women. My simple and short answer is: first, convince your government to stop bombing them, and second urge the US government to help create the conditions for a political—and not a military—solution to the impasse in Afghanistan. It is the condition of destitution and constant war that has driven Pakistanis and Afghans to join the Taliban (coupled with the opportunistic machinations of their own governments). Perhaps it is time to asses whether diverting the U.S. military aid toward more constructive and systemic projects of economic and political reform might yield different results.
Mahmood also discusses her debt to Talal Asad, whom I interviewed, also for The Immanent Frame, earlier this month.