Absurd Discourse

The bloggers at Iraq the Model recently posted on a demonstration by women in Baghdad urging that their rights be enshrined in the new constitution. They faced a counter-demonstration by black-clad women supporters of Sharia law.

Meanwhile the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions made their views on womens’ rights known during their meetings with United Nations Support Team to the Drafting Committee and the committee itself:

3. Rights of Women: IFTU made clear the complete opposition of the trade union to any attempt to revive the notorious Decree 137, which sought to remove the fundamental human rights of women in the name of imposing sharia law. Womens’ rights to marriage, divorce, to own property, inherit and pass on property to their children and others, to access education at all levels, to work and to play a full part in all aspects of civil society and political life must be guaranteed in the Constitution of a modern democratic, federal Iraq.

Womens rights is at the centre of the struggle secularists and progressives have been waging over the constitution as this page of information from the Iraqi Communist Party shows.

The fear of Iraqi women is that the Islamic parties in the Iraqi parliament will ensure that aspects of Sharia law will be included in the constitution – in other words that discrimination against women will be enshrined in law and their oppression given the seal of approval at the highest level. It is not by accident that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan chose to put this informative article from The Times on their homepage.

So it was somewhat surprising to read this in the Guardian this morning.

The author of this piece Haifa Zangana does make one valid point – Iraqi women face many day-to-day problems as a result of living in the chaos that has followed the invasion. But it is remarkable that in the entire column there is not one single mention of the source of the violence and chaos that currently plague Iraq – the so-called ‘resistance’.

This is a common practice of a very large part of the anti-war position – they portray the horrors in Iraq as simply a product of the invasion without at any time stopping to consider what the situation might be like in the country if there weren’t AQ and Ba’athist killers sabotaging the transition to democracy and prosperity. In this case it is particularly idiotic as there are no reports of US and British soilders forcing women to cover themselves – no threats of retribution from Marines if women go to work.

The result of this blind spot is that we end up reading a column in the Guardian which actually dismisses the entire struggle for womens rights in Iraq, even claiming that womens’ rights are a western idea rejected by Iraqi women who prefer the protection offered to them by ‘traditional society’:

A prominent group of Iraqi women who backed the US-British invasion recently met the American ambassador in an effort to pressure the politicians drawing up Iraq’s constitution not to limit women’s rights. Western feminist groups and some Iraqi women activists fear that Islamic law, if enshrined as a main source of legislation, will be used to restrict their rights, particularly in relation to marriage, divorce and inheritance. The US claims to share this concern. Iraqi women generally do not.

….In Iraq, “women’s rights” is an absurd discourse chewing on meaningless words. No wonder that the US-funded NGOs, which preach western-style women’s rights and democracy, are regarded as vehicles for foreign manipulation and are despised and boycotted, even when they recruit liberal or left personalities.

Iraqi women know that the enemy is not Islam. There is a strong antipathy to anyone trying to conscript women’s issues to the racist “war on terror” targeted against the Muslim world. Most Iraqi women do not regard traditional society, exemplified by the neighbourhood and extended family, however restrictive at times, as the enemy. In fact, it has in practice been the protector of women and children, of their physical safety and welfare, despite lowest-common-denominator demands on dress and personal conduct. The enemy is the collapse of the state and civil society. And the culprit is the foreign military invasion and occupation.

There is no doubt that the absence of a strong state and civil society has harmed all Iraqis and women in particular. No doubt that the appalling incompetence and mistakes of the occupying powers has been a major contributor to this situation.

But recognising that is no reason at all to abstain from supporting the fight of Iraqi womens’ organisations to ensure their rights are secured both in the consitution and in practice. In that struggle the enemy of Iraqi women is most certainly not the United States and Britain but political Islam, ‘traditional society’ and the conservative political forces in Iraq and elsewhere that represent those views.

As with many aspects of this struggle in Iraq – the outcome will have an impact far beyond the borders of the country and it is a classic example of an issue where international pressure and solidarity could have made a big impact.

Instead we have yet another reminder of the depressing results of the spread of cultural relativism as Britain’s most pro-feminist newspaper carries a column telling us that in Iraq “women’s rights” is an absurd discourse chewing on meaningless words.

Gene adds: Before some people get carrried away with the idea of Baathist Iraq as a golden era of women’s freedom and dignity, they should read the Iraqi blogger Alaa’s account of events in 1999.