'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, November 02, 2009

The White Woman's Burden 

It happened so quickly that few people caught it. There was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pakistan, exposing the hypocrisy of Eurocentric feminism when a group of Pakistani women tried to impose the same standards on the US that the US imposes upon others:

During an interview broadcast live in Pakistan with several prominent female TV anchors, before a predominantly female audience of several hundred, one member of the audience said the Predator attacks amount to “executions without trial” for those killed.

Another asked Clinton how she would define terrorism.

“Is it the killing of people in drone attacks?” she asked. That woman then asked if Clinton considers drone attacks and bombings like the one that killed more than 100 civilians in the city of Peshawar earlier this week to both be acts of terrorism.

“No, I do not,” Clinton replied.

Clinton no doubt scheduled this particular appearance in furtherance of her long standing efforts to elevate the concerns of women around the world, as she has done on many other occasions, but one wonders why she bothers at all.

After all, it is evident that Clinton has no interest in what they have to say if it deviates from her belief that the objectives of feminism and US imperialism harmoniously reinforce one another. I have to concede that she deserves praise for scheduling the event, because she has control over her schedule, and she was undoubtedly well aware of what the Pakistani women was likely to say. We were treated to a rare episode wherein a white woman in a position of political power in the US provided a forum for women of color in a country subject to US military violence. She eschewed the public relations of photo opportunity.

Even so, Clinton's unwillingness to engage the sincere, legitimate concerns of her female Pakistani audience demonstrated the farcical nature of the enterprise. She just could not acknowledge that the deaths of Pakaitanis inflicted by US military operations, many of them women and children, were the equal of those killed by al-Qaeda or the Taliban, without demonstrating the impossibility of integrating the universalist principles of feminism with the pragmatic, often militaristic requirements of empire. Indeed, she could not even acknowledge what everyone knows, that these attacks do, in fact, kill many Pakistani women and children in addition to the men, who are, it seems, considered probable militant Islamic fundamentalists, anway. Nor could she open a dialogue with her inquisitors about whether the US strategy in Pakistan is intensifying the violence, as many Pakistanis believe, instead of quelling it.

Of course, the New York Times attempted to come to Clinton's rescue, but only made things worse by suggesting that the women who participated in the interview had been induced to question Clinton in a harsh, inhospitable manner because they had first seen Pakistani journalists do it:

Mrs. Clinton sat down first with the TV journalists because they set the agenda. So great is their influence that the questions posed to Mrs. Clinton by young people the next day sounded like those the broadcasters had asked — blunt and combative, though just short of rude.

An example came Friday at an interview for the program “Our Voice” when a young woman asked Mrs. Clinton whether she viewed the Predator drone attacks used by the United States in Pakistan’s frontier areas as terrorism.

Oh, that silly woman! We all know how inadequate the Pakistani educational system is. If she hadn't seen Hillary questioned in such a blunt, straight forward manner (undoubtedly much more directly than anyone in the US ever does), she would have continued to wonder about whether she should purchase a new kind of eyeliner. Again, the notion that Pakistani women have the own independent agency, an ability to relate to the world around them, separate from what they are told, either by Hillary or the Pakistani media, apparently never occurred to Marc Landler, the reporter who wrote the story. In fact, it goes beyond feminism into the realm of racism, as Landler suggests that the young people of Pakistan are so stupified that they cannot relate to anything other than what is fed to them by the media.

So, Hillary was left to lecturing the people of Pakistan about their inadequacies, which, at the end of the day, boiled down to a refusal to uncritically celebrate that Pakistan is a vassal of the US. We are therefore induced to conclude that her willingness to be critically questioned by Pakistani women served as a fig leaf, however inadequate, to distract attention from what were just more directives from the Raj. A larger question remains, though. Does the 21st Century Raj, the US, tired of Pakistan, intend to shatter it so that it can reconstructed in a more agreeable form? And, is the US attempting to facilitate such an outcome by intensifying the violence that makes the country even less and less governable? It is impossible to ignore these questions, because, if Hillary travelled to Pakistan to push the country towards fragmentation, she would have conducted herself precisely as she did.

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