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July 29, 2004
On the War Against Terrorism and the Struggle for Womens Rights
Barbara Ehrenreich makes several excellent points in her column in today's New York Times. (registration required.) She argues that the fight against "terror" can be understood in traditional Democratic Party terms as part of the struggle for feminism. "Or, if that's too incendiiary," she says, addressing the Kerry/Edwards ticket, "try the phrase, human rights for women.' " Good point. Too many people are willing to overlook the excesses of totalitarians around the globe, just because they happen to oppose the U.S.
First, though, she thinks we ought to drop a troubling euphemism. "Let's stop calling the enemy 'terrorism, which is like saying we're fighting 'bombings.' Terrorism is only a method; the enemy is an extremist Islamic insurgency whose appeal lies in its claim to represent the Muslim masses against a bullying superpower." The war on "terror" was coined, understandably, to avoid stirring animosity toward Muslims. But the average person can readily understand the difference between a war against Islam and a war against an "extremist Islamic insurgency." If people have a better understanding of what the war's about, it will help strengthen a crucial front, the battle of ideas.
This insurgency has "one glaring moral flaw ... quite apart from its methods." That flaw is its treatment of women. True as far as it goes, although many additional glaring moral flaws come to mind. I hear the treatment of men isn't so great, either.
The piece falters a bit at the end, though. She says the United States has no standing to speak out against the brutal mistreatment of women unless we first strive to improve the lot of women in places ranging from Afghanistan to Israel to right at home , where women hold only 14% of Senate and House seats. But if we wait to solve all our problems at once, nothing ever will be accomplished. And I don?think it necessarily follows that our own imperfection negates our right, or duty, to speak out against a grave injustice elsewhere.
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