Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia 6: The Class Basis of the Taliban

Taliban reader

Nancy Lindisfarne

This is the first of two posts about the Taliban. In understanding the Taliban we need to face up honestly to two quite different things. First, the Taliban are on the side of the poor .

The Taliban are on the side of the poor in three different ways. Most of their supporters come from the poor. The leaders of the Taliban are themselves from among the poor. (In this they are unlike most other Islamist groups.) Thirdly, when they take power in an area the life circumstances of the poor improve significantly. These are the reasons why many ordinary people support the Taliban.

But there is another truth: the Taliban are also conservative in their sexual politics, and their policies oppress women. This is one of the things most ordinary Afghans and Pakistani Pashtuns don’t like about the Taliban.

Both these things are true. We need to face up to this contradictory reality. So we need to explain the situation in some detail. This post is an academic – but readable – paper explaining the class background of the Taliban. In another post, we shall turn to their right wing gender politics. Continue reading

Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia 5: Bombs and Drones

American bomber being prepared for flight

American bomber being prepared for flight

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Many people now argue that feminists should support the American and Iranian alliance against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Or they argue that we should support the American and Pakistani armed forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Many other feminists, and many on the left, are confused and unsure. But they also talk as if it was a straight choice between IS and the US, or between the Taliban and the US. ‘Both sides are morally repugnant,’ these people say, ‘but if I have to choose…’

This way of thinking ignores the fact that you are not just choosing between two sides, you are choosing between two ways of waging war. How you kill people is important, and has emotional and political consequences. It matters that American bombing from the air is more cruel, more unequal, kills more women, and kills more children than fighting that on the ground with guns. Continue reading

Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia (3) The new grand alliance in the Middle East

Women defendants at a mass trial of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria, Egypt, November 2013

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale explain the changing international alliances in Middle Eastern politics, and how this is connected to rising Islamophobia in Europe.

In most of Europe and North America now there is only one acceptable form of racism: prejudice against Muslims. This is recent. Until 1978 in most of Europe and North America Muslims were often discriminated against because they were Asian, or Arabs, or people of colour. But in the US, Britain and many other countries they were not singled out for their religion. Continue reading

Iranian Street Aesthetics

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Netanyahu speaking to the US Congress: ‘Do a deal with Iran and nuclear war is inevitable’

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: One of the reasons Middle East politics is so confusing is that the alliances between the major players keep shifting. Changes in the balance of power are often extremely complicated, and leave plenty of gaps in our understanding of what is going on. In these gaps Islamophobia thrives. This post is meant as an antidote to the Western racism that targets Iran.

The shenanigans we’ve been watching this past week in anticipation of the Israeli election on Tuesday, the 17th March are a measure of the scale of the changes that have been taking place over this past year. We shall write about the new political alignments at length in a later post. Here I want to mark what hasn’t changed nearly as much.

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New building, Isfahan

In 2005 I travelled in Iran for a month. I had recently left academic teaching to do art. Luckily, I had remnants of Persian left over from anthropological fieldwork in Iran in the 1960s, and fieldwork in Afghanistan in the 1970s. In 2005 Western propaganda against Iran was relentless and visually dominated by ugly images of dust, terrorists and women smothered in black veils. In Iran, however, people were kind, endlessly helpful, and above all, they lived their lives in colour! Continue reading

Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia (2): ‘Traditional’ and ‘Modern’ in Turkey

By Nancy Lindisfarne

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Kemal Atatűrk -Founding Father of the Turkish Republic

There is a lot to be learned when a society is changing rapidly and radically. This blog is an excerpt from Thank God, We’re Secular: Gender, Islam and Turkish Republicanism, published in Turkish in 2001.  This is a piece about Turkish Islamophobia, and about the class divide between Turkish elites and the working class. Continue reading

Gendering Abu Ghraib

abu-ghraibNancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale argue that to understand ISIS, you have to understand Abu Ghraib. And if you want to understand Abu Ghraib, you have to look through the lens of gender.

In the spring of 2004, a few dozen photos were leaked to the media showing American soldiers abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. One photo, of a hooded man, has become iconic. All the photos were shocking, and there was an outcry. Eight American prison guards were court martialled for mistreating prisoners. The highest ranking defendant was a corporal. Three of them were women. Seven of the eight were sentenced to prison. No officer, no sergeant, no interrogator, and no CIA agent was punished.

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The sociologist Ryan Ashley Caldwell worked as a research assistant to an expert witness for the defense at the court martial of Sabrina Harman. Caldwell’s Fallgirls: Gender and the Framing of Torture at Abu Ghraib is a harrowing and important book.[1] Caldwell takes much the same approach to gender that we have on this blog. She does not start by looking at women, or men, or LGBT people. Instead, Caldwell looks at gender as an aspect of all social relations. She asks question after question about knitting, makeup, tattoos, lovers, homosexuality, underwear, women prisoners, toilets, women officers, masturbation, skin, writing, phone calls, who holds the leash, who takes the pictures and who becomes the scapegoat.

The answers to her questions about gender tell us much we could find out in no other way. They shine light into hidden horror. They tell us something important about the US military, and something important about ISIS. Continue reading