in vain

I finished reading Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream today. It was an amazing book that detailed our response to 9-11 and compared it to how we responded to another national crisis: the conflicts with Native Americans when the nation was forming. Basically, we create a myth of weak women as a way to make the men look good and give us a good excuse to commit atrocities. We should stop lying to ourselves and ask (and answer) some hard questions. She also included a summary of what’s happened to the women we said we were invading Iraq and Afghanistan to save.

Not only did White House vows to safeguard the rights of Afghan women prove hollow, our woefully inadequate attempts at “reconstruction” only served to make their conditions worse. By 2006, the news was bleak: honor killings were dramatically on the rise (with 185 women and girls killed in the first nine months of the year), about 40 percent of women reported that they had been forced into marriage, about 50 percent had been beaten by their husbands, three hundred girls’ schools had been set on fire in the last year and several teachers killed, as little as 3 percent of girls were enrolled in schools in some regions and many had retreated to secret home classes, no women were appointed to the new Afghan cabinet, and the director of the women’s affairs ministry in Kandahar had been gunned down in her own front yard.

The pattern would repeat in Iraq, a nation that had made significant progress in advancing women’s rights from the sixties to the eighties. Once more, the United States promised heightened security and freedom for Iraqi women, and once more our policies helped accomplish the opposite. By 2005, human rights organizations were reporting a sharp rise in rapes, abductions, and sexual slavery; severe restrictions on women’s ability to travel, go to school, and work; and the return of Sharia law in a U.S.-brokered constitution that also restricted women’s reproductive, employment, marital, and inheritance rights. “Misery gangs” roamed the streets, tormenting and beating women who did not dress or behave “properly.” In Basra, it became a capital crime for a woman to wear pants or appear in public. By 2005, several women’s rights activists and female political leaders, along with one of the three female members of the Iraqi Governing Council, had been murdered, and even Bush’s former female supporters in Iraq were in despair. “I want the American people to know that our dreams are gone, our work was in vain,” wrote Raja Kuzai, an obstetrician and former member of the Iraqi assembly’s constitution-drafting committee, who once hailed Bush as “My Liberator.” “There will be no future for our children and our grandchildren in the new Iraq,” she said. “The future is for the clerics.”