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September 27, 2011

The Ignorance of Imperialism

When I was in junior high, I read the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. It laid out a vision of the rise and fall of empires that had a profound impact on my understanding of macro-history. Reading Andre Gunder-Frank’s ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age in college provided me factual underpinnings for my understanding of the hubris of military might and Eurocentrism.

You could say I implicitly understand the limits of imperialism. The unifying principle in any empire is the belief that your way of life is superior and must be spread. Empires are built many ways – by conquering people’s beliefs by imposing religious beliefs through superior weaponry; by conquering people’s lands by introducing diseases that kill the majority of the population; and by the economic tyranny of “free-trade” capitalism. The macro-historical view I began to see in college was crystallized by reading Chalmers Johnson and Naomi Klein.

I fundamentally believe in pluralism and self-determination. Simultaneously, I believe in universal human rights.

It is on this backdrop that I entered anti-war activism. My focus remained corporate personhood and the root causes of war long after the U.S. put boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. I reasoned that other people were in the streets fighting against these wars and it was important for me to take the long view of history. Eleven years into that strategy, I realized that unless you relate your fundamental beliefs to current events, you'll be hard-pressed for attention among progressives, let alone The Media. And that's about the point when I joined the CODEPINK national team.

The ignorance of imperialism is writ large in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Empire Project published Peter Van Buren’s book today, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He was interviewed today by Dave Davies of Fresh Air.

Over the weekend, I facilitated a teleconference with Dr. Rashad Zaydan, founder of the Knowledge for Iraqi Women Society. I was frankly surprised to hear how strongly she denounced the veracity of the article "Fight for Women's Rights Begins All Over Again," by Rebecca Murray on the Inter Press Service site. Dr. Zaydan challenged us to see Iraqi women's rights in the context of human rights. She reminded us of the many economic and social rights enjoyed by Iraqis prior to the U.S. invasion — the Iraqi government ensured all citizens had basic food stuffs, free education for both genders, free medical care, and housing. After the occupation, none of those things have been guaranteed, and the killing of many Iraqi men has created an expanding population of widows without means to provide for their families. Additionally, the war and occupation have destroyed Iraq's electrical grid, leaving most people without access to continuous electricity. She reminded us that there must be justice and peace. It is not acceptable that occupying soldiers rape and murder with seeming impunity, further exacerbating the failed state created by the initial invasion. Dr. Zaydan recommends completely withdrawing all troops and war-profiteering-contractors by the end of the year and allowing Iraqis time and space to re-develop their country.

You can listen to our complete conversation with Dr. Zaydan by calling (661) 673-8609, entering access code 780252# and then entering reference number 1 when prompted.

Unfortunately, the situation in Afghanistan is no better than in Iraq. International human rights lawyer Tzili Mor spoke with CODEPINK LA on International Peace Day. She served eight months as the Gender Justice Adviser based in Kabul for the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) primarily on the establishment of special violence against women prosecution units and related issues around access to justice for women. According to Ms. Mor, there are laws in Afghanistan that protect women's rights, but the process of implementation is slow and many layers of work must be done. While women have returned to the Afghan legal field as prosecutors and judges, people of all genders can allow their personal biases to affect their job performance. For example, a female prosecutor might suggest to a man that his wife be imprisoned for misbehaving when the wife reports that she was the victim of domestic violence. Additionally, cultural norms can have the force of law - on some roads, police pull women off buses, claiming they have broken a law by traveling without their husband or father. No such law currently exists in Afghanistan, but in some areas women serve 5 year prison sentences for this "offense," though sentences vary widely. Despite these disturbing anecdotes, there are many areas of Afghanistan where women are respected, equal members of society. It is vitally important to continue supporting women's participation in Afghan society, politically, legally, and culturally. As Laura King pointed out in the LA Times, Afghans know the presence of Westerners makes targets of everyone nearby.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to demand an immediate end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of Occupy Wall Street, the encampment at Freedom Plaza, and throughout the country. Additionally, on October 7, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan will be speaking at Pasadena Community College, and the event will be video streamed on the Afghan Women's Mission website. And if you're near San Diego, attend an in-person Conversation with Dr. Rashad Zaydan at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre on October 13.

I hope you will join us in challenging empire. Between the U.S. diplomats based in the Middle East who can’t speak Arabic and the soldiers tasked with killing people one hour and helping rebuild the schools destroyed by the U.S. military the next, it’s a wonder that the U.S. empire hasn’t already collapsed under the weight of its hubris. I remain hopeful because progressives are gathering in the streets to demand fundamental change, to demand Make Jobs, Not War.

cross-posted with the CODEPINK blog.

Posted by cj at September 27, 2011 2:45 PM


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