The Uses Of Women
This week Nabeela Rehman walked into the hallowed corridors of the US Congress and gave her testimony about the death of her grand mother who was killed by an American drone attack in Northern Waziristan, Pakistan.
Nabeela is the grand-daughter of Mamana Bibi, a 68-year old woman, killed in a drone strike on October 24th, 2012. Nabeela, and six other children, were with Mamana Bibi that fateful afternoon playing and working in the fields when the drone missiles struck, instantly killing her grand mother. Her brother Zubair, and younger sister Asma, were also badly injured in the attack. Nabeela herself sustained serious shrapnel and burn wounds across her body. She had traveled, along with her school teacher father Rafiq and her brother Zubair, at great personal risk from North Waziristan to Washington D.C. to speak to the men and women who are responsible for the decisions that continue to maim and destroy so many lives across Pakistan’s North Western frontier with Afghanistan.
But the chamber was largely empty. Only 5 members of Congress bothered to attend an event that must have been one of the most important, most unusual, experiences of this little girl’s life. The Congress consists of 100 Senators, and 435 members of the House of Representatives. Only 5 could find the time to come to listen to her and her brother speak.
Many associate this with a planned callousness, which it may be. I however also suspect that it is a willed avoidance of embarrassment at their own impotence. There is an increasing concentration of powers into the office of the President – a trend that began under Bush but that has continued at an even faster pace under Obama. The Congress today is a rubber-stamp institution that merely ‘validates’ decisions that are made elsewhere. This has been a process that has gone on now for over 12 years. As Glenn Greenwald wrote some months ago:
In fact, the Congress has largely been absent from any debate or discussion that involves American war policies and practices not just internationally, but also domestically. They have obsequiously rubber-stamped torture, mass surveillance, indefinite detention, renditions, racial profiling of America’s Muslim communities, multiple wars, pre-emptive strikes across borders, and the murder of even US citizens within or outside of the USA. It was then not so surprising that they would ‘disappear’ at a moment when some children traveled thousands of miles from their homes to seek some redress, to find some empathy. It seems that they came to the wrong place.
The reception given to Nabeela was of course in sharp contrast to the attention, awards, and audiences lavished upon a more ‘acceptable’ victim of America’s wars – Malala Yousufzai. Even our commander-in-chief Barack Obama found time in his busy schedule to sit and be photographed with her. The war lobby of course chimed in with all sorts of celebratory commentary, and the European Union, always the obedient child of American imperial dictates, offered her a ‘human rights award’ named for a blatantly neo-conservative war monger. Malala spoke to Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. Pakistani lifestyle liberals were proud.
There were no such photo-opportunities for Nabeela however, nor any awards, dinner invitations, fashion magazine cover pages, Vanity Fair sponsored gala events, speaking engagements at Harvard or Yale, or even a chance at that most vaunted and esteemed of positions in the American public imagination: the morning talk show interview. In fact, as she sat in the empty Congressional chamber, President Barack Obama was busy attending a meeting with weapons manufacturers, security technology corporations and CEOs of banks that willfully indulged in fraud and theft.
Her’s will be a quieter sojourn of the American moral landscape, one that will pass with nary a whisper from our moral crusaders in the press, the think tanks, the academies and the chambers of power. I will write more about her, and her family in the coming weeks. But her experience in the USA is yet another reminder of the hypocrisy of the left, and the liberals in the country. The same people who just a few weeks ago gathered in their sequined finery to swill champagne and shed a few crocodile tears about the fate of Afghanistan’s women, and the need to continue the American ‘nation building’ (a lovely euphemism for our military occupation) project there seem nowhere to be found.
Exploiting the language of human rights, and in particular, exploiting women to serve the interests of imperialism, and America’s wars is the true war crime here. And yet, even in 2013, even as all the fact lie before us, even as we realize the venal, violent, brutal nature of not just the American military occupation, but the mass murderers, rapists, criminals, thugs and war criminals we foisted onto something called the ‘Afghan government’, many of whom have continued to carry out their brutal practices against any and all including the very women we seem to wish to shed tears over, there are people still pretending that this ever was about an Afghan woman. Perhaps a refresher course on what the American presence in Afghanistan has actually achieved here would be a useful read – here is Ann Jones writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, pointing out:
Apparently not all women are equal in the eyes of our liberal mavens sipping wine and cheese at the latest such bizarre event recently held at the Asia Society. We seem to never tire of our own sense of self-importance, and moral righteousness. We also seem to never allow self-reflection or self-awareness to ruin our social evenings.
A recent article in The Nation provides shocking evidence of the callous and sloppy way in which drone attacks are actually carried out. Nick Turse’s article America’s Lethal Profiling of Afghani Men reveals the horribly vain, careless and frankly trigger-happy nature of what passes for ‘precision’ attacks
They were women, and children. Anyone at the Asia Society gathering want to talk about their rights? The fact is that you cannot simply cleave your ‘morality’ to see only the women who fit your self-aggrandizing narrative, or your self-serving war needs, or continue to lie to yourself that our presence in Afghanistan has any care or consideration for women’s rights. Maybe an Afghani woman can remind you – Malalai Joya, once celebrated in our corridors of humanism, then denied a visa to the USA because she dared criticise us – here is her statement:
Obviously she – an Afghani woman – will not be at the Asia Society event.Or how about the women of RAWA – once the darlings of the New York socialite and convenience-based moral righteousness circuit and who too were once invited to our champagne dinners, but then shut out – I don’t see them really seeing American’s as their protectors. As a recent RAWA statement argues:
We are not talking about these women, and women’s groups, who are protesting against the brutality of the American occupation. No, we will gather our own carefully selected women, the ones docile and subservient enough to accept our trinkets, our faux-feminism, our lies about their liberty, and our easily broken promises. Those are the ones whose liberty we will fight for. These other Afghani women – and those dying in drone attacks. military operations, night raids, bombardments, or at the hands of the new Afghani militia – well, those we just can’t be bothered with now.
I have written about this exploitation of Afghani women before – for example, see my posts here and here about the incredibly hideous use Time Magazine made of Afghani women to sell us the slaughter called Operation Enduring Freedom.
As Nabeela departs, having spoken her piece to an empty room, and returns to her home in North Waziristan, we would do well to remember that she faces possible death. As do members of her family. The drones continue to hover, and continue to strike with devastating effect, and with hardly a regard for whom they are actually taking out. Today the drone strikes are targeting those resisting the Pakistani Army’s presence in the tribal areas – a presence that has been the biggest cause of the violence and human suffering there. I will write more about this in the future.
In the mean time, I am thinking of Nabeela and wondering what awaits her when she returns home.