If girls’ schools remain open in northwest Pakistan after Jan. 15, Taliban leaders threaten to attack schoolgirls and teachers and blow up the schools.
In response to a Crooked Timber post suggesting feminists have been reluctant to take up this cause, Keith M. Ellis comments on the inherent paternalism of Westerners trying to rescue Muslim women, which is “especially pernicious in the context where someone has been methodically and institutionally disempowered.” Rescue “unfortunately continues the pattern of disempowerment.”
I happen to care a great deal about the oppression of women, in Afghanistan and everywhere else in the world.
. . . (But) it is not our job, as westerners — as outsiders — to specifically fight to improve the lot of Afghan women.
David Thompson notes the self-indulgence of this argument:
Well, one might argue against military intervention on an economic or tactical basis, or on grounds of pragmatism and self-interest. One might, for instance, argue that not every injustice can be engaged and it’s best to choose one’s battles. The ability to intervene is finite and conditional, and there are almost always other demands on whatever resources are available. But that isn’t the argument here.
Instead, Ellis argues the oppressed must empower themselves, while the rest of us “fight injustice” and “oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves.” That way, “we can fight sexism in Afghanistan without placing ourselves into a paternalistic position.”
The “barriers” that prevent empowerment would be armed men willing to murder and maim unarmed girls and women. I think by “fight” Ellis means “not fight.”
In response to Brahmin demands to continue the practice of burning the widow on her husband’s funeral pyre, the British governor of Sind, Gen. Charles Napier, said:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
Horribly paternalistic. That poor widow survived unburnt — rescued and disempowered.