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The Best and the Brightest
by Adriene Sere

The idea of writing an analysis of the media’s coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. war on Afghanistan is, to put it simply, overwhelming.

For years, the mainstream media overlooked the oppression of Afghan women, and then exploited their plight to justify the U.S. war against Afghanistan. The media establishment exploited the victims of September 11, and the country's grief over the tragedy, with the same purpose. After September 11, before and during the war, the media suppressed information. They manipulated language to alleviate the U.S. government of its guilt for the most abominable aggression. They demonstrated a disregard for U.S. citizens’ right to information, and excluded the concerns of citizens worldwide from representation.

Much of the dissent, though marginalized, was equally frightening. The leftist dissenters, while denouncing the terrorism, almost uniformly depicted the terrorism as acts of desperation in reaction to U.S. foreign policy. U.S. foreign policy has indeed created much suffering around the world, but what explains these leftists' use of the terrorism as a framework to argue their own politics? The terrorists are fundamentalists of the furthest extreme who espouse an anti-Semitic, woman-hating agenda. Their imperialistic politics have a history that precedes the existence of the United States, and cause much of the suffering in the Arab world. Yet the dark skin, the Arab origins, and the anti-American violence of Osama bin Laden and his followers were all the evidence the leftists needed to establish their political identification and indirect sympathy with the terrorist "cause". “Why do they hate us?” was a question both the establishment and the dissenters agreed to dwell on, arriving at opposing answers. They don’t have a good reason to hate us, said the establishment. They have a good reason to hate us, said the dissenters.

Excluded from the dissenters’ vision of justice was women’s right to it. Despite the visibility of, for example, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) within the international feminist movement, those publicly oppposing the war never speculated about the motives behind the non-violence of these highly organized, desperately oppressed women -- a pretty meaningful oversight on the part of those who argue for the effectiveness of non-violent solutions.

The dissenters also neglected to turn to RAWA as an authority on what should be done as an alternative to war. Few suggested that anything beyond arresting the perpetrators of the 9-11 terrorism, and addressing the "grievances" of the terrorists, was even necessary. It did not seem to occur to them that there was an urgent need to remove the Taliban from power and establish a democratically elected government in Afghanistan because of the fact that millions of women subjected to the Taliban were experiencing what was as far from peace and justice as is imaginable.

In fact, RAWA advocated the forceful removal of the Taliban and the disarmament of all warring fundamentalists through international sanctions against their suppliers, along with direct intervention of UN peacekeeping forces. You wouldn’t know this, though, unless you read it on RAWA’s website. RAWA’s proposed solution was simply not on the radar of the peace movement, or the alternative media. The notion that such solutions needed to be discussed and promoted did not seem to enter the minds of peace activists and writers. The oppressed, after all, were mere women.

What does it mean when a peace movement organizes its arguments around acts of mass murder committed by men with an openly fascist agenda, while ignoring the strategies advocated by oppressed women who are risking their lives for equality and justice? It does not bode well, to say the least.

Despite this very depressing media scene, some good and great analyses did manage to get through the cracks. In the spirit of looking at the bright side of things and maintaining sanity, this issue’s Media Glance takes a look at some of the best writing put forth by activists, most of them women, who are helping us understand what is really happening in our world, and what the hell we might do about it.

The December 2001/January 2002 issue of Ms. Magazine is superb, grounded in intelligence and humanity, and almost unique in its consistent opposition to bigotry. This issue features six articles and one collection of mini-interviews, all in response to the September 11 attacks and their global context.

The first of the six articles, "Phantom Towers" by Hunter college professor Rosalind P. Petchesky, makes clear the parallels between U.S. imperialism and Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network. She warns, “We should not confuse these wealthy networks -- whose nepotism and ties to oil interests eerily resemble those of the Bush family -- with social movements of the impoverished. There is no evidence that economic justice or equality figure anywhere in the terrorist program.”

Petchesky is also one of the very few to address the anti-Semitism of the terrorists and their supporters in her analysis. She addresses “masculinism” as a common trait of both U.S officials waging war, and the terrorists. Unfortunately, she only marginally incorporates the issue of gender oppression when she proposes solutions.

Other outstanding articles in Ms. include Gloria Steinem’s “If Women Had a Foreign Policy,” an eloquent account of how men have cultivated terrorism and war, while silencing and excluding women. Cynthia Enloe discusses the militarization of U.S. culture in “Sneak Attack.” Jennifer Pozner writes a terrifying analysis of the corporate media’s “patriotism” in “Casualty of War: The U.S. Press Corps wimps out.”

A few men have been making sense, too. On January 15 on CBC radio, commentator Bruce O’ Hare pointed out that “in the past twelve months, more North Americans were murdered by their spouses than by terrorists. Food poisoning killed three times as many of us as terrorists did. Drunk drivers killed more than five times as many. Ten times as many of us committed suicide as were killed by terrorists. The North American death toll from smoking was 100 times the number from terrorism.”

“I am not soft on terrorism,” he said. “I am soft on children. Today, around the globe, something like 30,000 of the world's children will die of hunger and preventable childhood diseases. In the days since we watched 3,000 of “our kind” die in the World Trade Centre, three million of the world's children starved to death. Beautiful, much loved little beings that mothers and fathers and sisters will grieve and weep for. CNN didn't film them, but it happened just the same.”

Molly Ivins wrote a reality check for the country in her January 17 article, “What’s That Sound We’re Not Hearing. “In New York City last year, about 3,000 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center. In New York City last year, 30,000 people came to the new federal limits on welfare. Another 19,000 will lose assistance this year. New York has lost 95,000 jobs since Sept. 11. It lost 75,000 jobs in the year before that. There are now 30,000 people in the city shelters.” We allow the corporate media to manipulate our fears at our genuine peril.

Back in November, Rita Menon made clear how the powers-that-be ignored women until women served their purposes. In “The Terrifying Adversaries of Terror” published November 8 in Times of India, Menon wrote, “The international women’s movement warned you, pleaded with you, made our case to you, the powers that be of this world, to counter the vicious extremism of the Taliban. To no avail. There were riches in them Thar hills, and although most of the ‘civilised’ world didn't recognise the Taliban, pipeline-politics meant they didn't want to rock their boat, either. After all, nothing much was at stake -- only women. Even the media weren't terribly interested. That was peacetime. But women know that for them, the weapons of war are not too different from weapons in peace.”

War, she says, does not bring justice for women: “Brotherhoods -- whether of the Taliban, of NATO, the Northern Alliance, the IRA, or the Tigers, whether religious or ethnic -- are by definition paternalistic and patriarchal. They affirm the deep comradeship of men and are rarely emancipatory for women because they are rarely genuinely democratic.”

One of the smartest articles appearing in the mainstream media was “The Sacrifices We Must Make” by Stephanie Salter, published in November in the San Francisco Chronicle. In a satirical letter to the people of Afghanistan, Salter writes, “I'm writing to you on behalf of my fellow U.S. citizens to explain why you must be patient -- even if it means several million of you may starve to death this winter.

“From what I hear about the leaflets our military dumped from planes over your land last week -- urging you to turn in terrorists in your midst -- it still might not be clear why we are doing what we are doing to you, i.e., dropping bombs and making it super hard for relief agencies to bring you food.”

Salter goes on, “True, we once trained bin Laden and -- like the rest of the world -- stood by and watched the Taliban shred your human rights and shove your country back into the first millennium. But that was because our enemy then was the Soviet Union and communism, and the Taliban were fighting them.

“In case you don't know, the United States hates communism. It is the exact opposite of everything we stand for: freedom, justice, peace, the highest regard for human life. Fighting communism made us some nasty friends over the years, for sure, but that's a price we were willing to pay.

“Speaking of costs . . . To put it as simply as possible (I know many of you can't read), our very way of life here has been threatened. We are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to respond. That sacrifice includes you.”

Well, why don’t I quit quoting from it, and just send you off to read the whole article, which says it all.

Sonia Bergon made a lot of good points in “Women demand a more profound anti-war movement”, published in Novemenber in the Marxist News and Letters. Referring to some leftists’ refusal to condemn the September 11 attacks because to do so would be “racist,” Bergon writes, “What became clear is that the "anti-imperialists" who expressed this view actually find more affinity with the fundamentalist terrorists for their alleged anti-imperialism than they do with the people who are fighting for freedom. Their position is a total slap in the face to all of humanity but especially to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), who put their lives on the line every day, who exist to fight for freedom from fundamentalist terrorism.”

Michele Landsberg, columnist for the Toronto Star, exposes the idiocy and brutality of the Bush administration’s treatment of Afghan women in her January 26 article, “Bush plays politics while Afghan women suffer.”

Not long ago, she writes, George Bush denounced the “barbaric, indefensible and brutal” Taliban regime. While waging war against it, he “promised that America would stay in Afghanistan until the country was rebuilt, and he pledged ‘educational and medical assistance to Afghan women and children.’” Just one month later, Bush reversed this promise.

“Last week, Bush decided to withhold the $45 million that both houses of Congress had agreed to give to the United Nations Population Fund, also known as the UNFPA. The president's sudden decision -- a political sop to the extremist right wing of his party -- is already having a dramatic impact on programs to help women around the world, but the impact will be especially ‘barbaric, indefensible and brutal’ in Afghanistan.

“Picture a little kit the size of two decks of cards. It is called the Clean Delivery Kit, and the UNFPA has already distributed thousands of them in Afghanistan and the surrounding refugee camps. Every kit, as achingly simple and basic as its four pieces of "equipment" may seem, has the potential to save the life of an Afghan woman.

“ ... Of the 1.5 million refugees who flooded out of Afghanistan when Operation Enduring Freedom began, 375,000 were women of reproductive age, and 56,000 of them were pregnant. Of the Afghans remaining inside their borders, 7 million are internally displaced, on the run from armies and bombs. Of them, 300,000 are pregnant girls and women. They often give birth unattended, lying on the bare ground, or on filthy mattresses in crowded and dirty clinics. The kit provides a clean plastic sheet to lie on, a razor to cut the umbilical cord, a string to tie it off, and soap so that ‘the baby can be welcomed into the world by someone with clean hands,’ in the words of a UNFPA official.

“The UNFPA is also deeply involved in helping to rebuild the health infrastructure of shattered Afghanistan.

“And yet, and yet, the American president, with his ‘dearly held values,’ now sees fit to refuse the funding that enables the UNFPA's work. ...

“Bush's hypocrisy is starkly revealed by the fact that, in November, he gave UNFPA $600,000 for reproductive health work in Afghanistan. Now, to appease homegrown fanatics, he's willing to sacrifice Afghan women's lives."

The hypocrisy and the cruelty -- the highly organized kind that harms and kills so many -- is almost too much to comprehend. Certainly it is too much to bear.

Thanks and gratitude go to the many activists and writers who expose the truth and analyze the facts, so that we can, perhaps, eventually, bring such massive cruelty, carried out in our names, with our dollars, to an end.

Global Terrorism of Sex Trafficking | Despair and Resistance

Chain of Violence in Afghanistan | Australia's Bow to Injustice

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