Sally Armstrong Vs. Pro-Misogynist Apologetics
You could say it was ironic.
It happened at the end of International Women's Week, in an auditorium filled with about 200 women at the University of Victoria, at the close of an address by journalist and women's-rights activist Sally Armstrong, author of Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan.
Armstrong had just finished speaking on the subject of "blameless women and girls who continue to pay the price of the opportunism of angry men" when four men, as if on cue, one after the other, confronted Armstrong with precisely the apologetics she had just finished addressing. It was as if the forum organizers had planned some crafty exercise in guerrilla theatre.
But the men were not actors, and they proceeded to raise all the depressingly familiar and objectively pro-misogynist complaints: Canada is occupying Afghanistan as an imperialist power; women like Armstrong "romanticize" Afghan suffering; conditions for women are worse now than under the Taliban; and Canadian women should stick to matters that directly affect them.
That kind of thing.
Outside the auditorium, Armstrong's detractors persisted in their hectoring, hovering around her and handing out leaflets for an "anti-war" demonstration. Armstrong was clearly shaken. "I haven't had this experience to this degree before," she told me. "I'm appalled that young people could say things like that."
But before the leafleteers made their presence known, Armstrong had already anticipated their complaints. "They say, 'You have no business writing about our women. You're not part of our culture; you're not part of our religion.' There's a taboo about talking about it," Armstrong said. "People play it like a cultural trump card to silence women like me."
It won't work with Armstrong. And a good thing, too (that's what my Chronicles column is on about today.) It won't work with Maryam Namazie, either. And it certainly won't work with Sima Samar.
Samar's role in the ongoing struggle for the emancipation of Afghan women is featured prominently in Armstrong's book, Veiled Threat. Samar left RAWA ages ago, for all the right reasons. RAWA has sadly degenerated back into gibberish of its Maoist roots, which explains its weird appeal to the North American pseudo-left, as Noy Thrupkaew points out here:
“RAWA reflects a familiar yet glorified self-image: the fiery words, the clenched fists and protest signs, the type of guerilla feminism that seems unflinchingly brave.” It's all very glamorous, but as Jennifer Jackman of the Feminist Majority astutely observes, it's the last thing the women of Afghanistan need: "This is a place where giving a girl a book and a pencil is revolutionary."
Revolutionists of the useful sort can be found here. And you'll find some useful contributions you can make to the cause of peace in Afghanistan here. If you want to actually do something specifically helpful on behalf of the women of Afghanistan, this is a tremendous idea.
If you prefer being uselessly self-righteous, by all means join the reactionaries at their rallies this weekend, brought to you by the same Sharia-law advocates who were bothering Armstrong in Victoria.
If you think walking with placards really does any good, then at least keep an eye out for these people. Whatever might be said about them, they haven't forgotten what it means to be on the left.