Brave New World: The Gendered Political Economy of Terrorism and Fundamentalism
Ten years after the 9/11 incident commentators continue to struggle to find a prejudice-free language and framework with which to address the complicated range of phenomena that intersect and accumulate around that event. Key among these are terrorism, militarization, war and occupation (the 'global war on terror'), religious fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism in particular. Despite longstanding and routinized occurrences of violence on a far greater scale and magnitude in many parts of the global South, much of which remains US and/or NATO backed, 9/11 was and continues to be framed as unprecedentedly cataclysmic and iconic.
One immediate fallout was the identification of a generalized mass of people, a set of nations and a religion as responsible for that cataclysm. This was accompanied by the widespread and near-ubiquitous dissemination of apocalyptic and hyperbolic images in the mainstream media, racial profiling, the scapegoating and demonization of those seen as Islamic or connected with Islam, and the corresponding marginalization and dehumanization of these peoples. Very quickly and with the complicity of the corporatized media, terrorism came to be equated with Islam and Muslims and not merely with Islamic fundamentalism as had been the intellectual practice. This was followed by the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and of Iraq as part of what is now designated the 'global war on terror', waves of anti-Islamism and a roll-back of civil liberties in most countries in the name of national and global security.
In point of fact however, terrorism maybe more accurately understood as the use of force or the threat of force to advance political objectives. It may be carried out by individuals, groups, or states. It may be a method used by the weak against the powerful, or by the powerful against the weak. These complexities have been largely erased in media representations. We also see that despite graphic testimony of terror and suffering during unwarranted and relentless carpet bombing, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and the razing of entire cities, none of these 'state' actions was ever labeled terrorism. Rather, and improbably enough, they were designated defensive actions aimed at guaranteeing democracy, global security, development and progress, all of which are heavily loaded terms today. A highly qualified acknowledgement of the racial, ethnic and communal targeting inherent in both discourse and action, came very reluctantly, after the publicity around of torture detainees in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Yet even then, justifications were proffered; there was no review of the ways state and military power were being deployed. Yet the incidents served to underscore what critical voices in both global North and South had been asserting: that mainstream assertions, understandings and discourses of terrorism needs to be revisited.
It has now become increasingly clear that Islamophobia and the war on terror, have been used to wage war and in fact facilitate the highly aggressive advancement of capitalist interests under the neoliberal order – both globally, and in this area. The recent incidents in Libya, the recent White House announcement that it is imposing a new round of economic sanctions against Iran, Vice President Biden's suggestion that military strikes against Iran are likely, and the Iranian official denial of all allegations and its accusation of US vested interests in the area, reiterate the clear and present links between the war on terror, forms of capitalism under present-day neoliberalism and anti-islamism.
This becomes quite clear when we consider the massive economic benefits to American and European multinational corporations first from wars through sales and supply of arms, then from Big Oil (now Libyan gold as well), and then from rebuilding ravaged nations from scratch. The imperialist forms of capitalism that characterize the present wave of neo-liberalism has been spearheaded by a formidable nexus between corporations, the political elite (including the state), and the military-industrial complex at the expense of more than 95% of populations. This has resulted in the exacerbation of domestic and international inequalities, the proliferation of comparatively new ones (through for instance FTZ's and SEZ's), distorted development, unsustainable geopolitical dynamics, large-scale alienation and a heavy reliance on war, militarism, surveillance and fear. Several governments across the globe, including the Indian government, have used this discourse of terror to roll back welfare, curtail legal and civil rights, intensify surveillance and usher in a pro-corporate and militant state. This state-corporate nexus and has been accompanied by the loss of credibility of political institutions and processes and has fueled the debates on what democracy really means. There is, in short, a clear and present link between the neoliberal economic orientation, free-market fundamentalisms, corporate favoritism and the rise of (the discourse of) terrorism.
It is then not surprising that ten years after 9/11 almost to the date, and almost at 'ground zero', Occupy Wall Street posters read, 'War is just better-funded terrorism' and 'We are the 99%'. Nevertheless the links between terrorism as political strategy and methodology, militarism as a state strategy and neoliberal capitalism as economic program remain relatively unexplored especially by the mainstream media, non-governmental organizations, women's groups and the academia. This is of some concern to women's groups, since the above mentioned dynamics impact directly on gender regimes and sexuality both in themselves and through the ways in which they generate economic distress and political instability both of which drive religious fundamentalism.
One of the outcomes of these developments has been a resurgence in the political phenomenon we call religious fundamentalism: an aggressive politicization of religion undertaken in pursuit of ends that may not be religious at all. In many parts of the MENA zone and parts of South and South-East Asia, for instance, there has been a revival of neo-traditionalism, 'principled rigidity' and social conservativism. Religious fundamentalism has been understood as a direct response to 'modernity' – both as reaction to and product of – and has had disastrous consequences for women, as in the Talibanization of Islam, the violation and slaughter of Muslim women in Gujarat etc. However, religious fundamentalism and populist rightwingism by no means restricted to these zones. The case of the rightwing Norwegian, Breivik, while dramatic, illustrates a growing sentiment in Europe and the US (George Bush's speeches were peppered with metaphors or religious crusade and Breivik's 1518-page manifesto entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, supported cultural conservatism, ultranationalism and Islamophobia but also anti-feminism and homophobia).
So, notwithstanding the familiar salvific narrative that Western politico-military intervention serves to liberate the local people - especially women - from repressive regimes and traditions and escort them into a brave new world, Western governments have in fact been very supportive of religious fundamentalist groups when it has suited them. (See for instance the US's anti-socialist support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan via money and arms). At the same time, Western transnational corporates continue to thrive on sweatshop production systems peopled largely by these very same women. This form of Western patriarchal protectionism profitably positions a secular (but paradoxically, also Western Christian), civilized, homogenized west as redemptive (a crusade) masculine and modernized entity in relation to the feminized, traditional countries, cultures and systems of the low-income countries. While this has been a key ideological and discursive driver in the Global North's battle against the religious fundamentalist forces of the Global South (specifically Islam), the battle is actually a scramble for resources of the global South, chiefly oil, minerals, water and land. The local elite of these countries have actively colluded in and profited hugely from this resource grab. Typically, women, children, the poor and other dispossessed and disempowered sections have gotten hit hardest. But they are also constitute a substantial part of the struggles and resistances that are now being designated or are in danger of being designated 'terrorist', lending even greater urgency to an inquiry into deployment of the term. Women are one group that tend to suffer the consequences of economic and religious rightwingism most severely.
Yet, despite the disastrous impact of religious fundamentalism on their lives, many women may support and identify with fundamentalist movements that promote deeply misogynist and heteronormative practices and beliefs. In fact they may often willingly participate in these practices themselves despite the negative impact it may have on their physical, mental, social, political, and economic wellbeing. While some of these practices may be restrictive only, some of them are outright criminal. It is necessary to look at both the impacts of religious fundamentalism on women's wellbeing and women's varied responses to fundamentalisms. Of particular interest here is the dynamics of the intersections between their identities as women with their community identities, their ethnic identities and their national identities, and the specific political-economic pressures acting on each of these. It must be noted that the dynamic of these intersections will obtain differently in different regions and under different conditions, as with the 'veil' controversy. Equally, it is necessary to look at the ways in which neoliberalism has served to commodify men, women and sexuality.
While feminist thinking has acknowledged the links between economic adversity, political instability and gendered violence, much remains to be done. The multiple ways in which various forms of systemic, structural and individual violence intersect with the regimes of gender and of sexuality within a changing political economy and global dispensation need to be theorized within the current context. This includes issues related to racial profiling, the strategic and systematic incarceration and killing of young colored men, the sexual torture of both men and women, the (contradictory) gendering of entire nations and of phenomena need to be addressed critically, and in conjunction with their political-economic drivers.
Finally, the need to debate the scope of the phenomenon of 'terrorism' and its links to a specific political-economic dispensation and free-market fundamentalism, grows even more urgent as a range of radical social movements and resistances that include self-determination movements, struggles for livelihood, over resources and land, and even environmental movements are getting designated 'terrorist' and their strategies 'terrorism'. The struggles themselves suggest that people are increasingly realizing that their variously oppressed communities and not the corporatized nation-state must be the basis for a solidarity that will protect them and their livelihoods. Unsurprisingly, an array of state and corporate powers and measures that range from surveillance and militarization to 'encounters' and draconian laws are being deployed against them, and often in the name of democracy and progress. The complicity of these actions with the logic of the International Political Economy (IPE) is also revealed through ways in which resisting peoples are classed, racialized, genderized and sexualized.
The conference will focus on a critical examination of the phenomena detailed above with the idea to identify and think through some of the links between them. How may we understand the complex and intricate links between terrorism, types of fundamentalism and the Neoliberal economic regime/Neoliberalism. How do these draw on and impact dominant regimes of gender and sexuality? How are the meanings of these phenomena manufactured, and challenged? Papers that attempt to address some or all of these and related concepts, issues, their ramifications and dimensions are invited.