Laura Bush's Concern for Afghan but not Iraqi Women

by Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes

Apologies for not posting sooner. I picked today to have a computer meltdown. In keeping with the southern theme, here's a post about southern Iraq.

As you know, Laura Bush just made a special trip to Afghanistan, spending a full five hours meeting with a diverse array of residents, including Hamid Karzai and U.S. Marines stationed there. One of her main purposes in going there was to celebrate the great progress made in women's rights since the United States took over. Of course, according to the U.N. Development Program's recent National Human Development Report for Afghanistan, there has been little or no progress for women. Formal restrictions on going to school have been lifted, but the security situation has deteriorated so much that in some areas girls still can't go to school and women are even more restricted in their movements than before.

Conspicuously, Laura Bush will not be visiting Iraq to celebrate the achievements for women there. Although more than a few ignorant people though that Iraqi women under Saddam had the same lot as Afghan women under the Taliban, the truth is that women in Iraq before the regime change had more rights and more ability to get education and even work as professionals than women in most parts of the Arab world.

That has been changing. In Basra recently, a large group of Sadrist militants, assaulted a group of students because they were playing music, dancing, and because there was some mixing of the sexes. Numerous people, especially women, were beaten. This is a more extreme example of the kind of Islamist repression that has been going on every day in the south since shortly after the occupation starte. In fact, the south is quiet because of the bargain that the Shi'a clergy has made with the British and American -- that they won't attack occupying forces in return for a free hand with imposing their notions of morality and order on society. This has its positive as well as its negative aspects -- abuses by occupying forces against Iraqis in the south have generally been much less extensive than those in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" (with the exception of the August bombardment of Najaf, which was quite severe).

In this particular case, there has been a strong reaction to the attack. Some of the students have stood up in a way that very few have dared to do until now. It is a sign that people have had enough.

In general, women are far worse off now than before the regime change. In many areas, not only Muslim but Christian women are forced to wear hijab (many urban women didn't in the old days). Because of the complete lack of security, girls find it harder to go to school and women to go to work. And with Shari'a (Islamic law) sure to be codified in some (hopefully moderate) way in the new constitution, things may get even worse.

There are two reasons why this has happened. One is that the Shi'a clergy, kept heavily suppressed under Saddam, has had a lot more freedom under the occupation -- in fact, so weak is the political position of the United States that it generally has to give in when Ayatollah Sistani puts his foot down.

The other, perhaps more pernicious, is that the Iraqi resistance has grown increasingly Islamist. This is a natural, human impulse. They see their land and their religion under threat, they fight back, they even win a victory in Fallujah in April. The victory is attributed to God and their faith, just the way the U.S. Marines were preparing to do before the November assault on Fallujah. Defeats, of course, are not so attributed. Islam is the natural language of resistance for Iraqis. The more fighting there is between Iraqis and U.S. soldiers, the worse it will get.