I’ve posted several pieces about this lately (e.g. opendemocracy exploring why that may be the case:, , and ). As westerners, we colonise, geographically, materially, physically, and intellectually. In terms of women, that is never more apparent than when we (as westerners) try to impose our cultural standards onto women of colour. Below is an excerpt from a piece on
The answer lies in a ubiquitous, taken-for-granted ideological framework that has been developed over two centuries in the West. This framework, referred to by scholars as colonial feminism, is based on the appropriation of women’s rights in the service of empire. Birthed in the nineteenth century in the context of European colonialism, it rests on the construction of a barbaric, misogynistic “Muslim world” that must be civilized by a liberal, enlightened West; a rhetoric also known as gendered Orientalism.
Colonial/imperialist feminism has taken new and old forms in the US. The immediate context for a resurgence of imperialist feminism in the US is the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Borrowing a trope from Britain in India and Egypt, and France in Algeria, the US argued that it was going to liberate Afghan women. Liberals and feminists in the US, going against the wishes of Afghan feminist organizations such as RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) who opposed US intervention, linked arms with the Bush administration and supported the Afghan war.
In the Obama era, liberalism became even more intertwined with empire. Despite mountains of evidence to show that the US/NATO occupation had done little for women’s rights, Amnesty-USA conducted a campaign in support of the continued occupation of Afghanistan. In 2012, ads appeared in public places of Afghan women in burqas with the caption: “Nato: Keep the Progress Going!” Amnesty further organized a summit that rearticulated through the voices of powerful women, such as Madeline Albright, imperialist feminist justifications for war.
What explains this tendency among liberals to take positions that go against the interests of Muslim women and women of color? While there are numerous factors, two are worth noting—racism and empire.