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August 04, 2010

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Karen M

"Feminists have long argued that invoking the condition of women to justify occupation is a cynical ploy"

Only screwed up 'feminists' like Judith Butler who can't think of anything worse than 'western imperialism'.

JuliaM

Good lord, CiF must have commissioned this piece solely so Bidisha's latest offering didn't look quite so utterly bereft of meaning in comparison...

David

Karen,

When Gopal says “feminists,” I’m guessing she doesn’t mean people who actually do things that help. Like the groups mentioned above, or Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. Or women who help rebuild things while serving in the military. I think she means a subset of academics and self-styled “theorists” who happen to share her own rather cartoonish political views. It probably includes Judith Butler, whose pretensions and dishonesty were noted here recently, along with the comical “post-colonial theorist” Gayatri Spivak, who rails against what she calls an “imperialist civilising mission.” And idiots like Melanie Butler, who denounces “feminist complicity in the war on terror” and claims, based on nothing, that the efforts of women’s rights groups are merely part of some “Orientalist narrative” and “oppressive discourse.”

The inversion of reality is quite extraordinary. Still, I’m sure all this furious theorising is a great comfort to Afghan women faced with the Taliban and their bottles of battery acid.

Horace Dunn

"In the affluent west itself, modernity is now about dismantling welfare systems, increasing inequality (disproportionately disenfranchising women in the process), and subsidising corporate profits"

I can't remember a time when a certain type of leftist didn't think that the "affluent west" was busy "dismantling welfare systems [and] increasing inequality". Well if that's what the affluent west has been applying itself to so assiduously, it clearly hasn't been doing it effectively, given that all western countries have vast welfare systems and constitutional guarantees of equality etc etc.


Message to Gopal: grow up you stupid woman.

Anna

"Misogynist violence is unacceptable, but..."

But... the West is almost as bad as the Taliban. What with all the bikini waxes and cuts to public spending.

Where the fuck does the Guardian *find* these people?

Horace Dunn

Anna

"Where the fuck does the Guardian *find* these people?"

Erm ... in the universities. Where did you think? The real world?!

Lovernios

The Taliban is far away and doesn't affect 'affluent Western' leftist columnists. Their more immediate concern is pushing their anti-capitalist, anti-Western agenda. The plight of Afgan women is only relevant in as much as it can be used to bash the West.

Lovernios

“fundamentalist monopoly on the meanings of freedom”

I'm sure that Ms. Gopal views not having her nose and ears sliced off as a fundamental freedom she enjoys.

David

Despite her adamance, Gopal never gets round to telling us what’s wrong with the Time article. She doesn’t explain how exactly it “oversimplifies” the war in Afghanistan or reduces it to a “bedtime story” and “simplistic morality tale.” No proof of this “cynical” intention is offered – no quotes, nothing. She seems to object to the cover image, though, as if it were somehow... unfair. Perhaps Gopal would rather pretend that her own position – “anti-imperialism über alles,” as it were – had no unpleasant consequences, not least for women like Bibi Aisha.

mlrosty

Someone in the Guardian comments is actually saying women are just as oppressed in America.

Herbert

If you are willing to excuse Ms. Gopal having her head up her ass, she makes sense

David

“Someone in the Guardian comments is actually saying women are just as oppressed in America.”

It’s a surprisingly common claim among more doctrinaire leftwing feminists. For instance, in Joni Seager’s Penguin Atlas of Women in the World she equates the United States with Uganda, Somalia and Yemen. Others insist that “the vast majority of American women are every bit as hobbled by constrictions around dress, mobility and behaviour as women in developing countries.”

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2009/07/every-bit-as-hobbled-.html

It’s hard to know where to start with such incorrigible cretiny.

svh

"Our favourite postcolonial studies lecturer, Priyamvada Gopal"

I pity her students. They should ask for a refund.

Luther

"incorrigible cretiny."

That reminds me of a quote I read yesterday on a non-related subject. Though it seems to show a mind-set which I would venture is fairly common among 'progressives' of any ilk.

I don't think background context is necessary for the gist.

"By July, Krugman had lost his "Battle of the Blog." On July 23, Latrina commented, "Who is this Sean from Florida? He takes everything that [the] Professor [says] and shreds it, piece by piece. He shouldn't be allowed to post his comments on this blog since he seems to be winning all the debates. We progressives need to stick together and embellish our talking points without someone from the outside pointing out fallacies in our ideology."

The sheer cognitive dissonance required for such a statement astounds me. I suspect Ms. Gopal, though, would see such as only logical in furtherance of the greater 'truth'.

Mal

Gopal has found that there is more money to be made in scolding people than there is in actually doing good works; so she's got THAT going for her, which is good. So, really, it's no surprise to find the Guardian sponsoring her to get a piece of that action.
I try to picture her shaking her head in wonderment that so many people buy her drivel, as the thought that she actually believes in it is even more appalling than the material itself.

Spiny Norman

It's amazing, the complex intellectual knots progressives have tie themselves in to justify medieval barbarity, and yet they're still reduced to lazy, childish, "But, but... America is just as bad!" outbursts.

Luther:

Are you sure "Latrina" wasn't being sarcastic there? I can't imagine any progressive being that honest in any sort of public setting.

Luther

Yes, good point, Spiny, and I would actually hope that 'Latrina' was being saracastic... but, well, see what you think. Additionally and frighteningly, her comment was 'recommended' by 8 others.

Alas, it would seem we have no Alexander to slice through those Gordian "complex intellectual knots" that progressive thinking requires.

Lt. Doolittle

Excellent article, the overwhelming desire after reading it is to wish Gopal had been through the experience rather than Aisha. Just when you think the far left can't sink any lower the good old Guardian digs up another sick fucker.

sackcloth and ashes

If we're slagging of Universities and academics here, can I just add that Durham University is running a programme to bring female Afghan students to study in the UK for their doctorates. So if anyone here can offer some support that would be grand:

http://www.dur.ac.uk/dialogue/march10/afghan/

I just want that noted, because there are some in British academia that are prepared to do something (no matter how tiny) to help Afghan women empower themselves, and that they're not all complete cunts like Gopal.

David

“But, but... America is just as bad!”

Yes, given the strategic and practical arguments that could be made in good faith, it’s a bizarre approach to take. But it’s typical of Gopal’s writing and of the readership to which she appeals. One of the themes running through the Guardian thread is: “Oh, but look at how awful and savage *we* are. Who are we to help anyone else, acting all superior? Who are we to defend our interests? We’re just so arrogant and greedy and selfish and awful...”

In the comments it’s only a matter of time before Gopal invokes racism as a primary motive and claims that, “the favoured game in town really is White Men Rescuing Brown Women From Brown Men” - a caricature for which she provides no evidence. She talks about “US aggression and violence against Afghans,” as if the Allies were deliberately targeting civilians rather than the Taliban (who of course *do* deliberately target civilians, including children, as a matter of routine). She claims that, “Afghans have been silenced and disempowered” by simplistic Western stereotypes. But the people who actually do - physically - silence and disempower Afghans – with knives and acid, for instance - don’t seem to register as worthy of discussion. She also objects to “assertions of civilisational superiority,” as if the society in which she lives quite comfortably offered women no more opportunity for self-determination than one in which girls’ schools are burned to the ground in the name of piety.

It’s remarkable how readily some people internalise this kind of pretentious self-loathing as if it signalled their sophistication. And if the argument is basically that the West is imperialist and predatory and scarcely better than the Taliban - and that we have “nothing to offer” Afghans because we’re insufficiently socialist - then there’s really nowhere to go.

Except to fetch the blow darts.

Robert Edwards

I can never put down a copy of the Guardian without feeling in sore need of a bath, but recently they seem to have been hitting new lows.

For a long time I merely assumed that their policy was simply intended to annoy people like me, which it did, very well. Buit this kind of tosh is all the worse for being apparently unfeigned - they really mean it!

Whereas Toynbee is simply risible and ill-informed, this latest offering is actually very sinister in that the generalization from the particular with a complete disregard for the realities has passed muster at the editorial level.

But, that's the left for you, I suppose...

Lt. Doolittle

The last two posts, by David and Robert Edwards are just about perfect in summing this up. Unfortunately I am in a workplace where 90% of those remotely interested in politics are avid Guardian readers. Their hypocrisy is by turns jaw-dropping, then fascinating and eventually thoroughly sickening.

Robert Edwards

The hypocrisy I expect; the left is, almost by definition but certainly by experience, riddled with it. But the total lack of intellectual rigour (at ALL levels) is still breathtaking even after all these years.

You see examples posted almost hourly over on Biased BBC and the "Give me half the facts - I want to make a quick decision" school of analysis (If we can dignify it thus) is rife.

But this is no accident. That there are swivel-eyed lefties infesting the press, media and bureaucracy is all part of basic lefty doctrine - "moving through the institutions", which serves to create a bolus of activists who puport to be serious commentators, taste-makers and administrators. After a while, of course, it doesn't matter whether or not they mean it - it has become embedded. We are, aside from the heroes who run blogs like this one, already there...

Robert Edwards

Correction - "Marching through the institutions..." (Antonio Gramsci)

To know our enemy better, (re-) read "The Dragons of Expectation" by the wonderful Robert Conquest. It's all there!

CJ

Lord Acton once said, "Behind every villain there walks a sophist with a sponge." What is so galling is not the praise for "the Other," who not being us must only be reacting to US imperialism in the only way they can. ("Look what you made me do!" is always the cry of evil.) Rather it's that she doesn't even feel the need to exert herself; none of her prose passes the laugh test.

Omri Schwarz

Gopal could prove those assertions of civilizational superiority to be the shams they must be, simply by going to live in Southern Afghanistan.

But then she'd be curring off her nose to spite her face.

David

“Rather it’s that she doesn’t even feel the need to exert herself.”

Ms Gopal does like her question-begging boilerplate. It’s what she does, and generally gets away with. But railing against caricatures and “bikini wax” modernity is a peculiar line to take, given that other, more credible arguments could be made. You could, for instance, argue that our ability to end or even reduce the abuse and mutilation of women is limited, that the attempt to seed functional democracy may fail, and that there are issues of morale and other demands on resources, etc. Those positions, unlike Gopal’s, could be argued in good faith. It’s by no means clear that the Taliban can be uprooted decisively at a cost worth paying.

But if you favour rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, that too has consequences, including those mentioned by Time magazine – and to whose noting Gopal takes such exception.

Jason

There is an acrimonious argument about the Time cover going on at the Egyptian Chronicles blog. The made to blame the West for Taliban rhinectomy are wondrous to behold.

http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2010/07/what-happened-when-they-had-stayed.html

billm99uk

“the favoured game in town really is White Men Rescuing Brown Women From Brown Men”

Does this mean that, should I be out walking and happen to come across a black girl getting into difficulty in a local pond, the correct thing to do is just let her drown since, as a white man, attempting to rescue her would be both racist and sexist and, if successful, have a no-doubt disastrous effect on her self-image and ultimate sense of worth?

David

billm99uk,

If you poke about some corners of the academic left, you’ll find some who say,

“There is something inherently paternalistic in rescuing someone. There’s no avoiding this. And this is especially pernicious in the context where someone has been methodically and institutionally disempowered— ‘saving’ them, though well-intentioned, may change many circumstances but it unfortunately continues the pattern of disempowerment.”

http://crookedtimber.org/2008/12/28/we-will-kill-you-if-you-go-to-school/#comment-262134

Given the discussion from which the above is taken involves the Taliban’s threats to kill girls who go to school, fretting about the “inherent paternalism” of rescue seems a tad… self-indulgent.

The commenter goes on to say, “I think [it’s] everyone’s duty to fight against injustice” and that we must “oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves.” Though how one might do this without seeming “paternalistic” isn’t entirely clear; and how schoolgirls might go about empowering themselves against the Taliban, who have guns, is equally unobvious.

More here:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2009/01/heroism-hamstrung.html

Rafi

"Ms. Gopal inevitably invokes racism as a primary motive, claiming that, "the favoured game in town really is White Men Rescuing Brown Women From Brown Men" - a caricature for which no evidence is deemed necessary."

Who needs evidence? She's a leftist bigot.

David

Rafi,

“Who needs evidence? She’s a leftist bigot.”

Well, Gopal is remarkably narrow and presumptuous in her outlook. She responds to a few critical comments under the pseudonym “teufeline67,” but she doesn’t fare terribly well and even misuses basic terms. I don’t think she copes well with criticism, especially from people who don’t carry the same ideological baggage. As you say, she reveals her own casual assumptions - not least regarding feminism and the motives of men - and her own tendency to “other” whatever she disapproves of. She repeatedly resorts to caricature and bald assertion, as if there were no need to provide evidence for her claims.

“The favoured game in town,” she says, “really is White Men Rescuing Brown Women from Brown Men. I don’t know how the game will pan out as foreign policy but it sure makes a lot of people, men particularly, feel very good about themselves.” So our presence in Afghanistan is reduced to a “game” in which the key motives are, apparently, racism and self-congratulation. (There being no other plausible motives and no women or brown-skinned people serving in the military, of course.) How she knows this, she doesn’t say. But making gross assumptions about the motives of people who disagree – and people serving in the armed forces - is apparently okay. In fact, it’s her tool of choice. For instance, “denouncing ‘backward savages’” [i.e. the Taliban] is apparently a mere “convenience,” indulged in “so we can feel superior about ourselves and our societies.”

At which point, readers may wish to take another look at the face of Bibi Aisha.

pst314

"...we must oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves."

I think that "oppose" means displaying a bumper sticker...although not until all American troops have left the region.

billm99uk

I think at some point feminism (and the academic left in general) is just going to have to acknowledge the "awful truth" - that the vast balance of the remaining misogyny in the world lies not in the hearts of the middle-class white men it affects to despise, but in the "Brown Men" it likes to spend most of its time championing.

Sad, maybe, but that's just the way it is.

virgil xenophon

David@13:55/

God, yes! I remember that CT discussion thread quite distinctly--so typical of the academic and/or "intellectual"/"cosmopolitan" crowd at CT. I used to comment over there more frequently than I do now since I've built my own torture chamber at home where I can privately self-flagellate--not so much need of the CT experience now.

newbie

"For instance, “denouncing ‘backward savages’” [i.e. the Taliban] is apparently a mere “convenience,” indulged in “so we can feel superior about ourselves and our societies.”"

I'm comfortable feeling superior to the Taliban. Really comfortable.

virgil xenophon

PS: As you may surmise from my visits to CT, David, I'm a great believer in getting, ala the admonition of Jagger & the Stones, "my fair share of abuse."

phantom menace

She repeatedly resorts to caricature and bald assertion,

Posted by: David | August 06, 2010 at 16:02

David, I can't believe you missed this one:

"Sex and the City in the Middle East may have tanked as a movie, but as ideology it has displaced meaningful global feminism."

David

phantom menace,

Yes, another nugget. Bold, ludicrous and based on practically nothing. But if I tried to highlight every presumptuous or stupid thing Ms Gopal writes, and every caricature, every evasion, every question she begs, the task might never end. I mean, who wants to clean the Augean stables?

sackcloth and ashes

'"Sex and the City in the Middle East may have tanked as a movie, but as ideology it has displaced meaningful global feminism."'

WTF? Incidentally, is Prof Gopal assuming that anything she's scribbled is either meaningful, of global importance, or has made one contribution to the advancement of women's rights?

hiawatha

"She also objects to “assertions of civilisational superiority,” as if the society in which she lives, and lives quite comfortably, offered women no more opportunity for self-determination than one in which girls’ schools are burned to the ground in the name of piety."

Only an academic...

David

hiawatha,

In fairness to academics, we shouldn’t let Gopal, Spivak, Butler et al define all institutional scholarship any more than they define the scope of feminism. Especially as what they do appears to be something else entirely. I doubt academics in more reputable disciplines – medicine, astronomy and engineering, for instance – would be so likely to allow their politics to overwhelm their thinking. Or to deny reality in the hope of appearing clever.

Matt

"In fairness to academics, we shouldn’t let Gopal, Spivak, Butler et al define all institutional scholarship any more than they define the scope of feminism."

It's worth noting that the disciplines you mentioned -- medicine, hard sciences, engineering -- never seem to come to first come to mind when one speaks of an academic. Perhaps the disciplines themselves are inherently too grounded in reality, whereas "academic" as a noun has come to denote someone who deals in ideas unhampered by mundane common sense?

About the most charitable motive I can attribute to folks like Gopal is to suspect they honestly fear any acknowledgement of one culture's superiority over another will lead to new colonialist conquests before the end of the week, complete with efforts to suppress or eradicate native cultures and languages in the name of "civilizing" the locals.

David

Matt,

“About the most charitable motive I can attribute to folks like Gopal is to suspect they honestly fear any acknowledgement of one culture’s superiority over another will lead to new colonialist conquests before the end of the week...”

Well, it’s not obvious to me what Gopal’s motives are. Based on what she says and implies, it’s difficult to deduce a coherent set of positive values. Her “radical people’s modernity” is never defined. She seems to be *against* a number of things, not least “the American regime,” and she pointedly objects to “assertions of civilisational superiority,” as when Salman Rushdie suggested that free enquiry is better than clerical totalitarianism and may be worth defending. (This statement of the obvious upset her no end, for reasons that remain mysterious.) Gopal also dislikes those who take exception to “‘backward savages’” - whom she shields with scare quotes - even when the savagery and atavism is, quite literally, staring her in the face.

It’s hard to see what such views amount to, beyond a kind of pretentious contrarianism.

 Simen

David,

"
Well, it’s not obvious to me what Gopal’s motives are. Based on what she says and implies, it’s difficult to deduce a coherent set of positive values. Her “radical people’s modernity” is never defined. She seems to be *against* a number of things, not least “the American regime,” and she pointedly objects to “assertions of civilisational superiority,” as when Salman Rushdie suggested that free enquiry is better than clerical totalitarianism and may be worth defending.
"

I'm fairly new to this radicalism thing, but I'm currently reading Marx (just done with the Communist Manifesto), and I did notice a few interesting things from there.

1 - the need for a permanent revolution. The moment society starts settling down, someone will start exploiting others, so the revolutionary state needs to be permanent (this is one point where the so-called communist states failed - they re-invented the state, and thus stopped being communist. Thus, they weren't communist when they did turned to oppression and stuff)

2 - the need to break down all of the bourgeoise taboos and morals (se the radical need to have sex with children from http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2010/07/elsewhere-24.html?cid=6a00d83451675669e2013485c59000970c#comment-6a00d83451675669e2013485c59000970c ), as having values will cause one to re-invent taboos.

Essentially, progressivism does not seem to be for, but to be against. Specifically, against anything that works, has value (or is valued) and should be preserved. Essentially, it could be against anything that conservatism is for.

Of course, I'm again guilty of mixing together a lot of different left-isms here, and applying my new-found tool of communist manifestism like a hammer that fits all screws...

-S

David

Simen,

“...the need to break down all of the bourgeois taboos and morals...”

Because the bourgeoisie are just so incredibly... threatening? They’re always the ones who break into your house, rough you up and steal all of your stuff.

Matt

"It’s hard to see what such views amount to, beyond a kind of pretentious contrarianism."

I should've been more clear I was playing devil's advocate on my earlier post; I was trying to find some possible coherent motive that might make sense of her defense of regimes that oppose everything she stands for, often violently. Considering the Left's routine sackcloth-and-ashes act over Europe's colonialist past, and their embrace of multiculturalism as apparently the antidote to colonialism, I figured maybe she and those like her saw standing up to repressive third-world regimes as actually the greater evil because doing so chipped away at multiculturalism.

Of course, in practice this means throwing actually oppressed people in the third world under the bus to protect their multicultural ideals here at home. So it's still reprehensible.

I'm actually more inclined to agree with you that her views are more about feeling superior to all the rest of us dupes by taking views at odds with the majority (and frequently at odds with common sense); publicly tolerating that which should be intolerable seems to be a badge of honor for her sort. Their entire sense of self seems to be built around their (oddly orthodox) radicalism and their "deeper, more nuanced" view of the world. Ironically, these self-proclaimed radicals seem deeply threatened by any societal norms around them that they disagree with (see Simen's post and the breaking down of bourgeoisie morality); you'd think REAL radicals wouldn't care about the opinions of others, rather than trying to reshape society's mores to fit their own.

phantom menace

"For instance, “denouncing ‘backward savages’” [i.e. the Taliban] is apparently a mere “convenience,” indulged in “so we can feel superior about ourselves and our societies.” At which point, readers may wish to take another look at the face of Bibi Aisha."

Posted by: David | August 06, 2010 at 16:02

More at Normblog...

http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2010/08/taliban-talk.html

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