Friday Ephemera
Temporary Wonders

Heroism, Hamstrung

Some people have strange priorities. There are those, for instance, 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.

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

The commenter goes on to say,

I happen to care a great deal about the oppression of women, in Afghanistan and everywhere else in the world.


It is not our job, as westerners - as outsiders - to specifically fight to improve the lot of Afghan women.

Well, one might argue against military intervention on an economic or tactical basis, or on grounds of pragmatism and self-interest. One might, for instance, argue that not every injustice can be engaged and it’s best to choose one’s battles. The ability to intervene is finite and conditional, and there are almost always other demands on whatever resources are available. But that isn’t the argument here. Instead, we have something much more elevated:

Ultimately, an oppressed group must empower themselves. But it is our job, and everyone’s job, to fight injustice and to oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves. We can fight sexism in Afghanistan without placing ourselves into a paternalistic position - but only if we are aware of the distinction I am discussing.

Ah, yes. The “paternalistic position” must be avoided at all costs.

Also, of course, I think this is the correct way for men to be involved in the fight against sexism. As it is not the role of westerners to be advocates for Afghan women, it is not the role of men to be advocates for women. Yet all of us can, and should, fight sexism wherever we find it. Fighting injustice and advocacy are two separate things. Being mindful of this will not eliminate the risk of cultural imperialism in the fight against sexism, but it will reduce it.

Apparently, “it is our job, and everyone’s job, to fight injustice and to oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves.” Though how one might do this without seeming “sexist,” “paternalistic” or risking “cultural imperialism” isn’t entirely clear. And how the schoolgirls in question might go about “empowering themselves” against the Taliban, who have guns, is equally unobvious. Self-empowerment is a wonderful thing, of course, but it’s not always easily won, or won at all. If the “barriers” to empowerment include armed men who delight in coercion and slaughter (in the name of a “most merciful” Allah), things may get a little rough

Four months after a local militia stood up to the Taliban and threw them out of their village, killing six of them in the process, the Taliban wreaked their revenge. Last week they cold-bloodedly murdered 40 locals, many of them children, in a car bomb blast. Shal Bandai, a remote settlement in the lawless North West Frontier province, about 175 miles north of Peshawar, was targeted because its citizens had dared to challenge the insurgents, who now control huge swathes of Pakistan in the tribal territories along the Afghan border… The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing. The following day Shah Dauran, a Taliban commander in the neighbouring district of Swat, announced on his banned radio station: “We will even kill your children.”

Faced with such things, one has to marvel at those troubled by the “sexism” and “cultural imperialism” of rescuing schoolgirls from atavistic brutes.

Later in the same thread, another commenter asks, 

When a female fire-fighter comes to my house and pulls me out of a fire is that “paternalistic”?

Were I being dragged from a burning building, that would be foremost in my mind.

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