Supporting The Revolutionary Women Of Afghanistan

Version française

Supporting the Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan
by Red Sonja and Flint (NEFAC)

[Northeastern Anarchist #3 Fall 2001]

This article will try and sketch out why anarchists should critically
support the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) as
part of an active anti-war work (as well as part of a larger
anti-patriarchal struggle!). RAWA has been on the frontline in radical
agitation for women's rights in Afghanistan for over 26 years. They have
fought against Soviet occupation in 1979, against the rise of the
US-supported fundamentalist reaction which followed, and since 1996, against
the similarly misogynist and fundamentalist Taliban. Self-described as "a
political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom,
democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan," they
are the only grass roots, feminist, secular, and social democratic women's
organization on the ground in that country.

Now with the current US war effort, the worlds' eyes are upon
Afghanistan and all its facets, including RAWA. RAWA are freedom fighters
who risk their lives educating and providing aid for women and girls in
Afghanistan and in surrounding refugee camps. They are raising
revolutionaries while running clandestine schools for girls who are
otherwise denied education, running secret income-generating workplaces
which are the only means for widowed women's survival under a regime that
bans a working female population, or distributing medical care, quilts and
food to refugee families in Pakistan. At the rise of the Taliban RAWA had to
expand their work into neighboring Pakistan, where millions of Afghan
refugees are living in deplorable conditions. There, RAWA sends medical
teams to women who have sometimes never been able to see a doctor. They
established the refugee Malalai hospital in Pakistan for 11 years but were
forced to close it recently for lack of funds.

While carrying on this work under such circumstances they have at
various times taken up arms. In recent encounters with Taliban supporters in
Pakistan, they have had to fight them off with sticks. They have armed
guards outside their clandestine schools for girls in some regions. They
have just issued a call for an uprising either with or without the tacit
support of the UN.

With the seemingly imminent fall of the Taliban as US bombs crash down
and Northern Alliance forces push ever forward, we cannot mirror the
enthusiasm of mainstream media that now women's problems are solved. In a
recent speech Laura Bush has equated the US "military gains" with women's
liberation in Afghanistan, in which "women are no longer imprisoned in their
homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of
punishment."

The fact is that the US has let loose the scourge of the Northern
Alliance onto the Afghan masses who endured their fundamentalist and chaotic
rule from 1992 until 1996, before being dethroned by the Taliban. The Jehadi
and Mujahideen factions that ruled (and are now part of the Northern
Alliance) have a well documented list of human rights violations.

The forces of General Dostum, who is now cheered as the protagonist
behind various anti-Taliban victories, are accused of regularly abducting
and raping women during that period. RAWA states that many women and their
families are fleeing the advance of the N.A. forces, well aware of the
terror the population endured pre-Taliban, and indicating that it was in
many ways worse than the reign of the Taliban. The only thing that changed
for women was that the Taliban institutionalized their misogynist decrees.

Rape in a broad sense is part of the class war waged against the
potentially powerful. It is a tactic of domination which intends to strip
the humanity, and consequently the ability to act as a free person, from its
victims. Women as a class, like the poor and oppressed classes as a whole,
hold the potential for revolutionary change in their organized struggle to
topple domination - a threat to those who hold that power. When asked why
the Taliban instituted such draconian laws against women, one RAWA member
said it was because they "could smell the feminist change in the air
globally," and so had to act against it. While it is a growing trend for
rape to be carried out as a strategic military weapon in modern warfare, in
which terrorizing and humiliating a population becomes the means to the ends
of "ethnic cleansing," it has always been effective in regulating the social
behavior of women. It is here where we can see one of the links to women's
oppression around the world with women's oppression under the Taliban and
other fundamentalists.

Supporting RAWA is a beginning, and as anarchists we enthusiastically
support their work as tangible weapons against patriarchy and the deadening
oppression all Afghanis face under the latest of fundamentalists. If we see
their politics as "radical liberalism" then we can be in solidarity with the
only group that displays potential for anti-authoritarian libertarian
politics in Afghanistan. They already exhibit practices of mutual aid,
decentralization, and uncompromising practice of anti-patriarchal struggle.
We must make the connections between the concentrated patriarchy inherent in
the fundamentalist regimes (of all major religions and cultures) and that of
the subtly patriarchal Western capitalist democracies.

In addition, the goal of anarchists supporting RAWA would be to
publicly advance their opposition to patriarchy and US military aggression,
and fundamentalism in all its forms, among the different social struggles in
our areas. We can also try to remedy the polarization of the anti-war
movement into either pacifism or authoritarian left "anti-imperialism". We
are anti-militaristic and anti-authoritarian; we want feminism and
self-determination, social peace and political and economic freedom.

However, since RAWA is an explicitly political group, having declared
so once they fought as armed anti-imperialists against the Soviet occupation
in the 80s, they have a political program that as anarchists we take great
exception to.

THE STATE

Much of RAWA's literature calls for a secular democratic State with the
full participation of all Afghanis and women especially (and happily
excluding all fundamentalists vehemently). They are not anarchists. They
want a State which would ideally extend human rights to all its citizens and
guarantees equal participation and representation - a situation much
desirable to their current one.

How do we envision our ideal society being organized in a place that
could only reach the level of chaos it has through its systematic
destruction by competing super-powers and misogynistic warlords? People will
use the example of the current state of Afghanistan as the reason why
anarchism would not work… we must be prepared to say why this is absolutely
false. Instead we can clearly show that it has been the struggle for nation
state power that has reduced Afghanistan to its present state. We should put
forth a critique of the State as fundamentally based on domination,
hierarchy, and power, and so therefore opposed to fundamental freedoms, and
provide an alternative vision federated councils where whole communities
participate in public life.

ECONOMICS

RAWA seemingly has no economic analysis. If RAWA's "secular democracy"
means another capitalist economy dependent on the whims of IMF and World
Bank agendas, or if they have in mind a socialist democracy, it is so far
unclear. Much of their political agenda is shrouded in the diplomacy that
post-September 11th has pressured them to take. It is clear to us that
Afghanistan will never be free from any form of imperialism if it adopts a
capitalist economy.

Regarding class, and cross-class alliances that we would be opposed to,
it's still a question what a discussion on class means in their context
(where 80% are unemployed, and those that are employed are very marginally
so). What does class mean where the majority of the population is forced
into the domestic reproduction of labor tasks only, prohibited access to
whatever medical care is available and forced into begging and prostitution
(which is also illegal) as their sole method of survival? What does class
mean when people sell their fucking children? If there is a class war going
on in Afghanistan, it's the women who are fighting back as the oppressed.

THE ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS

As a solution to the ongoing chaos in Afghanistan, RAWA proposes a UN
peacekeeping force which would have the aim of disarming the warring
parties. They also have called on the UN to revoke the economic sanctions on
their country, which had been merely punishing the poor and awarding more
moral power to the Taliban, whose international and criminal connections
left them unscathed by the sanctions. Instead, they say, the UN should place
diplomatic sanctions on the countries who have been funding the various
fundamentalist factions, including France, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the
United States!

On the other hand, we as anarchists need to strengthen both our
critique of the UN and our proposed solutions to the kind of chaos the
majority of the worlds' population lives under. The left has been caught
with its pants down, offering no solutions other than reliance on
hierarchical global governmental bodies to fix the nastiest of our problems
in the world. We are seemingly caught in a "double blackmail": if we oppose
US bombing of Afghanistan, we are for the legitimacy of the Taliban; if we
oppose the Taliban, we are for US bombs and/or UN "peace keeping"
intervention, which paves the way for global capital to rebuild the country.

THE EX-KING

Of other unlikely scenarios RAWA proposes is one in which the 89-year
old ex-King Zahir Shah should return to preside over a "transitional" period
which would usher in secular representative democracy.

Like other leftwing groups in Afghanistan, RAWA believes that the king
is the only symbol of stability that their country has ever known, and
though his reign was not ideal, most of the population believes it was
certainly better than present times. This nostalgic notion is further
complicated by the fact that the Zahir Shah has met with a recently
assembled Loya Jirga which was overwhelmingly fundamentalist in tone and had
absolutely no pretenses to include feminist or women's voices in general.

RAWA is not monarchist, but they err in using the symbology of the
king to unify a secular and anti-fundamentalist political front in that it
is nationalistic and hierarchical at its root. The ability of the population
to grasp real "democracy," in the sense of self-rule, through active
participation becomes even further from reach. As anarchists we see the
latter as the goal in social organization; giving up self-determination, and
therefore freedom, through the political system of representation furthers
us from the solution to the problem, for domination and hierarchy will
always be at the root in an anarchist critique.

That under the king things were better is true in a relative sense, yet
this should not forego the fact that there are liberating ways to move
forward. The well being of the women of Afghanistan depends on it.

PRACTICAL ACTION

Critical support is not intended to mirror the inactivity of sectarian
academics. As organized anarchists, we can publicly advance RAWA's
opposition to patriarchy and military aggressions by the US, not to mention
the US support of the Northern Alliance, within the growing anti-war
movement in North America. We have a void to fill when absolute pacifism on
one side and authoritarian left "anti-imperialism" on the other leaves no
room for anti-militarism and anti-authoritarian organizing. It also gives us
a forum for illustrating how anarchism is a desirable political philosophy
and one that is different from "radical liberalism."

With this understanding of critical support, the federation of
collectives and individuals that is NEFAC are currently organizing RAWA
benefit events, will be distributing RAWA literature, and will undertake
educational events. What other kind of solidarity could anarchists provide?
Demonstrations to stop the US bombing, end UN sanctions, demanding women's
rights/ human rights in Afghanistan. Working with local women's' groups in
the US to connect the global issues of women's rights, capitalist
globalization, and nation-states and their wars.

We can do this without compromising our principles. Further, this kind
of activism gives us a chance to not only put a portion of them in action
but to describe how they are different. Not doing so, we risk being
irrelevant.

RAWA is not an anarchist organization. However they have by necessity
had to adopt a great number of anti-authoritarian tactics and ideas, such as
mutual aid, decentralization and autonomy. Further they are opposed to all
of the most likely governments in Afghanistan: a State-Capitalist government
(ala Soviet Union; for instance with foreign backing from the Uzbekistan
Communist Party), a Taliban government, a Jehadi government, or a government
backed by Iran or Pakistan.

They are prepared to renounce the UN and the King; all the while they
have pleaded with both to do something different and condemned them often
for their actions. They have backed themselves into a political situation
where they are unlikely to ever be accepted into the government. That is
why they don't have any friends among other political organizations in
Afghanistan. Further, they have called for an uprising... a social
revolution... with or without (and I think they realize at this point that
it means without) support of any of anyone else but the people. If there
is hope for anarchism in Afghanistan... it is there.