Hillary Clinton is ‘the best known women in the world’ according to the BBC, and right now they are probably correct; she is currently doing a world tour to promote her new autobiography Hard Choices in which she name drops everyone from Bono to Aung San Suu Kyi. In her book, Clinton talks often of her ongoing commitment to women’s rights, to standing against atrocities committed against young girls such as female circumcision and of lifting the position of women in impoverished developing countries. In the words of Palestinian activist and writer Nadia Filistin: “As the purported story goes, a major part of her [Clinton’s] agenda during her time as Secretary of State was to put the spotlight on women’s issues internationally.”
Clinton is being held up by many social commentators as some kind of vision of ‘female empowerment’ – after all, she has smashed glass ceiling after glass ceiling, and she is a proud self-declared feminist. Hell, maybe she is even a ‘feminist icon’.
Last year The Daily Beast said of Hillary Clinton: “Hillary Clinton’s rise has also been buoyed by something bigger than hard work. It is the vindication that eventually comes when your struggles are seen to be on the right side of history.”
Hillary? On the right side of history? Don’t make me fucking laugh.
Selective historical amnesia is a comforting Western privilege – after all, it is the victors’ who write mainstream history. As Nadia points out,
There are over 100, 000 reasons which illustrate very clearly why Hillary is no feminist icon in Iraq alone. Hillary may have not been one of the architects of it, but she voted for the Iraq war and was and remains a hawkish proponent of the War on Terror. She said any nation lending Al Qaeda ‘aid and comfort will now face the wrath of our country. I’ll stand behind Bush for a long time to come’. Super conservative estimates have put the death toll in Iraq of well over 100, 000 thousand civilians. Many, many of whom were of course, women and children, the very demographic she professes to care about so much. She once said she’d ‘do everything [she] can to make sure that women compete at the highest levels, not only in the United States but around the world.’ Apparently, going home in a body bag somehow constitutes as a ‘chance’ at competing at the ‘highest level of success’.
More recently, the former US Secretary of State and aspiring President of the United States Hillary Clinton, was on the BBC’s Women’s Hour. Jenni Murray, who interviewed her ‘presented Clinton as a beacon of Female achievement,’ writes John Pilger. She made no mention of Clinton’s ongoing and enthusiastic support of Israel’s murderous and genocidal actions against the people of Palestine, even though Israel’s current assault on Gaza has killed over 1800 Palestinians – hundreds of them children. Nothing was said about Clinton’s support for illegal mass surveillance and the controversial pursuit of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowdon. And there was a resounding silence about her administration’s terror campaign using drones to kill men, women and children.
Jenni Murray is not the only influential (white) feminist commentator to back Clinton. Elizabeth Plank, a very influential feminist writer for the viral media website Mic, has been vocal in her support of Hillary for a long time now:
Clinton, who used feminism and the ‘liberation of Afghani women’ to promote, support and justify the continued invasion and occupation of Afghanistan that followed the 9/11 attacks – Jenni Murray did not remind her listeners of this, either.
In Clinton’s new autobiography she speaks of her dedication to the women of Afghanistan under the chapter ‘Afghanistan: To End a War’: “When I became Secretary of State, I requested that all our development and political projects in Afghanistan take into the account the needs and concerns of Afghan women. Creating opportunity for women was not just a moral issue; it was vital to Afghanistan’s economy and security.”
While Clinton banged the drums for war in Iraq (although, in her book Clinton is really sorry about the whole ‘Iraq thing’ – little bit too late for ‘sorry’ don’t you think, Hillary?) and later, Afghanistan, she forgot to mention women there had long implemented their own systems of powerful resistance to the violence and oppression they face. The women of Rawa, Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, have been attempting to alert the world to the suffering of Afghani women since 1977.
As John Pilger writes in his book Freedom Next Time: “The women of Rawa still travel secretly throughout the country, with cameras concealed beneath their burqas. During the Taliban time, they filmed an official execution and other atrocities, and smuggled the videotape to the West.”
When Marina (the codename for a leading member of Rawa) spoke to Pilger she said, “we took it [the footage] to all the main media groups: Reuters, ABC Australia, for example, and they said, ‘Yes, it’s very nice, but we can’t show it because it’s too shocking for people in the West.’” As Pilger suggests, this was before 9/11 and the Western media had not yet discovered interest in the women of Afghanistan.
The arrogance of Clinton in alerting the West to the suffering of Afghani women only to further her administration’s agenda cannot be missed – as if the women in Afghanistan were hapless and unable to stand up for themselves. The lives of Afghani women only mattered to the American people when Hillary, a white woman, declared it a cause she was committed to ‘helping’. The women of Rawa had been courageously alerting us to the horrific violence they face for over thirty years. Our Western media did not want to know – we did not want to know.
As Marina said:
[After 9/11] the Taliban suddenly became an enemy of America. They persecuted women, yes, but they were not unique, and we have resented the silence in the West over the atrocious nature of the Western-backed warlords, who are no different. In some ways, we were more secure under the Taliban. You could cross Afghanistan by road and feel secure. Now, you take your life into your own hands.
Clinton did not think this important enough, either, to mention in any speeches she gave on the ‘plight of Afghani women’, or in her new autobiography.
Malalai Joya is the youngest person ever elected to the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly – the Afghan Government). In 2003 she addressed the Loya Jirga, speaking for the people of Afghanistan, while surrounded by the American-backed warlords, murderers and criminals (also known as Afghan politicians and leaders), and she bravely condemned their actions in allowing these criminals in Government.
Joya is a woman among warlords who refuses to be silenced. Since speaking out she has faced multiple assassination attempts, but continues to travel the world speaking truth to power – she refuses to let the West forget the crimes that have been, and continue to be, committed against her nation and people. Joya wrote in her book Malalia Joya: Raising my Voice:
Some people say that when the [American] troops withdraw, a civil war will break out. Often this prospect is raised by people who ignore the vicious conflict and humanitarian disaster that is already occurring in Afghanistan. The longer the foreign troops stay in Afghanistan, the worse the eventual civil war will be for the Afghan people. The terrible civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal certainly could never justify […] the destruction and death caused by that decade-long occupation […] Today we live under the shadow of the gun with the most corrupt and unpopular government in the world.
As Joya has said time and time again: “No nation can donate liberation to another nation.”
If Clinton really wanted to help liberate the women of Afghanistan she would have worked with people like the women of Rawa and Joya, not against them.
If Clinton or the mainstream media in America had mentioned that women in Afghanistan were, of course, more than capable of standing up for themselves and had already built their own subversive systems of resistance, Hillary’s self-appointed position of White Feminist Saviour on Horseback would have looked not just insulting and disempowering, but also dismissive of female Afghani activists and the organisations they have built to support women and girls in Afghanistan.
Hillary Clinton did not save these women. Instead she silenced these women. Instead she enforced the stereotype of Asian women being hapless victims that needed to be saved (by white people) from evil dark men. “In Afghanistan we know how the media can throw dust in the eyes of the world,” Joya said, “promoting some perspectives while silencing others.”
Clinton’s own brand of feminism is doublespeak.
Clinton can call herself a feminist, and I will never dispute her autonomy and right to do so, but I will question her pimping of feminism in order to justify the continued occupation of Afghanistan in the name of ‘women’s liberation’.
I will question her brand of feminism, which declares she is for the rights of all women in America – as long as they are rich, of course. Hillary backed her Hubby’s 1996 welfare reforms, that radically cut the amount of financial assistance given to the poor and unemployed in the USA.
No prizes for guessing who hurts the hardest when governments slash welfare; women and children of course.
When well-known and influential white feminists such as Jenni Murray and Elizabeth Plank promote someone like Hillary Clinton as an example of female empowerment and freedom, it comes at the expense of other women in countries like Afghanistan. These endorsements by feminist commentators are not only short-sighted – they are a lie.
When you sanitize the crimes and actions of people like Hillary Clinton and talk only of their achievements and good deeds, you pardon them of their crimes and complicity in the oppression and killing of innocent civilians. Civilians who never wanted, and never asked for, the wars being fought by foreign powers on their land, in their own countries. Wars fought in our name.
As white feminists in the West, we cannot conveniently forget the histories and experiences of fellow women in countries such as Afghanistan, in order to create our own (female) Western histories. To do so is to undermine the basic meaning of feminism. It amounts to implicit racism wrapped in the body of morality and white female empowerment.
“Making symbolic commitments to women’s rights whilst simultaneously disregarding the human rights of ‘collateral damage’ (in the form of thousands of women) who fall into the firing lines of [Clinton’s] wars,” writes Nadia Filistin, “is not feminism.”