June 2002

Asian Women Unite! an umbrella group of Asian women’s organisations and many individuals in Britain are mobilising protest against the war under the banner of  Asian Women United Against the War. We are women who have been at the forefront of fighting domestic violence, women engaged in struggles against racism, women from anti-imperialist organisations, women artists, writers and trade unionists.

We are  determined to be a strong and visible presence in these protests because:

Women’s voices have been silenced in all the rhetoric around the war

This war has hit women hardest – the majority of refugees and victims of the bombing in Afghanistan are women and children

This war will have a devastating impact on all our countries of origin in South Asia, further strengthening forces which are oppressive of women

All of us as Asian women in Britain are potentially under threat with the rise in racist attacks and anti-Muslim racism much of which specifically targets women

The media has portrayed all opposition to the war among Asians as coming from ‘fanatical’ supporters of the Taliban. As Asian women we must assert our position. We stand against American attacks on the people of Afghanistan and other countries  and we oppose the Taliban.  


Not in the name of  our rights!

Bush and Blair have hypocritically claimed that their military attacks on Afghanistan will relieve its people – especially its oppressed women. In reality, the US and Britain have ignored the appalling status of the vast majority of Afghanistan’s women during the conflicts and civil wars of the last twenty years or so, which are a direct result of earlier western interventions. At the same time some of the US government’s closest allies have a  shameful record of oppressing and persecuting women. But women’s status in these countries is ignored because their governments are serving US interests.

  • Under the Saudi interpretation of Muslim law, women can be beheaded and lashed for a range of sexual “crimes”, their mobility is severely restricted, and they remain utterly excluded from the political process.
  • Pakistani women know only too well the impact of being a US frontline ally. General Zia ul-Haq’s programme of “Islamisation” in 1978 set up new moral codes under which women were regarded as the root cause of social disorder. The notorious Zina Ordinance of 1979 – under which rape is seen as fornication, so that raped women can be prosecuted for committing a sexual crime — still stands today. Sex outside marriage is a penal offence liable to severe punishment including stoning to death and lashing.
  • Tunisia, a partner in the longest unbroken treaty relationship with the US, boasts a family code that regards women as legal minors. Tunisian women do not have the right to marry without a male guardian’s permission, while courts can order police to forcibly return a “disobedient” wife to her husband -even if she left him to escape domestic violence.
  • Turkey, whose commandos are joining US marines on the ground in Afghanistan, has a Penal Code which gives virtual impunity for so-called “honour killings” of female relatives and the notorious and degrading “virginity tests” have been reintroduced for girls studying in medical high schools.

And of  course the persecution and oppression of women is not confined to Muslim majority countries. In India, the so-called ‘dowry deaths’ are everyday occurrences and so are rapes and murders of women by the forces of the law. Today women’s rights are further under attack from the Hindu fascist forces currently in power.

In the US itself as we have noted human rights abuses continue unabated. In fact America is one of the few countries which has stubbornly refused to sign every international human rights agreement.

For us as women of South Asian origin, the cynical use of women’s status to justify colonial and neo-colonial policies and whip up racism is nothing new. It has its roots in Orientalism which created the original image of the ‘Eastern’ woman – the ‘forbidden fruit’ who had to be liberated from her oppressive and brutal man.

While the West portrays the Northern Alliance as liberals where women’s rights are concerned, ‘liberating’ women (under the guidance of the Allied forces) from the oppressive strictures of the Taliban, we must remember the reality:  When the NA forces captured Kabul in 1992 they subjected thousands of women to rapes, abductions and forcible ‘marriages’. Most Northern Alliance fighters come from mujahideen groups which fought the 1979-89 Soviet occupation with billions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition pumped in by the CIA via Pakistan. As the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) points out, “the mujahideen’s Islam was a penal code of severe strictures, robbed of culture, compassion and even mysticism. They paved the way for the Taliban ideologically, socially and politically.”

Racism intensifies

All of us as Asian women in Britain are potentially under threat with the rise in racist attacks and anti-Muslim racism much of which specifically targets women. The ideology of a ‘clash of civilizations’ which has been used to justify US foreign policy since the early 1990s has directly affected our lives in Britain. It has fed into the racism experienced by people in working class Asian communities in Britain, with Muslims increasingly demonized as fanatical and violent over the last decade. As a result, as people of Asian and other Third World origin we are all today under threat more than ever. Already in the wake of September 11th an Afghan taxi driver has been left paralyzed from the neck down in West London while a 19 year old Asian woman was hit repeatedly on the head with a baseball bat in Swindon. Many more such racist attacks have gone unreported. We cannot remain silent – we must come together to resist these attacks.

Are we all terrorists now?

Tony Blair has fascistically overridden parliament and all the structures of democratic accountability in committing Britain to the war. Now the ‘war against terrorism’ is being used as a pretext  to bring in a new ‘emergency’ anti-terrorism bill, which will take away the freedoms which we have won after long hard struggles. It will mean that people can be incarcerated indefinitely without trial – similar legislation in the US will even allow people to be sentenced to death without a trial. And as in America, this will be applicable only to foreigners

– British citizens will be exempt.  In order to bring in the new legislation, the British government is opting out of one of the fundamental provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights – the prohibition on arbitrary detention. It is the only one of 40 or so governments signed up to the convention to do this. Under the new powers, the Home Secretary will have the power to imprison a person indefinitely on the basis of suspicion: not of crimes already committed, but of what they might do. A major target of the legislation will be asylum seekers: in a culmination of a whole series of draconian laws which have  sought to portray refugees from repressive regimes as terrorists and criminals, information provided by the very governments they have fled will be used to detain them in Britain. They will automatically lose the right to pursue applications for asylum. It is feared that, as is already happening in the US, those arrested will face abusive conditions and their detention kept secret even from lawyers and relatives.

The use of mass internment as a tool of repression by the British state is not new: it was used against the nationalist communities in the North of Ireland in the 1970s and more recently in Britain during the Gulf War when many Palestinians and others from West Asian countries were detained. This time the powers are more sweeping than ever before and will potentially target all Muslims living in Britain who do not have British citizenship. Meanwhile, a whole range of other repressive measures have been smuggled almost unnoticed into the bill, intensifying mass surveillance  and curtailing freedom of information. To give just one example, it will become illegal for environmental groups to inform the public of the routes along which nuclear waste is being transported. Clearly, the new laws are designed to be used against all forms of popular resistance and dissent. From now on, we are all potential terrorists.

We must resist US plans to extend this war to other parts of the world

This war is not about a clash of civilizations. It is not about the West Vs Islam although that how it is being portrayed. Liberals who plead for more tolerance of  ‘non-western values’ are missing the point. Bin Laden and the Taliban are not being targeted because they are Islamic fundamentalists or because they don’t believe in democratic values or even because they are believed to have committed or supported terrorist acts. Beyond the immediate US imperative to show that it is retaliating for the September 11 attacks, they are being attacked because they are seen as threats to the consolidation of US power at a time when capitalism is in crisis. This is also why countries as diverse as Egypt and the Philippines and Malaysia are being labelled as part of the ‘Islamic’ world and threatened that the war may spread to targets within them

Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’ is terrifyingly open-ended – aimed at no one country, state or organisation. Far from defending democracy, such a war will spell the death of democracy for all those resisting repressive regimes, state forces or the interests of global capital. All resistance to state power will be potentially branded ‘terrorist’ and a legitimate target for repression and violence. Let us march together against the war!

Asian Women Unite! c/o Londec, 299 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2TJ, UK

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