Sunday Bookchat

April 19, 2008

We all know the drill. Some ostensibly left-wing figure — think Christopher Hitchens or Martin Amis — loudly announces he’s given up his liberal ways and goes flouncing off to the right side of the aisle, where his work becomes steadily crankier and less interesting. (David Mamet has just begun this process; several weeks ago he published a column titled “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal,” a title that proved only half right.)

And then there is former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips, who has moved steadily left and gotten more and more interesting, publishing valuable books such as American Theocracy, Wealth and Democracy and American Dynasty. Studying oil, religion and debt — the three things that make the world go ’round in the 21st century — Phillips has seen some disturbing trends and sought to explain them to his fellow Americans and his formerly fellow Republicans.

Phillips’ new book, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, covers ground already familiar from earlier books — specifically, America’s historic shift away from an economy based on manufacturing and production and toward one based on financial services, in which the endless sloshing around of money and the extension of bad credit creates the illusion of growth and prosperity. With the collapse of Bear Stearns and the credit crisis generated by the meltdown of the subprime lending sector, it’s a theme that’s more timely than ever before.

* * * * *

During the steady accumulation of lies that greased the rails for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, a great many neocons and warwhores started shedding crocodile tears over the status of women in Iraq. That the invasion has made the lives of Iraqi women infinitely worse is the message of Iraqi journalist Haifa Zangana’s new book City of Widows: An Iraqi Woman’s Account of War and Resistance. Reviewer Susan Chenelle explains:

The book’s title reflects the plight of women in today’s Iraq. According to one report cited, each day 90 women become widows. Zangana recounts many of the horror stories of the occupation, like the rape and murder by U.S. soldiers of 14-year-old A’beer Qassim Hamza al-Janaby, whose family was also murdered and their bodies burned in an attempt to cover up the terrible crime. In discussing various aspects of the occupation — such as how deadly it’s been for media professionals as well as Iraqi citizens — she reveals how women’s experiences in particular have been buried and misunderstood.

The author lays a large part of that confusion at the feet of those she calls “imperialist feminists.” Leading up to the invasion, the Bush administration adopted sudden concern for the plight of Iraqi women as one of its reasons for wanting to “liberate” the country. To convey this idea to the U.S. media, several U.S.-funded Iraqi women’s organizations were founded, staffed largely by Iraqi exiles and Iraqi-Americans. Their job was to convince the U.S. public that Iraqi women were desperate for “regime change”; after the invasion, their role was to promote democracy. Funding for these NGOs came from the U.S. State Department, but also from conservative U.S. think tanks like Lynne Cheney’s Independent Women’s Forum. Zangana calls out these NGOs as tools of U.S. foreign policy, completely divorced from Iraqi women’s real concerns under occupation — feeding their children, keeping their families safe, etc. — not learning how to vote. She notes that several of the Iraqi women involved in these NGOs have gone on to serve in the post-invasion Iraqi government while rarely speaking out about the atrocities the occupation has caused.

In the final section of the book, Zangana examines Iraqi resistance to the occupation. Reminding readers that armed resistance against occupation is a right enshrined by international law, she shows how difficult it’s been for peaceful political resistance to develop during the last four years, with leaders having to go into exile and occupation forces practicing collective punishment in areas where even nonviolent anti-occupation activity has taken place. She contrasts homegrown women’s organizations, like Iraqi Women’s Will and Knowledge for Women in Iraqi Society, with the imported, “depoliticized” NGOs funded by the U.S. These independent groups have been active in protesting the occupation and human rights abuses, and providing financial, occupational, medical, and educational support.

Her message is not that things were great for women under Saddam, but that Iraqi women had managed to win a level of personal freedom for themselves quite unique in the Arab word, and that the invasion has ruined that by placing women at the mercy of the mullahs and theocrats. It is not, needless to say, a viewpoint that dovetails with the gaudy fantasies of warwhores like William Kristol.

* * * * *

Maybe if Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and the rest of the creepy crew read more literary novels, they wouldn’t be a bunch of torture-endorsing, human-rights-abusing sleazes. That’s one of the possibilities raised by the ideas of Lynn Hunt, author of Inventing Human Rights: A History.

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2 Responses to “Sunday Bookchat”

  1. Lawrence Says:

    I saw Haifa speak at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California about a month ago. She was taking part in a Women’s International Perspective (WIP / http://www.thewip.com) forum on the progress of women’s issues. She was the keynote speaker, but, unfortunately, she was the only one on the panel who didn’t address, for very long, women’s issues. Instead, she told her mostly liberal audience important facts about the Iraqi war which we already knew: how many lives have been lost, how the war has set Iraqi society back decades, and how the 70s were a high point for Iraqi people. Her speech, mostly reading from her book, was important listening, but the listening only got more important during the Q&A session afterwards.

    Several Iraqis stood up and commended Haifa for her work; a stocky woman, an Iraqi, also stood and condemned Haifa for her lies and praised the US for their intervention and attacked Haifa for calling Iraqis who helped the US ‘traitors’. It was interesting to hear this point of view. Most interesting was Haifa’s response, which I paraphrase:

    I don’t think that Iraqis who helped the US are traitors. They had real reasons for what they did. I think that they are collaborators, like those French who helped the Nazis when they invaded France.

    This comparison not only compared the Iraqis who helped to Nazi-sympathizers, but compared the US military to the Nazis. This is a comparison that, however inflammatory it was meant to be, rightly or wrongly, I find to be untrue. The US military has certainly done terrible things on the order of Bush & Co., but the systematic destruction of a race is not one of them.

    That the US is now drawing comparisons to Nazis, the ‘flag pin’ its own brand of swastika, is cause for great concern.


  2. thats good article, best regards


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