Transnational Feminism – Terrorism: A round-table discussion between Scholars from the USA and Europe
Organised by Cultural Theory Institute and Sociology, University of Manchester, 23rd March 2006
Speakers: Gargi Bhattacharya (University of Birmingham, President (elect) AUT); Inderpal Grewal (University of California at Irvine); Ronit Lentin (Sociology, Trinity college, Dublin); Jasbir Kaur Puar (Gender Studies/Geography, Rutgers University)
Video – Jasbir Puar’s presentation (9 min):
If you problems viewing the video or wish to download J. Puar’s presentation, click archive.org
Transcript of all the Speakers’ presentations:
Gargi Bhattacharya: As Virinder [Kalra] already said this whole idea of women’s rights has been bandied about by all kinds of dubious people at the moment, and this new phrase of this new imperialism; David Harvey talks about the new imperialism along with many other people. And as I’m sure everybody in the room knows, that is both the very familiar kind of old paternalistic monologue: saving brown women, perhaps from brown men, perhaps from backward cultures, perhaps from themselves but certainly saving them. But it is also an insertion of the idea of women’s rights as a criterion of successful nation building. We are seeing that in the news all the time. What it means to successfully occupy a country and build its nation has this criteria of what women’s rights will be in the newly formed nation and I think some of what the discussion tonight should be about that, and how we approach that politically.
I feel that a lot of what I have to say is so obvious, but I will say it anyway because it will be enabling to a wider discussion amongst ourselves or perhaps with the audience. There has been lots of displays of this emancipated Western Woman within the rhetoric and imagery of the War on Terror, now renamed the Long War. There is this deployment of high profile women; the Condoleezza Rice’s of the world, Cherie Booth and Laura Bush giving press conferences before Afghanistan is invaded, which is a kind of embodying of a certain kind of Western Womanhood. And I also think that there are ways in which that kind of constant referencing of the emancipated Western Woman has come to be embodied through certain kind of physical gestures of domination. It is kind of theatrical. In the famous press conference that Cherie Booth and Laura Bush give together, Cherie Booth gives this terrible (hand motions indicating two cupped hands around the eyes). Her explanation of why we have to invade Afghanistan to save these women is done through this gesture, what I am calling the ‘Burqa eyes’ gesture. This is how you say free (shows gesture), unfree (drops gesture). But there is also the whole kind of Lyndsey England torture scenes of the liberated Western Woman showing her dominance though torture scenes where she gives her thumbs up, which show the physical freedom of the Western Woman by the real open domination, brutalisation of the colonised person, in these cases male because of the most of the pictures of women were not so widely circulated. And I am taking those two things, both the circulation of high profile women as part of the rhetoric and also this kind of physical embodiment of these are the gestures of freedom and unfreedom as indication that it is not only white men saving brown women but this time around, or perhaps always, there are also white women doing the saving. That there is a very clear and articulated role for white women in this vision. White, or at least Western women, are central players; not passive partners at home repressed by the practices of white femininity, they are not the angel at home now. How this story is working is Western femininity shows its liberation by stomping around the globe being as imperialistic as its mentor. And I think that is why it’s worth talking about, so that is one of the points I would like us to discuss.
Lately I have been trying to think a little bit again about so called Black feminism. I would always say to myself that if I have a political schooling, part of it is Black feminism. In that way that British Black feminism which has blackness as an inclusive and political rhetoric which joins many peoples of colour. Now I think that background of Black Feminism is much less apparent than previously in this country, this is the country I know politically. And it has certainly been divided by the shifts in the politics of race because the politics of race in this country is really fragmenting greatly. I think lots of people who are involved in anti-racist politics realise this. There is very little cross community organising among minority communities now, I would argue. There are few, few people trying to do it but basically people are retreating into more and more particular ethnic identities. And how people think about empowering themselves tends to be very much on this community basis which seems to be getting smaller and smaller. It is no longer on a nation basis, not even on a region within a nation basis. Birmingham, where I live, you can see that fragmentation playing out really around debates about funding of community projects. But also just in how people live their lives, there are black women’s organisations active within Birmingham but to my knowledge they are all springing first from a idea of my ethnic community, my language group, perhaps my faith community and then making some alliances with other groups. I do not think that there is anyone who is starting from an idea of political blackness that can organise a broad umbrella of women around some shared political goal.
Now I think that even though there has been that splitting into particularity amongst people who previously, I would have hoped, been involved in a more inclusive Black feminism, there is some kind of overlap still into anti-imperialistic critique, in part because you cannot avoid it. The impact of these racist wars is so immediate on the streets where black people live in this country. You cannot be, I would argue, part of any of those minority communities and not have some take on what these wars mean for us. Some of them might have a quite defensive take, saying ‘oh no we are not the demonised minority’. But certainly everyone knows, everyone who comes from that previously colonised background, but we know, our families know. Our parents escaped those things. It is not a secret what is going on here. But what I am arguing is that that kind of ethnic fragmentation results in an anti imperialist politics which is highly ethnicised that’s articulated through exclusive understandings of ethnic identities; of who is not like us, of defending my ethnic articulations, especially issues around faith although not only faith. And we are still struggling to regain a more inclusive model of social justice that can answer these attacks of the new imperialism. Lots of progressive people from different positions and backgrounds are still kind of working around that. You can see that the kind of crisis in the anti-war movement as one instance of that, but I would say that the loneliness of trying to do anti-racist work in this country is also an instance of that. It is all very well saying that my right as this identity to have this thing and not be attacked, but that is quite a lot of steps away from saying we have an alternative vision of how the world should be which involves an analysis of what this new structure of power and violence means for all of us.
Feminism stripped of social justice that is what I think we are seeing in the new imperialist neo-liberal agenda. The imperial pinups of the new imperialism present a version of women’s empowerment that is split away from any wider social justice. It is not being part of a movement; it is not about anyone else’s rights. If one woman gets rich and gets to be Chief of State or something, that is it. That is as far as it goes. And I think that there is a danger in the climate of ethnic defensiveness, very understandable ethnic defensiveness given the attacks going on, black feminism could do the same. That we could become limited to claims for not much more than ethnic recognition and empowerment; if only we could have space for people like me. I am saying that is not enough and in fact, does not even keep you safe. Equally, I think that embracing women’s empowerment as the criteria by which we should judge the success of nation building is dangerous, dangerous stuff. A lot of the talk going on about Afghanistan and Iraq is saying ‘and look women’s lives are still rubbish, they are even worse’. But I think we need to say that even if women’s lives were better, imperialism would still be wrong and bloody and brutal and that is not the marker. That is not the test.
That is kind of an additional issue that is within and parallel, but it cannot be the test for it. It sounds like we are saying that ‘If you can get this right on this issue then we would just support the war after all’ which I don’t think is very valid. So I wanted to end with, which I am sure everyone is going to say, that we are really back as always , as all progressive people always are, to rebuilding again. I think there is very little discernible women’s movement in the UK today which again I regret just as much as I regret this kind of retreat into particular ethnic identities. But instead I think that feminism is part of the political education of a whole range of activists across issues. I meet plenty of feminists but I do not meet them in a discernible feminist movement. But if you do any kind of political work there are plenty of women around and actually men as well, who have been deeply formed by feminism and their politics around a range of issues is informed and thought through that. But I also think that, now, I am not sure any longer that feminism alone can provide a framework for social justice, and maybe I never really thought that. Although, I am of that age who always used to think that Black-Marxist feminism or some kind of list of that kind that was committed to fighting imperialism that there would be this perfect politics which would embody both my identities and the structures which I saw that needed addressing. Now I am kind of feeling older, tireder, not so in love with the most beautiful idea that would make us all free. So I am kind of saying that well maybe feminism is one of those beautiful ideas that will never have this perfect incarnation which if we could just nail it, then that would make us all free. And instead our challenge is to mobilise our feminist understandings as part of the wider movement for global justice, which might be different kinds of compromises, and certainly might mean supporting the anti-imperialist struggles of those who it is not that easy to call comrade immediately. Good, one minute over. Sorry, going to leave the room for just one moment.
Inderpal Grewal: I admit I was a little puzzled by the title, as was probably everybody. What does it mean? So I want to go back a little to talking about how I tried to understand the title. But I wanted to think about, what again starting with what Gargi has talked about, to think about the terminology of transnational feminism as it has emerged in a lot of contexts, as something that will address the problematic, the racism, the imperialism maybe, or whatever else from earlier versions of feminism. And I think that has always been a problem, for me, to think about transnational feminism as having successfully dealt with all the problems of the past because I think that no movement can ever do that anyway. But it is important to think of as, you know my colleague Karen Caplan and I did, of feminist practices; of what they might mean, a range of them, intersectional, all of those, and across a number of terrains I think and to use feminists as a analytic. To think about what feminists might work as a particular kind of analytic, and what might lead us to do not just as an object of analysis but as an analytic and that might be interesting in a certain way. So that feminism as a practice might be something about interrogating subordination, inequality, imperialism, the kind of production of differences between public and private, tradition and modernity, domestic and foreign, bio politics and geopolitics, sexual differences. All of these practices would be included in thinking about what a feminist analytic might mean.
So I am interested in thinking about how transnational processes and practices produce the formations that we need to interrogate. How they bring, for instance neo-liberalism, calls upon a rearticulate of the public/private divide that we might be critically engaging with for instance. And to think about the also the problematics of imperialist feminism, which Gargi has talked about it, the longer, much longer history of imperialist feminism. Right, in thinking about imperialist feminism and imperialist nationalism within for instance, 19th century colonial practices, both were very much alive so it is, you know, it is not a new formation, though it has been called upon in a different kinds of way today.
So I want to think about sort of feminist analytics as an important way to understand those kind of historical formations that have taken us to some of what we need to discuss today. So the formations that we need to interrogate, the kind of contexts of neo-colonialism, colonialism, and neo-liberalism and in the US a particularly virulent form of neo-conservatism that is a slightly different from the neo-liberalism that is sort of the Thatcherite- Reagan formation. Neo-conservatism has brought in much more powerful right-wing Christian agenda which is using sexual politics and gender politics as very important strategies of empowerment, vote-getting, etcetera for right-wing politicians and right wing movements’ etcetera. So that is a very important kind of difference in the US version of neo-liberalism that we could also talk about in relation to feminism. And so in that formation, we see people like Pat Robertson and others. For them, the long litany of enemies include, you know, Muslims, feminists, queers, all kinds of different people all brought together in that kind of right-wing, neo-conservative, Christian imaginary that is extremely powerful. So I think that we need to think about again that rather than producing another kind of movement that will address all of the problems of the past, what other analytics and critical practices we can bring to understand what is going on and to address some of what is happening.
So in that vein, I am not so interested today in terrorism per se but I am interested in the kind of binary of terror-security, as a particular way of binary in which certain kinds of new politics are getting mobilised. And I am interested in the binary of terror and security precisely because what it does is governmentalise security in the interest of terror in new ways. To say that for addressing the problem of terror, you need security and in order to get security we need to do X, Y, and Z. So I am interested in the forms of surveillance and the subjects that are produced through the politics of security, right, and these get govermentalised. So I am interested in thinking about citizenship practices, uses of various kinds of technologies. Uses of, actually, technologies and practices, that might be used to say but that they get used for other ends, for instance. And that is kind of what I am interested in. The ways in which technology; bio-political technologies, right, technologies of empowerment, of life always exist alongside other technologies. That technologies can do multiple things. So that in fact, when Foucault says something about biopolitics, as being sort of the next step after sovereign power, I think one can see that biopolitics does not exist without sovereign, right. And that sovereign power and biopolitics have to exist together. So in understanding sort of securitisation and the ways in which biopolitics and geopolitics come together in producing subjects of security we find something different. So I am interested, then, in thinking about how some kinds of laws in the U.S. around violence against women, which were used particularly to incorporate the kind of movement against domestic violence have been used in recent versions of the Violence and Women Act for greater surveillance technology. For instance, the new version that Bush just passed in the Violence against Women Act, includes a greater amount of money for surveillance technologies, border patrol, DNA collection data gathering. All of these technologies become used, incorporated, within the Violence against Women Act. So that is one way in thinking about how securitisation is producing new kinds of subjects.
The other way I am interested in is to think about how subjects, such as Mother for instance, are used in the United States for the production of these subjects of security. So, for instance, we have something called the ‘Amber Alert’. I do not know if you know about this. It is a technology where if a child is kidnapped, the highway signs will say ‘Amber Alert, Amber Alert’ and they will do like a quick description of the child which is lost, right. So there are all these ways of technologised ways of spreading sort of ideas of fear. And what is really interesting in this, is that the heightened and the ubiquitous use of these technologies of security produce this kind of terror and fear. And it is the ways in which both right-wing and left-wing women in the U.S. are starting to say, that one of the things we are most concerned about is sort of children being kidnapped, and spousal abuse, etcetera, etcetera. But how those things become mobilised for security is an interesting aspect of what we might also turn our attention to. So to think about the ways in which the technologies of life, surveillance. Even such a simple thing as my giving my children a cell phone to use becomes a form of surveillance, right. The Google, the internet, all of these things that are supposed to increase our sense of security, our sense of how safe we can be, how we can be connected to our family, are continually mobilising to make us into surveilling someone or someone else. Our neighbours, our families, our partners, or whatever else, so that there is a whole ubiquitous govermentalisation of security through all these various technologies that are very interesting to look at. So one can see, for instance, that there are spaces in which sort of what we thought were progressive practices of safety and security have become incorporated, or become part of the state practices of security. So this leaves us with questions of the ways in which I would argue what Mbembe calls the necropolitcs do not really exist without the biopolitics, right. There is not this divide that necropolitics is in the colonial space out there and biopolitics is in the West. No, it is not. They exist together everywhere. So we need to kind of critically engage with some of the questions that this poses for us.
Ronit Lentin: Because I want to talk about redefinitions of terrorisms and feminisms in the plural through the kind of prism of barbed wire, I went on Google images and I found loads of images, which are going to make it quite real, I hope. I am going to talk about Israel-Palestine. Before I kind of proceed, I would like to say that I am really quite pessimistic about international, transnational feminism being able to provide a counter-terrorism strategy. As Barbara Ehrenreich said, she said, “The solution is in educating women and addressing our abysmal record of women’s rights.” And she said, “If we want to beat Osama we got to start by listening to his sister-in-law, Carmen.” Really, I have a bit of problem with that, but maybe see where it goes.First, I would like to say that I’m a bit more interested in terrorism than I am interested in feminism today. Looking at some of the definitions from the F.B.I. and other definitions I am moved really to think that terrorism looks like state terrorism and not the other kind. F.B.I. says that ‘terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government or the civilian population or any segment at all in further of a political or social decree’. I agree that one woman’s terrorist is another woman’s freedom fighter, but I really think that we have to think in terms of terrorism in very real and concrete terms. And I would like to talk about the Israeli state practices, because Israel to me is a textbook case today of what Goldberg would call a racist state. Although, the term racism is not really very popular in Israel, by Israeli social scientists, who prefer to talk about ethnicity and other things because race is still seen very much in biologic terms. Now Israel, just to kind of briefly say, Israel is defined as the State of the entire Jewish nation, and not only its citizens, it grants automatic citizenship to all Jews who wish to come there, but does not grant the right to return to Palestinians who were made refugees, both by the establishment of the State in ‘48 and in ‘67. The State of Israel also has laws which determine 95% of land, State land, and it does not allow non-Jews, i.e. Palestinians, to lease these State lands. It also cites demographic anxiety. According to which by 2020 Israel will become, will no longer have a Jewish majority. So therefore, it has a whole slue of legislation to preserve Jewish demographic superiority. Amongst other things, the Citizenship and Entry Act.
What is kind of interesting, recently I come across two books which talk about barbed wire as a paradigm for modernity. It apparently had been invented, and I will just go through these slides very quickly without any kind of order, they are just pictures (starts overhead projection of images of barbed wire). But it was invented by the Americans to prevent cattle from, from getting into wheat fields and then adopted by the British in South Africa. First, to protect the railway lines from Boer Commandos and then to protect Boer concentration camps. But, in Israel it was used in firstly creating the first settlements in the 19th century, early 20th century. At the moment it become like an ethno-marker of Israeli superiority and sovereignty. It is a very cheap technology. It is mass-produced and it aims for total spatial control by its exercising technological violence. It is the essence of the modern advantage of metal over flesh. A graphic symbol of imprisonment and political violence and it is the most potent, to me, physical representation of the Israeli racial state. It is very profusely used, as you can see in these pictures. It is used to enclose, bar, separate, and prevent access. In other words, it really is another definition of terrorism, as it threatens the innocent to create fear and intimidation in order to gain a political advantage. We talked about Foucault and I would kind of like to talk a bit about Agamben, which is kind of an extension of Foucault’s theories. He talks about the binary of sovereign power versus ‘bare life’. The sovereign is the indistinction between violence and the law and the ‘bare’ of this link, it is called ‘bare life’ or homo sacer. If the sovereign embodies unlimited power, it identifies with the biological act of the people. The existence of the personal of the home sacer is reduced to bare life, stripped of every right because it can be killed with impunity. Agamben develops the link between sovereignty and the State of Exception to argue for what he calls the global, to argue in what he calls the global civil war, the State of Exception increasingly appears as the dominant paradigm of government in all contemporary politics. The State of Exception is characterised, amongst other things, by the law being suspended in the military power, where military powers are often extended to the civil sphere.
Ranhem, the Palestinian scholar develops his work to argue that the on-going Israeli occupation of Palestine is based on the reduction of the occupied to biological subjects. In a biological, biopolitics regime where the life of the subject is not protected by the state, the life of the occupied subject is akin to ‘bare life’. He who may be killed at the State’s whim. For the continuing existence of the series of emergency laws, the State of Israel, since the time of the British mandate, the State of Israel regulates Palestinian lives; both Israeli citizens and in the territories. And what Ranhem has talked about is really the significance of the border as the signifier of the State of Emergency the Palestinians find themselves in. The border signifies the violent severance of the lives and family ties Palestinians have had before the Naqba, which is the 1948 catastrophe, and the loss of olive orchards to others on the other side of the border. In the shadow of the post-Naqba military government, the border became the scene of life in the shadow of death, where the Palestinian body is made by the Israeli authorities to undergo a transformation in the unbare lives. The barbed wire mentality and practice is the essence of war, of the war on/of terror. This is an expression coined by Stilla Eisenstein, which is quite interesting. ‘The State, which privileges national security, positions itself above morality, at the same time it invokes morality in its defence.’
The question is whether, what has been called feminist peace activism in Israel/Palestine, which often vacillates between motherist discourses and at the moment, draft resistance discourses and practices, can actually provide this counter-narrative to State might. Despite not clearly destabilising the Zionist narration of nation, or the racist State itself. Now from the beginning of the last Intifada, feminists have found themselves, together with other intellectuals, as both self-silent and feeling victimised and blaming Palestinians, and Palestinian women, for the escalation in violence. In recent times, since the escalation, many more feminists have begun to rally around other peace activists. The Israeli women’s peace groups which started to work around the 1982 Lebanon war had, according to some, greater impact not upon the struggle, but upon the impact upon the voice for women in society. In other words, they had greater influence on women assuming their voice. Some women say that Israeli women have been the majority of the peace movement. This is problematic because the Israeli feminist peace activism is very often guided by the middle-class, heterosexual, and I would argue that because Israeli feminist peace activism tends to maintain an essentialist discourse of a woman, or women, thinking mothers as more able to make peace, fall short of opposing the racial State. For example, many feminist peace activists whilst intent on dismantling the occupation are not opposed to Israeli sovereignty. For instance, one journalist has quoted one activist of the group that monitors the checkpoints in order to supposedly humanise their policing by the soldiers, and she says she wants the Israeli government to end the occupation, withdraw to the Green Line, and build a border. She says there will be terror, but we will be justified if we hit back. Note the acceptance of terror as inevitable and this terror is not State terror, as I would see it, but terror of some nebulous terrorists who are kind of induced and compounded by a kind of panic and politics of fear. And these peace activists, often standing in vigils by the barbed wire fences or cement fences, as Palestinian women and men pass or do not pass through, believe that we will be justified if we hit back.
You know that Israel is the only state that conscripts women, but traditional gender roles mean that married women, or religious women, or mothers are exempt. But the draft resistance movement, recently, has been quite prominent, is quite a new phenomenon, but in tends to by in large a military, masculine affair. But just recently some women have joined and there is a group called New Profile, which is a feminist movement for the civilisation of Israeli society, says that about 40% of the women each year do not enlist for a variety of reasons. If motherhood and women’s natural peacemaking role are central themes to Israeli feminist peace activism, then young women draft resisters express commitment to individual morality as opposed to state morality. Very often they raise their voice against the testosterone-laced male recruiting calls, insisting that their main focus is not to empower women but to resist the occupation. But very few of them actually cite feminism as the reason for their objection. Recently, one has particularly cited this as a reason, and she has been jailed, again unusual for women and one wonders whether the State is particularly afraid of this sort of feminism. Or indeed Ehrenreich is right, that feminism could be a counter-terrorist struggle.
Now just to conclude, in 1979 I interviewed a prominent academic, and she told me there was little point in fighting the national fight without struggling for gender equality. In 2006, Jamila Shanti, who headed the list for Hamas women candidates, said that all female activists agreed on the need to tackle gender discrimination. Despite stiff criticism of the movement’s contradictory approach to women, another newly elected Hamas MP puts forced marriages, honour killings, and girls being kept out from school as her chief political priorities. None of them, I think, have been prepared to give up the national struggle or put the gender equality as the priority for the national struggle. And she insists that there is nothing illegitimate about suicide bombers. This is something we need to talk about when we talk about transnational feminism and terrorism. She says Israelis bomb our neighbourhoods with high explosives. ‘What kind of weapons do we have against F 16’s and she says yes, she would encourage her sixteen year old son to die killing Israelis. I am preparing for him.’ I would like to just say, to kind of end, that these women are feminists. They are committed to the liberation of women. But their feminism cannot be mobilised, a la Ehrenreich as a counter-terrorist strategy, because they are struggling against state terrorism. Having to daily negotiate their regularisation by the Israeli State; whether or not they have to crawl through barbed wire fences in their daily business, as most Palestinians have to, then the line between terrorism and freedom forces another barbed border. I’ll just finish the pictures for you to be as shocked as I was.
Jasbir Puar: I am going to start a little bit where Inderpal left off in terms of this relationship between biopolitics and necropolitics. One of the things that I am interested in is the ways in which lesbians, gay, bisexuals, transgender intersect queer and questioning so I am just going to say LGBTQ from now on, okay. I am interested in the ways in which LGBTQ subjects are actually participating in the war on terror. Either as mobilised on the war on terror or these subjects themselves are supporting the war on terror, and they have a certain kind of complicity with the war on terror. One of the reasons why I am interested in this is because it seems to me that the relationship that queer subjects have to biopolitics and necropolitics has actually shifted dramatically. So whereas in 1992, Judith Butler was very critical about this idea of biopolitics because she pointed to the AIDS epidemic and said, that you know, actually that this is type of necropolitical, she did not say necropolitical system, but this was the implication and that queers were kind of outside of a biopolitical maintenance of life. That actually, now, we can point to all the ways in which LBGTQ subjects are not automatically or instantly marginalised; that they are actually part of a biopolitical regime that works to their benefit and these are not subjects that are immediately excluded from nationalism, from imperialism, and of course the question is were they ever, right? And that is an important question too, but the assumption that these are marginalised subjects, I think we have to give way on that.
And I think the reason, and we can point to so many reasons why that is the case. The change in demographics of HIV transmissions and prevention funding, and the kind of whole imperialist pharmaceutical industry. The decriminalisation of sodomy in the U.S., the incorporation of various versions of legalised gay marriage and domestic partnerships. The rise of a global gay Right- wing, which is anchored in Europe and attains credibility very pointedly through Islamophobic rhetoric; we can look at the Netherlands, for instance. And also gay and lesbian representation, however awful they might be, such as the L Word and Queer Eye. And also the ways in which gay and lesbian’s human rights frames have become completely normalised, that they actually have a global Gay identity attached to them. And marketing corporation as well. Nash uses the term market virility, basically, to locate a kind of gay centre, who has access to capital in similar ways and can actually simulate hetero-normative paternity, either through the purchase of reproductive technology or through the participation in the market that, actually, simulates a kind of virility. And then we can also look at the way in which LGBTQ kinship norms are actually coming to be formed. David Eng, in that great article, points that two or three decades ago the idea was to get away from family; if you were lesbian or gay you needed to get out from a homophobic family and now we are at a place where there are all these kind of normativising forces creating certain kinds of gay families, creating certain kinds of lesbian families. So these are all various successes of incorporation into consumer markets and civil rights that I think entails that we have to think differently about this relationship between biopolitics and necropolitics. In other words, beyond these kinds of identity frames, actually. They do not work across the board for any of the identity frames. Of course, this kind of folding in of LGBTQ subjects into biopolitics is contingent upon certain kinds of other markers, right; white racial privilege, consumption capacities, gender and kinship normativity and bodily antiquity. So I think that also we have to ask the question so what kinds of possibilities of death, what kinds of necropolitics, are these subjects actually able to participate in or are linked to in various ways. So, you know, what are the forms of death are actually attached to these subjects.
I will give you a few examples of this. First of all, with the Abu Ghraib case in 2004. I mean this was really a perfect example of whereby, what was a devitalising and extremely awful practice against another population was actually turned into a vitalising event for Americans. It was actually redirected, biopolitically, as something that was optimal. Because it was securing, as Indirapal was saying, it is a securitisation rhetoric that says this is actually for the benefit of us. So whatever happens is just collateral damage over there. And the way in which that kind of got quantified through LGBTQ critique is that the torture acts were immediately understood within the frame of homosexuality. Immediately, there was this understanding that somehow these acts were homosexual acts and that homosexual acts are taboo in Islam. And this line was actually produced by progressive commentators. I mean this was not a line produced; I have traced where this has come from and how it got reproduced. And it was actually a Middle-east expert from NYU, who actually used this line and it got repeated over and over again: homosexuality is taboo in Islam. So this rather horrific, overarching, blanket statement that says really nothing, but wound up being the explanatory key to thinking about Abu Ghraib. And who produced these lines and who introduced them. By and large, gay, and lesbian, and queer commentators who were asked to say something about the situation then kept reproducing this racist, imperialist line about homosexuality. And so this is one example of the ways in which there is a kind of relationship between biopolitics and necropolitics that LGBTQ subjects are implicated in.
Another example would be the way gay marriage is working in Europe, for example. In line with, some of you might be familiar with Outrage. What is his name? Does anybody remember his name? Peter Thatchell, yes. So there is one activist who is particularly egregious with this little thing. Outrage seems to have decided that Muslims in particular are a special threat to LGBTQ communities, right. So there is a particular kind of war of populations that has been set up. So every time there is a certain security incident, a terror incident, whatever; that Outrage, you know, claims to be getting prank phone calls and death threats and always kind of targeted Muslim communities as the community that they are most vulnerable to. So once again you see this kind of bizarre relationship between the security of LBGTQ and the risk, the threat that Muslim communities pose to the security of this other group. As if there were no overlap between the two groups, as if this were the only kind of population that we are being set up against each other. And we see this also with the question of gay marriage. I think in Europe, to me, gay marriage is actually indexing a kind of civilisational marker between those who are able to appropriately practice kinship norms, right. This is largely about gender and kinship and somehow homosexuality manages to fit itself into this. So who can reproduce themselves in this kinship norms and then who are the kind of unassimilateable others, foreign others, who are not able. Who are attached to, you know, perverse sexualities that terrorist bodies get attached to, and all sorts of discourses on paedophilia and so on. So there is a kind of divide around kinship that works to define civilisation and gay marriage is, actually, part and parcel of that kind of divide that is going on right now.
The last thing I wanted to say is also about, would be about, the decriminalisation of sodomy in the United States. Sodomy was decriminalised on the federal level for homosexual and heterosexual consensual relationships between adults in 2003. What happened was, and this is a case that overturned a seventeen-year old decision that had basically allowed states to decide; whether or not they were going to criminalise sodomy was up to them. So this was a federal overturning of this. And of course in the very narrow frame of gay and lesbian civil rights, right, this is a huge victory and it is understood as something that is absolutely liberatory and it is kind of the emergence of the queer liberal subject before the law. But in actuality, the decriminalisation of sodomy just means that there will be all sorts of other points of regulation that other people will take up. For example, in relation to gays and lesbians adopting, to questions of health and medical records. I mean there are all of sorts of ways through which this manifests as different kinds of regulation as opposed to a complete deregulation. And the thing that was really interesting to me was that there was no conceptualisation of what it means to decriminalise sodomy for a very narrow segment of LGBTQ community, who could actually fit into the way the ruling defined who was allowed to have sodomy. The ruling itself mobilises this notion of private intimacy, intimacy in the private. So it actually used a kind of moralising barometer to decide that as long as sodomy was happening in the privacy and it was intimate in the privacy of one’s home. So we have property implicated in that and we have certain, again, very narrow kinship formations and intimate kinship relationship. So these were the very narrow terms within which sodomy was decriminalised. And what happened, in turn, was that there was no connection to the war on terror in terms of thinking about what it means to decriminalise sodomy when we have just invaded Iraq four months earlier, for example. Or nine months later, the pictures from Abu Ghraib come out and this idea of homosexual sex as sodomy is racialised and comes back. So who is allowed to have the private, intimate sodomy and who is actually pathologised as having a kind of perverse homosexual sodomy is at stake here and, once again, defines the terms between biopolitics and necropolitics. And I will stop there.
The following is a paraphrased account of the discussion between the panellists and the audience. It is important to note that the panellists responded to the questions in rather varied and oppositional ways. On the other hand, certain positions of some commonality emerged and it is these collectivised points that are summarised here.
All the panellists problematised the manner in which various struggles with a feminist label and identity do often, explicitly or implicitly, through their rhetoric and practices, legitimise structures which are oppressive towards other marginalised groupings (i.e. the Muslim Immigrant). Many of the assumptions which underpin certain feminist causes are complicit in advancing certain oppressive State and ideological dynamics. The panel urged a greater awareness for feminist groups to position themselves, not only against the State, but also in relation to the daily patterns of cultural consumption and consumerism. Importantly, this criticism is not only directed against feminism, but rather, towards all progressive politics; in other words, the crisis of progressive politics.
Secondly, the reasons for the emergence of the Western Woman, as a central symbol, as well as an active and pivotal agent of neo-imperialism were discussed. The Western Woman has become central to the ideology of individualisation, consumerism, and democracy and in turn, is exported through the expansion of global consumerism and the neo-imperialist politics which accompany it. It is important to resist this essentialised and neo-colonial image of the liberated woman. The female subject is able to interact with democracy in a diverse way which reflects the diversity of a feminist identity. Hence, it is crucial to counter this current discursive identification of the Western Woman as the sole embodiment of democratic practice.
Thirdly, the problematic relationship between feminist theory and religion was discussed. Feminism, in all its’ diversity, must reconcile some of the positions on religion, as well as other cultural expressions, which is understood from a structural analysis as oppressive. It is important to recognise and engage with these cultural expressions, especially religion, in terms of the manner in which it is internalised into individual subjectivity. And in turn, the manner in which it can act as a point of individual, and thereby, communal, empowerment and mobilisation. They are, in fact, able to ‘critique global capital and militancy’ through these particular points of mobilisation. Consequently, groups such as Hamas must be engaged, at least in terms of some of the feminist elements within it, despite however problematic and uncomfortable it might be in terms of other related struggles and issues. Transnational feminism, if we are to accept it as a viable concept, must locate, respect and engage with the localised contextualisation and particularities of feminist struggles. On the other hand, it is vital to remember that religion is still, and will continue to be, a point of militant and rigid exclusion and thereby, marginalisation. As Jasbir says, queer politics and identity is invariably opposed to established centres of religion and the possibility of reconciliation on any level is extremely problematic.