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Human rights and the “War on Terror”

The Faculty and Staff Association (Human Rights & International Solidarity) and the Race & Antiracism Network (RAN) sponsored the lecture “Human Rights and the ‘War on Terror’” January 30 at UFV’s Abbotsford campus. Presenter, Dr. Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies at UBC spoke on the topic of “Imperialism, Feminism and the ‘War on Terror’.” Ron Dart, a faculty member in UFV’s department of Political Science presented on the topic of “Human Rights, Terrorism and the American Empire: The Double Hook.”

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By James Inglis (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: February 8, 2012

The Faculty and Staff Association (Human Rights & International Solidarity) and the Race & Antiracism Network (RAN) sponsored the lecture “Human Rights and the ‘War on Terror’” January 30 at UFV’s Abbotsford campus. Presenter, Dr. Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies at UBC spoke on the topic of “Imperialism, Feminism and the ‘War on Terror’.” Ron Dart, a faculty member in UFV’s department of Political Science presented on the topic of “Human Rights, Terrorism and the American Empire: The Double Hook.”

Elder-in-residence, Charlotte Point opened the lecture by welcoming the speakers and the audience to First Nation’s territory. Dr. Thobani, an outspoken commentator on issues such as feminism, racism and gender relations, followed and delivered an impassioned presentation to a hushed room of students, faculty, staff and members of the public. Thobani began her presentation by stating, “wherever we travel to, wherever we go in BC, in Canada, in North America, these are lands that were stolen from indigenous people.” She believes there is a need to acknowledge what has been done and continues to be done to the indigenous population. According to Dr. Thobani, the war on terror and its impact on race and gender relations and forms of masculinity and femininity that are being deployed through this war on terror and the question of colonialism are central to how the war on terror has been framed and how support for that war has been mobilized.

War on terror has enabled “a new found public sanction for invasion,” and racial profiling. Thobani called Canada “a global settler state.” She said that “colonialism, occupation [and] invasion has been central to [Canada’s] founding.” Dr. Thobani did not believe that the war on terror is something new that only began with the attacks on 9/11. Her research traces which countries have been the chief players on the war on terror through history, but focuses on the western feminist response to the war on terror. Thobani argued that colonialism has never ended in the west and sees the war on terror as a “perpetuation of that particular phenomenon.”

Dr. Thobani’s presentation examined “how feminist responses to the war have intersected with the larger ideological framing of the war that has been forwarded by neo-conservatives who have been the chief architects of it.” Thobani said that her main argument about the war in “terms of race is that the war on terror is actually a reconstituting at the global level the institution of white supremacy.” She viewed the war on terror as a new form of colonialism for the 21st century.

Thobani was of the mind that white feminists “used the opening that the war gave them to reconstitute themselves as the real enlightened subjects of the west to redefine gender equality as an integral feature of western culture and western commitment and in the process many feminists ended up building an alliance with the State, actively included in the project of civilizing Muslim women and particularly around efforts to build reconstruction projects in countries like Afghanistan.” Dr. Thobani stated the war on terror has permitted the front-line participation of women in the war, both on the battlefields both in support and combat roles in American, Canadian and British armed forces. The war on terror has permitted women to be active in the role of foreign policy, military establishments and war journalism in ways that had not been permitted before.

Thobani’s research into how western feminists reacted to the war on terror reveals three general feminists responses to the war on terror. The first reaction is supportive of the war and subsequent actions taken by the United States. The second reaction, championed by such by feminists as Judith Butler, is to oppose the invasion of Iraq, but focus on the actions of 9/11 and beyond. This response tends to ignore or minimize the violence committed against others by the United States. Thobani states this position creates the innocence of the American Feminist Subject.

The final response of western feminists, Thobani noted, is a reaction to an Islamophobic construct of Muslim men as hyper-patriarchal, hyper-masculine, and hyper-misogynist and argues that American men also oppress American women. Thobani believes this response results in both American and Muslim women being seen as victims. Thobani concluded, “anti-racist and anti-colonial feminists have long argued that western feminism historically have a flawed relationship with colonial and imperial projects that have been central to the construction of the west and to the re-emergence of white supremacy at the global level.”

Ron Dart’s presentation, “Terror in the American Empire, the Double Hook” touched on the different phases of human rights and focused on political rights as they link to states and the American Empire. Dart stated that Canada has always had a love-hate relationship with the United States.

Dart discussed Edward Herman’s examination of how the language of terrorism is used. According to Herman’s work there are three types of terror: constructive terror, benign terror and nefarious terror. Dart states that constructive terror can be used to describe violence that “fulfills the needs and ambitions of the USA.” Benign terror is described as “something that is not done directly by an imperial power, but a client state of the USA to consolidate power in an area.” Nefarious terror, according to Dart, is “what hurts us. [It] is what the enemies of the first world do to other states.” Dart argued in the post-9/11 world, Islamism “has become the new focus of nefarious terror” and nefarious terror is deemed to be what other nations do to the USA.

According to Dart, although constructive terror has killed millions it is often ignored because the deaths have been committed by “us”, and therefore is not deemed to be negative. On the other side, if violence threatens the West then that is considered nefarious. Dart spoke to the issue of the way the American Empire views violence committed by Authoritarian states friendly to the U.S. and Totalitarian states unfriendly to the USA. Similar acts can be committed by both types of governments, but the USA views only the actions by totalitarian governments as being nefarious.

Dart described the USA as having “Captain America Syndrome.” The USA cannot see its own actions as ever being wrong. Dart concluded his presentation with a quote from Sheila Watson, the author of the book Double Hook, “when you fish for glory you catch the darkness. That if you hook twice the glory, you hook twice the fear and when fear dominates militaries expand. Aggressiveness becomes even more celebrated.”

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