Rafia Zakaria, attorney, political philosopher, and author of the new book Against White Feminism talks about abortion, Afghanistan, empire, individualism, white supremacy and more with Sam Goldman. Follow Rafia on Twitter at @rafiazakaria.
Mentioned in the conversation: The Other Afghan Women by Anand Gopal.
Rallies for abortion rights were held around the country yesterday in response to the abortion ban in Texas and the plans for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe this year. Continued and spreading protest is needed now – get in touch with Refuse Fascism organizers by emailing [email protected].
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown.
Sun, 10/3 5:14PM • 47:47
Rafia Zakaria 00:00
White supremacy, because it’s been such a part of American history, has of course seeped into the feminist movement as well… The individual careerist rises of these white women have in most cases happened at the expense of women of color… They are going to have to pay the price of feminism being delegitimized because it was sent over on American bombs… We need to take vocabularies of resistance and revolution back from the powerful.
Sam Goldman 00:50
Welcome to Episode 79 of the Refuse Fascism podcast. This podcast is brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of the show. Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes, and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country. Today we’re airing a wide ranging conversation I had earlier this week with Rafia Zakaria, author of Against White Feminism. We touched on abortion, Afghanistan, empire, and individualism and white supremacy. We spoke about what kind of unity and resistance is needed now and how we get there. I’m very excited to share this with you.
But first, I want to salute everyone who took to the streets this weekend to demand abortion rights. I was out in the streets as you might hear in my voice. I told the folks I was with at the Philly march, and I think it’s worth saying it again here: It is important what we did yesterday, but this cannot be a one-off march followed by just going back to our normal lives or by taking the acts of writing postcards to senators and congress people, making phone calls to people in power. This is a “stop everything” moment. This must be a fall of fury, an autumn of organizing. As RefuseFascism.org said in our call for people to get in the streets and join the protests, “No more ceding ground to fascists. No more surrendering the fundamental right to an abortion. No more waiting for the courts that are overrun with fascists to intervene. No more relying on the Democratic Party, which has conceded to and conciliated with Christian fascists as access to abortion got chipped away. This is the time to stay in the streets, using our power of sustained nonviolent protest to stop the fascist assault on abortion and declare, in the name of humanity we refuse to accept a fascist America. Get your laws and vigilantes off our bodies. Abortion on demand and without apology.” So please let us know about your plans for continued action in the streets. Direct message us on social media at Refuse Fascism or email [email protected]
The need for determined sustained mobilization to stop fascism was brought home powerfully recently, when the University of Chicago Project of Security and Threats released their in-depth findings that 47 million people in the US believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and 21 million believe that violence would be justified to restore Trump to power. The same day those findings were released, Robert Kagan published a provocative opinion article titled “Our Constitutional Crisis is Already Here” in the Washington Post, which gets quite a few things wrong, but gets at something very real here. “With the party firmly under his thumb, Trump is now fighting the Biden administration on separate fronts. One is normal, legitimate political competition, where Republicans criticize Biden’s policies, feed invite the culture wars and in general behave like a typical hostile opposition. The other front is outside the bounds of constitutional and democratic competition and into the realm of illegal or extra legal efforts to undermine the electoral process. The two are intimately related because the Republican party has used its institutional power in the political sphere to shield Trump and his followers from the consequences of their illegal and extra legal activities in the lead up to January 6. Thus, representatives Kevin McCarthy and Elise Stefanik in their roles as party leaders run interference for the Trump movement in the sphere of legitimate politics, while Republicans in lesser positions cheer on the January 6 perpetrators, turning them into martyrs and heroes and encouraging illegal acts in the future.”
To be blunt, there’s nothing “typical” about even the most legitimate fronting Republi-fascists. There is nothing normal when you’ve got a fully fascist Supreme Court, and when you can unleash rioting mobs with an offhand comment, a wink and a nod. But it’s true that these fascists are making immense progress towards being able to walk right into power, even as they prepare to seize it by force. On the other hand, I think it’s extremely important to contextualize the conversation you’re about to listen to with the fact that tens of thousands have marched in the streets of Rio de Janeiro yet again, just yesterday, demanding the ouster of fascist Bolsonaro, and that abortion rights have been successfully won and defended, even if in limited ways, around the world in recent years, when people have firmly planted themselves in the streets, demanding them.
Now, here’s my conversation with Rafia Zakaria. On this show, we think we need a flourishing of dissent and radical voices to defeat fascism, not lockstep unity behind the “lesser evil” of the neoliberal status quo. Today, I’m happy, I’m excited, to talk with Rafia Zakaria. Rafia is an attorney and political philosopher. She is the author of a few beautiful books: Veil, The Upstairs Wife, an Intimate History of Pakistan, and, the topic of today’s show, Against White Feminism, which came out this year. She’s also a columnist for Dawn in Pakistan, and she’s written for The Guardian, Boston Review, the New York Republic and the New York Times Book Review. Rafia, thanks for joining us.
Rafia Zakaria 06:38
Oh, it’s a pleasure to be on, Samantha. Thank you so much.
Sam Goldman 06:43
I want to start out by expressing a real appreciation for your writing about and speaking about the war in Afghanistan and including it in your book. I know that there was a lot that you were covering, and I think it was really important that so much attention was paid to speaking out against the war on Afghanistan and the drone war against Pakistan. And while your new book details the support for the war, from various ostensibly progressive individuals and feminist groups, I want us to set the stage by talking about the basics. Can you talk about what the war has meant for the people in these countries, including women? If you could speak to that some, I think that’s a good place to start.
Rafia Zakaria 07:21
Those of us who opposed the US occupation and intervention for 20 years in Afghanistan, among the peace community, for instance, this debate has continued over the decades in the sense that trying to publicize, for instance, the 250,000 people dead in Afghanistan, and just an avalanche of complete societal and familial disintegration that is Afghanistan today. Even before this book, long before it, I had been writing about the presence in Afghanistan, and I had been writing about how Afghan women had become essentially political pawns that were being played both by the United States and then of course, now, by the Taliban. On one hand, they had the choice to buy into the promises of the US occupation forces. I’m saying this obviously from speaking to Afghan women and others who are on the ground. It was always an uphill battle to try to get this issue of Afghan women and how they’ve been used into the conversation within the United States, because the decision to go to war was made, all sorts of people lauded it at the time, and then, by and large, Afghanistan was forgotten about as the US went about invading Iraq.
The way American feminism, particularly white feminism, became embroiled in this war that was allegedly for the sake of Afghan women, is a story really that begins in the late 90s. In the late 90s, Mavis Leno, the wife of Jay Leno, the one-time late night host, held a fundraiser at her Hollywood home for the Feminist Majority. At the time Feminist Majority was running a program to end gender apartheid in Afghanistan. That’s when this sort of became popularized and became kind of part of the celebrity savior complex that we have. Then of course, 9/11 happened, and in the immediate months after 9/11, the Bush administration, which was looking for a moral reason or a moral gloss. They had to invade some country, right? They decided, you know, after the 9/11 tragedy, and how big it was and how angry everyone was, there was this political pressure for immediate visible “shock and awe” type of retaliation.
The Feminist Majority actually consulted with the Bush administration on how this women’s issue could be used. Essentially, it was a strategic war that the US wanted to show that — it couldn’t attack Saudi Arabia because of the danger to the US oil supply — so Afghanistan was it, even though none of the hijackers were Afghan. The idea was that Al Qaeda had allegedly found refuge there. When this announcement for the war in Afghanistan is made by Colin Powell, the leaders of the Feminist Majority were actually present; literally present in the room when the announcement was made. There was almost what I describe as a signing off of feminism, like “here, here it is, now you can do your dirty deed, and I’ll call it feminism.” That’s exactly what happened.
For the years that went on after that, this idea that the US was staying in Afghanistan to protect Afghan women was the sort of moral narrative of this war. That remained the moral narrative, even until now. Obviously, absolute erasure of the fact that in rural Afghanistan, especially, women and men, there were funerals that were bombed, there were wedding celebrations that were bombed, there were men taken off for indefinite detention at Bagram. Family structure just sort of disintegrated because the men had died and the widows didn’t know how to support themselves. All of this was happening, but the front for it was “Oh look, Afghanistan has a skateboarding team.” “Oh look, Afghan girls are doing robotics.” They’re not bad in themselves. I’m glad that some Afghan women got something out of it, but it was largely artificial. It was created and held up by U.S. aid money. Obviously now, as soon as that money has been pulled out, that entire aid economy along with the alleged progress that the US [backed] government allowed — Afghan women had made — is gone in an instant.
Sam Goldman 12:11
Thank you, Rafia, for walking us through that. As someone who had been very anti-war and active at that time, there were some things I knew about the active role that so- called feminists played in facilitating the bombing, but there was a lot that that I didn’t know that was in your book. It’s really important thinking about the real damage and carnage. There’s all the bombings and the violence, and then there’s the fact that 5 million Afghan people were forced from their homes by this war. It really is sickening. I just think that’s important to have, in our minds, and our understanding,
Rafia Zakaria 12:49
The first thing I wanted to add was as someone that who had been in peace movement, and which carried out for years campaign against drones, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think you’re aware of just how hard it was to make anybody in the US care at all about the use of drones to bomb people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To me, that remains very, very clear. And then of course, just like that US was done with it, and slung it off and went on to the next thing. Of course, the Afghans are left to sort of pick up the detritus that we’ve left behind. The other thing I was saying is that, you know, there is a way to look at this sort of war debacle as the international iteration of a kind of authoritarian bent within American or white feminism.
In the 80s and 90s, white feminists like Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, were front and center trying to get the Violence Against Women Act passed. The whole premise of the Act was we want the state to protect us from bad men. It broke so distinctly along racial lines in that white women were saying they wanted this clause in the legislation that said that every time the police go to someone’s house for a domestic violence call, someone has to be arrested. Black and brown women absolutely did not agree. They raised so many objections and told the white feminists who were kind of pushing for the act that: Look, this is not good. It’s going to cause our men, Black and brown men, to be arrested at far higher rates than white men. The idea of the state was as this benevolent force that was going to protect women now from bad men. Of course, what the brown and Black feminists had said is exactly what happened. Within a year, Black men and Hispanic men were arrested at five times the rate as white men, which obviously meant that this contributed to mass incarceration. The worst thing was that it actually reduced the ability of brown and Black women to ask for help, because now they were afraid that their husbands, boyfriends, would be put in prison, and then that would sever the family. It ended up that there were huge increases, actually, in the rate of violence against Black and brown women following the Act.
All this to say, this idea that the state will protect us from bad men, within the domestic context, basically meant Black men, right? It was like a euphemism, almost, given the arrest rates. Then in 2001, the same formula, again, championed by white women was applied to the foreign policy in that this amazing, awesome, cuddly white government of ours, is going to protect us from terrorists, is going to protect us from brown men. I do think that the title of your podcast and the sort of discussions you’re having lend themselves to thinking about these issues in this way, so that the pro-authoritarian bent of feminism is also exposed.
Sam Goldman 16:16
What you’re sharing is essential for us to keep in mind. The parallel when I was reading your book was one of the things that stood out to me. I was like, yes, yes, this is it. I had no idea about that Act, or what it led to at all before reading your book. So it was a really important parallel, but it was also a really important history lesson for me. One of the things that it reminded me of was that this system and its armed forces, and its police forces can’t be relied on to dismantle patriarchy or white supremacy. In my opinion, not the opinion of everybody who produces the show, let alone all our listeners, to me, this is part of why we we have to dismantle those systems so that we can dismantle the patriarchy and the white supremacy that are totally bound up with it.
I want to get into another aspect that was in your book around the military and women. One of the things that was really sharp in your book was that white feminism, what I think of as imperialist feminism in Afghanistan, not only being a justification, but that the Taliban and other forces there that were oppressive, were born out of imperialism. The occupation’s progress, whatever degree that it did exist, which was very limited, and has always been over-exaggerated, especially as it relates to education, was never going to be self-sustaining. In your book you get into one of the most interesting things as relates to this, it jumped out to me that the women’s role in the US military and our supposedly superior status throughout the society has been used to justify American chauvinism and the wars; specially the glorification of women participating in torture and combat and women being held up as “just as capable as the boys.” Could you comment a little bit more on that?
Rafia Zakaria 18:18
I think one of the important things about this alignment of the strong woman as someone who fights the war on terror is a particular now, because it’s still operative, right? The kind of cultural product in the sense of two decades of fighting Muslim countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, has been the creation of this emergent heroine as though the white woman is beating and torturing the bad brown men. You saw this boldly portrayed in the film Zero Dark 30, which is about Jessica Chastain’s character in that movie is the woman, the CIA analyst, who essentially finds Bin Laden. The entire crux of the movie — I talk in the book, of course, about watching this movie for the first time, and how disturbing it was to see — the strong woman essentially presented as this white woman who is capable of torture. The first thing that’s said about her in the movie is some guy goes, she’s a killer. What it does, even in sociocultural terms, is paint the feminist as someone who is entirely on board with the US interests in the war on terror, including torturing and killing people. It’s a very sneaky way to do it, as Hollywood does, but its consequences are terrible because essentially what is being told to white women is that: Okay, well maybe we’ll let you have a bit of power — that’s the white male message to them — maybe we’ll let you have a bit of power, but this is what’s required. So you essentially have to become a torturer and a killer to be considered strong enough to not be marginalized anymore. That’s what gender equality is about. It’s such a perverse thing when you think about it, that gender equality is reduced to your capability to be as heinous and murderous as white male soldiers or white male soldiers or CIA agents. Of course, it wasn’t just the movie. It’s not just the character.
I talk in the book about white women who went marching off into Afghanistan to be reporters and photographers, and how much they’ve been feted over the years, despite the fact that they were very much part and parcel of creating the narrative that erased Afghan women when they were victimized by the US presence, and highlighted the Afghan women that somehow benefited from it. That was part of it. I talk for instance, about the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Lynsey Addario, who’s been celebrated so much for her pictures taken in Afghanistan. So much so that this should be an example of the mental inertia that is so prevalent among the US elite, or just even US discourse, is that this woman went into a secret school operated by people who were resisting the Taliban. She was told not to bring a camera, but she sneaks in a camera anyway. Then she takes pictures of the girls who are in the secret school, and those pictures are then published in the New York Times to much acclaim, and nobody, nobody bothers to consider the fact that these were girls who are going to school in hiding, whose pictures have now been published in one of the largest newspapers in the world. Nobody thinks of that. Even now nobody thinks of that. I think that that is a good analogy for the state of the war, of how people were erased, and how dehumanized the Afghan is in the American imagination.
Sam Goldman 22:24
It is extremely frightening to think about when you consider what the consequences likely were for those girls.
Rafia Zakaria 22:32
Right, nobody bothers, even with that. Who cares, right? Because you got the picture, you did your thing, and now, whatever, they’ll figure it out. That’s the attitude. That’s very much the attitude.
Sam Goldman 22:45
It’s incredibly sobering. Thinking, as you were speaking about how you said earlier that people in this country, for over a decade — the war went on for 20 years, at least for over a decade, I’ll give people some credit, maybe people didn’t think about the war — people didn’t think about the people who are being bombed, who were becoming refugees, who were experiencing all this violence at the hands of this government. Then the end of the war, the US official exit, it enters the map and the dialogue again. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it maybe was in the news, women and Afghanistan, maybe two weeks where people were actively talking about women again. And that was being used to justify people staying, not to question what the US was doing there in the first place, or that they were an utter failure by their own metrics. It was very frustrating.
Rafia Zakaria 23:47
One of the worst parts of it, one of the most depressing parts of it, was that you think: Okay, so now America didn’t know anything about Islam or Muslims and then it went on this two decade rampage across the Muslim world and made Muslims the most suspect people in modern history. Maybe, hopefully, it might have learned a few things about these countries or about some culture or life. But oh, no sir, no can do. As soon as Afghanistan comes back into the picture, it’s the same old tired 20 year old misconceptions and stereotypes that are immediately circulated, with absolutely no hesitation at all. Clarissa Ward goes into Kabul, and I heard an Afghan woman say — Clarissa Ward, blond and blue-eyed, goes into Kabul, and she’s questioning the Taliban and putting on the abaya and putting on the burqa, and it’s all such theater, she said — she [Ward] makes life difficult for me because nobody had said anything about wearing abayas and burqas, but here you go. One of the first people to do it is this American reporter who’s then interviewed by Terry Gross, again, as just such a heroine, who really just went there.
It’s sickening how much the disposable Afghan lives or cultural consideration is to white women who are trying to, very opportunistically, further their careers. It’s not one white woman — she’s a visible one — but there’s so many who did that with the Afghan war, who were involved with the aid agencies who are involved in creating this fake aid economy in Afghanistan. There was a whole, for instance, mini industry of older white women going there and starting a beauty salon or talking to a bookseller. They got the whole little literature that evolved that was very much white feminists savior lit. Of course, nobody cares. After 20 years, Carolyn Maloney who did the theatrics of wearing the burqa and talking about how oppressive it was in 2001, when the invasion was going to happen, what did she do? She put on a burqa to go to the Met Gala. It was so centered around what America or what this white Western hegemon wants. There was a real lack of concern about what was actually going to happen. What are these women going to have to do. Because they are going to have to pay the price of feminism being delegitimized because it was sent over on American bombs.
Sam Goldman 26:38
I think that last point, people really need to take that to heart. In a totally different perspective than what most journalists were projecting out into the world, I really found a lot of value in, and I know other listeners have written to me about it, was Anand Gopal’s piece, The Other Afghan Women.
Rafia Zakaria 26:56
Yes, that was fabulous.
Sam Goldman 26:58
I really encourage people, if they have not read it to do so.The New Yorker did a good thing by publishing it. He does, in my humble opinion, a beautiful job of bringing the voices of the women in the countryside. People should know that is the majority of women in Afghanistan, and bringing their stories alive and making people really see them and feel their experience, unlike what they got from a lot of the journalism that people were consuming. I want to shift gears a little bit. This is a Refuse Fascism podcast, and we talk a lot about the nature, the roots and trajectory of fascism in this country. On this show, we do our best to put humanity first, not America first. We know that fascism is rising around the world. It’s not an insult, it’s a qualitative change in how society is governed. Fascism’s defining feature is the essential elimination of the rule of law and democratic and civil rights. One thing that we hammer a lot on is that there’s this triad of fascism: misogyny, racism, white supremacy, and xenophobia. I was wondering if you could speak to how you see this triad right now in the US being violently reasserted; this white supremacy, xenophobia and male supremacy in this moment?
Rafia Zakaria 28:20
Yeah. My book is deeply connected to that triad. When I set about writing it, my whole premise was that I wanted to expose in very specific terms, how white supremacy, because it’s been such a part of American history, it has of course seeped into the feminist movement as well. There’s a reason why the biggest feminist fight that we believe happened in the whole world, that we claim happened, is the white feminists fighting for the vote. Even in that story, we ignore the fact that at the same time, brown feminists in India, for instance, were fighting and won against a huge colonial power. There is this tendency to believe in things being great or being discovered only when they are discovered by white people. In the feminist story that appears again and again, when you see white women who are heroicized, despite the fact that they were completely racist. Susan B. Anthony is still on the dollar, and she is the woman who said, I’ll tear off my right arm before I support the vote for the Negro. She said that. There’s no historical debate or question about it. She said it, and yet she continues to be this glorified figure in the story, in American history in general, but in feminist history especially. That connection of this very close collusion between white women who are concerned — okay, it’s better to share power with a white woman than the Black and brown people — and that continues right now, where white women — surveys have shown, there’s a Deloitte survey showed — that they’re the racial group and gender group that’s expanding its power faster than any other group in its presence on Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 boards.
So you have their sort of lean, ruthless, individualistic and very hierarchical model of feminism continuing to be ascendant. It is definitely the feminism that is lauded in mainstream American discourse and culture. There is no attention paid to the fact that the individual careerist rises of these white women have, in most cases, happened at the expense of women of color. I definitely see that connection, and I see a very fascist impulse, even in the response to the book, where again and again, I’m told, oh, well, this is divisive. The effort is that feminism qua feminism should never be recognized in its current form as white feminism. That’s what I’m trying to say, that this group has been dominant and has used its power to become the feminist archetype. For me, as a brown feminist or other Black Asian feminists, we shouldn’t be required to become white to be really considered feminist. But that’s where we are now. The consequence of that is Black feminists are not really even interested in feminism as a movement as a whole. They all have started to just concentrate on their own sort of movements because they have seen the intransigence of institutions, white institutions, that are completely unwilling to change the way they operate, to be accountable for racial inequality, and the exploitation of brown and black labor. In a sense, you could even consider the book as a last ditch attempt at resuscitating feminism as a political movement instead of feminism as a brand, which is what it is now, it’s a brand. It’s how you sell this or that [product], or sneakers or whatnot.
Sam Goldman 32:32
I am nodding my head. I think that needs to be screamed and graffitied all over.
Rafia Zakaria 32:52
There’s a deeper sort of hopelessness in it, right? Because there’s this idea that people really think that they can never be successful, unless they’re ruthless and individualistic. Women think that. In their heart of hearts, they think that, and they’re not willing to consider that our investments and sisterhood can become the vehicles for our success. I think that idea of sisterhood is much more vibrant and alive in communities of color, who have had to go through suffering and have had to rely on each other. There you have it, again, that self-centeredness of white feminism also does a terrible disservice to white women in the sense that it keeps them from ever realizing or really understanding the beauty and the intense sense of emotional well-being that can come from actual sisterhood.
Sam Goldman 33:54
Yeah, I think that that’s a really good point. I also think that it keeps us from getting free. We’re never really going to break these chains unless we’re breaking all of them and we’re doing it in the interests of all our sisters, and we’re doing it knowing that these systems of oppression are totally intertwined. There is a common source. To me, it’s the system of capitalism. Unless people are willing to question the institutions that are taming their resistance, then we’re not going to get free. Unless we’re willing to question ourselves, those that we look up to, it’s keeping us from getting free. I think that at this moment, our freedom is getting rapidly smaller and smaller. Theocracy is rising around the globe and fascism, the threat of it, is a real and present danger. What’s required is real radical ruptures. We’re going to go one way or another. It’s either going to be a big change of people showing tremendous real solidarity and true empowerment and we’re going to see something vibrant and new and something we haven’t seen before — or we’re going down a path of something that’s really frightening, that isn’t just regressive, but a qualitative leap in repression that we haven’t seen before. So I think that the stakes are tremendously high.
Rafia Zakaria 35:15
I completely agree with you. I do feel that we are at a pivotal moment right now, where things can transform into situations that are much better, much more equitable, much more egalitarian, or there can be a huge devolution that I’m afraid to even imagine. Look at the instrument — you mention this devolution — the other day, I was looking, I think her name is Jennifer Rubin, and she’s written this book about how it was white women that actually beat Trump. Everybody knows that it was Black women whose votes put Biden over the edge. But regardless, she’s written this whole book about how great white women are. They had their march, which is no problem, white women are great. Like a ton of people I love as much as myself are white, but there is this refusal in it to cede any space at all, and there’s a hubris that I really worry about, as this next election draws near and we have to deal with our demons again.
Just the idea of anti-authoritarianism for millions of Americans right now is to not wear a mask and not get a vaccine. There’s something very deep and dark, wrong with us, that that is the belief. It just chills me to the bone. My book is about white feminism, but it’s coming out within this context of a complete misappropriation of the language of resistance; complete and total misappropriation. One of the important ways of resisting in general, like in the book, is to preserve that vocabulary and try to take it back from having been co-opted in the way it was in Afghanistan, and the way it was in reducing feminism to just what sort of harmonized with capitalism, and taking out all the rest. I think that on the larger scale, that is also what needs to happen is that we need to take vocabularies of resistance and revolution back from the powerful.
Sam Goldman 37:30
Yeah. I wanted to ask one closing question that I think connects a lot with what you were saying about resistance. In this country, in the US, we are on the precipice of losing the right to abortion. It’s basically gone in Texas. December 1, the Supreme Court will hear it. They’ve already showed their hand up how they’re going to play it based in the way that they sat out of Texas. We know that the access to legal abortion matters. A lot of white feminists are telling people basically that we shouldn’t be talking about women dying from abortion because it’s a right-wing talking point, and the abortion pill can be safe, right? Meanwhile, they’re doing away with the pill and you have to have it accessible to get. We know that with the Hyde Amendment, it’s very hard for Black and brown women to access abortion to begin with. I’m wondering, given the fact that the stakes are so high, what do you think resistance needs to be in this country for people who care about pregnant people having the right to abortion?
Rafia Zakaria 38:36
I share your concerns, and those are my thoughts exactly. I feel that Texas is a consequence of complacency, though, on the part of the feminist movement, right? We’ve been talking now, like how this idea has been misused, but it’s also true that even feminists like Gloria Steinem, who once were radicals, essentially signed off on the capitalist takeover of feminism and its reduction to sort of these careerist ideas. More importantly, and most importantly, it’s de-politicization, in the sense that when the word empowerment was first coined, and brown feminists came up with it. It was envisioned as a political struggle first and foremost. The idea that feminism could exist outside of political struggle and a demand for social and political transformation was just written out of the script completely.
So now, as feminists, in the US in 2021, I think we were sitting ducks because we don’t really have a thriving political movement to count on that could immediately have a political response — marches, sit-ins, etc. — against Texas. We depleted that movement by getting into these wars by saying: Okay, well, my access to the ‘C’ suite is the number one agenda. We left all of that and we neglected the political grit that’s necessary to truly protect the gains you make. No woman anywhere in the world can protect any gains that are made, whether economic, social, legal, whatever, unless they have the political capacity to protect them, and we don’t. The only way I see out of it is a recognition of that; a recognition of the fact that our inability to have a political movement, which demands that women make political choices to be feminist, where it’s not just the sort of crazy idea or choice of feminism, where it’s like everything I do is a feminist, because I’m a woman. I’m sorry, but that’s just bullshit. Your choices have an impact on other women, so yes, you have to be accountable and answerable for your choices.
I really see Texas as a symptom. I see it as the sort of complacency that infected the movement. Its radical aspects were all filed down and it was made pretty for capitalism and then, you know, you could wear a tutu and have nice heels and you’re a feminist. That’s what happens. Texas is what happens when you reduce it to that, because the other side comes to play too. They’re not going to let your moment of weakness or disorganization — they’re not going to just let it pass. I think that the challenge is formidable, but my hope is that the sheer aggression of the challenge that we face post Texas will wake up future and existing generations of feminism to the necessity of having political teeth, and making choices that are cognizant of their political and material implications on others.
That’s my hope, and I feel that the conversation on race is integral if we’re going to have that kind of feminism, because as long as we’re afraid to talk about it and we impose this sort of gag rule on women of color, where they can’t demand accountability from white feminists who have had more power, we’re never going to get to that political movement. The time is now. Everything is changing. Every single thing about our lives is being transformed in some way or another. I take hope in the fact that I’m a brown Muslim woman, and the fact that I could even write a book like this, it’s tremendous, and it does reflect an opening that hasn’t existed before, but that would be utterly eliminated if we’re not vigilant in the right now.
Sam Goldman 42:47
Thank you, Rafia for joining us, and having this important conversation. I appreciate your perspective, your honesty, and the fact that in your book, you don’t hold back. Against White Feminism, Rafia’s latest book.. Rafia, can you tell listeners how you would like them to follow you? Do you have a website you want them to go to? Do you want them to reach out to you on Twitter? What’s the best way?
Rafia Zakaria 43:14
I would love for you guys to reach out to me on any social media platform. I’m @RafiaZakaria on Twitter, and I’m @RafiZakariaFeminist on Instagram. I also have a Facebook page. It’s not hard to get a hold of me and I welcome engagement. It’s what keeps my thinking alive and is very enriching and nourishing for me, so I look forward to hearing from you guys.
Sam Goldman 43:45
For more on the roots of the US war for Empire and Afghanistan, I recommend you listen to Episode 76 with Nazia Kazi, Episode 74. With Khaled Beydoun, and Episode 73, with Matthew Hoh. I learned from, and find a lot of unity, in what Rafia brings forward in her book. I really loved our conversation and look forward to continued collaboration.
I do have disagreements, of course, which I do with almost all my guests, to be frank. To that end, I want to share an excerpt of an essay by Nayi Duniya, that I find clarifying and essential. I should note, this is not the opinion of everyone who produces the show, or is part of Refuse Fascism, but I think you’ll find it thought provoking. ” Forms of oppression ‘intersect’, for they occur in the context of a worldwide system of capitalism imperialism, but proceeding from this ‘standpoint’, or ‘narratives’ of even the most oppressed does not get to the underlying system, and how all these oppressive social relations are interwoven in the history of the society and the nature of the system.” They go on to say, “Without science and a scientific approach to get at the root causes, what is needed to uproot this and set up a radically different system and society, all resistance and struggles are channeled back into the very same system that is the source of this oppression in the first place. Without this even this sincerest and best of intent, insight analysis and struggle, is constrained or straitjacketed by the fundamental lack of seeing beyond the capitalist mode of production, the permanence of this system. The narratives and lived experiences of the oppressed, silenced for too long, have a critical role, but in this context, to make revolution, and to get beyond at all for the emancipation of all of humanity, not to ‘get mine’ or get atop a ‘woke world’.”
With that said, Go read Rofia’s book Against White Feminism, and connect with Rafia. Thank you for listening to Refuse Fascism. To everyone who was out in the streets rallying for abortion rights yesterday, please, please, tag out Refuse Fascism in any social media pics and video that you didn’t upload yet. Let us know about your thoughts on the day. I want to hear from you. Share your thoughts, questions, ideas for topics or ideas or lend a skill. Tweet me @SamBGoldman. Or you can drop me a line at [email protected] or leave a voicemail by calling 917-426-7582. You can also record a voice message by going to Anchor.fm/Refuse-Fascism and clicking the button there. You might even hear yourself on a future episode.
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