CHARLES HIRSCHKIND & SABA MAHMOOD
cial role the United States had played in creating the miserable conditions un-der which Afghan women were living; and secondly, a whole set ofquestionableassumptions, anxieties, and prejudices embedded in the notion ofIslamic fun-damentalism. It was striking how a number ofcommentators, in discussionsthat preceded the war, regularly failed to connect the predicament ofwomenin Afghanistan with the massive military and economic support that the US pro-vided, as part ofits Cold War strategy, to the most extreme ofAfghan religiousmilitant groups. This silence, a concomitant ofthe recharged enthusiasm for theUS military both within academia and among the American public more gen-erally, also characterized much ofthe response both to reports ofmountingcivilian casualties resulting from the bombing campaign, and to the wide-spread famine that the campaign threatened to aggravate. For example, aslate as early December, the Feminist Majority website remained stubbornly fo-cused on the ills ofTaliban rule, with no mention ofthe 2.2 million victims ofthree years ofdrought who were put at greater risk ofstarvation because USbombing severely restricted the delivery offood aid. Indeed, the FeministMajority made no attempts to join the calls issued by a number ofhumanitar-ian organizations—including the Afghan Women’s Mission—to halt the bomb-ing so that food might have been transported to the Afghans before winter setin.
In the crusade to liberate Afghan women from the tyranny ofTaliban rule,there seemed to be no limit ofthe violence to which Americans were willing tosubject the Afghans, women and men alike. Afghanistan, so it appeared, had tobear another devastating war so that, as the
New York Times
triumphantly not-ed at the exodus ofthe Taliban from Kabul, women can now wear
“outofchoice” rather than compulsion.The twin figures ofthe Islamic fundamentalist and his female victim helpedconsolidate and popularize the view that such hardship and sacrifice werefor Afghanistan’s own good. Following the September 11th attacks, the
-clad body ofthe Afghan woman became the visible sign ofan invisible enemythat threatens not only “us,” citizens ofthe West, but our entire civilization. Thisimage, one foregrounded initially by the Feminist Majority campaign thoughlater seized on by the Bush administration and the mainstream media, servedas a key element in the construction ofthe Taliban as an enemy particularlydeserving ofour wrath because oftheir harsh treatment ofwomen. As LauraBush put it in her November 17
radio address to the nation: “Civilized peo-ple throughout the world are speaking out in horror—not only because ourhearts break for the women and children ofAfghanistan, but also because inAfghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest