This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
LEARNING FROM AMERICA
By Naomi Wolf
First Published: January 1, 2009
Naomi Wolf at the 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival. _______________________________________________________ As the United States prepares to celebrate the inauguration of its first African‐American president, it showcases again one of the best aspects of its national identity. Though it took more than 200 years to reach this point, foreign observers, especially in Europe, marvel at Barack Obama’s ascendancy. They recognize from their own relative marginalization of people of color or of immigrants that no French, German, Italian, or British Obama is on the horizon, and they wonder: how does America do it? America certainly has its flaws and its struggles over race and national identity, but it also has much to be proud of in terms of how it assimilates those with foreign or minority backgrounds. Obama’s example — and that of his newly formed cabinet, which includes many accomplished leaders from ethnic or racial “out‐groups” — holds useful lessons for other nations, particularly in Western Europe. So what is it that America is doing right? First, America’s national story is different in essence from those of Western European nations. The French story is that of French‐ness, the British story one of British‐ness; by definition, newcomers are “less than” or “outside of” this narrative. But the American national drama is the drama of immigration: everyone, except Native Americans, came from somewhere else. All who are now part of the national elite have ancestors who came, often bedraggled and harassed, from somewhere else. Indeed, in America the qualities that lead people to become immigrants — initiative, ambition, risk‐taking — are lionized. Immigrants are seen as arriving on a journey of continual reinvention, driven to exceed their opportunities in their countries of origin. By contrast, immigrants in Western Europe were invited to fill low‐status jobs, creating a built‐in incentive for natives to see them and their children as a servant class, incapable of entering, let alone leading, the larger society. Moreover, unlike America, Western Europe must live with the uneasy conscience stirred by immigrants whose very presence serves as a reminder of a history of colonialism. In this sense, the relationship between native‐born and new Americans starts out “cleaner.” Second, Americans don’t demand that immigrants regard their cultural or ethnic background as being in contrast to or in opposition to their American‐ness. Everyone gets to be hyphenated. By contrast, when identity is presented as being a stark choice, people often do not choose the identity of the host country that is being so inflexible. As a result, Britain, France, and The Netherlands contain deeply entrenched subcultures of alienated, radicalized Muslim youth. But, while they and other radical Muslims around the world may hate
1 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA»
Americans separate Church and State. personal religious symbols are just that — personal. French. they fully expect their kids to be completely.org). Immigrant kids who go to US schools learn that America — ideally — is about freedom. Caribbean‐descended Britons still doubt that their children or grandchildren will ever be seen as fully British. suburbanized immigrant subculture than Muslim immigrants in the US. is made to feel marginalized. The history that they learn about their new home illustrates how the US fulfills (or falls short of) those ideals. Rather than listening to radical clerics. As long as there is a Church of England. America is defined in terms of a set of values that everyone can share. and tolerance. a set of historical events. it would be more peaceful within its own borders and better able to use the talents and leadership of its Turkish. if you are Jewish or Muslim or Sikh. based the assumption that they could not assimilate (a charge often directed in the past at Jews in various countries). And. not provocatively challenging a hegemonic social order. despite the Republic’s official egalitarian rhetoric. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration Project Syndicate (www. West African. a specific history. barbequing on weekends. and perhaps most importantly. or German Obama. Fourth. no matter how small. It is assumed that since religion is a private matter for everyone. But because the US Founders — many of them descended from people fleeing official religious persecution — guaranteed that there would never be a state‐sanctioned religion. Third. despite rising hostility toward US Muslims among native‐born Americans. How different it is in Western Europe. Americans view immigrants as being welcome to combine their culture of origin with their new American‐ness. whereas an immigrant schoolchild in Europe learns less about ideals and more about a monarchical lineage. it is hard to imagine a more Americanized. most significantly when it comes to assessing the ease of integration over time.project‐syndicate. there is a subtle level at which you will simply not feel fully English. is readily fulfilled. A Muslim girl who wears a headscarf in a public school is simply wearing a headscarf. a US democracy movement. Only then would we see a British. not seen as fully German.” If Western Europe took a leaf from the US. And the unrest of the children and grandchildren of Algerian. Americans. Dutch. Turkish Gastarbeiter are still. while immigrants see no conflict between their ethnicity and religion and their embrace of America. and going to (American) football games — all while still maintaining devout ties to their religion and community. and Moroccan immigrants in the French banlieues attest to France’s failure to assimilate its immigrant population. aspiration. and a roster of “great men. the author of The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot and Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries is co‐founder of the American Freedom Campaign. That has not changed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More generally. they are busy assimilating. two generations later. unhesitantly “American” — a promise that. It is for this reason that Americans are not alarmed by visible symbols of different religions in public settings. no religious group in America. Three generations after West Indians began immigrating en masse to the United Kingdom. sending their kids to law and medical school. Naomi Wolf. Algerian. not as a lineage. and other immigrants. Caribbean. and a geographical area. 2 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . by and large.
there tends to be the same set of themes: fearsome. even if the answers are frequently unsourced or just plain wrong. Sometimes. and that all Jews who worked in the buildings stayed home that day. or. Rhodes Scholars. 3 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . conspiracy theories surface where people are poorly educated and a rigorous independent press is lacking. and sometimes into the very heart of politics. Having written a book about the hijacking of executive power in the United States in the Bush years. among others – to establish a “One World Government” dominated by themselves rather than national governments. And. the Jews. In the process.” In the Muslim world. A Conspiracy So Immense by Naomi Wolf NEW YORK – Is this the Age of the Conspiracy Theory? Plenty of evidence suggests that we are in something of a golden age for citizen speculation. featuring secretive global elite with great power and wicked aims. urbanized cosmopolitans. In literary terms. A frequent one in the US is that global elites are plotting – via the Bilderberg Group and the Council on Foreign Relations. broadening the members of this cabal to include the Illuminati. while conspiracy theories are often patently irrational. where they were generally consigned in the past. Similarly. as always. the Freemasons. disruption of traditional family and social ties. more folkloric details come into play. the questions they address are often healthy. Historically. So why are such theories gaining adherents in the US and other affluent democracies nowadays? Today’s explosion of conspiracy theories has been stoked by the same conditions that drove their acceptance in the past: rapid social change and profound economic uncertainty. The hallmarks of this narrative are familiar to anyone who has studied the transmission of certain story categories in times of crisis. Students of Weimar Germany know that sudden dislocations and shocks – rapid urbanization. I found myself. this conspiracy theory closely resembles The Protocols of the Elders of Zion . and economic collapse – primed many Germans to become receptive to simplistic theories that seemed to address their confusion and offer a larger meaning to their suffering. in researching new developments. loosening of sexual restrictions. Usually. stumbling upon conversations online that embrace narratives of behind‐the‐scenes manipulation. and inference that takes shape – usually on the Internet – and spreads virally around the globe. A clearly designated “enemy” with an unmistakable “plan” is psychologically more comforting than the chaotic evolution of social norms and the workings – or failures – of unfettered capitalism. documentation. there is a widespread conspiracy theory that the Israelis were behind those attacks. conspiracy theories are pulled from the margins of public discourse. the “9/11 Truth Movement” asserts that al‐Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers was an “inside job. uncontrolled transformative change led by educated. There are some major themes. I learned this by accident.
and without constructive directions in which to turn their emotions. Conspiracy theories are seen as vulgar and lowbrow. Citizens should be able more easily to leak information. without good editorial validation or tools for sourcing. we actually have seen some sophisticated conspiracies. Likewise. and investigative reporting is often the first thing they cut. even rational people have become more receptive to certain conspiracy theories because. Newspapers in most advanced countries are struggling or folding. The New Yorker confirmed the story much later – without crediting the original source. again rightly. This is why so many threads of discussion turn from potentially interesting citizen speculation to hate speech and paranoia. 4 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . these citizens are reacting rationally to irrational realities. In a time of official lies. using fabricated evidence to do so. This is how citizens can be taken – and take themselves – seriously as documenters and investigators of our common situation. to turn up documentation of microwave technologies to be used by police forces on US citizens. not just generate heat.” Alex Jones. So even good. healthy investigative energy should shed light. In a fevered environment. The mainstream media’s tendency to avoid checking out or reporting what is actually newsworthy in Internet conspiracy theories partly reflects class bias. as conventional reporters do. Concentration of media ownership and control further fuels popular mistrust. They should organize new online entities in which they pay a fee for direct investigative reporting. For example. In seeking answers. rightly. confirming stories with two independent sources. that so many rational people are trying to make sense of a political reality that really has become unusually opaque? When even the 9/11 commissioners renounce their own conclusions (because they were based on evidence derived from torture). critical questions or well‐sourced data unearthed by citizen investigators tend to be regarded as radioactive to highly educated formal journalists. in the last eight years. many people believe. using quotes responsibly. standing by their own bylines. Is it any wonder. citizens can be preyed upon and whipped up by demagogues. in an age when corporate lobbyists have a free hand in shaping – if not drafting – public policies. and eschewing anonymity – that is. Finally. it took a “conspiracy theorist. is it surprising that many want a second investigation? Frequently enough. We need to change the flow of information in the Internet age. And citizen investigators should be trained in basic journalism: finding good data. then. that their elected officials no longer represent them. it is citizens digging at the margins of the discourse – pursuing such theories – who report on news that the mainstream media ignores. that their mass media are failing to investigate and document abuses. setting the stage for citizen investigation to enter the vacuum. and send leads to mainstream investigative reporters. The real problem with this frantic conspiracy theorizing is that it leaves citizens emotionally agitated but without a solid ground of evidence upon which to base their worldview. pitch stories. Hence their impulse to believe in unseen forces. The Bush administration conspired to lead Americans and others into an illegal war. Many citizens believe. unmediated by corporate pressures. as we saw in recent weeks at Sarah Palin’s rallies after Internet theories painted Barack Obama as a terrorist or in league with terrorists.
” Naomi Wolf. Wolf. culture. In her most recent book. But has the battle for emancipation really been won? Will your readers catch The Next Wave? 5 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . there was the “first wave. and much else. author of such acclaimed books as The Beauty Myth. and class. challenge conventional views – often held by feminists – about abortion. Whatever happened to feminism? Does Islam really turn women into “happy slaves”? Is America’s traditional commitment to democracy and equality in terminal decline? Has the West illegitimately monopolized the idea of human rights? Are there specific female values As a leading figure of feminism’s “third wave. Wolf’s commentaries in The Next Wave. sexual harassment. Are there specifically “female” values? Does religious piety really turn women into “happy slaves”? Is America’s traditional commitment to democracy and equality in terminal decline? Has the West illegitimately monopolized the idea of human rights? In the beginning. since all women do not have the same interests.” the nineteenth‐century feminists who fought for women’s suffrage. pornography. At least in the West. she seeks to identify the processes and policies by which democratic ideals and practices may be undermined. feminism broke down the legal and ideological barriers that had precluded women’s full political and economic participation. while paying close attention to evidence and nuances that are often overlooked or intentionally ignored. Fire with Fire. The Next Wave by Naomi Wolf Naomi Wolf is a political activist and social critic whose most recent book is Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. Indeed. and Misconceptions. Then came the second wave. has sought to answer that question. owing to differences of race. Promiscuities. Wolf advocates “power feminism”: women must assert themselves politically to get what they want. Yet. The End of America. throughout her career. she rejects the possibility of a universal female agenda. the feminists of the 1960’s and 1970’s who fought for equality before the law and equality of opportunity. has sought to transcend a purely feminist sensibility – the hallmark of feminism’s first two waves – by embedding it within a broader critique of contemporary politics and society. Wolf never loses sight of how public debate about such issues both influences and reflects the character and quality of our political institutions. Equally important. who served as an electoral campaign adviser to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. written exclusively for Project Syndicate.
and the constituency. even as President of the United States. She surrounded herself with extremely well‐informed advisers who specialized in such important issues as women’s critical role in the developing world in raising educational levels. he is truly a citizen of a global community – one to which he is accountable and with which he is in an interdependent relationship. containing environmental degradation. One can also imagine that he did it to secure the women’s vote. the donors.” In one stroke. If you are a woman watching. She journeyed to Africa and to the Indian subcontinent. as she advocated. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. environmental. Obama is surrounding himself with accomplished female advisers without calling condescending attention to that fact. One of Hillary Clinton’s much‐overlooked strengths is that she understands that. provide the strongest explanation of why Obama chose Hillary. (The real news in his victory was that he got a chunk of white men. perhaps more important than anything else she did during that time. and building up microcredit economies. One can imagine that he is applying that old adage. Obama gets control of the Clinton political machine: the network. With this appointment. his emissary to the world? There are plenty of plausible explanations. I think he chose her because he understands that. but they are really in the game. Shrewd tactics. and a devoted father of two girls – understands in a whole new way how to draw and keep women. But the exit polls and the data all show that Obama already has the support of a disproportionate share of American women. the face and voice of his foreign policy. and spoke forcefully at the Beijing conference that brought women leaders together from around the world. There is plenty in her experience as First Lady that she has hyped. And he neutralizes the Clintons’ famous skill at corrosive sniping and flamboyant stage‐hogging – the kind that led Al Gore and Bill Clinton to be on barely speaking terms during the 2000 Presidential campaign. 6 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . Hillary Clinton. But I don’t think any of those reasons. you feel in your gut that these women won't be window dressing. too – and has demonstrated that she knows what it means. The world’s top development experts now agree that resolving many of today’s cultural. why did he do it? What led Barack Obama to tap his former adversary. raised also by an influential grandmother. Hillary's Back by Naomi Wolf NEW YORK – So. Obama turns the big guns away from himself – and directs them outward. who rarely support a Democrat. They may succeed or fail. there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Obama – the son of a strong single mother.) Indeed. He recognizes that women will adore you when you include them as a matter of course. Not a single Democrat has won the White House without a substantial gender gap. But one of her undeniable accomplishments. however compelling each one is. was the set of global journeys that she undertook on behalf of women’s issues. to serve as his Secretary of State. managing population growth. man enough to marry an accomplished woman with opinions of her own. resource‐driven conflicts requires educating and investing in women.
to places where women walk four miles a day for water. such as female genital mutilation and bride burning. cooperating with other international leaders. Obama understands. She sat on mud floors and sandy village commons to hear from these communities about their issues and priorities. that resolving those crises is the true key to matters of war and peace – the true marker of the possibility of international alliances. America tries to solve the world’s true problems: environmental degradation. and that using military intervention without addressing them is merely the equivalent of throwing a blanket into a volcano. to places where women were basing their families’ prosperity on a $20 loan for a sewing machine. 7 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . and the appalling poverty in which the “bottom billion” live. Hillary is adored by many women in the developing world for those journeys. she went to tiny impoverished villages. In that view of the world. as I believe Hillary Clinton understands. Rather. and is helping to educate and feed her family. resource shortages. and I am certain that they taught her crucial lessons about global policy – lessons that built up a worldview that Obama. But what distinguishes Hillary Clinton from Madeleine Albright or Condoleezza Rice is where she was willing to go for her education. America’s president‐elect may even understand that his choice for secretary of state learned to look at statecraft and global policy in that way by sitting with and listening to a formerly dirt‐poor woman in a sari in a dusty village commons – a woman who has now become a small‐scale microcredit entrepreneur. Yet the respect she showed for the various cultures and people whom she was engaging did a great deal to allow such challenges to move forward without bitterness. It would be most impressive of all if he understood that that education was at least as important as what she – along with the boys – learned at Yale. I believe that Obama knows that Hillary realizes that conflict emerges from these problems. and in a spirit of real dialogue. also shares. a child of international experiences. America does not stand alone against all others. inadequate literacy. issuing fiats and focusing narrowly on corporate profits. She did not stay in the air‐conditioned hotels and the parliamentary chambers of the nations she visited. and she took on controversial and culturally sensitive subjects.
or else they have had to deal with stagnant minimum‐wage pay in the US labor market’s “pink‐collar” or service‐industry ghetto. To see a working‐class white woman be picked to serve a heartbeat away from the US president resonates powerfully with them. too. or women of any background who managed to get a high‐quality education – America’s Hillary Clintons. To her equally frantic detractors on the left – and increasingly in the center – she is a frightening harbinger of a theocratic America. exhausted factory workers and secretaries. 2001. but in designer pumps. To her legions of lipstick‐waving fans on the right. Think of the 8 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . Bush II. a mafia‐style executrix of state business who lies about the connection of the September 11. working‐class white women have watched their rise with understandable resentment. terrorist attacks to Iraq. and we must respect the rage and hunger that it reflects. Think of her as George W. and even chaotic family life are all evidence that she is a real. While affluent white women. Race. The subtext of that appeal is class. Madeline Albrights. working‐class white women often understand their own experience in terms of racial hostility. they have been excluded. and are treated regularly with condescension by politicians. and her detractors to an even more potent set of facts. she becomes the symbolic revenge fantasy of many of those silenced. God‐fearing “hockey mom” whose moose hunting. and Condoleezza Rices – broke through the glass ceiling. from the country’s political discourse. The Palin Charade by Naomi Wolf New York – The selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate hit the United States like an electric storm. Both groups are reacting to genuine evidence. and defies subpoenas. evangelical faith. So. They perceive an underclass that they believe receives benefits denied to them and a thriving economy in the developing world that siphons off well‐paying blue‐collar jobs. Working‐class white women in America have had their talents exploited and undervalued for as long as the nation has functioned. Their more affluent peers hire women like them to do the dirty work. Her supporters are responding to a potent set of symbols. Palin is a down‐to‐earth. and even have the women’s movement to lionize them. mocks Barack Obama for his opposition to torturing prisoners. Above all. and it is pitched far lower over their talents and their mobility. is a factor. Their ceiling is made of concrete. typical American. While reports are surfacing that Palin told a group of African‐Americans that she did not have to hire black people. when Sarah Palin is escorted into the media limelight. practically and symbolically. Palin’s symbolic appeal to a certain group of female voters is important to understand.
in which the leading character is a gutsy. Just about any woman who was not born into privilege. and that she has failed to venture much beyond the Discovery Channel when it comes to foreign travel. and is not a cannibal or a Satanist would elicit initial roars of approval from women in general. and surely from a group that has been silenced and trivialized for so long. process our Internet orders. exploited secretary who. the dream guy. 9 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . It’s also that she believes that God set her legislative agenda in Alaska. it looks increasingly alarming. and the corner office. So. trampled by a snooty female Ivy League boss. What we should learn – for next time and for every time to come – is that great leaders and great dreams are being overlooked in the women who prepare our food. as Palin’s political persona takes shape. and wipe up the spills in our hospitals.000 brave young men and women to die in a war based on lies. they are not fools. the elephant in the room is the fact that dermatologists are confirming that the form of cancer for which McCain has been treated has an actuarial survival rate of two to four years for a person his age. nonetheless manages to end up with the dream job. what should this brief Palin bubble teach us? In becoming the poster girl for a re‐branded continuation of the Bush administration. When you’ve been making the coffee forever. Palin is showing herself to have much in common with glossy faux‐populists like Eva Peron or Denmark’s anti‐immigrant leader Pia Kjærsgaard. They also notice that the economy is imploding. as the disturbing prospect of a long Palin presidency starts to set in. appeal of films like Thelma and Louise or Working Girl. she doesn’t look so great to working‐class white women anymore. That said. wrecked its economy. They have begun to notice how Palin is trotted out like a model at an auto show to be introduced to heads of state as if they are local car dealers. and sent 4. it’s nice to imagine leading the free world. Meanwhile. Palin’s sinking approval ratings show that. and how the media are allowed to take pictures but not ask questions (“That’s me with Henry Kissinger!”). while such women thrill to symbolic validation. So. It is these women’s voices that deserve support – not that of a scary stalking‐horse for eight more years (or more) of rule by the thugs who looted America’s treasury. while Iraq is calming down only because the US is paying insurgents and al‐Qaeda sympathizers the equivalent of a monthly car payment per person not to kill its soldiers. has small children at home. Moreover. The problem is not just that the McCain campaign has surrounded her with veterans of the Bush‐Cheney cabal (Karl Rove’s acolytes and operatives now write her speeches and manage her every move).
which are hard to live up to – and even harder as you get older. it used the hijab as a proxy for Western values in general. and Western Islamophobia is no exception. the Taliban were demonized for denying cosmetics and hair color to women. Western writers often noted that women had taken off their scarves. I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women’s appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression. But inside. Many women said something like this: “When I wear Western clothes. When Americans were being prepared for the invasion of Afghanistan. people relate to me as an individual. should not be displayed promiscuously – and possibly destructively – for all to see. On the contrary. When I wear my headscarf or chador . But are we in the West radically misinterpreting Muslim sexual mores. and the attachment that secures a home. and Egypt. many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. but in a strong sense of public versus private. Outside the walls of the typical Muslim households that I visited in Morocco. miniskirts and short shorts. when the Taliban were overthrown. and vice versa? Ideological battles are often waged with women’s bodies as their emblems. basely sexualizing Western gaze. they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive. both male and female. women were as interested in allure. Jordan. Could this image be any more iconic of the discomfort the West has with the social mores of Islam. It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality. or I am always measuring myself against the standards of models in magazines. and skin care lotions abounded. the bonds that sustain family life. surrounded by other women in halter tops. almost fully naked. Victoria’s Secret. cavort in lingerie or simply stretch out languorously. The bridal videos that I was shown. but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channeling – toward marriage. including the appropriate status of women. not an 10 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . Veiled Sexuality by Naomi Wolf NEW YORK –A woman swathed in black to her ankles. At home. She passes under immense billboards on which other women swoon in sexual ecstasy. Rather. objectify me. all was demureness and propriety. in the context of marital intimacy. wearing a headscarf or a full chador . commodifying. men stare at me. not to mention how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. seduction. suggested that sensuality was not alien to Muslim women. particularly the meaning to many Muslim women of being veiled or wearing the chador ? And are we blind to our own markers of the oppression and control of women? The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. Indeed. But when I traveled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women‐only settings within Muslim homes. of what is due to God and what is due to one’s husband. When France banned headscarves in schools. pleasure and sexuality. and pleasure as women anywhere in the world. and which she proudly displays for her bridegroom. elegant fashion. with the sensuous dancing that the bride learns as part of what makes her a wonderful wife. walks down a European or North American street.
I experienced it myself. The Western Christian tradition portrays all sexuality. in both cultures. workers or spiritual beings. but also express much higher levels of sensual joy in their married lives than is common in the West. as I moved about the market – the curve of my breasts covered. So. sexuality channeled into marriage and family life is seen as a source of great blessing. 11 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . yes. I feel respected. my long hair not flying about me – I felt a novel sense of calm and serenity. Choice is everything. who grow up on pornography and sexual imagery on every street corner. as sinful. free. object. When sexuality is kept private and directed in ways seen as sacred – and when one’s husband isn’t seeing his wife (or other women) half‐naked all day long – one can feel great power and intensity when the headscarf or the chador comes off in the sanctity of the home. so it is easy to imagine the power that sexuality can still carry in a more modest culture. Islam and Judaism never had that same kind of mind‐body split. some of the warmth I encountered was probably from the novelty of seeing a Westerner so clothed. when you choose your own miniskirt and halter top – in a Western culture in which women are not so free to age. Nor are Muslim women alone. sanctioned by God. I felt. reduced libido is a growing epidemic. Yes. more importantly. to be respected as mothers. This may explain why both Muslim and orthodox Jewish women not only describe a sense of being liberated by their modest clothing and covered hair. I do not mean to dismiss the many women leaders in the Muslim world who regard veiling as a means of controlling women. And it is worth understanding the positive experiences that women – and men – can have in cultures where sexuality is more conservatively directed. even married sexuality. the shape of my legs obscured. and to disregard Madison Avenue – it’s worth thinking in a more nuanced way about what female freedom really means. I put on a shalwar kameez and a headscarf in Morocco for a trip to the bazaar. Among healthy young men in the West. in certain ways. but it is a recognizably Western feminist set of feelings. it is not necessarily a sign of her repression. But Westerners should recognize that when a woman in France or Britain chooses a veil. And. but.” This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images.
if that is who we are. How can I care about the fate of people like that? If this is what Americans are feeling. We have become an outlaw nation – a clear and present danger to international law and global stability – among civilized countries that have been our allies. So the truth is out and freely available. And America is still napping.” It was then that I realized that I could not be in love with my country right now. So Americans are colluding with a criminal regime. because they are Republican. He replied. The Washington Post gave readers actual video footage of the abusive interrogation of a Canadian minor. Physicians for Human Rights has issued its report documenting American‐held detainees’ traumas. similar to the nineteenth‐century anti‐slavery movement. who demands righteousness. And the synagogues don’t care. worrying about its weight. I asked a contact in the interfaith world why. Even America’s vaunted judicial system has failed to constrain obvious abuses. 12 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . or of Yahweh. “The mainstream churches don’t care. I had thought that after so much exposure. Please Confront America by Naomi Wolf Is it possible to fall out of love with your own country? For two years. Dear World. have been focused intently on documenting. that religious leaders would be asking God’s forgiveness. We are – rightly – on Canada’s list of rogue nations that torture. like many Americans. if torture is not wrong. a tortured political prisoner. the Bush administration still clung to its devil’s sound bite. no Christian and Jewish leaders crying out for justice in the name of Jesus. A Federal court has ruled that the military tribunals system – Star Chambers where evidence derived from torture is used against the accused – can proceed. thousands of Americans would be holding vigils on Capitol Hill. they would react with horror and outrage. nothing is wrong. I. The Red Cross report has leaked: torture and war crimes. because the prisoners are Arabs. and that a popular groundswell of revulsion. we don’t deserve our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Three months ago. I was certain that when Americans knew what was being done in their name. crafted and directed from the top. Omar Khadr.” Now. “We don’t torture. would emerge. Another recently ruled that the president may call anyone anywhere an “enemy combatant” and detain him or her indefinitely. weeping and pleading with his captors. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln. And yet no such thing has occurred. who was seen showing his still‐bleeding abdominal wounds. Jane Mayer’s impeccably researched exposé The Dark Side just hit the stores: torture. and hanging out at the mall. and alerting the nation to the Bush administration’s criminality and its assault on the Constitution and the rule of law – a story often marginalized at home. There is no crisis in America’s churches and synagogues. exposing. and even lie detector tests confirm they have been tortured.
and not bound. he may well be a radically weakened president. Blackwater – will still be operating. To be sure. including international divestment of capital. as many expect. can neither roll back nor control. We also need an internationally coordinated strategy for prosecuting war criminals at the top and further down the chain of command – individual countries pressing charges. while grassroots pressure has not worked. too. Maybe then I can fall in love with my country again. if elected. with billions at stake in maintaining a hyped “war on terror” and their new global surveillance market. continuing under its secret succession plan in the event of an emergency – from going further and targeting its political opponents at home and abroad? We Americans are either too incapable. So remember us as we were in our better moments. with virtually no media coverage. they have argued. violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions are war crimes for which anyone – potentially even the US president – may be tried in any of the other 193 countries that are parties to the conventions. Although the United States is not a signatory to the statute that established the International Criminal Court. The whole world can hunt these criminals down. there is little pressure to broaden official investigations and ensure genuine accountability. The Bush administration has created a transnational apparatus of lawlessness that he alone. will deploy a lavishly financed army of lobbyists to defend their interests. Moreover. And Democrats in Congress will be even more divided after November if. If this regime gets away with flouting international law. what is to prevent the next administration – or this administration. we need our friends to intervene. as Italy and France have done. Private security firms – for example. Europe is still high from Barack Obama’s recent visit. America’s political parties bear little resemblance to the disciplined organizations familiar in parliamentary democracies in Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately. and take action to save us – and the world – from ourselves. We need targeted government‐led sanctions against the US by civilized countries. or too dysfunctional. by international treaties. But. An outlaw America is a global problem that threatens the rest of the international community. accountable neither to him nor to Congress. Obama will be constrained by his own Democratic Party. conservative members defeat Republican incumbents damaged by their association with Bush. money still talks. to help ourselves right now. without global intervention. 13 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . Many studies have shown that tying investment to democracy and human rights reform is effective in the developing world. Many Americans. some Democrats have recently launched Congressional hearings into the Bush administration’s abuses of power. Even if Obama wins. Weapons manufacturers and the telecommunications industry. hope that an Obama victory in November will roll back this nightmare. There is no reason why it can’t be effective against the world’s superpower. Like drug addicts or the mentally ill who refuse treatment. But this is no time to yield to delusions.
Three former military attorneys. The Pentagon has also acknowledged that it had authorized sexualized abuse of detainees as part of interrogation practices to be performed by female operatives. still cannot seem to discuss the sexual crimes involved. then. I have learned that all sex predators go about things in certain recognizable ways. or to submit to being penetrated by objects. to prisoners being hung by the wrists from the ceiling and placed in solitary confinement until psychosis was induced. It’s simply that. America as a nation. Though we can now debate what the penalty for water‐boarding should be. Why? It’s not as if the sex crimes that US leaders either authorized or tolerated are not staring Americans in the face: the images of male prisoners with their heads hooded with women’s underwear. refused to participate in the “military tribunals” – rather. And documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union have Rumsfeld. even when those directing the outrages are some of the most powerful men and women in the United States. It’s not that I am a genius. Condoleezza Rice. 14 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . We now know that the torture of prisoners was the result of a policy set in the White House by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. How extraordinary. These abuses violate both US and international law. the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was written deliberately with loopholes that gave immunity to perpetrators of many kinds of sexual humiliation and abuse. Looking at the classic S and M nature of some of this torture. “show trials” – aimed at condemning men whose confessions were elicited through torture. in his own words. I knew that we were seeing evidence of a systemic policy set at the top. having worked at a rape crisis center and been trained in the basics of sex crime. Indeed. to penetrate themselves with objects. and of military interrogators or contractors forcing prisoners to simulate sex with each other. and forced sleep deprivation. has just led the debate in a special session of the United Nations Security Council on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Vice President Dick Cheney. White House Sex Crimes by Naomi Wolf NEW YORK – Sex crime has a telltale signature. The nonsexual torture that was committed ranged from beatings and suffocation. recognizing this blunt truth. maintaining an odd silence. the documented reports of female US soldiers deployed to smear menstrual blood on the faces of male prisoners. Even as the Bush administration was spinning the notion that the torture of prisoners was the work of “a few bad apples” low in the military hierarchy. and Rice – who actually chaired the torture meetings. it is hard not to speculate that someone setting policy was aroused by all of this. “checking in” on the sexualized humiliation of prisoners. to learn that one of the perpetrators of these crimes. electrodes attached to genitals. The sexualization of torture from the top basically turned Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay into an organized sex‐crime ring in which the trafficked sex slaves were US‐held prisoners. I had a sense of déjà vu when I saw the photos that emerged in 2004 from Abu Ghraib prison.
org 15 «Naomi Wolf – How To Learn from USA» . they wouldn’t bring all this on themselves.” and confess. is also typical of sex crimes within a family. Throughout the world. sex crimes in US‐operated prisons. and even collusion. Finally. if they would only “behave. The perpetrator is also likely to engage in ever‐escalating rationalizations. as well as an FBI memo objecting to a policy of “highly aggressive interrogation techniques. Those who work in the field know that once sex abusers control a powerless victim. ultimately including. There is also the testimony by female soldiers such as Lynndie England about compelling male prisoners to masturbate. the victim is blamed for the abuse: in the case of the detainees. anal sodomy. the author of The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot and Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. Sexual abuse in US‐ operated prisons got worse and worse over time. but it is standard operating procedure for sex offenders. Americans are behaving like a dysfunctional family by shielding sex criminals in their midst through silence. 2008. you are likely to hear from the victim about oral and anal penetration. Abusers start by undressing their victims. www. only when people start to speak out and tell the truth about rape and sexual assault can the healing begin.” The memo cites a female interrogator rubbing lotion on a shackled detainee and whispering in his ear – during Ramadan when sexual contact with a strange woman would be most offensive – then suddenly bending back his thumbs until he grimaced in pain. greater and greater pain and fear being inflicted. they will invariably push the boundaries with ever more extreme behavior. so Americans must hold accountable those who committed. Silence. and violently grabbing his genitals. Just as sex criminals – and the leaders who directed the use of rape and sexual abuse as a military strategy – were tried and sentenced after the wars in Bosnia and Sierra Leone. often arguing that the offenses serve a greater good. this perverse and graphic criminality has added fuel to anxiety about US cultural and military power. As in a family.project‐syndicate. a US democracy movement. is co‐founder of the American Freedom Campaign. or authorized. These acts need to be called by their true names – war crimes and sex crimes – and people in America need to demand justice for the perpetrators and their victims. All this may sound bizarre if you are a normal person. but once that line has been breached. Copyright: Project Syndicate. and more and more carelessness about exposing the crimes as the perpetrator’s inhibitions fall away. according to doctors who examined detainees. Naomi Wolf.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.