W STANDS FOR...

W STANDS FOR WOMEN WAHABBISM. During the build-up to the Iraq war, you may recall various Bush apologists who have less than no interest in women's rights domestically using women's rights in other countries as a prop to advance the administration's foreign policy (often spiced up with dishonest claims that American feminist groups ignore violations of women's rights in Islamic countries). Exactly how the Iraq War was supposed to improve women's rights was unclear, and not surprisingly replacing a brutal secular dictatorship with a quasi-state beholden to Islamic radicals for social control has made things even worse:

Life has become more difficult for most Iraqis since the February bombing of a Shiite Muslim mosque in Samarra sparked a rise in sectarian killings and overall lawlessness. For many women, though, it has become unbearable.

As Islamic fundamentalism seeps into society and sectarian warfare escalates, more and more women live in fear of being kidnapped or raped. They receive death threats because of their religious sects and careers. They are harassed for not abiding by the strict dress code of long skirts and head scarves or for driving cars.

For much of the 20th century, and under various leaders, Iraq was one of the most progressive Middle Eastern countries in its treatment of women, who were encouraged to go to school and enter the workforce. Saddam Hussein's Baath Party espoused a secular Arab nationalism that advocated women's full participation in society. But years of war changed that.

In the days after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, many women were hopeful that they would enjoy greater parity with men. President Bush said that increasing women's rights was essential to creating a new, democratic Iraq.

But interviews with 16 Iraqi women, ranging in age from 21 to 52, show that much of that postwar hope is gone. The younger women say they fear being snatched on their way to school and wonder whether their college degrees will mean anything in the new Iraq. The older women, proud of their education and careers, are watching their independence slip away.

And that's not all -- the diversion of resources into the completely counterproductive Iraq War has also contributed to the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, with predictably dire consequences. It's almost enough to make me think that invocations of women's rights by American reactionaries were just cynical window dressing...

--Scott Lemieux

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