Gender and Gross conclude that the most significant warmth

Gender is and has been one of the most
contestable concepts in politics throughout our time. From looking at whether
gender is socially constructed or biologically determined to exploring gender
stereotypes, expectations and conventions, from tensions within gender to
issues between genders, analysing the world through a gendered lens reveals
many insights. In addition to that, the most contentious topic of our current
time is arguably terrorism and the ‘War on Terror’ waged by the West since 9/11.
In this essay I will bring together the age-old issue of gender with the
hottest topic of our time, and as such I am going to explore how gender shapes
our understanding of The War on Terror.   

Following the attacks of September 11th 2001 in
the USA, the Bush administration declared a ‘War on Terrorism’ and this
commitment has been an integral part of American politics and governance ever
since. (Sides & Gross, 2013). 7 years
later Gargi Bhattacharyya evaluates the ‘War on Terror’ in her book ‘Dangerous
Brown Men’ (Bhattacharyya, 2008). The title
itself is ironic, Bhattacharyya seems to be calling attention to and condemning
the Western tendency to categorise Muslim men as “dangerous” based on their
race and gender. Sides and Gross explore the way in which stereotypes against
Muslims influence support on the War on Terror. The idea of stereotypes
embodies the need for individuals to categorise the world around them. Sides
and Gross conclude that the most significant warmth stereotypes Americans
affiliated with Muslims are, that they are “violent and untrustworthy” (Sides & Gross, 2013). A warmth
stereotype is concerned with the level of threat an opposing party is perceived
to impose, it is evaluated through asking whether they wish to help or harm as
well as looking at “goal compatibility”; the more disparate the goals of the
opposing party are the more dangerous they are seen to be. And so it is clear
that much like Bhattacharyya’s belief there is a trend towards perceiving Muslim
men as potentially dangerous; violence is synonymous with brutality, extremity
and the desire to cause harm and it seems Muslim masculinity is becoming
associated with these traits. Sides and Gross seemed to conclude that in
general those with a negative perception of Muslims would be more likely to
support the War on Terror, because the policies associated with the war
directly combat the threat which American’s believe Muslims impose (Sides & Gross, 2013).

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George Bush plays on these feelings of fear and threat
and in many of his public
addresses his sentiment is divisive. Bush’s rhetoric distinguishes between
‘them and us’, us being the “civilised world” (Bush G. , 2001). And so we
see that this war transcends national boundaries, it is a war of culture and
values, with the West perceiving theirs as more “civilised” and establishing a
hostile ‘other’. Gender is used to deepen this divide through the construction
of opposing masculinities. The West develops a notion of superior masculinity
in comparison to that of their enemies. And so a picture of the uncivilised,
barbaric and “violent” (Sides & Gross, 2013) Muslim man
versus the sophisticated and refined men of the West is being illustrated
through Western narrative. In such a way the Muslim man is portrayed as someone
to be feared. These divisive binaries, constructed by the West, are gendered
and orientalist (Khalid, 2011). Although in
this essay I will mainly be focusing on the gender aspect, due to
intersectionality I cannot completely disregard race as they are strongly
interlinked. The division between East and West, forged through race, draws
strongly upon ideas from Edward Said’s groundbreaking book Orientalism. He
suggests that the West have constructed the Orient, which didn’t exist until
they imposed conventions and stereotypes on to the East. These subsequently
created a “relationship of power, of domination, and of varying degrees of
complex hegemony” (Said E. , 1978, p. 13). The
supremacy of the Occident feeds into the ‘War on Terror’ whereby orientalism is
an integral factor; the West seems to be patronising the Eastern World by
imposing their values upon it. In terms of gender
this manifests itself in the opposing representations of masculinity, Western men
are portrayed as being able to “express emotion and enact relations of care”
whilst the ‘other’ are “lacking the ability to gain pleasure from even the most
heterosexual of relations” (Bhattacharyya, 2008, p.
Thus gender is used in the war on Terror to demonise the enemy and present the
West as more enlightened.

A crucial
element of the portrayal of Muslim men by the West is in their behaviour and
attitude toward women. The ‘War on Terror’ has been directly associated with a
battle for the rights of women and a defence of their freedoms, as Laura Bush
declared in a radio address in November 2001 the fight against terrorism is
equally “a fight for the rights and dignity of women” (Bush L. , 2001). Many argue
however that the use of women was politically strategic, in order to justify a
war, which lacked “clear strategic and political goals, against an ill-defined
foe” (steans). Thus the portrayal of the extremist Muslim man as an oppressor
of women was utilised to define, identify and demonise the enemy and this would
serve to legitimise US imperialism. There is no doubt that the
Taliban is an acutely oppressive regime against women and that their laws and
practices, such as lashing women in public if they have disobeyed a rule like
not appearing in the street without a relative, are deplorable. However it
seemed that the sudden concern with these gendered human rights violations
stemmed from a desire to legitimise and gain support for the war on terror.
Feminist groups and leftists had been protesting these practices for years
(Steans) and only after 9/11 did they seem to trouble the US government,
suggesting that gender was being utilised as a tool in the war against terror. Therefore
it can be said that the war on terror was corrupting female rights discourse
through its “misuse of feminism” (Batt) to justify the government’s actions.
There is of course an irony in this portrayal of George Bush as a defender and
upholder of women’s rights. He is a conservative who would typically seek to protect
the “traditional – real patriarchal – American family” (Steans). Furthermore,
the characterisation of the West as having a healthy attitude toward sex, as
being open, accepting and upholding of the sexual freedoms and rights of all
individuals, (BATT, 6) is, too, ironic. These assertions circumvent years of
women’s suffrage struggles and other inequalities that are deeply embedded in
society and still haunt it to this day. The recent sexual assault scandals in
Hollywood and the British parliament exemplify this, illustrating the entrenched
patriarchy in Western society. Therefore we see that gender issues are
politicised in the war on terror to serve a purpose, rather than being a
genuine concern.

When analysing the way
in which the Bush administration proceeded to enforce their feminist stance it
is clear the government was completely misled. Female rights discourse became
strongly fixated on the burqa, but this seems to be a propaganda tool, used for
“geopolitical manipulation”(fluri). Following interviews and participant
observations with Afghan families, Jennifer Fluri revealed that in fact the
complexity of the burqa was not understood by US aid workers and that rather it
seemed they were regurgitating requests from the US government or following
development ideologies (fluri). It seems that there was unwanted concern
surrounding female body and dress. This begs the question of why then was the
government so concerned with the corporeal ? It is likely that this was because
of its use as a visual propaganda tool. The imagery of Muslim women dressed in
a burqa acted as tangible evidence of the oppression they were submitted to
under the Taliban; visually differentiating the ‘liberated’ Western women from
the oppressed and victimised Muslim women, and helping to reinforce the West as
an archetype of civilisation. When the Taliban was defeated images of Afghan
women ripping off their burqa were mass-produced and circulated by US media, in
effort to relay the success of the ‘war on terror’ campaign (steans). However
in reality the situation did not vastly improve for women under the new US
supported regime, despite this their voices were no longer heard. Afghan women
had served their purpose and were no longer of use of interest to political
elites (steans). Thus demonstrating that the Bush administration’s concerns for
women’s rights were a guise. In addition, analysing the relationship between
the RAWA (Revolutionary Assosciation of the Women of Afghanistan) and the Bush
administration is very insightful. Women from the RAWA were invited to
contribute to the table of high politics following the declaration of the war
on terror and the subsequent promise to protect women’s rights. However their suggestions
were often ignored, for example they strongly advised against intervention,
believing, as many other Muslims did that this would cause “resentment of US imperialism and create the
conditions in which fundamentalist and terrorist groups would
flourish”(steans). Further they asked the US “not to support other
fundamentalist regimes that denied women their most basic rights”(steans) such
as the Northern alliance. This exemplifies the
dismissive attitude of Western men toward women, and shows us that the promise
to protect women’s rights was a political guise. There is an uncomfortable sense
of white men glorifying themselves as the benefactors of freedom; as such they
are exerting dominance over women in a backhanding way, they hold the power to
grant them rights and to give them involvement in the cause. In reality,
however, it is all on their terms and serves them a purpose. And so although
the West tries to use their ‘superior’ masculinity to benefit them in the war
on terror there are clearly flaws in this.