Democracy? We think it would be a good idea

Today’s Guardian reports on headscarf politics, American style: “Georgia judge jails Muslim woman for wearing headscarf to court”. Here’s the nub: “Judge Keith Rollins of Douglasville, Georgia, yesterday ordered Lisa Valentine, 41, to jail after she refused to remove her scarf before entering the courtroom, citing rules governing appropriate dress. Last week, Sabreen Abdulrahmaan was forced to leave Rollins’s court before her son’s probation hearing because she would not remove her scarf.” Time to reread Joan Wallach Scott’s Politics of the Veil, in which is dissected the French laws concerning Muslim women’s coverings. Same questions as in Georgia. Why headscarves and not beards, for example. But more to the point, why jail? Why women? Why Black women? Why now?

Meanwhile, according to “Afghan women fear a retreat to dark days” in today’s Christian Science Monitor, Afghan women are dealing with dealing with the Taliban, dealing with dealing with the government dealing with the Taliban, dealing with dealing with international ngo’s who simply can’t get the concept of sustainable work for women,  and these women ask the world not to forget them. Too late. The point is not that Georgia is Afghanistan. The point is that from Georgia to Afghanistan women fear a retreat to dark days because they experience the darkness, through violence, through persecution, through imprisonment, through threats of all of the above and more.

Across the United States, sex workers find a similar state of dark threat, often at the hands of clients, as often at the hands of the police and the courts. Sometimes the police harass and beat, other times they look the other way. In either case, sex workers find themselves fearing the darkness … at noon and otherwise. So, yesterday, dozens of sex workers marched through the streets of downtown Washington, demanding respect from police, demanding acknowledgement. “Sex Workers Criticize Law Enforcement” concluded with a reflection by Leila, a 24 year old women from San Francisco: “Alone, we’re just prostitutes on the corner and no one respects us,” she said. “Together we are a political movement, and we can change things.” Amen.

In “What is postcolonial thinking?”, a long and interesting interview in Esprit,  translated and reproduced in Eurozine, Achille Mbembe locates postcolonial thinking as opposing a post-ethical securitized world. Although he mentions women, as part of a list of disenfranchised and oppressed sectors, women don’t play a large role in his analytics. What if securitization of the world were to be understood as precisely about gender construction and constitution? What if, when discussing the U.S. attempt to act without morality or excuse, one were to see this move as a traditional tool in the rhetorics of patriarchy? Mbembe argues that “postcolonial thought is…a dream: the dream of a new form of humanism, a critical humanism founded above all on the divisions that, this side of the absolutes, differentiate us. . . . The thinking of the postcolony…is a thought of responsibility and life, seen through the prism of what belies both. It is in the direct lineage of certain facets of black thought (Fanon, Senghor, Césaire and others). It is a thought of responsibility, responsibility in terms of the obligation to answer for oneself, to be the guarantor of one’s actions. The ethics underlying this thought of responsibility is the future of the self in the memory of what one has been in another’s hands, the sufferings one has endured in captivity, when the law and the subject were divided.” Where are law and subject divided, almost universally? At the threshold to the so-called familial household as constructed by patriarchal rule of law, that states that the household is a kingdom unto itself. Fanon, Senghor, Césaire, yes, but also Ba, Head, Saadawi, Vera, and others, women who have written about the enduring captivity.

Mbembe concludes with a meditation on U.S. hyper-hegemony, what E.P. Thompson used to call exterminism: “Historically, successive US governments have claimed to build universalism and promote democracy on the basis of crimes that are presented as so many earthly fulfilments of God’s law and divine providence….Mercy has no part in his laws and precepts. He is a jealous and unforgiving god, swift to destroy and forever requiring human sacrifice.”

Democracy American style has no room for mercy, no room for forgiveness, no room for patience, no room for Muslim women, no room for Black women, no room for sex workers, no room for postcolonial thinking, no room for humans, no room for the human.

The dangerous politics of market radicalism“, in Open Democracy, reminds us that the market eschews politics, and ethics, for profit, and reminds us that the market as protector of democracy “was accompanied in much of the Anglosphere by a mounting reliance on coercive social-control mechanisms, one illustration of which is the existence of the highest levels of prison populations in the democratic world.” The highest levels of prison populations in the democratic world. Democracy. I’m told it’s a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t know, but I think it would be a good idea.

(Photo Credit: Global Fund for Women)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.