Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Interview from, Beating Fascism: Anarchist anti-fascism in theory and practice

Here’s a discussion (late 2005, each in their personal capacity) between somebody from the Kate Sharpley Library, a member of Class War (from the UK) and a North American comrade connected with ‘Three Way Fight’, an anti-fascist web log.

Anti-fascism Now

KSL: What’s your background in anti-fascism?
CW:
I got involved with the anti-fascist movement after moving to London in 1992. I saw the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ on TV and thought – I want to be involved in that!

I wrote off to AFA a couple of times, but never got a reply. By that time I had joined Class War, and I just got involved in stuff from there. Usually we would just tag along on events organised by other anti-fascists – usually AFA if it was an action, but we would do our own thing around East London, or tag along with what used to be quite a big group of non-aligned anti-fascists around East London.

By the time AFA was coming to an end in the UK, I was convinced that a range of tactics was needed against fascism, and that direct action would need to be an option in any strategy. I was briefly involved with the No Platform group, and when that petered out I was one of the people who formed Antifa.

3WF: After several years of being active in punk and skinhead circles I came to see that radical anti-authoritarian politics had to be intersecting with a broader layer of people outside of a sub-cultural scene. I started doing Anarchist Black Cross work and got behind the support for an antifascist who was being charged with assault on a Nazi. The Anti Fascist Defense Committee (AFDC) had been created in Minneapolis, Minnesota by various anarchists and anti-racists. Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation was also a key publicizer of the case and defense, with the defendant being a L&R member, as well as having been one of the founders of ARA in the late 1980’s. This defense campaign was around 1993.

With the ABC we were both supporting active militants (like in the case of the AFDC) as well as long time political prisoners (many of whom were Black/New African, Puerto Rican, and Native American/Indigenous). This work was a way to open up dialogue around the whole prison system concept and how ‘law and order’ had, and continues to be, a mechanism for social control, and within the context of the United States, disproportionately affecting poor people and people of color.

The ABC was a positive way of showing radical anarchist politics in motion. By working in united fronts with other groups we would bring our perspectives into the mix and by doing that hopefully contribute to the building of ourselves and our movement by being seen as committed, principled, and serious.

It was around this time that several anarchists and ABC groups started to develop relationships with Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. His book Anarchism and the Black Revolution had a real impact on many class struggle anti-racist anarchists. The fact that Ervin had also been involved with community (and personal) self-defense against White fascist attacks further cemented the link between militant anti-racism, class struggle politics, and revolutionary anarchism.

I had moved to Chicago, Illinois by now and through the ABC was working on different anti-police brutality, anti-prison, and anti-gentrification projects. The work was not necessarily antifascist, but we were always trying to come from a politic that had critical perspectives based on race and class (as well as gender and age).

For some of us, our ABC work started closer collaborations with antifascist projects like ARA. Eventually, the ABC group I had been involved in kinda liquidated itself into ARA. I have been involved expressly with ARA or antifascist politics since then.

KSL: What are the roots of ARA? What have been its most notable successes?
3WF: ARA formed in 1987 when there was a major rift in the skinhead scene between anti-racists and the White Power skins. ARA was created by the Baldies, a multi-racial skinhead crew in Minneapolis. Originally ARA was to be a vehicle to build a larger anti-racist presence to take on the Nazis but it really remained a skinhead movement for the first couple years of it’s life. The reputation of ARA and the Baldies got around the country and you started having ARA and anti-racist skinhead alliances form. The punk press like Maximum Rock and Roll magazine promoted ARA and reported on anti-nazi actions. Actually, MRR is where a lot of us in other parts of the country first heard about the Baldies and ARA, sometime around ’87 and ’88.

By the early 1990’s ARA had morphed into a broader youth oriented movement. It was overwhelmingly anarchist, but had a political openness that prevented it from becoming an exclusionary sect. Also, it was a fighting movement and that really set it apart from much of the left who talked the game but failed to put the boot in.

During the 1990’s ARA started to develop a more popular presence. Different chapters initiated projects ranging from anti-nazi activity, to attacking more institutionalized racism. This later aspect usually materialized as Cop Watch which was a way to monitor and disrupt police in our cities.

I would say that some of the success of ARA was that it was the largest antifascist movement in the US and Canada. During the 1990’s I think it would be fair to say that ARA politicized hundreds of militants and had hundreds more gravitating to it, not necessarily part of a core, but forming the essential periphery. Around 1997 an easy estimate of ARA’s numbers would be 1500-2000 people.

ARA had an uncompromising political edge as well as having a cultural aspect that attracted people. People felt like they were part of a real scene. Militants organized, traveled, and built a movement in a period when there was no internet (wow imagine that – ha!) We had a real network that was based on direct contact and relationships. You could travel to all kinds of cities and there would be an ARA crew to hook up with. More importantly, we were a direct challenge to racist and fascist groups who were trying to organize. Point one of ARA’s unifying plank is:
‘We Go Where They Go. Whenever the fascists are organizing or active in public were there. Never let the fascists have the streets!’

ARA took this seriously. All over the US and Canada from big cities to small towns, if the fascists were active, ARA would organize to shut them down and make it as difficult for them to function as we could. Obviously we had varying success. Sometimes we could smash the fash. Other times we would have to accept a defeat if we were outmanoeuvred and unable to take the ground. Even in those situations ARA tried to make an impact, but sometimes the battle was lost even if the war still went on.

Other instances saw ARA taking on the cops who would be mobilized to defend fascist gatherings. People wanted to get to the fascists and the wall of cops would become one more target of anger. You could have hundreds or thousands of people in some cities come out to protest the fascists. With these numbers you had all kinds of political agendas and perspectives mixing it up. ARA tried to relate to militant and working class anti-racists and ARA’ers would throw themselves into the thick of things. This got ARA recognized by a lot of people. It kinda built a situation where you either loved ARA or hated it, but could never ignore it.

ARA was definitely a big part in making it impossible for some fascist groups from operating. Organizations like the fascist World Church of the Creator eventually could not operate publicly without massive police protection. Even their cadre became targets in their own neighborhoods. I would say that ARA contributed in a big way to the demise of several fascist operations.

KSL: What’re you doing now?
3WF: The US antifascist movement is at a low point currently. For good or bad, groups like ARA follow the same patterns as the fascists. When open fascists are active, so is ARA. When there is no fascist organizing, ARA just kinda flounders. This lack of consistency and the inability to articulate a broader program has lead several militants to step back and rethink our agenda.
I think that fascist groups, like left groups, have periods of growth and action, while also having periods where there is uncertainty over political direction and strategy. What I think is constant is Fascism as an ideology with the potential to pop up and take advantage of situations that have become socially and politically polarized, especially around race, economics and culture. Antifascists need to be developing a broad analysis that considers where the fascist trends could and will emerge.

Unfortunately, most antifascist organizing exists to just engage the fascists on a quasi-military basis. The strategic and more ideological considerations are dealt with on such a minimal basis that sometimes it seems that they are not there at all. I think there is a danger of retreating into our heads and getting so caught up in abstract theorizing that we become do nothing, but there is also a real tendency to just act without an accompanying analysis.

CW: There is a lot to do at the moment. Simply gathering intelligence and being aware of far-right strategy, groups and activists is an enormous task. Anti-fascists in the UK are re-grouping at the moment, at a time when the fascists have never been stronger in this country. We are playing catch up. On a personal level I have spent a lot of time this year studying far-right websites (both UK and US sites) and a lot of time training at the gym – feeding the brain and the body!

KSL: Fascism is shit – is there anything else to say about it?
3WF: I think many people look at fascism and say, ‘What a load of crap. How could anyone really believe that stuff?’ Even many antifascists look at the fascist movement as a joke, violent, but a joke. No doubt the fascist movements have their share of the knuckle-draggers, idiots, and the politically inept, but don’t all movements have these types? I would actually say that in a real fascist movement, the more inept and foolish would be eliminated from the ranks. Fascism prides itself on ability, commitment, and sacrifice.

Fascist movements of the past were popular because they offered a total ideology with accompanying programs for action. Millions embraced fascism not because these people were stupid but because fascism provided a vision for social transformation amidst a time of international crisis. Fascism was able to mobilize masses of people.

I think this is important. The perspective I hold essentially sees fascism as a real movement of ideas that can draw people in and motivate them. It is a ideology and world view we are gonna have to compete with on more than a physical or military level.

CW: Fascism is a dynamic political ideology that seeks to appeal to all classes, to unite those classes within a strong state, under the control of a hierarchical elite. Usually race is a key component of fascism, and it is always staunchly anti-socialist, and opposed to any independent organisation of the working class. Fascism is usually opposed to internationalism, unless that internationalism is based on race.

KSL: What’s the current state of North American fascism?
3WF: When talking about the North American fascist movement I would first say it is in flux and there are several competing political tendencies. To give an answer I would break it down into three basic categories. Admittedly, the categories I lay out are simplified and consequently overestimate some trends and neglect other factions that are smaller, more ideological, and represent a more dissident fascism. These groups are what we might call the ‘Third Position’. A fuller elaboration would make a book. But nonetheless, I think the following breakdown gives an idea of what is here.

The first category is what I would call the Euro/White fascist block. This includes the National Alliance, The Creativity Movement (formerly called The World Church of the Creator), Aryan Nations, the various Nazi skinhead groups, the modern Ku Klux Klan, etc. Basically, those who trace their lineage back to White and European fascism and Hitlerian National Socialism.
Currently there are all kinds of rifts in these scenes. Several of the key leaders have died over the last few years and there has been a jockeying for power. I think one could also make the case that there has been a counter insurgency struggle being waged against the fascists by the US government in which there have been mysterious murders of nazi cadre by cops or the imprisonment of fascists on trumped charges. There is activity in the nazi circles but I think many groups are going through a process of regroupment.

The second block are not outright ‘fascist’ (and because of their Americanism some factions may claim an ‘anti-fascism’ and have an anti-racist platform based on Christian fundamentalism), but are based around a more popular far-Right, conservative, religious, and US Nationalist politic. There can be crossover with the hard-core fascists, but this block is unique in that it’s defined often as an ultra-conservative movement that still seeks to preserve the United States as a nation, albeit a White dominated and Christian nation. Another major political characteristic of this block is that it is isolationist and wants to remove the US from global affairs. I would say that this is a rather significant block in the US. If there is a deepening social crisis it could emerge as the strongest organized political tendency in opposition to the current two party electoral system. Anti-immigration and vigilante groups, rural militias, and sections of the activist anti-Choice movement would be included here. One important difference between this block and the out-and-out fascists is on the issue of revolution. Most neo-Nazis are for social revolution and the destruction of the US, this goes against the sensibilities of the ultra-conservatives. Though under the right social circumstances the conservatives could see the need for what amounts to a radical authoritarian ‘regeneration’ of US society. Political ideologues like Pat Buchanan and his journal, The American Conservative, could be considered an articulate voice in this block, though not necessarily the dominant one.

The last block is the wild card and has yet to materialize on any mass level, although the potentials for its emergence are present. Before laying this out I want to make clear that in this situation a blanket labeling of fascism has it’s problems. Nonetheless, certain characteristics are similar to fascism and any discussion demands serious attention and an analysis of this block’s authoritarian nature. I would consider this section to be based in the disorganized and marginalized masses of poor and working people. I would say that what could emerge are ultra authoritarian social movements that are male-centric, militarized, religious based, and insurgent.

These movements are not restricted to White/Euro culture, quite the opposite. Outside of the US, Hamas, the Sadrists in Basra, and the Al-Qaeda network are the most glaring examples of non-socialist, non-liberatory ideologically driven movements. Hamas, which has a strong presence in Gaza, has actual geographic space to define and control. They also have mass support due to their willingness to fight Israel and their development of social aid programs in their controlled areas. Now, the just mentioned groups have developed in their own unique sphere but I think that not so dissimilar situations could develop here. If a revolutionary ‘left’ opposition does not materialize in the States that is made up of and shaped by the oppressed, then more reactionary forms will emerge in that void. This position is controversial because it denies the view that the oppressed will necessarily form a left opposition to the State.

Here in the States there are vast armed criminal associations operating in the poor and people of color communities. These organizations may have links with elements of the government and cops, but they still have a relative autonomy that I think could provide the basis for an insurgent and authoritarian reaction against the State if there was a social shift in which resources and power were at stake.

Because I define three basic (and simplified blocks) I want to say also that this means there has to be different approaches to each. We can’t treat these movements in the same fashion. Fascism, and a more broad authoritarianism, is complex and our interactions with it can’t be static.

KSL: Can you say a bit more about the ‘a three way fight’ idea? As I understand it, it’s that the fascists are not necessarily an arm of the current ruling class.
3WF:
In a way I already touched on this. The idea of the ‘Three Way Fight’ breaks down like this: First, the State and the capitalist ruling classes. Next, you have the insurgent forces from below who are fighting for their own vision and are autonomous from the State. This is where it gets drawn out into the sides. One force are the authoritarians. This would be fascists and the authoritarian socialists. In the other corner, you have us, the revolutionary anti-capitalist and libertarian left.

Now, these lines are not always neat and clear. This perspective doesn’t think Marxists and Leninists are fascists. And it doesn’t claim that the libertarian/anti-authoritarian left is free from mistakes and contradictions. What we think is that for our side, we are gonna be competing ideologically and on the ground with more than the State. We don’t consider there to be a simple dichotomy of ‘Us and Them’, it’s much more complicated. The authoritarian left suffered much discredit after the demise of the USSR, and with the rise of the ‘anti-globalization’ movement there has been a new wave of radical and popular anti-authoritarian politics. But all this can shift. There is no reason to think that authoritarian and Stalinized politics can’t make a come back, just as there is no reason to assume anti-authoritarian politics will progress and become the dominant political trend within the struggle against the State.

We must be offering perspectives and engaging in practice that is rooted in a radical libertarian and socialist vision. Not that everything we do has to have a big circle A stamped on it, but we have to be critical about strategy and political trends. Like I said before, if a revolutionary anti-authoritarian tendency is not present then more authoritarian politics will develop in that void.
You would think that this perspective is evident in anarchism, but I don’t think it is, at least not in North America. Fascism as an opposition is often underestimated or revolutionaries think when times get tough and that there is a radical challenge to the State, then it will ultimately coalesce a left opposition. I don’t hold that view, I think history points to something much more heterogeneous.

KSL: What’s the current state of British fascism?
CW: The way in which fascism adapts to a changing political climate, and its ability to move with the times, is remarkable when you compare it to the dinosaurs of the last century left (and at times the anarchist movement) Having punched below its weight for 50 years, British fascism has now got its act together.

Look at the way the British National Party have attempted to organise in South Yorkshire. They have spoken about contemporary issues – the rise of Islam, the changes brought about by asylum and the effect on social services, the corruption of long term Labour Councils – and the left is all too often wittering on about Palestine, or the miners defeat of 20 years ago. They are attempting to fill the vacuum.

Secondly, I think the international links that fascist groups in Europe/North America have developed put the links of European & US anti-fascists to shame. We need to up our game.
In the UK the fascists who have adapted to society have prospered politically (look at Nick Griffin) whilst those who are stuck in the old anti-semitic conspiracy theories have either stagnated, or are reliant on the arrival of recruits disillusioned with the populist approach of the ‘new’ BNP.

Nick Griffin’s masterstroke was removing the BNP’s commitment to compulsory repatriation of all non-whites. The policy was ridiculous (on many levels!) and removing it meant quite a few of the old nazi nutters left the BNP. With that policy gone, people who may have the odd black friend, get on well with the staff in their local Chinese or fancy the Asian woman in the corner shop, could vote BNP without feeling they are necessarily sending such people off to the gas chambers.

The second element in the rise of fascism in this country is entirely external, and is something that quite possibly anti-fascists can do next to nothing about. The rise of militant Islam is something outwith this interview, but the reality is that what has happened in many Muslim societies over the past 20-30 years, and what people see in some Muslim communities in Britain, scares the living daylights out of them.

This issue, and the third element, the poor levels of integration between British Muslims and other communities, has not been seriously addressed by the British political establishment. It is being addressed by the fascists. It is now being addressed by the old left, in the shape of the Respect Unity Coalition, who’s message is basically ‘Don’t Criticise the Muslims’. Things may get worse before they get better, especially if there are more suicide bombings by British Muslims.

KSL: Has the ‘War on terror’ had much effect?
3WF: I think it has put fear into a lot of radicals and made mass work difficult. The state is definitely operating with more repressive tactics. There is also massive propaganda that says: ‘You’re with America or you’re against America.’ There are actually media reports around that say that in addition to foreign born terrorists, there are home grown terrorists which included White Supremacists, Anarchists, and radical environmental groups like the ELF/ALF. In some ways, as the war in Iraq gets further drawn out, people are becoming disenchanted with it. There is a growing anti-war movement and this is collapsing the notion of loyalty to the current government. People are feeling more emboldened to speak out. This may open up more space for dialogue and radical voices.

CW: It has been a disaster for race relations in the UK. It has driven communities further apart, something that the US/UK political establishment is probably unconcerned about, and something the likes of Bin Laden, and British Muslim extremists would be delighted about.
When polarisation occurs, people take sides. And every time a British Muslim is seen talking about Jihad, or praising those fighting the US/UK troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, it is another stack load of votes and donations for the BNP.

KSL: What does the militant anti-fascist movement need to do to win?
3WF: Big question that I don’t have a good answer for.
I think most importantly we have to be engaging in struggles beyond just anti-fascist street battles. I think that we need to have monitoring groups and be keeping tabs on the various fascist fronts, but our challenge to fascism may be in broader arenas. I think we’re gonna be in combat with fascist politics (both openly and quasi-fascist) around immigration struggles and when doing anti-U.S. war work.

Also, we can’t just see fascism as a White/Euro politic. It goes deeper and is international. We have to be accessing the various opposition movements and be critical of what, how, and who we support. Some may think that those fighting US/British Imperialism in Iraq or Afghanistan are deserving of unconditional support, but what are these groups’ politics? Do we want to give support to movements that are anti-woman, anti-queer, authoritarian, and against popular participatory politics? I would say no. But for some these questions are irrelevant.

I think we have to really maintain an antifascist outlook at all times. Anti-fascism is a total politic, not just one for when were on the streets fighting nazi skins.

CW: To win we have to know our enemy, beat our enemy and replace our enemy.

I am not sure if we have a militant anti-fascist movement, and I am not sure we want to style ourselves as ‘militant’. I have always said I am a moderate – its the people who want to compromise with the fascists who are extreme!

KSL: Finally, what’s the best advice you can give someone new to the movement, on how to fight against fascism and for a free society?
3WF: Think, be critical, and don’t look at debate and analysis as something unrelated to our struggle. However, don’t let the complicated questions prevent you and your movement from action. The political situation changes and may call for new strategies; talk it over with those who seem serious and are interested in your ideas. And the last thing, think with security on your mind. Be smart, be cautious, don’t jump in without some plans.

CW: Know the sort of world you want. Know your enemy and remember this – we have to beat the fascists every time, they only have to beat us once. If they come into power, we are dead and buried. Literally.

Taken from:
Beating Fascism:
Anarchist anti-fascism in theory and practice
edited by Anna Key
Anarchist Sources Series #6 ISSN 1479-9065
ISBN 1-873605-88-9 Price £2.50 + 30p postage / $3
Available now from good book shops or straight from the publisher:
Kate Sharpley Library, BM Hurricane, London WC1N 3XX, UK or
Kate Sharpley Library, PMB 820, 2425 Channing Way, Berkeley CA 94704, USA
www.katesharpleylibrary.net

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Hold On...

Our project has been slow to get a consistent level of participation and contributions, but don't fret and think we have given up.

We are going to be posting some info and articles here within the week so check back. We will be covering the recent Toledo riots, NSM organizing, antifascist activity and the post Toledo response, as well as the continuing politics of Iraqi Occupation, thoughts on the "crisis" of capital, and an interview conducted by the anarchist Kate Sharpely Library with one of the 3Way Fight contributors.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements - Part Two

by Matthew

(Sources at bottom.)

Gender politics has always been important to the political right, but in the current period it’s more important than ever before. To get a full sense of this, we need to look beyond classic fascism’s direct descendents to the array of religious-based rightist movements. Globally, the religious right is highly diverse, encompassing movements that define themselves in terms of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths—and many of these movements are themselves highly fragmented. Some of these movements, or sections of them, arguably deserve the label “fascist,” and many more of them have important points in common with fascist ideology, organizational strategy, and social base.

Unlike classic fascism, some religious-based movements, notably the Christian right and the Islamic right, put gender politics at the center of their program. For them, reasserting heterosexual male dominance and rigid gender roles are more important than any other goals. These may be the first organized mass movements—at least since the European witch-burnings of 400 years ago—that have placed this degree of emphasis on promoting women’s oppression.
At the same time, religious-based rightist movements generally embody some mix of the four gender-politics themes I outlined in Part One of these notes: patriarchal traditionalism, demographic nationalism, militaristic male bonding, and quasi-feminism. Even the Christian right and Islamic right show some of the same complexities we see in conventional fascist movements.

The U.S. Christian right has recruited large numbers of women with a contradictory blend of messages. On the one hand, the movement promotes a system of gender roles that offers many women a sense of security and meaning and, in Andrea Dworkin’s words, “promises to put enforceable restraints on male aggression” (p. 21). Women are told that if they agree to be obedient housewives and mothers, their husbands will reward them with protection, economic support, and love. Feminism is denounced as unnatural, elitist, man-hating, and a dangerous rejection of the safety that the traditional family supposedly offers women.

Within this overall framework, however, Christian rightists often implicitly use concepts borrowed from feminism—for example, arguing that abortion “exploits women” or that federal support for childcare is wrong because it supposedly limits women’s choices. A bestselling sex manual by Christian right leaders Timothy and Beverly LaHaye declares that (married, heterosexual) women have a right to sexual pleasure, endorses birth control, and encourages women to be active in lovemaking. Christian rightist women’s groups have also encouraged many women to become more self-confident and assertive, speak publicly, take on leadership roles, and get graduate training—as long as they do so in the service of the movement’s patriarchal agenda.

Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America, which claims over half a million members, vilifies feminism as a threat to the traditional family and healthy moral values. Yet the CWA’s website is studded with feminist-sounding language regarding political and social equality, sexual harassment, violence against women, the importance of women’s education, and other themes. A CWA position paper opposing comparable worth is titled “Undermining Women’s Choices.” It argues, not that women have a duty to be homemakers, but rather “women have taken incredible strides in the workplace” and “it is already illegal to pay unequal wages to equally qualified men and women who do the same job.” “The real hardship women face is having to compromise staying home with family and working outside the home for financial reasons. Women who choose to stay at home with their children have not received the respect and support they deserve.” In such ways, Christian rightists use specific realities of women’s oppression to bolster their patriarchal agenda.

In many countries, the Islamic right offers women a comparable mix of traditionalist and quasi-feminist incentives. Islamic rightist women’s organizations, Nikki Keddie argues,

"provide outlets for activity and creativity that are usually approved by one’s family, even dominant males. This means that for many Muslim, fundamentalist women ... young women can go to the mosque or women’s religiopolitical gatherings without overt family control. Some may reject marriage partners their parents propose, on the ground that the intended are not good Muslims. Many women note that men respect them more if they dress in the fundamentalist women’s covered but novel ‘uniform,’ and they thus avoid sexual harassment. On the one hand, religiopolitics gives an ideology and greater self-respect to women who want to devote time and concern to their families, and it avoids some of the dilemmas of free choice regarding sexual questions. For women who want to work outside the home, on the other hand, religiopolitics offers a badge of traditionalism and respectability to carrying out a new way of life, and, in Iran and other countries, many women can work in fundementalist dress who could not work outside the home before. Activity in religious politics creates a proud ideology for those with traditionalist views, and, for some women, is more a way of coming to terms with the modern world than a rejection of that world. Fundamentalists commonly accept many contemporary, and even Western-oriented, changes in women’s status, including education, companionate marriage, and, de facto, a place in the workforce. Their family ideal is often only a few decades old."

Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) illustrates some of these dynamics. FIS supporters have murdered women for appearing in public without the veil, yet the movement has also attracted women in substantial numbers. Algerian feminist Khalida Messaoudi has argued that this mobilization must be understood in relation to decades of rule by the National Liberation Front (FLN), which sought to modernize and secularize Algeria while maintaining women’s oppression:

"The FLN destroyed all the traditionally valued places, the places of the inside, but without proposing others: only 4.2 percent of women work in Algeria.... The FIS, for those who accept the veil, offers them all ‘some places outside,’ for example, the mosque. There, they are allowed what even the FLN denies them: a political voice. FIS women’s ‘cells’ debate every subject all over Algeria. This way they have the impression of acquiring a certain power and power that interests them"(quoted in Slyomovics, p. 217).

Policies toward women vary substantially among Islamic rightist movements. Afghanistan’s Taliban represent the most repressive end of this continuum, with their near-total effort to drive women and girls out of public life. The Taliban closed all girls’ schools and barred women from working in nearly all jobs, leaving their homes without a male relative or without being covered head to toe, being treated by male doctors, playing sports, singing, and much more. Women’s courtroom testimony was legally worth half of a man’s testimony and women could not petition a court except through a close male relative, family planning was outlawed, and women were frequently beaten, mutilated, or killed for breaking the rules.

The Taliban have always been a fighting organization of men only, with no interest in recruiting or mobilizing women. In terms of the far-right gender themes I outlined in Part One, the Taliban blend patriarchal traditionalism with a culture of militaristic male bonding similar to the fascist paramilitaries of the 1920s and 1930s.

In contrast to the Taliban, Iran’s 1979 revolution included many women on the front lines and brought in a significantly different set of gender policies. Iran’s Islamic Republic placed many new strictures on women, such as barring them from certain occupations and courses of study and requiring all but their hands and faces to be covered in public. Husbands received full control over divorce and child custody, polygamy was legalized, and the marriage age for girls was lowered to nine years. At the same time, the Islamic Republic allowed women to vote and hold seats in the legislature (but not as judges). Mass literacy campaigns and free education raised female literacy from less than 25 percent in 1970 to over 70 percent in 2000.

Over the years, some of Iran’s misogynistic policies were softened, either because of economic development needs (as Farideh Farhi argues) or pressure from Islamist women activists (as Homa Hoodfar contends). Keddie, writing in 1999, noted a “resurgence of women’s activities in the media, teaching, filmmaking, literature, and the arts, and a maintenance of women’s employment, so that women are far freer and participate more broadly throughout the labor force than in some Muslim countries that do not have Islamist governments.”

In the Islamic Republic’s first decade, demographic nationalism led the government to dismantle family planning programs, but this policy was later reversed. Subsidized contraceptives are now widely available through a network of health clinics, religious leaders have issued fatwas encouraging birth control, and both men and women are required to take a class in contraception to get a marriage license (although the responsibility still falls mainly to women). Even abortion, which is currently illegal except to save the mother’s life, has been seriously debated: In 2005 the Iranian parliament passed a law that would have allowed abortion within the first four months of pregnancy—if the fetus was disabled and would impose a financial burden on the family. The Guardians Council struck down the law on religious grounds.

Keddie draws a useful, if imperfect, distinction between religious fundamentalism and religious nationalism. Fundamentalist movements (whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish) emphasize a narrow reading of scripture or a specific set of religious practices and aim to impose their version of religion on society as a whole through control of the state. Rigid gender roles and subordinating women are central to this program.

Religious nationalist movements, by contrast, don’t usually stress purity of religous doctrine or practice. Instead, they use religious identity as a rallying point, coupled with the exclusion and vilification of other ethnoreligious groups. Examples of this kind of movement include Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist nationalist movements in South Asia, Serb and Croat nationalists in the former Yugoslavia, and militant Israeli settler groups such as Gush Emunim (although Gush Emunim actually includes many religious fundamentalists in coalition with more secular nationalists).

Religious nationalists, Keddie argues, tend to put less emphasis than fundamentalists on subordinating women, and sometimes present themselves as champions of gender equality. But religious nationalists “discourage any independent assertion of women’s rights as divisive to the national struggle.”

India’s Hindu nationalist movement, centered on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and related organizations, is a prime example of religious nationalism. Promoting Hindu supremacy and the hatred (and mass murder) of Muslims, the movement has become one of the most powerful political forces in India, with the BJP heading two coalition governments between 1998 and 2004. For the most part, Hindu nationalists uphold a deeply patriarchal form of traditionalism, and anti-Muslim pogroms have specially targeted Muslim women for rape, mutilation, and murder. But some Hindu nationalists see themselves as opponents of women’s oppression—which they identify with Islam. In Keddie’s words, “Hindu nationalists use women’s equality issues as a rhetorical stick with which to beat Muslims, and not as a basis for a struggle for equality and against atrocities against women [perpetrated by Hindus], such as ‘bride-burning’ to accumulate dowries.”

It’s important to put all of these movements in a larger context. Rightist gender politics and the right’s increased focus on controlling women overlap with what Butch Lee calls “the worldwide war against women and children”—the wave of battery, murder, and sexual assault, including the organized use of mass rape by soldiers and paramilitaries, from Bosnia to Darfur to Tailhook. Many rightist movements are major players in this war, using systematic violence and threats to enforce women’s obedience. At the same time, these movements also hold out to women the prospect of safety and protection from male violence if they follow the rules.

Like the overall wave of misogynistic violence, the political right’s gender politics is also intertwined with global capitalism’s campaign to pull women more systematically into the international market economy, as consumers and especially as wage workers. This process, at the center of capitalist globalization, is shifting gender roles and restructuring male dominance—sometimes in ways that erode the traditional male power of fathers, husbands, and local elites.
It’s tempting to see far-right gender politics as a straightforward rejection of capitalist globalization, a drive to force women out of the wage labor force and back into full domestic submission. While there’s some truth to this, I think it’s only part of the story. As we’ve seen, even the Christian right and the Islamic right often blend patriarchal traditionalism with a measure of quasi-feminism, telling women that it’s okay to move into new jobs and new roles as long as they do it in an ideologically controlled way.

In addition, patriarchal traditionalism itself can serve global capitalist interests, at least in some contexts. Maria Mies, in her groundbreaking book Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, argues that “housewifization”—the process of defining all women as housewives—is itself a part of capitalist development and replaces older gender roles, as the nuclear family replaces older forms of social organization. In today’s global economy, housewifization enables the new international division of labor to function smoothly. When homemaking is defined as women’s natural, proper role, then all of women’s paid work can be defined “as supplementary work, her income as supplementary income to that of the so-called main ‘breadwinner,’ the husband”—which means women can be paid much less than men. Housewifization also makes it easier to control women politically: “Housewives are atomized and isolated, their work organization makes the awareness of common interests, of the whole process of production, very difficult. Their horizon remains limited by the family. Trade unions have never taken interest in women as housewives” (Mies, pp. 118, 116).

If global capitalism’s “housewifization” has something in common with far-right gender traditionalism, that doesn’t mean the two will always agree. It does mean that there’s room for both compromise and open warfare between right-wing movements and international capital, on policies for women as on other issues. With complexities and contradictions on both sides, the specifics will vary from society to society and from one historical moment to another. In some cases, this dynamic may intensify the conflicts over gender politics within the far right, for example over how much to emphasize the state versus the family as the center of male dominance, or how much and in what ways to seek women’s active support.

Sources:
1. Roksana Bahramitash, “Revolution, Islamization, and Women’s Employment in Iran,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol. 9, no. 2 (Winter/Spring 2003)
2. Concerned Women for America, “Undermining Women’s Choices,” 25 February 1999
3. Andrea Dworkin, Right-Wing Women (New York: Cowar-McCann, 1983).
4. Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (New York: Doubleday, 1992).
5. Farideh Farhi, “The Contending Discourses on Women in Iran,” Focus (newsletter of the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center), nos. 11 & 12 (March & September, 1998)
6. Sondra Hale, “The Women of Sudan’s National Islamic Front,” in Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report, edited by Joel Beinin and Joe Stork (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), pp. 234-249.
7. Jean Hardisty, “Kitchen Table Backlash: The Antifeminist Women’s Movement,” in Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers (Boston: Beacon, 1999).
8. Homa Hoodfar, “Devices and Desires: Population Policy and Gender Roles in the Islamic Republic,” in Political Islam, edited by Beinin and Stork, pp. 211-219.
9. “Iran’s Parliament eases abortion law,” The Daily Star (Lebanon), 13 April 2005
10. “Iran Rejects Easing of Abortion Law,” LifeSiteNews.com, 9 May 2005
11. Nikki Keddie, “The New Religious Politics and Women Worldwide: A Comparative Study,” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 10, no. 4 (Winter 1999), pp. 11-34
12. Janet Larsen, “Iran: Model for Family Planning,” Washington Free Press, no. 60 (November/December 2002)
13. Butch Lee, “Women’s War Daily #1: For Women Only: after Anti-War movements win or lose in Iraq...there’s still Women,”
14. Butch Lee, “Women’s War Daily #1: For Women Only: The Rape Movement in Iraq & Men’s Anti-War Politics
15. Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour (London: Zed, 1986).
16. Gail Omvedt, “Hindu nationalism & women,” The Hindu, 27 & 28 April 2000
17. Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, “Some of the restrictions imposed by Taliban on women in Afghanistan,”
18. Jyotirmaya Sharma, “The Women of the Sangh,” The Hindu, 24 September 2004
19. Susan Slyomovics, “’Hassiba Ben Bouali, If You Could See Our Algeria’: Women and Public Space in Algeria,” in Political Islam, edited by Beinin and Stork, pp. 220-233.