About the Book
Zillah Eisenstein urges a relook at the fundamental
categories through which we perceive our world-historical, political,
epistemological, even moral. The sweep of her concerns
ranges across the world, challenging the Bush administration's headlong
recourse to war that is justified in the name of liberty and democracy. She
brings to the fore feminisms other-than-western, and urges the recognition of
the flow of ideas and attitudes between the West and other parts of the globe-India,
Africa and the Islamic world. Presenting a picture of women's activism across
the world, she critiques the relentless march of globalization and the
resultant shrinking of democratic possibilities. She throws light on the enormous
potential latent in women's activism-a 'polyversal'
humanism that spreads greater understanding, gentleness and peace.
About the Author
Zillah Eisenstein is Professor of Politics at Ithaca College,
New York. A renowned political activist, she has engaged with feminist theory
in North America for the past twenty-five years. Building coalitions across
women's differences, her scholarship has ranged across a broad spectrum of
concerns: the black/white divide in the USA; the struggles of Serb and Muslim
women in Bosnia; the women health workers in Cuba; environmental concerns in
Ghana; fundamentalism in Egypt and Afghanistan, the interface between socialism
and feminism in the organization of unions and women workers in India. She has
tracked the shrinking of liberal democracy and the aggressive spread of
imperial, militarist globalization. She has exposed the masculine bias of law
and corporatist multiculturalism. Her recent books include: Hatreds: Racialized
and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century (1996); Global Obscenities: Patriarchy, Capitalism
and the Lure of Cyberfontasy (1998) and ManMade Breast
I started writing this book long before September 11,
2001, and its aftermaths in Mghanistan and Iraq.
These events have become a part of my story because the historical record
demands this. This book would have been crafted and framed differently if these
moments had not happened. I have no other justification for some of the
particular sites I have chosen than that they have demanded my attention. I
hope it will become clear how I think every political moment is informed by a
series of befores and alreadys. There are histories to expose in any contemporary
moment, be it September 11, 2001, or the US wars of/on 'terror'. This book is
about exposing these silenced and misrepresented histories.
If power is to dominate effectively it must not reveal
itself fully to others. The seeing and knowing of power is therefore always
partial and incomplete. My purpose here is to uncover the relations and
histories of power more fully, in order to see and know as much as possible.
Ultimately this book is an attempt to see more, to know more about how
differences and rich variety are silenced in the authorized narratives of
history. My purpose is to move towards a more inclusive viewing of humanity by
looking for absences, listening for silences, and imagining beyond my own
This writing takes threads of different established
stories and cautiously t?es
to sew them together in new form. So there is no one theme that simply
summarizes my attempt to envision the polyversal
humanity that inhabits truly democratic theory. But at the heart of my
discussion is the insistence that the so-called West is as much, fiction as
real; as much appropriation as originary; as
exclusionary as it is promissory. I also offer the idea that the West and
Western feminisms have no monopoly of authorship and that alternative feminisms
have long thrived 'elsewhere' in multiple fashion. As well, I sometimes see the
misuse of women's rights discourse in imperial form as extraordinarily
problematic for women living outside the West. These thoughts set the frame for
looking at Black America, India, the Islamic world and Africa in order to see
their unique conceptions of inclusive democratic possibility; and at the slave
trade as a sexualized economy determined by race. I argue that the sexualized
black slave trade was an early form of globalization
that still frames power today. These are connected thoughts with no simple
Instead I offer a rethinking of sex, and race, and
class in order to rewrite universalized rights for polyvocal
needs. I use the human body as my inclusive site for humanity in order to
dislocate the West/non-West divide in order to encourage the strength and
vision to change ourselves and the world for the better of us all. And my argument
unravels in strange ways.
A few caveats before I begin, so to speak. Although
there are no simple starts to anything, I start the book with the US wars on
Iraq. Language itself has become part of the problem of these wars. I will not
use the Bush rhetoric of "war on terrorism" because war itself is
terror- filled; because the US creates more terror than it receives; because
the word 'terrorism' has become a reactionary tool for mobilizing blind
patriotism, smothering dissent, and enforcing silence. This does not mean that
I do not think that extremist fanatics create misery for everyone, everywhere,
and that I am not committed to ridding the world of this enormous pain.
By the time you are reading this book there will be a
new set of moments to understand. Much of what you will read will already be
part of the befores. There are no simple beginnings
or endings. President Bush declared victory over Iraq on May 1, 2003 and yet
the war continues. On August 27, 2003, 'post' -war GI deaths exceeded the number
of deaths during the official war.
I am trying to think and see beyond the sites that are
put in view. I am writing from the US in summer 2003, where Bush and Cheney,
Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice, Wolfowitz and Perle are in charge of us. Millions protested against the
2003 war in Iraq, but it began and proceeded despite an active anti-war
movement at home and abroad. Supposedly the US intervened in Mghanistan and Iraq to bring freedom and democracy 'elsewhere'.
In both these instances women's bodies were key to
these war fantasies. In the first, Afghan women were clad in the enforced burqa; in the second US women prisoners of war were
symbolized in freely chosen khaki. Yet, these interventions have not brought
freedom, nor democracy.
The rest of the world viewed a war that we did not see
here. Russell Smith says that "the coverage of this war in the press and
on television has been disgusting". 2 Our
so-called voluntary military is shrinking so the Marines enforce a 'stop-loss'
order and the Army declares an "involuntary extension" on those who
might choose to retire." It is disproportionately our working class of
color, many of whom are reservists, who fight for the US abroad. This is not
just, nor fair, nor democratic. The rich and powerful will become richer and
more powerful from this war; and the poor will become poorer.
The US wars of! on 'terror'
were in process before the massacre of September 11, 2001. The Gulf War of 1991
never really ended. The wars ani of 'terror' have longstanding
agendas with complicated histories. We must remember to remember how the
present is structured by its distant and closer past: the slave trade, the
nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, the CIA-led coup in Chile against Allende, the war in Afghanistan. Each is layered and
silenced into the present.
I start with the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and
this is not truly the start. I look to find the befores and alreadys and afters. I work back- wards to the slave trade, and across to Mahatma
Gandhi and Aurobindo Ghose
and W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells who tell the
stories of resistance, and forward to Afghanistan and Iraq and the next 'elsewhere'.
I am in this moment of a "war on terrorism" and see wars of 'terror'.
This book, then, goes back and forth between the terror of the West from before
and the wars of! on 'terror' now.
We need to remember and keep remembering, as Kenzaburo
Oe asks of us, to use shame and humiliation as
weapons in the movement against nuclear arms, and militarism, and global
imperialism.' Besides remembering I also try to create a memory of the racialized and sexualized sites of women's specificity
within these befores and alreadys.
And I want to build context for seeing this present moment. Each and every life
lost on September 11 was a horrible, horrific loss. And, yet, the AIDS pandemic
also that means 2.3 million deaths occurred in 2001 in sub-Saharan Africa which
means the deaths of two September 11 s happened each day of that year."
In writing this book I sometimes use my own personal
stories as a way of locating myself within the larger parameters of the globe.
I feel more keenly than ever that I must try to voice earnestly the privileges
and the blinders that go with living in the US as it becomes a more singular
dominating global force. Tales of my personal life locate me and expose my
limitations simultaneously. The personal begins to tell the political as the
local also involves the global. My hope is that each domain elucidates the
I interrogate my starting points contextually and then
seek to take them into my discussions of Gandhi and Malcolm X. It is
significant that I now, again, choose to re-read and remember W. E. B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells in order better to envision
struggles for democracy. It is also enormously important that I wonder again
about the originary locations of feminisms, and see
more variety and complexity than I did two decades ago. My critique is in part
of myself as of the West and much of the journey of the book is defined by this
personal path. Many of my sites are only understood by seeing my own
limitations as part of the story. And, there are also always other sites to
visit and uncover.
If I am right in believing that context always matters
and is con- straining, then this is a difficult time in which to create
openings for seeing more. Neoliberalism has trumped
the globe. The Bush administrations have orchestrated the corruption, deceit,
and exploitation of ordinary folk by corporate America. Enron, Tyco, World
Com., Xerox: all falsify the records of billions of
dollars of profits in order to satisfy insatiable greed.
I read in the New
York Times of a young boy who is abused and killed in a foster home
while the overworked social worker has too many cases to be able to check on
him regularly. Later that day I go to the airport and see fifteen federal
workers standing around monitoring the new surveillance equipment. I am
thinking how wrong this all is: spending money on building a police state while
so many other critical human needs are ignored. People are losing jobs, cannot
keep or get health insurance, pantries are empty of food long before new
deliveries arrive, kindergartens are being closed for lack of funds, and
billions are spent on war. Across the globe more than 75 percent of the people
are poor, while in 2001,826 million were starving, and millions of children
were dying of preventable diseases.
The Bush 2003 tax cut proposal continued this neoliberal
agenda: downsize all governmental responsibility except for war-making. Mean-
while 32 percent of the tax cut benefits will go to society's richest 1
percent. Most families' tax decrease will be less than $800 while those
families averaging over $1 million a year will get tax breaks of about 80,000.
Eight million people, mostly low-income taxpayers, will r receive no benefit at all from the tax revision.
A class war is being waged in the US while all eyes
look abroad. This war is not new to the US or the needs of global capitalism.
The 1980 presidential election of Ronald Reagan authorized the windfall for the
upper class. Since this time, neoconservative/neoliberal, Republicans and
Democrats alike, have allowed an assault on the gains made by the civil rights
and women's movements in the US. This neoliberal war, fought against the role
of publicly responsible government, has success- fully dismantled the social-welfare
state and put in its place a security- military complex better suited for empire
The US is a battlefield of sorts, with affirmative
action, abortion rights, discrimination law all under severe attack. Instead of
challenging the racist divisions of labor and class privilege, President Bush
uses Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to represent a diversity that equalizes
the multiple forms of discrimination, prejudice and exclusion that are found in
multiracial and pluricultural societies It will be no surprise, as my story unfolds, that the
greatest struggles of resistance are located with antiracist feminisms against
empire. It is these feminisms - historical and contemporary - that remain
silenced and invisible to much of the world.
As I write, the remilitarized US state is proceeding with
new abandon towards unilateral empire. The downsizing and restructuring of the
US economy through the 1980s and 1990s has now been accompanied by a
restructuring of the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon into a centralized Department of
Homeland Security, headed by Tom Ridge. The Department has a budget of $37
billion and employs 170,000. This new security nation-state monitors and
conducts surveillance in the name of democracy. But many have become too
accustomed to what Slavoj Zizek
calls sanitized and unreal lives. People wish to believe that the malignant
qualities of life can be removed from their content: coffee without caffeine,
cream without fat, beer without alcohol, war without casual- ties, democracy
without its messiness and freedoms."
I have written this book, which is messy, in order to
move beyond the constraints of US imperial global policy. It is my humble
contribution to the struggle to see and know more in order to resist domination
and create a healthy, peaceful, justice-filled world.
Nations of America
Global Capital and Empire
The Wars of Ion 'Terror'
The Gulf Wars , 1991, 1998, 2003
Thinking to See:
Silences, and 'Befores'
My Local Beginnings
Colonized Bodies and Seeing
On Western Universalism
Creating Comas and Sameness
Cannibalizing the 'Other'
Discovering Difference in the Imperial
AIDS and People's Humanity
Abstract Universals and Their
Truths and Reconciliation
The Silences of Whiteness
Specifying Abstracted Gender
Starting Again, Now
Remixing It, Again, Now
Fictions of the West:
Fictionalizing Civilization and
Patriarchal Colonialism and Its 'Others'
North America and Slavery
Science Fictions and Racialized Slavery
Imperial Democracy and the Slave Trade
The Sexualizing of Enslaved Women
Colonialism and Difference:
The 'Othering' of Alternative Democracies
Gandhi's Democratic Visioning
Totality and Alternative Universalisms
Diversity in Democratic Unity
Complex Oneness and One More Bengali
Difference Color Makes
Slavery, Racism, and Globalism
and the Color Line from Africa
Sexual Silences and Black Lynching
War, Globalization, and Humanity
Separatism and Enlarging Humanity
The Silencing of Racialized
The World Conference Against Racism
Building Resistance and Hope
Feminisms and Afghan Women:
Before and After September 11
On Global Misogyny
Rights? And for Which Women?
Afghan Women and Their Feminism
On Antiracist Feminisrns
Feminisms from Elsewheres:
What Is in a Name?
Modernity and Feminisms
and Their Black Feminist Meanings
Feminisms in Islam(s)
Ms World and the West in Nigeria
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