POL36120 WHAT ARE THE ETHICS of the current “War on Terrorism,” a war that justifies itself by purporting to liberate, or save, Afghan women?

Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others

ABSTRACT This article explores the ethics of the current “War on Terrorism,” asking whether anthropology, the discipline of understanding and dealing with cultural differences, can provide us with critical purchase on the justifications made for intervention in Afghanistan in terms of liberating, or saving, Afghan women. I look first at the dangers of reifying culture the tendency to plaster neat cultural icons like the Muslim woman over messy historical and political dynamics. Then, calling to the resonances of contemporary discourses on equality, freedom, and rights with earlier colonial and missionary rhetoric women, I argue that we need to develop, instead, a serious appreciation of differences among women in the world’s different histories, expressions of different circumstances, and manifestations of differently structured desires. Furthrather than seeking to “save” others (with the superiority it implies and the violence it would entail) we might better think in terms of

(1) working with them in situations that we recognize as always subject to historical transformation and

(2) considering responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find many of these arguments about the limits of “cultural relativism” through a consideration of the burqa and the many meanings in the Muslim world. [Keywords: cultural relativism, Muslim women, Afghanistan war, freedom, global injustice, colonialism.

  • WHAT ARE THE ETHICS of the current “War on Terrorism,” a war that justifies itself by purporting to liberate, or save, Afghan women?
  • Does Anthropology have anything to offer in our search for a viable position to take regarding this rationale for war?