In doing some poking around about Daniel Ortega, the newly-elected President of Nicaragua who raped and incested his daughter from the time she was 11, I came across an article in a conservative publication in which the author alluded to Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, having beaten either one of his wives or a mistress badly enough to send her to the hospital. So then I went poking around to see if I could find more information about that. I did not find anything, so I can’t say whether, indeed, Hugo Chavez is an abuser.
It is moments like this, when feminists and any activists who care about women’s liberation, are reminded of just how little women’s lives matter in the world of patriarchal nationalist politics.
One expects Chavez to condemn all US war-mongering and threats against Iran. We can applaud as he uses the public stage to denounce Bush as a criminal who is out to dominate and destroy the world. But there is no excuse for declaring solidarity with a misogynist theocrat like Ahmadinejad. By embracing Ahmadinejad, Chavez is adding steam to the growing and dangerous alliance between left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialism. In this equation, the only thing that matters is one’s opposition to US imperialism. Women’s rights, worker’s rights, student’s rights– the things that are supposed to matter to socialists and progressives– be damned.
Apparently, Chavez, appears not to have noticed that the Iranian government has created one of the most brutal and misogynist regimes in modern history—turning Iran into a country where gender apartheid and sexist hatred of women has been enshrined in law, where women are still TODAY stoned to death for the “crime” of adultery, buried up to their necks and pelted in the face and head with stones until they die, where women have no right to divorce or child custody, are legally forced to veil under threat of physical beating or imprisonment, can’t travel without the permission of a husband or father, where their testimony in a court of law is considered half that of a man, and where political dissent of any kind, for women and men, is punishable by imprisonment, often torture and death. This is the government that Chavez compares to his own as a “heroic nation,” one which he deems, “revolutionary.”
It’s the line I bolded that struck me, in part because of having written about, and thought a lot about, Ortega’s recent embrace of Roman Catholicism. He may identify as a leftist, a revolutionary, a Sandinista, but he’s in cahoots with the Vatican when it comes to abortion rights, not to mention in the way he treated the daughter who says he incested and raped her for years. Essentially, he seems to have won the presidential election because he was right enough for the Right and left enough for the left, and of course, the losers were women.
Eleanor Ommani responded to Jennifer Fasulo, who wrote the article I excerpted from, taking her to task:
Preferring to give her readers a fast-track lesson in fighting imperialism, Jennifer’s next gem was an “eye-opener”: “By embracing Ahmadinejad, Chavez is adding steam to the growing and dangerous alliance between left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialism.” This statement is contradictory. Isn’t imperialism itself a right-wing force? How could a right-wing be fighting another right-wing, defeating its own purpose? Ms. Fasulo has to show how, when and where in history a right-wing force has been anti-imperialist? This is a frivolous concept benefiting imperialism in fact.
I disagree with Ommani here. I think we definitely are seeing theocratic regimes (which are thoroughly Right), like the regime in Iran, like the Pope’s regime, forging alliances with leftist regimes, particularly those in Latin America, to fight U.S. colonialism and imperialism.
I was struck by Ommani’s defenses of the Iranian regime and the comparisons she made of Iran’s treatment of women with America’s treatment of women. Fasulo wasn’t suggesting in her article that the U.S. treats women any better than Iran does. That wasn’t her point. Her point was that a Leftist revolutionary leader had very publicly bonded with a right-wing theocrat over their common hatred of Bush (who is also a right wing theocrat). The deal they appeared to be cutting — and the point I believe Fasulo was making — was over the bodies of women, i.e., “We will mutually ignore one another’s abuse of women in the interests of fighting the U.S. and Bush, our common enemy.” How is this anything but male terrorism, the clear message being that so long as leaders oppose Bush and U.S. imperialism, how women in their respective countries are being treated is off limits for discussion?
So then I came across this photo.
This is, of course, Cindy Sheehan, in the embrace of Hugo Chavez. How does the alliance depicted here work when it comes to women’s issues worldwide? Yes, we are all disgusted by the Bush regime’s war on Iraq. But how might the women I blogged about in my post about women’s demonstrations in Iran, the women depicted below, view not only Chavez’s embrace of the leader who ordered them beaten and arrested, but Sheehan’s embrace of Chavez? Iranian woman bloggers powerfully documented the brutality they experienced in seeking very basic human and civil rights– an end to polygamy, the right to divorce, share custody of children, and enjoy protection as witnesses in courts of law. And we as feminist women watched it all as it unfolded. Must we remain silent about these abuses because– why? Because we’re being abused in the U.S., too, and therefore we should only speak up about our own abuse? Because we might offend women from other countries, even feminists from other countries? How about the women, the feminists who implore us to speak out about what they are suffering, as the Iranian women bloggers did? As RAWA and similar organizations do? How effective can we be in our support for the world’s women if we are compromised by alliances with men who abuse and mistreat women? Why does this question even have to be asked?
Recent women’s demonstrations in Tehran
If we forge alliances with male leaders strictly because they oppose Bush, despite their treatment of women, who will then speak for mistreated women, wherever we are being mistreated?
As Fasulo wrote:
Precisely because things are so bleak right now and the forces of reaction and religious bigotry are on the rise around the world, we must not tolerate leftist alliances that seek to legitimize them. We must not allow the undermining of the women’s liberation movement in Iran that is tirelessly fighting to save women’s lives and break the chains of their legal imprisonment, nor the progressive revolutionary movements that are charting a third course between US domination and right-wing opposition to it. These are the movements that represent the true hope for the ideals of justice, equality and human liberation. Now, more than ever, we must stand up and defend them.