I’m interested in US national security policies and priorities and the gendered and racialized narratives which are often constructed around them. Particularly, I’m interested in how the narrative of “saving Muslim women” is used to justify US military interventions or other forms of US military involvement in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.
There has been significant research and attention to the Bush Administration’s use of gendered orientalism and neocolonial rhetoric to generate public support for the Afghanistan and Iraq war. However, while forces are drawing down from those wars, the desire to “save” Muslim women has not. In particular, the current emphasis on “countering violent extremism” and media attention on sexual violence perpetrated by ISIS have both recycled these concepts and claim to empower women, while simultaneously reinforcing sexist gender roles and racialized concepts of global security.
What I find so puzzling and interesting is how national security policy makers have drafted an unusual coalition of global girls education advocates, celebrities, and Western Feminists to promote this narrative. Why would a country that has been historically resistant to addressing sexual violence within its own borders be so interested in joining with feminists to solving sexual violence in other countries? Why would feminists so easily join forces with military and national security forces that have historically put women’s interests at the bottom of the priority list? Why would education advocates support military efforts that have the capacity to destroy schools and the stability needed for consistent education?
As part of my exploration, I want to examine the construction, use, and results of this narrative. Lila Abu Lughod’s book Do Muslim Women Need Saving and Richard Jackson’s book Writing the War on Terrorism have served as a wonderful introduction for me into the deployment of gendered orientalism and the process of “writing” support for a war. I hope to explore further how the language of universal human rights has been appropriated to serve national security interests, how feminists, celebrities, education rights activists, and the international community have been drafted alongside the US military, and how narratives of fantasy lands with battles of good and evil and male protectors and female protected have created a nearly indecipherable blend of fantasy and foreign policy.
I hope this research will also get at several larger questions as well. What should the definition of national security mean and security for whom? When is it ok, if ever, to intervene in the lives of others and how do we confront our own country’s often hegemonic influence abroad?
And for those who do want to challenge US hegemony or confront US military influence… how do we rewrite the narrative?