Of all the justifications the Obama administration has employed to sanctify yet another war on Iraq, none have been more disingenuous than the portrayal of the latest US bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, aka ISIL) as a feminist rescue mission.
Rather than challenge the obvious hypocrisy of this narrative, US corporate media outlets have acted as cheerleaders and stenographers, allowing the US government to hijack the deterioration of women’s rights as a selling point for perpetual war.
Media have even published complaints that ISIS’s campaign of sexual violence is being ignored by the West. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, complained in the Wall Street Journal (9/2/14) that ISIS’s brutality towards women is receiving “scant attention.” A similar article appeared in Foreign Policy (9/16/14) lamenting Wash-ington’s supposed failure to even “talk about” sexual crimes committed by ISIS.
Meanwhile, Catherine Russell, US ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post (9/12/14) headlined “ISIL’s Abuse of Women and Girls Must Be Stopped.”
Citing ISIS’s abduction and selling of women and girls into sexual slavery, Russell made the case that US bombs have the power to free them, claiming, “These are women and girls who pleaded to be killed in airstrikes rather than be brutalized by ISIL.”
But if airstrikes are warranted because ISIS is engaged in sexual violence, then the governments of the nations the US has appointed to spearhead its anti-ISIS coalition may need to be bombed as well—namely, the Iraqi, Egyptian and Saudi regimes.
After all, Saudi Arabia—which America has tasked with saving the Middle East from ISIS’s vicious beheadings—openly practices gender apartheid and beheaded at least eight people in August for nonviolent offenses, including sorcery (UNOHCHR, 9/9/14). Nevertheless, the Obama administration refuses to raise objections to Saudi officials about their country’s human rights violations (Human Rights Watch, 3/31/14).
A decade after George W. Bush famously declared that “every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed” (State Department, 3/12/04), torture and rape of women in pre-trial detention by US-installed Iraqi government forces has continued with impunity (Human Rights Watch, 2/6/14).
And despite Egyptian police forcing detained female activists to submit to virginity tests (CNN, 2/21/14), the Obama ad-ministration recently announced the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt’s coup regime (Reuters, 9/20/14).
Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September about the US strategy to defeat ISIS, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated his boss’s selective outrage against human rights abuses in a rant directed at members of the women-led peace group Code Pink.
Referencing his opposition to the Vietnam war, Kerry insisted: “I understand dissent. I’ve lived it.”
He then proceeded to lecture the women of Code Pink about how to help ISIS’s female victims, whom American bombs are apparently equipped to liberate:
Code Pink was started by a woman and women who were opposed to war but who also thought the government’s job was to take care of people and to give them healthcare and education and good jobs. And if that’s what you believe in, and I believe it is, then you ought to care about fighting ISIL because ISIL is killing and raping and mutilating women and they believe women shouldn’t have an education.
“Code Pink and a lot of other people need to stop and think about how you stop them and deal with that,” said Kerry.
Rather than highlighting the hypocrisy in his claims, the few media outlets that bothered to cover Kerry’s paternalistic finger-wagging practically applauded him. Huffington Post(9/17/14) ran the headline “Kerry Takes On Code Pink at ISIS Hearing,” while The Wire (9/17/14) went with “Kerry Reminds Code Pink He Was Anti-War Before It Was Cool.”
The voices of women-led Iraqi civil society groups are completely absent from the establishment media. You won't see any mention in the corporate press of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), which, along with its sister organization MADRE, strongly opposes US airstrikes and holds the US responsible for creating and perpetuations the sectarian violence that fueled ISIS's rise to power. (MADRE News, 9/10/14)
Instead, and with the complicity of an unquestioning and largely pro-war corporate media establishment, the US government is adding fuel to the fire it ignited in Iraq, ignoring and further endangering the very women it intends to "save."