Hitting America Where It Hurts

It is not only the testosterone-driven men's rallies that have been opposing the US-led war against Iraq. Women in Pakistan have been in the forefront of anti-war protests organized by both sides of the ideological divide - the religious right and the liberal left.

Pakistani women may argue against the war at a different plane in line with their ideological inclinations, but what is common is their anger at the American aggression on Iraq. They are venting it side by side with men, outside in the streets and inside in Parliament. Women parliamentarians were very vocal when Parliament debated the position of the government on the Iraq issue.

"We must side with the principle of collective intellect. Since the war on Iraq is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, it is a unilateral war that we should oppose," argued Ayla Malik, a woman legislator who won a general seat in 2002 elections.

Outside in the streets, thousands of women joined the "Million March" called by the religious parties alliance - Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) - in the southern port city of Karachi last month, holding anti-US placards and chanting slogans. Similar MMA marches in other cities also witnessed a sizeable number of women participants, though veiled and segregated from men.

"This is the American war against Islam. We believe that extremist Christians and Jews have joined hands to equalize historical scores," said veiled Syeda Aneesa, a member of Pakistan's most organized religious party, Jamaat-i-Islami. "We all need to oppose it with unity."

On the other hand, NGOs and other civil society organizations, which represent the progressive face of the society, oppose the war as the one fought for economic gains and an offshoot of the US policy of American imperialism. These organizations have been holding smaller anti-war protest rallies throughout the country for the last couple of months, with women acting as organizers, participants and speakers.

Aurat Foundation, the frontline women's rights group in the country, has been holding rallies and meetings of women in remote towns in Sindh and Balochistan provinces with a view to giving the anti-war and pro-peace sentiment a larger ownership.

"It is the war for the control of oil and natural resources. We should not confuse it as a war between Islam and Christianity. Just look at the anti-war wave that has gripped the societies and countries that are predominantly Christian," commented Dr Fauzia Saeed, country director of ActionAid Pakistan, an organization that works for rights-based community development. Dr Saeed believes it is time people around the world stopped glorifying wars and started romanticizing peace instead. "We can stop wars through investing in strengthening civil society around the world," she said.

While their logic to oppose the war may be different, the two ideological extremes have finally agreed that the best way to oppose it is through the boycott of American and British products. The calls of product boycott, raised by both religious parties and civil society groups, sound sensible against the backdrop of angry protests over the past few months that only let people vent their anger without leading them to any action.

"We need to canalize public anger in a way that really makes an impact. Right now, they are angry, but they don't know what to do with it," said Asim Sajjad Akhtar, who heads People's Rights Movement, an umbrella organization of trade unions and other interest groups.

"Our reaction to an irrational war must be rational. We cannot go on sloganeering against the US and its allies without taking any action that could hurt them," said Akhtar, referring to similar actions being taken all over the world, particularly in Europe. "Hurting American corporate interests means hurting their geo-strategic interests."

The religious right, which had earlier been hurling rhetorical Jihad calls against the US, has also opted to adopt this more action-oriented product boycott call. "We must use this opportunity when people are motivated to convince them to give up buying American products," said a spokesperson for MMA.

The boycott call resulted in a prompt response. While the religious parties are targeting Pepsi and Coke, civil society organizations in Islamabad are focusing on American food chains. A group of young people - mostly women - has been picketing outside KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and Pizza Hut outlets for several days. They are convinced they are doing the right thing by persuading people not to enter these outlets, as a means to register their protest against the war on Iraq.

Each time their arguments convince a potential customer, their victory gives them fresh impetus. "It is difficult but not impossible to make people turn away from these food chains, especially in Islamabad, the city of the elite, where children grow up with symbols of an American lifestyle and speak English with an American accent," said a woman, picketing outside KFC. She wouldn't divulge her name; it is irrelevant, she said, what is relevant is "our action".

Standing beside her was 15-year-old Huda, who said KFC policies were as hypocritical as that of the Americans. "Its mascot 'Chickie the chicken' advocates that you come in and eat its own kind." Her logic was convincing enough for a couple to turn away.  


More by :  Muddassir Rizvi

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