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Of course, invoking the theme of the oppression of women in Islam as justification for war and domination is nothing new to the history of western imperialism. In fact this rhetoric of “saving the women” in the name of “civilization” is an old ploy used many times in the past in particular by British and French imperialists.

This was rhetoric they used with regard to women in whatever regions their empires took them to – in relation to Muslims or Hindus or others – to justify imperial domination. It was about precisely this rhetoric that Gayatri Spivak, back in the 1980s, coined the now famous phrase, of “white men saving brown women from brown men.”

Astoundingly, to those of us familiar with this history, here it was again this old ploy, resuscitated, dusted off, and being replayed all over again – and, even more astonishingly it was actually working. It was entirely commonplace now to hear that we were in Afghanistan to save the women from the atrocities of the Taliban – which as I said, was implicitly understood too to be those innately of Islam.

For, as of 9/11, the subject of women in Islam typically figured in our political discourse almost always to evoke the meaning of “the oppression of women in Islam”.


--Leila Ahmed (Feminism, Colonialism and Islamophobia: Treacherous Sympathy with Muslim Women)

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