Krista Hunt and Kim Rygiel (eds), 'EnGendering the War on Terror, War Stories and Camouflaged Politics'

IssueDecember 2007 - January 2008
Review by Sian Jones

This series of academic papers focuses on how gender relations - masculinities and femininities - have been represented in the “war on terror”, exploring how gendered narratives were used in the US to justify both the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, and domestic measures taken to control those perceived as a threat to security.


Perhaps the most accessible example is the assertion - used by the Bush administration following 9/11 to sell “the war on terror” - that the (initial) attack on Afghanistan would free Afghan women from the “tyranny of the burkha”. In co-opting a feminist agenda, which addressed the rights of Afghan women and girls under the Taliban, the US administration was able to gain the support of a significant section of the US women's movement, while the voices of those who opposed the war, and of Afghan women who appealed against the US-led bombing, were not heard.

Other such narratives include the allegedly heroic rescue in 2003 of Jessica Lynch (the feminine, caring soldier) from a hospital in Nassiriya. Later revealed to be a complete fiction, this story assisted in the racist depictions of Iraqi men as inherently violent and threatening. Yet, as Cynthia Enloe points out in her perceptive introduction, the US military were unable to consistently manage such narratives, failing in their attempts to wipe away the shock of the images of (bad apple) Lynndie England and shift attention from the systematic torture of Iraqi men. Frustratingly, the authors fail to identify that Lynndie England was, like so many other women, merely colluding with militarised masculinity.

The second section explores narratives used to gain public support for domestic policies introduced to control immigration, identity and expression (although little attention is given to the impact on dissent of such politics) . Orientalist narratives, presenting the wars as a clash of civilisations, contrast the rationalism of the wars' proponents with Muslim men - constructed as irrational, suicidal fundamentalists.

These racist narratives fuelled fear and justified increasing border controls and the introduction of security measures, including the detentions of Muslim men at home and in Guantanamo.

Yet while one paper examines the attacks by the French state on young women - represented in the French media as agents of fundamentalism - wearing the hijab to school, this is not contrasted with simultaneous narratives portraying women in Afghanistan and Iraq as the victims of fundamentalism, or the impact of such policies on gender relations within domestic Islamic communities.

I'm not persuaded by this volume: while these largely theoretical essays take the first steps in identifying “camouflaged politics”, they fail for the most part to examine the real impact on women of the “war on terror”; that book has yet to be written.

Topics: Women
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