The context for this was the 2010 Christopher Street Day Parade in Berlin, which Judith Butler felt was not cool, at least not as cool as the alt. edition, Transgenialer CSD. On that I have no opinion. But on the instrumentalificationising business? Ah yes. First, here’s the relevant paragraph from her Berlin speech, refusing a prize on Christopher Street Day:
We all have noticed that gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans and queer people can be instrumentalized by those who want to wage wars, i.e. cultural wars against migrants by means of forced islamophobia and military wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. In these times and by these means, we are recruited for nationalism and militarism. Currently, many European governments claim that our gay, lesbian, queer rights must be protected and we are made to believe that the new hatred of immigrants is necessary to protect us. Therefore we must say no to such a deal.And from last year, here’s Judith Butler talking to Nina Power:
NP: To the horror of many on the left, feminism and (to a lesser extent) gay rights were invoked as democratic values in the case for war in Afghanistan and Iraq (‘freeing’ women from the burka, for example). How do you understand the contemporary relationship between feminism (and gay rights) and war?To try and understand what is meant here, I’m going to start with the sentence “There is no bona fide feminism, for instance, that is not also anti-racist.” This seems clear enough. Feminism, the struggle for women’s rights, must be a struggle for universal women’s rights unlimited by race. But this is presented as a “for instance” in relation to the preceding sentence, declaring “lesbian/gay rights, and the rights of sexual minorities, need to join with feminist, anti-racist, and anti-war movements.” The implication then would seem to be that those not joined with anti-war movements are not bona fide lesbian/gay rights campaigners, are not bona fide feminists, not bona fide anti-racists.
JB: There are at least two problems here. The one has to do with the sudden instrumentalization of “gay rights” or “women’s rights” to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a move that suggests that we are actually fighting a culture, a religion, or an entire social structure rather than a particular state or its government. The notions of emancipation instrumentalized for such purposes are clearly imperialist, and assume that liberation means adopting certain kinds of cultural norms as the most valuable. But this argument is really treacherous in my view, since it overrides the actual political movements already underway in such countries that are working out specific political vocabularies and claims for rethinking gender, sexuality, and domination.
The second problem is that lesbian/gay rights, and the rights of sexual minorities, need to join with feminist, anti-racist, and anti-war movements and are, in many instances, already joined together. There is no bona fide feminism, for instance, that is not also anti-racist. Similarly, there is no struggle for the rights of sexual minorities that is worthy of the name that does not affirm the cultural diversity of sexual minorities. Further, it is important to understand “minoritization” strategies as effecting both sexual and religious minorities - another reason why complex alliances are crucial.
So Judith Butler’s answer to the question on the contemporary relationship between feminism and gay rights and war is that there are no real feminists who are not part of the anti-war movement.
And continuing to work backwards to the previous paragraph, where arguments on women’s rights are deployed in relation to the war in Afghanistan, then “the notions of emancipation instrumentalized for such purposes are clearly imperialist, and assume that liberation means adopting certain kinds of cultural norms as the most valuable.” Let’s be clear what notions these are: the struggle for women’s education, for the right to vote, the struggle to stop forced marriages of young girls, in short the struggle for equal political and economic rights. These notions, because they have been deployed in support of the war against the Taliban, they are now regarded by Judith Butler as imperialist. They are no longer bona fide feminist notions, because they are not anti-war.
Forget that the Taliban are a deadly repressive misogynist organisation created, nay instrumentalised, by little imperialists in Pakistan’s military, because the only imperialism Judith Butler recognises is Western Imperialism: worse than the lash, worse than acid in the face, worse than public execution in the football stadium.
In her Berlin speech, Judith Butler says, “In these times and by these means, we are recruited for nationalism and militarism.” Hum. On nationalism and militarism then . . .
First on nationalism:
In his essay, Notes on Nationalism, George Orwell presented a view of nationalism as something other than just allegiance to one’s country of birth or residence. He defined it as, “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” He pointed out that “nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the USSR without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit.” And further, “transferred nationalism has been a common phenomenon among literary intellectuals. With Lafcadio Hearne the transference was to Japan, with Carlyle and many others of his time to Germany, and in our own age it is usually to Russia.”
I think all this clearly applies to contemporary anti-imperialism. It is a Western phenomenon that is overwhelmingly anti-Western, with little or no interest in any imperialism that can’t be blamed on the US, with no coherent positive alternative to promote, and to its adherents all other arguments are secondary. Judith Butler adheres to this negative transferred nationalism of anti-Western anti-imperialism.
And now on militarism:
Here, via the Radical Archives, is Judith Butler on Hamas and Hezbollah:
Similarly, I think: Yes, understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. It doesn’t stop those of us who are interested in non-violent politics from raising the question of whether there are other options besides violence. So again, a critical, important engagement. I mean, I certainly think it should be entered into the conversation on the Left.
So, Hamas and Hezbollah, two military organisations backed by a murderous and extremely misogynist authoritarian theocratic state; these she can be just a little bit critical of while embracing them as part of a global left. But a military that helps the Afghan government in a struggle against murderous misogynist thugs operating across their southern border, a struggle that is backed by the overwhelming majority of the population of Afghanistan; for such a military the only word she has is ‘imperialist’.
To learn about some of the feminists of Afghanistan that Judith Butler regards as not bona fide, read Terry Glavin’s articles on the women of Parwan, Shamsia Sharifi, Yasameen and Raziea, Afghan Soccer Heroes, and Sitara Achakzai.
Earlier on this blog: interviews with helpless Afghan women instrumentalised by Western Imperialism here.
More on how Western anti-war feminists can’t deal honestly with Afghanistan here.
More on post-modern anti-imperialists unable to think straight here and here and here and here.
An old favourite: an anti-imperialist on fluffy issues in Afghanistan.
UPDATE: The prof says she didn’t say what she said. As they say in our house, “Ha ha, very funny, my name’s Bugs Bunny.”