By Gerry Byrne
One voice has been surprisingly absent or muted in the debate on the coming war. Women are probably the majority of the anti-war movement. Women and children are the main sufferers under the UN-imposed sanctions. Women and children will feature hugely among the predicted half a million direct and indirect casualties, and the millions who will be forced to flee the destruction of their homes once the bombs start to fall. US military strategists are planning on a short hard war. This is code for not counting the cost in civilian casualties. Hundreds of Cruise missiles are expected to be dropped in the first few days of the war. The lie of smart bombs and surgical strikes in the last Gulf War was revealed in all its hideousness only long after that war was over.
Women have not chosen this war. Iraq is a bloody dictatorship whose people have no say in their fate. Here, in Britain, we have a government which is set on a course in direct opposition to the will of its citizens, and determined to frustrate any expression of the democratic will. Women have no say but will suffer, both as direct casualties and in the loss of sons, brothers, husbands, lovers.
The fundamental women's right is the right to life, and as such we oppose this war with its needless deaths. But we can not stop there. Women have fought for the vote, for freedom of political expression, which is being denied us in the current conflict. We have fought for economic independence and sexual self-determination. Which is why we are worried by the alliance of the anti-war movement with Islamist, fundamentalist organisations, who would deny those rights in practice. We can not stand shoulder to shoulder with people whose sister organisations, for example in Algeria, gun down women for going out in the street uncovered, who call for the death penalty for gay men and lesbians. We can not on the one hand stand in solidarity with Iraqi women against US bombs, and the next moment desert them in their struggle as women for basic human rights.
The anti-war movement rightly involves thousands of Muslims who feel themselves especially targetted by the so-called "War on Terror", many of whom may hold fundamentalist beliefs. But it is quite a different thing for the movement to be politically defined by Islamist politics, or organised through the mosques. A democratic movement must organise through democratic structures. People's involvement must be on the basis of equality, not segregation and discrimination. It is a betrayal of the many women and gay people of Muslim background who have chosen secularism and other lifestyles to force them under the authority they have struggled to escape.
Women oppose the war in the name of democracy, equality and human rights. No to War, No to Fundamentalism. For Women's Rights.
Make your voice heard.
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