I don't think that Sunera Thobani's situation has made it into the American media, but this is important, I think. She is a professor of women's studies at an important Canadian university, and has been politically active in Canadian women's organizations for many years. Her speech at a women's conference last week has caused a great uproar in Canada, and some are demanding that she publicly apologize to the United States and to George Bush (which is ridiculous as no one here knows anything about it, as far as i can tell). Anyway, it deals with two things that should be of interest to us all. First, it ties the impending war with the concerns of women, and in particular Afghan women - so offers a feminist interpretation of what is going on in the world. Second, it reveals the ways in which feminist voices, and in particular the voices of Third World women are silenced - If everyone is now American, she asks, then what are Third World Women to do? Ironically, in asking this question, she herself has come under attack, folks are asking that she be silenced (in the form of losing publicly funded employment), that she take back her words in the form of an apology.
For the past week the Canadian media and political elites have been loudly
condemning UBC Professor and former President of the National Action
Committee for the Status of Women Sunera Thobani for making an anti-war
speech at a feminist conference last weekend. The right wing National Post
newspaper lit the flames with a front page article attacking Thobani and
falsely claiming that she had called the American people blood-thirsty.
The Globe and Mail, the opposition Canadian Alliance party and the social
democratic New Democratic Party among others have all condemned Thobani
for her speech. Additionally she has been receiving death threats and the
university has faced pressure to fire her. What is it, exactly, that Thobani
said? Is the campaign against her fuelled in part by the fact that she is a
South Asian woman of Muslim background? Is the campaign evidence of the
narrowing scope of permitted "free speech" in our society? Judge for
> University of British Columbia Professor Sunera Thobani's
> presentation to the Ottawa Women's Resistance Conference, October 1,
> 2001. Transcript as provided by the Cable Public Affairs Channel.
> Professor Sunera Thobani:
> We, and this 'we' is really problematic. If we in the West are all
> Americans now, what are Third World women and Aboriginal women to do?
> If Canadians are Americans now, what are women of colour to do in
> this country? And I'm open to suggestions for changing this title,
> but I thought I would stick with it as a working title for getting my
> ideas together for making this presentation this morning.
> I'm very glad that the conference opened with Tina (Tina Beads, of
> the Vancouver Rape Relief Women's Shelter) and I'm very glad for the
> comments that she made, but I want to say also, just (to) add to
> Tina's words here, that living (in) a period of escalating global
> interaction now on every front, on every level. And we have to
> recognize that this level and this particular phase of globalization
> is rooted in all the forms of globalization in the colonization of
> Aboriginal peoples and Third World peoples all over the world. That
> is the basis. And so globalization continues to remain rooted in that
> colonization, and I think, recognizing that we are on Aboriginal land
> is a very, very important starting point for any one of our
> movements. But that cannot be the end point. That cannot be the end
> point. And we have to recognize that there will be no social justice,
> no anti-racism, no feminist emancipation, no liberation of any kind
> for anybody on this continent unless Aboriginal people demand for
> The second point I want to make is that the global order that we live
> in, there are profound injustices in this global order. Profound
> injustices. Third World women... I want to say for decades, but I'm
> going to say for centuries, have been making the point that there can
> be no women's emancipation, in fact no liberation of any kind for
> women; will be successful unless it seeks to transform the
> fundamental divide between the north and the south, between Third
> World people and those in the West who are now calling themselves
> That there will be no emancipation for women anywhere on this planet
> until the Western domination of this planet is ended.
> Love thy neighbour. Love thy neighbour, we need to heed those words.
> Especially as all of us are being hoarded into the possibility of a
> massive war at the of the United States. We need to hear those words
> even more clearly today. Today in the world the United States in the
> most dangerous and the most powerful global force unleashing prolific
> levels of violence all over the world.
> >From Chile to El Salvador, to Nicaragua to Iraq, the path of U.S.
> foreign policy is soaked in blood. We have seen, and all of us have
> seen, felt, the dramatic pain of watching those attacks and trying to
> grasp the fact of the number of people who died. We feel the pain of
> that every day we have been watching it on television.
> But do we feel any pain for the victims of U.S. aggression? 200,000
> people killed only in the initial war on Iraq. That bombing of Iraq
> for 10 years now. Do we feel the pain of all the children in Iraq who
> are dying from the sanctions that were imposed by the United States?
> Do we feel that pain on an everyday level? Share it with our families
> and communities and talk about it on every platform that is available
> to us? Do we feel the pain of Palestinians who now for 50 years have
> been living in refugee camps?
> U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood. And other countries of the
> West, including shamefully Canada, cannot line up fast enough behind
> it. All want to sign up now as Americans and I think it is the
> responsibility of the women's movement in this country to stop that,
> to fight against it.
> These policies are hell-bent on the West maintaining its control over
> the world's resources. At whatever cost to the people Pursuing
> American corporate interest should not be Canada's national interest.
> This new fight, this new war against terrorism, that is being
> launched, it's very old. And it is a very old fight of the West
> against the rest. Consider the language which is being used. Calling
> the perpetrators evil-doers, irrational, calling them the forces of
> darkness, uncivilized, intent on destroying civilization, intent on
> destroying democracy That hate freedom we are told. Every person of
> colour, and I would want to say also every Aboriginal person, will
> recognize that language. The language of us letting civilization
> representing the forces of darkness, this language is rooted in the
> colonial legacy. It was used to justify our colonization by Europe
> We were colonized in the name of the West bringing civilization,
> democracy, bringing freedom to us. All of us recognize who is being
> talked about when that language is being used. The terms crusade,
> infinite justice, cowboy imagery of dead or alive posters, we all
> know what they mean. The West, people in the West also recognize who
> this fight is against. Cries heard all over the Western world, we are
> all Americans now. People who are saying that recognize who this
> fight is against. People who are attacking Muslims, any person of
> colour who looks like they could be from the Middle East, without
> distinguishing, recognizing who this fight is against. These are not
> just slips of the tongue that Bush quickly tries to reject. These are
> not slips of the tongue. They reveal a thinking, a mindset. And it is
> horrific to think that the fate of the world hangs on the plans of
> people like that. On the plans of people like that. This will be a
> big mistake for us if we just accept that these are slips of mind,
> just slips of the tongue. They're not. They reveal the thinking, and
> the thinking is based on dominating the rest of the world in the name
> of bringing freedom and civilization to it.
> If we look also at the people who are being targeted for attack. A
> Sikh man killed? Reports of a Cherokee woman in the United States
> having been killed? Pakistan is attacked. Hindu temples attacked.
> Muslim mosques attacked regardless of where the Muslims come from.
> These people also recognize who this fight is against. And it is due
> to the strength of anti-racist organizing that Bush has been forced
> to visit mosques, that our prime minister has been forced also to
> visit mosques and say, no there shouldn't be this kind of attack. We
> should recognize that it is the strength of anti-racist organizing is
> forcing them to make those remarks.
> But even but even as they visit mosques, and even as they make these
> conciliatory noises, they are talking out of both sides of the mouth
> because they are officially sanctioning racial pro-filing at the
> borders, in the United States, for entrance into training schools,
> for learning to become pilots, at every step of the way. On an
> airplane, who is suspicious, who is not?
> Racial profiling is being officially sanctioned and officially
> introduced. In Canada we know that guidelines, the "Globe and Mail"
> leaked, the guidelines were given to immigration officers at the
> border, who to step up security watch is on.
> So on the one hand, they say no, it's not all Muslims, on the other
> hand they say yes, we are going to use racial profiling because it is
> reasonable. So we have to see how they are perpetrating the racism
> against people of colour, at the same time that they claim to be
> speaking out against it. And these are the conditions, the conditions
> of racial profiling. These are the conditions within which children
> are being bullied and targeted in schools, women are being chased in
> parking lots and shopping malls, we are being scrutinized as we even
> come to conferences like that, extra scrutiny, you can feel the
> coldness when you enter the airport. I was quite amazed. I have been
> travelling in this country for 10 years, and I have never had the
> experience that I had flying down here for this conference. All of us
> feel it. So this racial profiling has to be stopped.
> Events of the last two weeks also show that the American people that
> Bush is trying to invoke, whoever they are these American people,
> just like we contest notions of who the Canadian people are, we have
> to recognize that there are other voices in the United States as
> well, contesting that.
> But the people, the American nation that Bush is invoking, is a
> people which is bloodthirsty, vengeful, and calling for blood. They
> don't care whose blood it is, they want blood. And that has to be
> confronted. We cannot keep calling this an understandable response.
> We cannot say yes, we understand that this is how people would
> respond because of the attacks. We have to stop condoning it and
> creating a climate of acceptability for this kind of response. We
> have to call it for what it is: Bloodthirsty vengeance.
> And people in the United States, we have seen peace marches all over
> this weekend, they also are contesting this. But Bush is (the)
> definition of the American nation and the American people need to be
> challenged here. How can he keep calling them a democracy? How can we
> keep saying that his response is understandable after Bush of all
> people, who stole the election, how can we ever accept that this is
> Canada's approach has been mixed, it has said yes, we will support
> the United States but with caution. It will be a cautionary support.
> We want to know what the actions will be before we sign on and we
> want to know this has been Canada's approach. And I have to say we
> have to go much further. Canada has to say we reject U.S. policy in
> the Middle East. We do not support it.
> And it's really interesting to hear all this talk about saving
> Afghani women. Those of us who have been colonized know what this
> saving means. For a long time now, Afghani women, and the struggles
> that they were engaged in, were known here in the West. Afghani women
> became almost the poster child for women's oppression in the Third
> World. And, rightfully so, many of us were in solidarity. Afghani
> women of that time were fighting and struggling against the Taliban.
> They were condemning their particular interpretation of Islam.
> Afghani women, Afghanistan women's organizations were on the front
> line of this. But what (did) they become in the West? In the West
> they became nothing but poor victims of this bad, bad religion, and
> of (these) backward, backward men. The same old colonial
> construction. They were in the frontline, we did not take the lead
> from them then, where we could see them more as victims, only worthy
> of our pity and today, even in the United States, people are ready to
> bomb those women, seeing them as nothing more than collateral damage.
> You see how quickly the world can change you. And I say that we take
> the lead from the Afghani women. They fought back against the
> Taliban, and when they were fighting back they said that it is the
> United States that is putting this regime in power. That's what they
> were saying. They were saying, look at U.S. foreign policy!
> They were trying to draw out attention to who was responsible for
> this state of affairs, to who was actually supporting regimes as
> women all over the Middle East have been doing. Sorry, just two more
> minutes and I'll be done. So I say we take the lead from them and
> even if there is no American bombing of Afghanistan, which is what
> all of us should be working right now to do, is to stop any move to
> bomb Afghanistan, even if there is no bombing of Afghanistan,
> hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have already been
> displaced, fleeing the threat of war -- you see the power of America
> here, right? One word in Washington and millions of people are forced
> to flee their houses, their communities, right? So, even if there is
> no bombing. We have to bear in mind how many women's lives have
> already been disrupted, destroyed, and will take generations for them
> to put back together again. Inevitably, and very depressing in Canada
> is of course, turning to the enemy within -immigrants and refugees,
> right? Scapegoating of refugees, tighter immigration laws, all the
> right-wing forces in this community, in this country, calling for
> that kind of approach. This is depressing for women of colour,
> immigrant and refugee women, anything happens, even if George Bush
> was to get a cold, we know somehow it'll be the fault of immigrants
> and refugees in Canada, and our quote-unquote lax border policies. So
> I'm not going to say much about it, but I just want to expose to you
> how, this... continues to be resurrected anytime over anything in the
> world. In terms of any kind of military action, Angela Davis (an
> American activist) asked in the 70s, she said 'do you think the men
> who are going to fight in Vietnam, who are going to kill Vietnamese
> women and children, who are raping Vietnamese women, do you think
> they will come home and there will be no effect of all of this? On
> women in the United States?' She was asking this in the 70s. That
> question is as relevant today. All these fighters that are going to
> be sent there, we think there will be no effect? For our women, when
> they come back here? So I think that that is something that we need
> to think about, as we talk about the responses, as we talk about this
> kind of jingoistic military-ism. And recognize that, as the most
> heinous form of patriarchal, racist violence that we're seeing on the
> globe today. The women's movement, we have to stand up to this. There
> is no option. There's no option for us, we have to fight back against
> this militarization, we have to break the support that is being built
> in our countries for this kind of attack. We have to recognize that
> the fight is for control of the vast oil and gas resources in Central
> Asia, for which Afghanistan is a key, strategic point!
> There's nothing new about this, this is more of the same, this is
> more of the same that we have been now fighting for, for so many
> decades. And we want to recognize, we have to recognize, that the
> calls that are coming from progressive groups in the Third World, and
> in their supporters, in their allies, in the rest of the world, the
> three key demands they are asking for: End the bombing of Iraq, lift
> the sanctions on Iraq, who in this room will not support that demand?
> Resolve the Palestinian question, that's the second one. And remove
> the American military bases, anywhere in the Middle East. Who will
> not demand, support these demands? We have to recognize that these
> demands are rooted in anti-imperialist struggles and that we have to
> support these demands. We need to end the racist colonization of
> Aboriginal peoples in this country, certainly, but we need to make
> common calls with women across the world who are fighting to do this.
> Only then can we talk about anti-racist, feminist politics, only then
> can we talk about international solidarity in women's movements
> across the world. And in closing, just one word -- the lesson we have
> learned, and the lesson that our politicians should have learned, is
> that you cannot slaughter people into submission, for 500 years they
> have tried that strategy, the West for 500 years has believed that it
> can slaughter people into submission and it has not been able to do
> so, and it will not be able to do so this time either.
> Thank you very much.