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The Concept Of Gender And Its Link To War On Terror And Human Rights

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The September 11, 2001 attack on the United States opened the eyes of the world to terrorist activities. This attack prompted a response by the United States to launch a “global war on terror”, a term coined by the United States to fight against terrorist groups and organizations worldwide. The most vulnerable community to this attack and its aftermath in the United States was those easily identified as Arabs or Muslims, which resulted to violation and a struggle of their rights. They were targeted for two main reasons. Being ‘Arabs and Muslims’, which is one thing they had in common with the terrorist. In this war on terror/human rights discourse, I focus on the Arab American Muslim community, particularly the women.

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The concept of gender is referred to as the social construct of masculinity and feminity tied to the division of people into male and female with each having roles and stereotypes attached to one another. Gender is not, as is so often claimed, synonymous with women and feminine identities; it is also about men and masculine identities and, more important, about relations between men and women (Tickner 2002, 04). Understanding gender as a social construction and the fluidity of gender identities allows us to see the possibilities of change while acknowledging the power of gendering distinctions to legitimate war as well as other practices that result in the subordination of women (Tickner 2002, 11). Tickner further argues that it is not only the gendering of war and peace that constrains women’s opportunities; frequently, women are oppressed in the name of culture and religion, a phenomenon that the September 11 attack brought to our attention. There is more to the concept of gender but in this paper I focus on the Arab-American women who wear hijabs and how the September 11 attack and the post war attack have resulted to a struggle for their rights, the increased exposure to violence, in physical form and assault.

Violence increased dramatically against Arabs and Muslims after September 11. According to Human Rights Watch (2002), the federal government reported a seventeen-fold increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, from twenty-eight in 2000 to 481 in 2001. Muslim and Arab organizations received over 2,000 reports of harassment, violence and other acts of September 11-related bias. Chicago and Los Angeles County both experienced a fifteen-fold increase in anti-Arab hate crimes during 2001. A CBS Los Angeles report states that a 32 year old Muslim woman wearing a hijab was attacked in a busy grocery store parking lot in long-beach by a white man, choking her and vigorously removing the traditional hijab while cursing at her and rendering several hate speech against her and the religion.

Also, on September 30, 2001, Swaran Kaur Bhullar, a Sikh woman, was attacked by two men who stabbed her in the head twice as her car was idling at a red light in San Diego. The men shouted at her, ‘This is what you get for what you’ve done to us!’ and ‘I’m going to slash your throat,’ before attacking her.

Similarly, an American Muslim woman from Texas in the morning of June 18, 2002, who went to a drug store to pick up allergy medication, was attacked by a woman who was supposedly angry because she had left one of her children in the car to quickly pick up the medication. The woman vehemently slammed her to the floor, berating at her and pulling at her hijab while choking her in the process. Dragged her by the hair to the front of the store and refused to let her go till the police arrived. Sadly, her children were described as witness to this defaming act.

Also, while Muslim men are viewed as security threats, women on the one hand are viewed as a threat to the culture and westernization of the United States. The ‘hijab’ a simple fabric signifies that the culture of this people cannot be westernized and this is seen as a threat to the culture and identity of the United States. Attacks mentioned above points out how this fabric were used to choke the women on both occasions, infringing on their rights to what they can put on their body and a right to religion.

Furthermore, the war on terror and its aftermath subjected these immigrants and the Arab Muslim community to fall under the influence of the paradigm of suspicion, followed by illegal detention, deportation, surveillance, exploitation, mass arrest and finally arriving at terrorism and various forms of discrimination. Cainkar argues that Homeland Security has used detention, deportation, and delays in immigration processes against Arab immigrants under the guise of protecting national security from potential terrorists (Naber, 2006).

Naber describes how the federal government policies after the September 11 attack has directly targeted men, while women have been victims of hate speech, sexual harassment and infringements of their rights which according to Cainkar have made them go through twice as much violence compared to their male counterparts (Alimahomed 2011). Some employers deploy the war on terror as a strategy for forcing Arab Muslim male workers to comply with their abuses of authority or face the threat that they would report them to the FBI or immigration authorities (Naber 2006).

To conclude, the conception of women as weak and helpless victims dominated by the patriarchal Arab and Muslim men gave more room and influence to the post 9/11 attack to focus more on the objects of their sexuality. Naber (2006) argues that veiled women were among those who were most targeted by the backlash due to the visibility of the hijab as a signifier of a Muslim identity. She also recounts a research participant being harassed on the street by a guy who kept yelling “are you Osama bin Laden’s wife? Come here, I want to rape you”. This is really scary stuff that happens on almost a daily basis. ” The war on terror and the post 9/11 attack had various impacts on both gender roles. Because these women are pictured to be submissive, traditional, religious and uneducated; the 9/11 attack have been described as a means to liberate these women and secure the struggle for their rights. However, the war on terror provides another access to understanding the traditional, cultural, religious stereotypes and struggle on Arab-Muslim women’s right that has long existed before 9/11 and continued afterwards.

10 October 2020

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