Daily Archives: December 14, 2005

Public opinion in Iraq: Some interesting results

As election time nears in Iraq, some interesting poll results, via John Cole:

Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.

Surprisingly, given the insurgents’ attacks on Iraqi civilians, more than six in 10 Iraqis feel very safe in their own neighborhoods, up sharply from just 40 percent in a poll in June 2004. And 61 percent say local security is good—up from 49 percent in the first ABC News poll in Iraq in February 2004.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a “single strong leader.”)

Whatever the current problems, 69 percent of Iraqis expect things for the country overall to improve in the next year—a remarkable level of optimism in light of the continuing violence there. However, in a sign of the many challenges ahead, this optimism is far lower in Sunni Arab-dominated provinces, where just 35 percent are optimistic about the country’s future.

However:

Fewer than half, 46 percent, say the country is better off now than it was before the war. And half of Iraqis now say it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004.

The number of Iraqis who say things are going well in their country overall is just 44 percent, far fewer than the 71 percent who say their own lives are going well. Fifty-two percent instead say the country is doing badly.

… Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.

Overall, I think (as does John) that this adds up to a positive picture more than a negative one. The growth of pro-democracy attitudes and the decline of support for Islamic state are particularly encouraging. That 6 out of 10 Iraqis disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq is not surprising; if anything (given how mismanaged the occupation has been) the figure is surprisingly low. Note, too, some contradiction in the numbers: two-thirds oppose the U.S./coalition presence, but fewer than half want to see U.S. forces leave seen. (Does this mean that a sizable proportion of Iraqis don’t like the presence of American troops, but recognize it as necessary for the time being?)

I also find it remarkable that, even with continuing insurgent violence and the disarray in the country, half of Iraqis do not believe it was wrong for the U.S. to invade (and in February 2004 the corresponding figure was 40%). It’s a remarkable figure in view of the fact that no one likes being occupied — particularly people in a culture with strong traditional beliefs about honor and faith, and particularly when the occupiers are of a different religion.

It is also worth remembering that people who believe the invasion was wrong include those who, in my view, have no moral authority in the matter: those who enjoyed a privileged position under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and loyally served his regime.

This is why, whatever misgivings I may have about the wisdom of this war (particularly in view of its mismanagement), I categorically reject the view that it was a crime against the Iraqi people. If the U.S. has committed a crime against the Iraqi people, it was encouraging them to rebel against Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and then leaving the Hussein regime in place and abandoning those who rebelled to their horrible fate.

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Feminism, labels, and principles

An interesting discussion at Protein Wisdom about feminism and labels. Equity feminism, gender feminism, establishment feminism, liberal feminism, ifeminism… my head is spinning.

I don’t have time for a long post right now, but a few thoughts. Christina Hoff Sommers’ “equity feminism/gender feminism” distinction (originally made in the 1994 book Who Stole Feminism?), which I’ve sometimes used myself, is rather imprecise, and too open to being used as shorthand for “feminists I like/feminists I don’t like.” Sommers defines “gender feminists” as those who see women as oppressed by a “sex/gender system” ingrained in cultural gender roles, and “equity feminists” as those who want simply to establish legal equality and equality of opportunity. But one needn’t be a particularly radical feminist to believe that various aspects of traditional gender roles lead to unequal opportunity, and one can seek to transform those roles while seeking “equity” rather than female advantage. (Many of the early feminists Sommers praises, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were harshly critical not only of legal and institutional inequality but of traditional femininity.)

So, what terms would I use? Actually, “equity feminism” and “gender feminism” still make sense to me, but I would fine-tune the definitions somewhat. “Equity feminism” is focused on fairness and equal treatment for individuals regardless of gender; “gender feminism” — a form of identity politics — is focused on solidarity with women and seeking the betterment of women. However, as Jeff has found out, the term “gender feminism” is fairly useless in discussions with feminists to whom one would apply the term, since they regard it as a slur (much as I do “anti-feminist”). I wonder if “identity feminism” would be an acceptable term?

In any case: Here are a few basic principles of my kind of feminism, whatever one wants to call it.

1. Equal treatment regardless of gender. No excuses for unequal treatment such as “we need to make allowances for women’s lack of power/history of oppression,” “real equality means redistributing power from the oppressor to the oppressed,” etc. Feminism should be about equity, fairness and judging people as individuals, not “siding with women” (individually or collectively).

2. We should seek to achieve greater equity/equality by expanding choices for both men and women, not narrowing them — e.g., not make it less socially acceptable for women to stay home with their children, but to make this option more available to men. Equity does not necessarily mean full parity in every field; it means equal opportunity, including freedom from cultural barriers that can hold men or women back from excercising their options (e.g., the belief that it’s unmanly to be a child care worker, or that a woman should be interested in “people things” rather than scientific abstractions).

3. Western women today are not an oppressed or powerless group. While women have some gender-based problems, so do men. Gender-based disadvantages and prejudices should be addressed whether they affect men or women. In today’s society, “more for women” is not necessarily synonymous with justice.

4. Women as well as men can be sexist — toward men as well as women — and can have sexist expectations of and prejudices toward men. Female chauvinism (e.g., the belief that mothers have a special bond with their children inherently superior to that of fathers) should be taken as seriously as male chauvinism.

5. Not everything bad that happens to women (e.g., rape or domestic violence) is the result of sexism or “the patriarchy” (which, in my view, is a meaningless concept when talking about the West in the 21st Century). Women’s personal wrongs in relationships with men should not be considered a feminist issue unless some institutional or cultural bias against women is involved (for instance, a man’s belief that he is entitled to multiple sex partners but his wife or girlfriend is not).

6. Claims of sexism, sex discrimination, or male mistreatment of women should be taken seriously, but not given a presumption of truthfulness and objectivity. Giving a woman’s account greater credence than a man’s because of her gender is just as sexist as presuming a man to be more believable.

7. Finally, my kind of feminism takes a non-adversarial stance toward Western and American society. This was brought home to me by Jeff Goldstein’s exchange with Lauren, who sees a young Muslim immigrant’s decision to wear the hijab as possibly a positive and empowering one because it’s a protest against the majority culture. I don’t regard an adversarial stance vis-a-vis American culture as something valuable in itself. For all its flaws and its much-less-than-perfect history where women are concerned, the West today is the civilization that champions freedom and equal rights for women. For that alone, from a feminist point of view, it is worth defending.

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