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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

You cannot slaughter people into submission

Much ado about Sunera Thobani's Parliament Hill speech. Was it offensive 
and inappropriate, as prominent federal politicians claim? see for yourself

Dateline: Friday, October 05, 2001

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 forms of globalization 
in the colonization of Aboriginal peoples and Third World people all over 
the world. This is the basis. And so globalization continues to remain 
rooted in that colonization, and I think, 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 south, between Third World people and those in the West who are 
now calling themselves Americans. 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 is the most 
dangerous and 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 bee 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 imposed by the United
States? Do we feel that pain on an every-day 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 in 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 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 is 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...Every person of colour, and I would want to say 
every Aboriginal person, will recognize this 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 

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 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 the 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. 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 profiling 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 

And people in the United State, 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 democracy?

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 Afghani women. 
Those of us who have been colonized know what this saving means. For a 
long time now, Afghani women, and the struggles 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 against 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. And I say that we take the lead from Afghani women. They fought 
back against the Taliban, and when they were fighting back they said that 
it is the United States 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 had 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
you to how, this...continues to be resurrected anytime over anything in the

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? One women in the United States?" 
she was asking this in the 70s.

That question is 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 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 that we have been
now fighting 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 
struggle 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 
able to do so this time either.

Thank you very much.

Prof. Sunera Thobani

Transcript provided by the Cable Public Affairs Channel.