Amnesty USA, Veil, and Occupation

You have probably heard of Amnesty International USA’s pro-occupation ads, declaring “NATO: Keep the Progress Going!”, which shocked many anti-war activist organizations.

In a recent essay, Ashley Smith comments on the issue in detail and quotes from feminist activists Sonali Kolhatkar and Mariam Rawi:

Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children. Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war. (see their full article)

Smith traces developments within Amnesty USA in the past decade and highlights the impact of recently appointed executive director, Suzanne Nossel, who “is an unabashed supporter of U.S. hegemony over the world, neoliberal economics and Zionism, all cloaked in the mantle of human rights.”

What particularly caught my attention, however, was the image in the ads. Why veiled Muslim women instead of Taliban fighters? Research indicates that many Muslim women who practice headscarf/veil adoption perceive the symbol as empowering. The veiled women’s image with the caption “Human Rights for Women and Girls” misleads American public opinion as if the adoption of veil/headscarf is innately patriarchal and oppressive. This type of image-making would certainly offend most Muslims who practice their belief-system and would further alienate them. Politics of veil remains to be an important issue in European context and it is unfortunate to see that Amnesty USA cannot successfully present what symbolizes radicals without hurting the moderate majority among the Muslim polity. Nossel is known for her “Smart Power” concept, developed in her Foreign Affairs article in 2004. The concept is reminiscent of Joseph Nye’s term Soft Power. Now the question is: is it smart to launch ads that dehumanize veiled Muslim women?

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