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August 06, 2010



Let's analyze Ms Gopal in terms of motives & consequences. Her motive is to blither on endlessly in unthinking dinner-party leftisms (she is after all a lecturer in the English Dept. at Cambridge). The consequences of taking her seriously is to leave Afghan women (and many others) to their fate at the hands of the Taliban, who think that tanks were invented to crush homosexuals.


"unthinking dinner-party leftisms"

I keep hearing about these alleged left-wing dinner parties where Guardian readers chant "death to America" between mouthfuls of cous cous. How does one get an invite to one of these events?


Motive centrism please. That way my failed attempt to give blood (no spaces) the other day is morally sound, even though no good came of it.

Peter Risdon

Great post.

Dave Weeden

anything that weakens the Taliban is good for Afghan women.

Anything? Could we go nuclear? More seriously, Russia rebukes US over Afghan heroin glut. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/032fba50-672a-11df-bf08-00144feab49a.html The US has a policy of not destroying poppy fields, on the perfectly sound (IMO) logic that doing so could turn poppy farmers to the Taliban (as the obvious agents of retaliation). This has gone down very badly with Russia and the former Soviet states. This is one good policy of not strengthening the Taliban - and it may yet blow up somehow. Are there any tactics to undermine the Taliban which will do that - and only that? Because it seems to me that there's always blowback. We (well, the US) backed the Afghan rebels (who tended to religious nutterdom, which helped when fighting a technically superior force), and that went royally wrong once the war was over. We could try backing some other ideology, but suppose they turn out like the Khmer Rouge?

Sorry to be so pessimistic, but history does rather suggest we're in "Old woman who swallowed a fly" territory here.

And I haven't read that Time article all the way through yet. Has anyone suggested actually collecting money and sending the girl to a plastic surgeon? That is doable, at least.


Very interesting, especially the point about Marx. For me, another problem with Gopal's analysis was her inability to separate the motives of Western governments in prosecuting the war, and the motives of Time magazine and its journalists in wanting to tell that particular story, and use that particular photograph.

She seemed to assume that they were one and the same, whereas of course even the magazine's support for the war (if any) and its decision to run the story are not necessarily congruent. Other Time stories have laid bare the very real failures of the Nato campaign - and, despite the caption, this story too is one of Nato's failure. And even if Time were wholeheartedly behind the war, they are not controlled by the Pentagon, and their reasons for supporting the war may not be the Pentagon's, but rather (as implied in your post) humanitarian.

That said, it wasn't really Gopal's analysis that infuriated people (certainly not me) but her description of the mutilated victim Aisha as a "symbolic void".

@Dave Weeden - Yes, Time magazine are paying for Aisha to have reconstructive surgery. Gopal seemed to find that further evidence of their cynicism. She wondered if her consent to the story could be "freely given" if they were also looking after her. I think that shows you the sort of person we are dealing with here.


Chris - your even-handedness is, as ever, a refreshing break from the usual takes on topics like this but within it, you're taking one or two points uncritically from the SWP faction. Such as...

"Yes, if it is used to obfuscate the motives for the invasion."

I read this everywhere. The invasion was to overthrow the Taliban because it allowed Al-Qaeda to operate within the country and arrange to fly planes into tall buildings. Who exactly are these people who are now saying it had nothing to do with this - it's all about women's rights?


"In one case, they under-estimate the possibility that hegemonic American imperialists can unintentionally liberate women."

It's not an American, or a US/UK, operation - it's a NATO one but in any event, they don't under-estimate - they refuse to even consider the possibility. With regards to motive, they are ideologically and emotionally incapable of imputing anything other than bad faith.


Sorry, meant to add that with regards to outcomes, they rejoice in bad ones and where there is any evidence of positive ones, it is ignored or denied.

Dain (Mupetblast)

Here's a thought experiment. What if your lover guessed at your birthday and got it right? Would it matter that they just got lucky? Of course.

That's the way critics of American actions in Afghanistan see things.

Your point is useful when looking at systematic consequences of things like imperialism, capitalism, etc. Leftists see these patterns as on the whole negative, even if once in a while there is some benefit, like a poor rural Chinese woman finding work in the smoggy and unsustainable environs of Beijing.

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