RAWA, Nov.4, 2006
American Regime Export Military Democracy
By Eve Ensler
Transcript of Eve Ensler’s speech at a benefit for RAWA, called "Breaking the Propaganda of Silence," organized by the Afghan Women's Mission on October 7, 2006.
Thank you very much. Thank you. I really loved so much of what you said, Mimi, and I’m kind of stopped after listening to Zoya. I kind of, like, I haven’t really gotten past there yet. I want to thank Sonali so much for organizing this night and for not letting Afghanistan disappear from the consciousness of Americans. I mean, I want to just talk a little bit about Zoya, because, I adopted Zoya in the year 2000 and she has subsequently been my daughter but she’s also been my great teacher and great inspiration and I met her, we were just talking about this today, when I first went to Afghanistan under the Taliban in 1999, and it was actually 99 that I met her and she and another member of RAWA came to a hotel in Pakistan where they interviewed me and another woman I was with. We were going to go in with them into Afghanistan.
…. what happened over the course of the discussion is that Zoya, with her deep, deep, deep brown eyes, just melted my heart and I fell in love with her and not only was I moved by her brilliance and her kind of extraordinary clarity of purpose and mission but I was absolutely devastated by her heart and what she has lived through and what she has suffered and what she has survived and what she has managed to transform into direct and powerful political action.
You know we have an expression in V-Day, which is a global movement, in Violence against Women, we call men and women who have suffered enormous violence, who have suffered that violence or witnessed that violence, and rather than getting an AK47 or a weapon of mass destruction, they actually grieve that violence and they allow that to then transform something within them so they are compelled to devote their lives to making sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. We call those people “Vagina Warriors” and, although I have not been able to perform the play yet in Afghanistan, I think that Zoya epitomizes what a Vagina Warrior is, because she has known suffering probably none of us will ever know in this lifetime and yet every morning she gets up and, it applies here whether she’s sick or debilitated or depressed or sitting with more suffering that we know and she keeps going and redirecting it to lifting and saving her people and I just wanna honor that from the bottom of my heart, Zoya.We spend $390 billion a year in this country on defense and that does not include the indirect spending, nor does it include the Iraqi war. One sixth of that budget, ... would feed, provide drinkable water, educate and put a dent in aid for the entire world for a year. A year!
You know, I was thinking, there are so many things that I wanted to say, could say or, and a lot got said tonight, but one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about, having just finished this book and, I started this tour two days ago, it just came out, I’m very em, I’m very, very, very disparaged right now about what’s going on in America, to the point where I think that if we all do not start speaking in a deeper voice and having a greater passion and being more bold and more outrageous, I’m very scared we are not gonna turn this tide back. And, I think, one of the things I was really struck with, you know, I was on the phone this morning with an extraordinary woman named Sarah Chayes, for those of you who don’t know who she is, she’s a woman who used to be a reporter at MPR and several years ago she went to Afghanistan and decided she would essentially move there and she moved to Kandahar and she started an NGO and she’s been working on the ground in incredible ways and I’m very proud that V-Day is supporting her efforts today. They started this extraordinary little plant where they got a machine to take roses and turn it into soap and it’s now becoming this incredible economic, boom in the community, but she’s also been reporting and sending information back and this morning we were talking about the fact that in Kandahar today the Taliban is so back and so on the rise and so ever present that 90% of the people, and she said, actually it’s going up to 99% of people in Kandahar, actually believe that the US Government and the Taliban are in cohoots. OK, that is an extraordinary idea. That is an extraordinary idea.
When this war began we were told over and over and over that the purpose of the war was to liberate Afghanistan and liberate women. Let’s just begin with that idea, to liberate women. Now I, call me cynical, I never really understood why the Bush administration would be driven to liberate Afghan women when they had never been driven to liberate their own. This was always a huge question. But I thought, well, let’s give them, well actually I didn’t say let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. I was highly distrustful. What we’ve seen now, and I think, one of the things that I think this book is looking at, you know, I, this word, let’s just think about security.
Security. How often do we hear this word now? We say it all the time: security blocks, security clearance, security checks, security, security, security. We’ve become a country that is actually obsessed with security. What is that? What is that? And I started to think when I began this book, why, in the middle of this obsession, have I never felt more insecure? Why, when the country is spending billions and billions of dollars on so-called security, have I never felt more afraid on the uber-level. And I think part of what I’ve seen and part of what the book is addressing, is that in this quest for uber-security, in the use of the quest, which the Government uses to manipulate us and direct us and control us, we have actually made the world twenty times more insecure. I think Afghanistan is actually the perfect example of that because in the name of liberating women and freeing the Afghan people, we launched this war, we launched billions of dollars, we bombed, we dropped SCUD missiles, we dropped bombs, we just exploded, we destroyed but we didn’t have a plan. We didn’t have a strategy. We didn’t have a vision and we fundamentally didn’t care about the Afghan people. You cannot launch wars and drop bombs and believe for a second that, if your concern is not the people themselves, anything will ever change. Right now, right now we are essentially a military democracy. By that I mean that the basis of our Government, financially, economically, spiritually, politically is military.
We spend $390 billion a year in this country on defense and that does not include the indirect spending, nor does it include the Iraqi war. One sixth of that budget, one sixth, that’s what I said, one sixth, would feed, provide drinkable water, educate and put a dent in aid for the entire world for a year. A year! One sixth of that budget. Now please do not tell me that wouldn’t eradicate the fertile ground of terrorism. To me, that is, that is one of those logical, clear, obvious things. You know, in thinking about Afghanistan today and when I went there, I was gonna read stuff from the book about Afghanistan but I’m gonna read from the last chapter instead, but I just wanna say when I first met Zoya, and I went to Afghanistan, you know, I thought I understood misogyny. I really thought I had a grasp of sexism. I spent a lot of my life thinking about the oppression of women and violence towards women and domination of women but when I went to Afghanistan I understood for the first time what misogyny actually looks like when it has fully realized itself, when it has managed to completely congeal in taking and eradicating rights of women solely and completely.Groups like RAWA do not compromise. Every single bit of the way in this journey they have stood up and they have told the truth, much to their danger and much to people attacking them, putting them down, but they have told the truth. .... Every single thing they have said has come to be true. We need to support them because they are the truth carriers of Afghanistan.
When I came back from that trip, and I wanna say during that trip we had incredible adventures and incredible times, and I just wanna tell two quick stories, one of which is that, em, my father was involved in the ice cream business and so, when I heard before I went to Afghanistan that women in Afghanistan were not allowed to eat ice cream, because it was perceived as lascivious and sexual, I became obsessed with this idea and I couldn’t, and I was in Moscow before I went there, the night before and I was eating bowls of ice cream and I was trying to figure out why and I realized I wasn’t going to be allowed to eat it in Afghanistan, not that I even liked ice cream but I just had to know I could eat it, when I got there.
I went through Afghanistan with a wonderful woman, and I kept talking about it to the point where I just drove her mad and finally she said, ‘Alright. Alright, we’re going to take you to the secret ice cream eating place for women.’ And, em, this had come on the heels of staying in the Taliban hotel in Jalalabad, where outside they had a sign which said, ‘Leave your machine guns and your hand grenades’ and it had a big X outside and this had come on the heels of sitting with women, who were having epileptic fits because they had been documenting the atrocities of women being murdered in stadiums and shot for doing things like flirting and this had come on the heels of spending time in schools, clandestine schools throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, that RAWA was leading for women, literally risked their lives for teaching young girls the alphabet. And we finally went to this bazaar and it was this little bazaar in Jalalabad and em, we walked in, and we got ushered into the back room and em, we sat down at this table and they pulled these four sheets around us and we sat there, em, the woman I was with lifted up her burqa and they delivered the bowls of ice cream and she ate the ice cream. And I have to tell you, at that moment I wept and I wept for two reasons. I wept because I was in a place in the year 2000, or 1999, where there was a place in the world where women were not allowed to eat ice cream and I wept because women had figured out how to still keep eating ice cream. And that’s what we do, over and over and over.
When I left Afghanistan on that trip we were driving out and you know it had been a very, very rough time and I did not know that we were really gonna get out of Afghanistan and I’m very claustrophobic and I had a hard time wearing the burqa, because I em, having been a person who was very abused, I can’t be in shut-down quarters so I was wearing a little scarf over my head because going under it made me so anxious so I can imagine what women living under those conditions feel, who are traumatized out of their mind and then have to put on the burqa on their head without any choice and we were driving out of Afghanistan and and em, one of the members of the committee on preventing em, vice and celebrating virtue, pulled me over on the side of the road and he had our car over and he was screaming and em, and we had this wonderful driver, who he started screaming at, because the driver didn’t have a beard that was the appropriate length there. It had to be, what was it, five inches, to show that you were a member of the Taliban, and he had no beard because he was Pakistani, so we got pulled over to the side of the road. My driver just kept saying, ‘No, no, it’s fine. Mohammad said we could come. Mohammad said…’ and the guy said, ‘Who’s Mohammad?’ and it was just like this crazy conversation and then the Taliban member, who was very huge and very scary, realized that I wasn’t wearing a burqa and he said, ‘You. Out of the car.’ And he had this long flogger, a paddle that had long, long leather at the end of it and he was waving it, screaming to me, ‘You have to get out of the car, out of the car, out of the car.’ Em, I didn’t get out of the car. But in that moment again I understood for just a brief second, just a slight second, what it must feel like for Afghan women to be walking through the streets of any city, any town in Afghanistan, any day, where someone can pull you over and, if you’re eating ice cream or flirting or talking or not wearing white socks or talking to a bird or listening to music, they can pull out that flogger and they can beat you senseless, and most of the women I met up to that point had, you know, welts and bruises on their ankles from those floggers.We are not talking about what’s going on in Afghanistan. We are not talking about the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. We are not talking about the fact that warlords, I mean, at this particular time, the American regime seems to export military democracy and what it looks like is this: it looks like corrupt government; it looks like stolen elections; it looks like a total investment in bombs and military ammunitions...
When we got out of Afghanistan and I came home to America, I wrote a piece and I documented what had happened in Afghanistan and I brought it to everybody I knew and I also had a video, that RAWA had given me, of a woman who gets taken into a stadium in a burqa, and she gets brought out into the middle of the stadium and an AK47 is held to her head and she gets shot. And she got shot because she was accused of flirting. I brought the video and I brought my article to just about every TV station, every magazine, every newspaper and everybody rejected me except for Marie-Claire and they published my article. Well, that video tape was the video tape that got shown after 9/11 on CNN over and over and over. But the reason I was rejected at all those magazines and all those newspapers, was because they said to me no-one was interested in Afghan women and it didn’t have anything to do with our security. I tell this story because I think we’re here all over again.
I think we’re here all over again. We are not talking about Afghanistan. We are not talking about what’s going on in Afghanistan. We are not talking about the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. We are not talking about the fact that warlords, I mean, at this particular time, the American regime seems to export military democracy and what it looks like is this: it looks like corrupt government; it looks like stolen elections; it looks like a total investment in bombs and military ammunitions at the complete expense of human security and that means people being fed, being protected from diseases, not being beaten in their homes, we could go down the list. This is the democracy, so-called, that we are exporting. We are now in a country that has not only done this in Afghanistan but has created a worse situation, actually, in Iraq and we are talking to ourselves about security.
I wanna read this chapter and I wanna close, but I wanna say something about RAWA. You know, V-Day has been supporting RAWA as long as we can, since I met Zoya. Groups like RAWA do not compromise. Every single bit of the way in this journey they have stood up and they have told the truth, much to their danger and much to people attacking them, putting them down, but they have told the truth. They have said that if warlords remain in power, there will be no justice, there will be no freedom, there will be no security in Afghanistan. They have said, if we do not change things from the bottom up and empower women and give them money and give them resources, they will never be able to be educated or turn their lives around. Every single thing they have said has come to be true. We need to support them because they are the truth carriers of Afghanistan. They are the people putting out the true message that, if we are willing to hear it, we could actually be impacted in a way where we might do the right work, the good work, to liberate the women and the people of Afghanistan and feed them and clothe them and support them and nurture them so that the fertile ground of terrorism would not be sustained.