“Third World” Women & Politics (4 of 11)
It is fascinating to note the very same women who courageously and tirelessly worked side by side with men to bring their nation into existence are the ones who are now being, in a very real sense, colonized by the system now in power. In this particular case a fundamentalist perspective seems to be conflated with a hegemonically perceived need for nationalism and national security. The Indian minority and women ‘contaminated’ with ‘Western values’ are being discursively presented as the dangerous and counter-hegemonic ‘Other’ which must be contained and isolated in order to maintain the healthy society and nation-state.
Let us attempt therefore the following tentative working definition
of fundamentalism for use within this paper: Fundamentalism is the
selective use of a religion or cultural beliefs, based on claims of
historical and/or cultural ‘authenticity,’ to promote a particular
hegemonic societal norm. It is not invariably associated with religion, but it does appear to invariably inscribe often repressive roles and norms of behavior upon women and minorities.
There is one other item of note within the Singaporan example; we can see an interesting juxtaposition of nationalism and fundamentalism. Is this link an isolated incident, or common to all the readings we’ve done?
Examining other instances of fundamentalism within our readings, I believe we can discover this is indeed so. In India we have a tiny Muslim minority being evoked as a “pampered lot” who are being “appeased” by Congress in an effort to gain their “block” of votes, even as they are accused of “purposefully outbreeding Hindus” (Hasan 1998:73). In Pakistan the
penal laws prior to the Hudood Ordinance carved out a protected but secondary status for women, but contemporary laws [specifically the Hudood Ordinance] have removed the protection without altering the secondary status of women [emphasis the authors]” (Jehangir & Jilani 1990:86).
Basu writes “Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ in South Asia and the Middle East is inseparable from nationalist opposition to Western domination in its various guises,” and adds
Moghadam (1994:13) notes that ‘fundamentalists’ in Iran consider the veil an antidote to the virus of gharbzadegi, which is variously translated as ‘Westoxication,’ ‘Westitis,’ ‘Euromania,’ and ‘Occidentosis’ (1998:171).
Without noting down each and every instance within the readings, we can still discern a repeating pattern of hegemonic hostility against the ‘Other,’ societally expressed as a desire to control women and minorities, and to refuse them the benefits of full citizenship, often against prevailing laws, within each country. Why is fundamentalism being manipulated/manipulating nationalism in such a fashion? What stresses are being culturally evoked and controlled through these various societal actions and reactions? Brown states a possible explanation in her comment that we can see a desire to maintain
strong and clear social boundaries — boundaries between nation-states, between law-abiding citizens and criminals, between the righteous and the sinful, between life and death, and not coincidentally, between men and women (1994:177).
Thus, ultimately this seems to indicate less a religious way of thinking so much as an application of modern techniques to assert control over the world by “people caught off balance” (Brown 1994:190). This supports what we’ve noted so far in our arguments: fundamentalism does not require religion to flourish. This would also indicate there must be a common theme or element between fundamentalism and nationalism, and possibly it is this common element that is most important to us in our search for the reasoning behind the hegemonic repression of women and minorities.
Thus a closer view of nationalism may be fruitful in the attempt to discern the causes of repression for women and minorities within these societies facing “troubling questions of social order and moral righteousness” (Brown 1994:182).