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Imperial Democracies, Militarised Zones, Feminist Engagements

The post-11 September 2001 consolidation of imperial democracies and securitised regimes in the United States, Israel, and India mobilise anatomies of violence anchored in colonial legacies and capitalist profit-making. These regimes utilise specific and connected racial and gendered ideologies and practices at their social and territorial borders - in the us-Mexico borderlands, the West Bank and Gaza, and the Kashmir Valley. They exercise militarised and masculinised forms of control, surveillance and dispossession that illuminate the contours of national political subjectivities and the uneven construction of citizenship. These imperial democracies militarise all domains of social life, and discipline or imprison not just abandoned and criminalised communities, but all state subjects. The essay suggests that an alternative vision of connectivity and solidarity requires building ethical, cross-border feminist solidarities that confront neoliberal militarisation globally.


Imperial Democracies, Militarised Zones, Feminist Engagements

Chandra Talpade Mohanty

The post-11 September 2001 consolidation of imperial democracies and securitised regimes in the United States, Israel, and India mobilise anatomies of violence anchored in colonial legacies and capitalist profitmaking. These regimes utilise specific and connected racial and gendered ideologies and practices at their social and territorial borders – in the US-Mexico borderlands, the West Bank and Gaza, and the Kashmir Valley. They exercise militarised and masculinised forms of control, surveillance and dispossession that illuminate the contours of national political subjectivities and the uneven construction of citizenship. These imperial democracies militarise all domains of social life, and discipline or imprison not just abandoned and criminalised communities, but all state subjects. The essay suggests that an alternative vision of connectivity and solidarity requires building ethical, cross-border feminist solidarities that confront neoliberal militarisation globally.

My thanks to Anya Stanger and Sarah Miraglia for their meticulous and discriminating research assistance, and to my sister-friends Jacqui Alexander and Zillah Eisenstein for thinking through some of the ideas in this essay with me.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty ( teaches gender studies at Syracuse University, New York.

The truth lies naked in the infernos of Palestine and Iraq, but in the noise of your corporate media and on the cadaver of your newspaper, you prefer it with clothes on.

– Nadine Saliba 2008: 4 (cited in Platt 2011: 350)

It almost seems as if when the earth is divided, it demands blood, it demands sacrifice. Every time new borders are defined, they seem to cry out for blood and there is slaughter. We’ve seen this happening recently in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in East Timor, in Chechyna and it is happening every day, for the past 50 years, in Kashmir.

– Bapsi Sidhwa in Sidhwa and U Butalia 2000: 238

I know why they are building the wall higher and thicker and out of steel and concrete here on our lands! We are being imprisoned in our own racherias. They are building the wall this big here in the Indigenous land, of the ones who they did not imprison before (in the 19th century). I know that there is something here that they want. It is about their greed for oil and water and development.

– Eloisa Tamez, Lipan Apache elder, El Calaboz, Texas HURRICANE Report 2010: 41

s I write this, there are mass demonstrations in the streets of Egypt calling for the end of the Hosni Mubarak regime; a people’s uprising in Tunisia has overturned the Ben Ali government, leading to what Time magazine calls the “first successful popular uprising” in the Arab world and what the activist organisation Avaaz calls potentially “the Arab world’s Berlin wall”;1 Binayak Sen, India’s best-known political prisoner, accused (falsely) of being an “enemy of the state” goes on trial, and on 24 January 2011, the Indian Association for Women’s Studies annual conference in Wardha, Maharashtra, was disrupted by state anti-terrorism forces checking IDs and citing the “Foreigners Act” to crack down on the “non-registration” of four “foreign nationals”, who happened to be from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.2 What is it about our present condition that allows so-called democratic regimes to act with impunity in the global arena – to kill, imprison and deploy multiple forms of intimidation and violence in the name of a war on terror and the “security and protection” of the nation?

How might we comprehend these imperial democracies3 and organise resistance across borders, resistance that demystifies and challenges the violent, authoritarian governmentalities mobilised by these militarised landscapes? Women and children being the victims and targets of violence in conflict zones, gender is interwoven into the operation of and resistance to global security regimes. What does a radical, anti-imperialist feminist engagement consist of at this time? These questions, and the compelling voices of Saliba, Sidhwa and Tamez, quoted in the epigraph, are some of the urgencies that motivate this essay.

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I began thinking about securitised regimes and anatomies of violence after hearing about the building of a “mega-security wall” along the South Texas-Mexico border, and the struggles of immigrant activists and the Lipan Apache Women’s Defense (LAW Defense) organisation to halt this explicitly imperialist partition project. What seemed obvious was the use of unjust, militarised state practices similar to those used in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, using the pretext of the “war on terror” to mobilise simultaneous discourses of Islamophobia and nativism. And yet, the struggles of LAW Defense, even the building of the megasecurity wall in East Texas, were almost completely absent from public discussion in the media and in left/feminist circles. While US imperial projects are not new, the post-11 September 2001 global formation and operation of securitised states, anchored within the rhetoric of protectionism and the war on terror, and accompanied by militarised, neoliberal corporate ambitions, is a phenomenon that deserves critical feminist attention.

In this essay, I examine three securitised regimes – the US, Israel, and India – and three specific geopolitical sites – the US-Mexico border struggles around immigration and cross-border indigenous rights in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas; Israel’s rule over the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza; and India’s military rule in the disputed Kashmir Valley – as zones of normalised violence. At these sites, neoliberal and militarised state and imperial practices are often sustained by development, peacekeeping and humanitarian projects, thus illuminating the new contours of securitised states that function as imperial democracies.4

Each site encodes genealogies, memories, and traumas of colonial occupation, partition, and violence in the building of the nation – what Sidhwa calls the “demand for blood” when the earth is divided. And in each of these geopolitical sites at territorial borders, civilians are subjected to militarised violence anchored in the production of reactionary gender identities and dominant and subordinate (often racialised) masculinities. These three sites constitute occupied, disputed territories with violent colonial histories, and together they illustrate a new/old global order of militarised violence engendered by neoliberal economic priorities.

Since the early 1990s, with India’s shift to neoliberal economic and political policies, ties among the US, Israel and India were forged through the vision of the regimes in power at that time – George W Bush and the neoconservatives, Ariel Sharon and Likud, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Hindu Right. As Rupal Oza (2007: 9) suggests, since the early 1990s, the geopolitical triad of the US, Israel and India share a vision of threat and security based on Islam and Muslims as the common enemy, cemented through close and ongoing economic and military alliances. While the “us vs them” ideologies of securitised states justify borders, walls, and regimes of incarceration in the name of protection of the homeland, it is the connectivity and commonality of analysis and vision of justice between peoples across borders that feminists and anti-partition activists have that inspires my reflections.

A comparative analysis of the wars, and walls (symbolic and material) that constitute the securitised regimes, and colonial/

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imperial ventures of the US, India and Israel, reveals the ideological operation of discourses of “democracy” within overtly militarised, securitised nation states, and suggests that the militarisation of cultures is deeply linked to neoliberal capitalist values and the normalisation of what Zillah Eisenstein (2007: 17) and Arundhati Roy (2004: 42) have called “imperial democracy”. Needless to say, militarisation always involves masculinisation and heterosexualisation as linked state projects, and neoliberal economic arrangements are predicated on gendered and racialised divisions of labour and constructions of subjectivities, thus necessitating a feminist critique.

Neo-liberalism, Militarisation and Feminist Critique

War is on the global agenda precisely because the new phase of capitalist expansionism requires the destruction of any economic activity not subordinated to the logic of accumulation, and this is necessarily a violent process. Corporate capital cannot extend its reach over the planet’s resources from the fields to the seas and forests to people’s labour, and our very genetic pools without generating an intense resistance worldwide. Moreover, it is in the nature of the present capitalist crisis that no mediations are possible, and that development planning in the Third World gives way to war.

– Silvia Federici (nd)

Imperial feminist projects devoted to bringing “freedom and democracy” to oppressed third world women have buttressed justifications for war and occupation in recent years (Abu-Lughod 2002; Eisenstein 2007; Mahmood 2008). In imperial democracy, women serve as an alibi for neocolonial adventures in warmaking, and in so-called humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. Postcolonial feminist scholars have examined these gendered colonial rescue narratives within histories of 18th and 19th century colonialism, and in their current reincarnation in the US wars. Feminist scholars have also provided incisive critiques of neoliberalism, militarisation, and the gendered violence of securitised states (see essays in Sutton et al 2008). This radical scholarship and the globalisation of national security regimes indicates an urgent need for nuanced, comparative theorisations of empire as the basis for anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggles.

National security states or securitised regimes typically use connected strategies of militarisation, criminalisation and incarceration to exercise control over particular populations, thus remaking individual subjectivities and public cultures. As feminist philosopher Iris Young (2003) argues, security states mobilise a particular gendered logic of masculinist protection in relation to women and children – a logic that underwrites the appeal to “protection and security” of the nation, and expects obedience and loyalty at home (patriotism). At the same time, the state wages war against internal and external enemies. In the case of the US, Young claims, it is this logic that legitimates authoritarian power in the domestic arena, and justifies aggression outside its borders.

The militarisation of everyday life is the hallmark of neoliberal empires and national security states in our times (Enloe 2007). As Federici suggests, the expansion of neoliberal market economies is inextricably tied to new forms of inequality, disenfranchisement and violence. Susan Comfort (2011) argues that the current imperialist warfare economy necessitates militarised conditions of labour control, racist profiling and sexual violence. Militarised forces are often required to police and control “cheap” female labour as in the maquiladoras across the US-Mexico border, and in factories in South Korea. Neoliberal policies of outsourcing and privatisation characterise both war zones and domestic landscapes. Outsourcing the war in Iraq through privatising security forces (such as Blackwater USA, now Xe Services) as well as support services (food, laundry, sanitation) to south and south-east Asian men consolidates the racialised hegemonic and subordinate masculinities necessary to the US imperial project (Barker 2009). So the dominant national masculinities of the US military (“manning up”) are re-established in relation to the subordinate, almost feminised masculinities of south and south-east Asian men engaged in traditional “women’s work”. While the US depends on and polices low-wage migrant labour in Iraq as well as the US-Mexico border, it is south and south-east Asian subcontractors who bear the costs in Iraq while indigenous Mexican peasants bear the costs in Arizona and Texas. Similarly, militarised masculinites are mobilised in Kashmir through the figures of paramilitary and special ops troops operating as vigilantes, army men in mafia networks, surrendered militants working as police informers and young men involved in extortion rackets for the military (Duschinski 2010).

The conjuncture of neoliberalism and the national security apparatus – that is, the increase in state expenditure in domains of security and welfare management (Tambe 2010) is an important nexus of analysis. Militarised, neoliberal state projects in the US, Israel and India create and sustain endless wars, and border zones of violence while normalising incarceration regimes within their respective domestic landscapes. The US invests in a fastgrowing, privatised prison industrial complex within its own borders, while consolidating post-invasion regimes of torture and collective punishment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similar questions need to be posed in relation to the “democracies” of Israel and India. After 11 September 2001, in all three geopolitical contexts, the state mobilises a masculinist securitised ideology based not on defence of the nation but on coercion that requires neither participation or consent from its citizens (Lutz 2002). This gendered ideology is anchored in militarised masculinities (or muscular militarism) and in patriarchal ideologies of protection and security that require obedience and consent from citizens.

Rosemary Hennessy (2011) claims that profit-making regimes capitalise on the dispossession of certain subjects, and that this dispossession registers on the body (see also Brennan 2003). Hennessy argues that the ideological creation of femininity as subordination is one form of such dispossession. In the Texas-Mexico borderlands, the West Bank and Gaza, and the Kashmir Valley, dispossession of particular subjects (women, the poor, the indigenous, migrants, Muslims, and the like) involves the social control and legal dispossession (or social death) through “justified” forms of surveillance and violence at multiple levels. The political economy of securitised states is focused fundamentally on the permanent abandonment of certain “captive populations” (Gordon 2006) who are marked as threats to the neoliberal order. Here militarised capitalism is enshrined within securitised states, and works in concert with fundamentalist Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian social movements to produce a surge of reactionary neoliberal gender identities. For instance, Rebecca Dingo’s (2004) work on neoliberalism and the Christian Right in the US shows how the rhetoric of crisis and national security collapses the market, individualism, pro-family and conservative religious ethics, with the nation naturalising the link between neoliberal capitalist market values and US culture.

It is the rhetoric of the “condition of women” that serves both as a pretext for imperial occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also creates struggles unto death between the west and the east (Bannerji et al 2010). As Bannerji et al suggest, with the retreat of socialism, the contrasting gender agendas of imperialist neoliberalism and of ethnic and religious nationalisms combine to subjugate women across national borders. Here, imperialist, racist, capitalist patriarchies with their own colonial histories collide with “equally patriarchal, private-property oriented, racialising ethnic nationalisms” (Bannerji et al 2010: 267).

Feminist philosopher Teresa Brennan argues that neoliberal conditions create a “bio-deregulation of the body” (2003: 24). She suggests that the material effects of neoliberal globalisation can be read as a biopolitics where a lack of time and a life rhythm of rushing and insecurity affects marginalised bodies in concrete ways. A deregulated body goes without enough sleep, rest and proper food in a culture that privileges immediate profit over long-term sustainability (Brennan 2003: 20, 32). Similarly, I suggest that we need to examine the possibility of a “bio-militarisation of the body” that occurs within neoliberal, securitised regimes. A bio-militarised body is one that must survive under conditions of perpetual control and surveillance, is subject to the constant material and symbolic violence enacted by the state, and lives in constant fear of being arrested or incarcerated. A bio-militarised body lives under a constant state of dispossession and with a lack of basic civil rights evident in the dissolution of citizenship in occupied or securitised zones.

It is always particular dispossessed bodies – indigenous, immigrant, Muslim, raced, classed, and gender-marked bodies – that are bio-deregulated or bio-militarised, never generic ones. Neoliberal and militarised conditions privilege certain populations (the bona fide citizen-subject) while simultaneously dispossessing others, constructing them as non-citizens, criminals, as “bare life” (Agamben 2005). It is this complex condition of dispossession of particular communities that is generated by wars, walls and profit-making that must be condemned. Interestingly, the walls in Palestine and at the South Texas-Mexico border share designers, builders, and profiteers (Platt 2011).

Since its “founding” in 1776, the US has engaged in military conflict for 187 of its 233 years. And the US had troops in the field for all but six years in the 20th century, and every year in the 21st century. Similarly, Israel and India have been engaged in wars since their founding in 1946 and 1947 respectively. These are “warrior” states, and war and militarised cultures have been (invisibly) interwoven into the very fabric of state governance and everyday life. Thus, in all three national contexts, societies are imbued with and dependent on the logic of military institutions in ways that permeate economic priorities, government

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policies, popular culture, language, educational systems, and national values and identities (Enloe 2007).

If we look at the military expenditures of all three countries for 2009, they seem rather innocuous – the US 4.3% of gross domestic product (GDP); Israel 7% of GDP and India 2.6% of GDP. However, the US military budget is the largest in the world in terms of dollars; India ranks 10th and Israel ranks 24th. In addition, Israel ranked third (behind Eritrea at 20% and Georgia at 8.5%) in 2009 for military expenditure as a percentage of GDP (see Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, http://www.sipri. org/). Significantly, while Israel is the largest recipient of economic aid from the US, almost half of Israel’s total military sales has been to India. Israel is now the second largest defence supplier for India (Oza 2007).

Securitised Regimes and Cultures of Impunity

Speaking of Argentina in the 20th century, Rita Arditti (1999) refers to the exercise of state violence within a culture of impunity. A culture of impunity occurs when the state operates without fear of punishment, and impunity is normalised as a routine procedure across political and legal domains, producing a kind of disordered order or state of exception (Agamben 2005) necessary for the process of domination. Similarly, Geoff Eley (2007) refers to a “logic of emphatic non-accountability” at the present time whereby securitised states claim that the economic and political crises produced by the war on terror provides governments with “immunity from constitutional oversight”. The state operates through a culture of impunity and a logic of non-accountability, justifying state violence, sexual and otherwise, against civilians in the Kashmir Valley, in the occupied Palestinian territories, and in the Lower Rio Grande Valley at the Texas-Mexico borderlands. This is a form of governmentality where the state regimes of surveillance, criminalisation and the legal suspension of rights in the name of protecting the nation from so-called “insurgents” and “illegals” operates with impunity – making citizens “disappear”, imprisoning them, and denying basic civil and economic rights to particular marginalised communities. Brief snapshots of the operation of securitised regimes in each of the three sites follows.

US: Immigrant Struggles at the Border

In December 2010, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights released a report entitled Injustice for All: The Rise of the US Immigration Policing Regime. Drawing on testimonials and reports from Human Rights Community Action Network (HURRICANE) members in 11 states, the report poignantly demonstrates the impact of a policing regime that uses immigrant status to segregate people, profiling people of colour in new ways during a severe economic downturn.

The report states,

Public officials and corporations collaborate to cut and/or privatise public services, including using for-profit private prisons to incarcerate people for immigration charges, destroying civil and labour rights. Immigration status is also being used to deny Indigenous people their right to identity, land and community (Injustice: 7).

In 2003, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

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launched “Operation Endgame”, a decade-long plan to “remove all removable aliens” (Injustice: 8). It was at this time that the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) was subsumed under the DHS, thus explicitly linking questions of national security to issues of migration and immigration. HURRICANE estimates there are about 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. Through Operation Endgame, the DHS built a new immigration policing regime that connects issues of “immigration, citizenship, the ‘war on terror’, border control, national security, crime, law enforcement, and the economy – all under the guise of ‘protecting the homeland’” (Injustice: 8).

The report makes a powerful statement about the operation of the US as a neoliberal, securitised, imperial state, using the policing and incarceration of immigrants, escalating militarisation of immigrant and border communities, making immigrants scapegoats for the economic crisis, and always rhetorically linking immigration to national security. For instance, the passage in April 2010 of SB 1070, Arizona’s racial profiling, anti-immigrant law requires police to verify the status of persons suspected of being undocumented. No one arrested in Arizona now can be released until the police verify their citizenship status with the DHS or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), once again linking national security to immigrant status. Immigrants are now increasingly women, and “rounding up” and detaining women has a very specific impact on their families. This too is a profoundly gendered process.

Democracy and Security in Israel and Palestine

In an incisive analysis of gendered violence in occupied Gaza, Hagar Kotef (2010) argues that the framework of democracy in Israel is now the framework of security – a radically inequitable frame where the security of some groups means the insecurity of others; where Israel’s security constitutes so-called democracy for Palestinians. The state of Israel bases its democracy entirely on an ethnic, demographic notion of citizenship with the “right of return” for only Jews. Israel is a capitalist, class-divided, securitised state that excludes non-Jews and Arabs from citizenship – non-citizens have very few rights and no claim on the Israeli state (Bannerji et al 2010). Since 1948, the “partition” of Palestinian territory has meant the establishment of the state of Israel, and the simultaneous uprooting of and mass dispersal of Palestinians from their homeland. Thus, while 1948 represents the building of a homeland for Israel, it represents “al-Nakba”, the “catastrophe”, for Palestinians – defeat, displacement, trauma, dispossession, and the beginning of a liberation movement (Greenberg 2005).

Kotef suggests that the contemporary discourse of terror collapses the distinction between civilians and soldiers in national security states and that “humanitarian” actions become accessories to state violence against Palestinians. She argues that humanitarianism provides, alongside terror, the logic of security (2010: 8). I return to this point later. For now, let us just note that humanitarianism needs to be examined carefully when it is situated within securitised states that operate as cultures of impunity. It is Israel’s recent closing off of the Gaza strip that has really led to a “humanitarian” crisis of vast proportions, and it is in the name of humanitarian missions that Israel controls access to Gaza. What is a “separation fence” to Israelis in the West Bank, is after all, an “apartheid wall” to Palestinians. What is a mega- security wall for elite landowners in Texas means containment and imprisonment for the indigenous people who cross the US-Mexico border.

Militarised Regimes in Jammu and Kashmir

The Kashmir Valley (that is, Jammu and Kashmir) is one of the most highly militarised zones in the world. The Indian government has deployed more than 6,00,000 soldiers in the Valley, which has a population of 13 million. This is the highest soldierto-civilian population ratio anywhere in the world (Bhatt 2003). While much has been written about the history of Indian occupation of Kashmir, and about the way the 1947 Partition of India created and recreates this trauma in Jammu and Kashmir, I am most interested here in the functioning of the Indian militarised state apparatus in the Kashmir Valley, and the way in which it controls and defines identity, community and subjectivity. The object of three wars, an arms race, and a nuclear race between India and Pakistan, Kashmir has been a disputed territory since 1947. It has witnessed the increasingly political role of the military, of Islamist movements in Pakistan and the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India. The Kashmir Valley has been treated by India as a state of emergency since 1947. Since the 1960s, there has been a growing movement against Indian occupation, which led to escalating tensions in the 1980s with the formation of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), an underground seccesionist movement engaged in an armed struggle for self-determination.

The nature of the rebellion in the early 1990s changed with the emergence of more than 100 separatist organisations, some with explicitly religious and pro-Pakistani politics (Butalia 2002; Khan 2009; Duschinski 2010). In response, India passed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in 1990, basically granting the military state impunity to enforce a regime of surveillance and incarceration in Kashmir. The AFSPA underwrote the ideological framing of the Kashmir Valley in terms of fear and threat, mobilising the rhetoric of insurgency/counterinsurgency, and justifying the suspension of constitutional rights and freedoms. The AFSPA in the Kashmir Valley allows the legal suspension of the distinction between legality and illegality. State agents are thus allowed to act with impunity and “protected” by the AFSPA. Custodial killings, torture, detention without trial or charge, rape, and use of human shields is “protected” by the AFSPA. Here as well, we see the creation of a “constitution free” zone similar to the Texas-Mexico border and the West Bank and Gaza.

Hayley Duschinski’s (2010) ethnographic work in the Kashmir Valley is instructive and illuminating in terms of the operation of a militarised, securitised regime. Duschinski’s research examines episodes of extrajudicial state executions of individual civilians that are later justified as “fake” or “false” encounters with insurgents. These so-called fake encounters between state agents and so-called militants, argues Duschinski, call the bodies of insurgents and infiltrators into existence in the public domain, and provide the justification for the state’s suspension of law and order. Ideological work undertaken by the Indian state uses the rhetoric of the war on terror, the threat of Pakistan, and the permanent state of emergency to construct the Kashmir Valley as a zone of disorder and conflict in the Indian national imaginary. Similarly, the US policing regime calls the “illegal” bodies of migrant workers into the public arena, only to incarcerate or expel them from the nation, and the Israeli state disciplines Palestinian men, calling them “militants” and “terrorists”, and Palestinian women and children “victims to be saved” under conditions of permanent war.

To summarise, in spite of the different histories of colonialism and imperialism, there is a remarkable similarity in the forms of governmentality exercised by the securitised states of India, Israel and the US. I believe that these forms of governmentality are most visible in the normalisation of state violence in the border lands of Texas-Mexico, the Kashmir Valley, and the West Bank and Gaza. Comparing these geopolitical sites allows us to understand the way the “war on terror” and militarised cultures, state violence, and the transformation of civilians into insurgents and illegals through the legal suspension of civil rights is symptomatic of imperial democracies at this moment. In each context, the sovereignty of the state is predicated on the operation of “constitution free” zones5 at the borders of the nation. The normalised violence against particular bodies – Muslim, female, immigrant, native, Arab – buttresses the discourses of protectionism and citizenship in each country. In each case, we can identify states of exception whereby the suspension of law is required for the practice of empire. In each context, citizenship remains elusive for the inhabitants of these borderlands, and identity is always in question, given the existence of checkpoints and “I” cards. In these securitised landscapes, identity documents become a form of governance and a part of the state apparatus of surveillance. The process of verifying identity produces what Tobias Kelly (2006) calls “documented lives” – particular forms of subjectivity that are marked by anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. Kelly’s work focuses on Palestinians but a similar argument can be made in the other contexts as well.

A bio-militarised body project is evident in each site, and women are affected in different, albeit similar ways since violence is a part of daily life – as is the presence of paramilitary and police forces. In the Kashmir Valley, women are victims of sexual violence, domestic violence and rape, and live with increasing trauma, stress, depression, miscarriages and spontaneous abortions (Butalia 2002). There are an increasing number of widows and so-called half-widows (women whose husbands have disappeared). In 1947, women’s militias were an integral part of the “Quit Kashmir” movement, while many women in recent years have organised under the banner of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), and under the Kashmiri Women’s Initiative for Peace and Disarmament (Khan 2009). The impact of Israeli occupation on Palestinian women is profound as well. The erasure of the difference between home and battlefield and between civilians and soldiers means that neighbourhoods and homes become the battlefield in Gaza. Israeli official counts claim 1,400 deaths in Gaza – the men are counted as militants, while women and children are counted as “collateral damage” (Johnson 2010). The occupation shrinks public space, confining

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women to the household, while long-term unemployment for men in Gaza is now at 40%. Such instabilities translate into changed family dynamics and often a rise in domestic violence.

When the very identities of people come under question, when sexual, ethnic and political violence becomes normative, as it does in these landscapes, the structure of imperial democracies is laid bare. The governance practices of securitised regimes is such that security is deeply entangled with citizenship or subjectivation processes. While democratic state projects focus on producing national citizens, in securitised regimes what is at stake is the opposite – the undoing of the very possibility of citizenship for targeted populations such as indigenous and Mexican peasant migrant workers, Palestinians in the occupied territories and civilians in the Kashmir Valley (Kotef 2010). As Nordstrom (2004) suggests, these borderlands constitute “shadow” communities at the social and territorial margins of the state – places that exist as part of the formal state, but excluded from it so that the violent realities of everyday life and the legal and extra- legal networks that support them are caught up in layers of invisibility.

Thus, this logic of violence, containment, and expulsion produces patterns of social abandonment and death with consequences for both communities targeted as enemies and outsiders, and also for the entire political body of rights-bearing citizens because it draws them/us into the field of state violence (Gordon 2006). These forms of truncated subjectvity and non-citizenship are a profound marker of global security landscapes at this time.

Humanitarianism, Neoliberalism, Imperial Agendas

The colonial rescue narrative (white men saving brown women from brown men) takes a very particular form in the context of US imperialist nation-building and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq, and US aid and development projects in west Asia in general. The creation of market democracy in Afghanistan via the embedding of humanitarian aid and development within a political-military (foreign) state apparatus illustrates the deep entanglement of humanitarian and development projects with imperial agendas (Chisti 2010). Thus, the same foreign soldiers fight so-called insurgents, deliver humanitarian aid and implement development projects in rural areas.

Gender politics and contestations are at the heart of imperial, neoliberal western agendas as well as traditional, Islamicist relations of rule. The old colonial rescue narrative has been given a makeover; “liberating” brown women to participate in “market democracy” as individual, neoliberal subjects and “saving” them from traditionalist, authoritarian (Islamic?) patriarchies. As Chisti argues, in Afghanistan, foreign and national militarised masculinities mobilise gendered ideologies to co-opt the postconflict landscape. Thus, Afghan women are seen as “nationbuilders” by western occupation forces with a stake in producing the neoliberal gendered subject necessary for market democracies. At the same time they are seen as “nation-betrayers” by the Taliban and their supporters. Imposing “peace-keeping” or humanitarian projects on top of colonial occupation remains a form of imperial control, no matter the rhetoric of democratisation that accompanies these projects.

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The entanglement of humanitarian aid and development projects with militarised, securitised regimes in the name of democratisation and human rights is thus a crucial nexus of empire post-11 September 2001. Geoff Eley (2007) suggests that the “new internationalism” is now the new doctrine of humanitarian aid, with the US playing the role of the benign hegemon in harmony with the dogma of free market capitalism and the rhetoric of expanding democracy.6 Qassoum (2003) takes this a step further, providing a useful analysis of the connection between economic globalisation, the restructuring of the global politicaljuridical systems and the targeting of civil societies around the world to tie them into the exigencies of neoliberal modes of accumulation. The establishment and operation of the Kabul Beauty School is one example of this entanglement of restructured civil societies, securitised states and military humanitarism in Afghanistan (Nguyen 2011); another example is the major role played by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in social movements (Abdo 2010).

Nguyen (2011) analyses “humanitarian imperialism” and the role of the NGO Beauty Without Borders, mapping the attachments of neoliberal statecraft and its militarised instruments of rule in Afghanistan to gendered ideologies of subject production and the colonial rescue narratives of global feminism. This NGO founded the Kabul Beauty School in the 1990s, and Ngyuen’s analysis deftly illustrates the role of the school in producing ideologies of beauty, femininity and body-care as markers of a “liberated” “modern” gendered subject of consumption as part of the post-war reconstruction of civil society in Afghanistan.

The “liberated” Afghani women is subjected to a makeover and instructed on how to “evaluate and regulate her body” (Nguyen 2011: 375), to produce normative neoliberal notions of the beautiful and healthy female body. Ngyuen states that “the US-led effort to build and oversee the Kabul Beauty School is thus typical of knowledge formations informed by civilisational thinking and shared by global feminisms, development programmes, human rights regimes, and military humanitarianisms” (2011: 374). This is another example of a particular biopolitics of the body, similar to Brennan’s “deregulated body” under neoliberal capitalism,and the “bio-militarised” body within securitised regimes discussed earlier.

The entanglement of neoliberalism and the restructuring of civil society is also evident in the NGOisation of social movements over the last two decades. Naila Abdo (2010) argues that the proliferation of NGOs focused on women’s issues in the last decade in west Asia is directly linked to imperialism in the region. These are NGOs funded largely, if not exclusively, by the west, and they have bureaucratic, managerial structures with a high level of professionalisation. NGOs often stand for or even replace civil society, as some have argued. They sometimes operate as de facto government organisations (GOs), generating foreign funding for local government programmes. Feminist scholars have analysed the role of women’s NGOs in the occupied Palestinian territories, showing the substitution of “empowerment” (defined in liberal individualist terms) for mass anti-colonial/anti-imperial “mobilisation” of women’s movements as the privileged path to gender justice (Jad 2010). To quote Abdo, “Removing NGOs from the sphere of political activism and change, from the actual concerns of the masses, and placing them in the sphere of “safe politics” where they deal with individual issues and internal cultural phenomena (women’s issues, honour killing, sharia laws, etc) is not an innocent act but a global strategy” (2010: 245). Abdo suggests that the location of NGOs within an imperialist system means that their humanitarian goals are necessarily entangled with imperial agendas. In addition, the class divisions between NGO staff (usually English-speaking professionals) and their constituences sometimes render the NGOs incapable of working on behalf of the most economically and politically marginalised communities.

Israel’s “humanitarian” regime in the West Bank and Gaza can also be analysed in terms of the deep entanglement of humanitarian aid, donor agendas and colonial occupation. As Kotef (2010) suggests, “terror” discourses underwrite a new state of national security in Israel (and in many other similar geo-political sites) whereby security and humanitarianism are conjoined to form a new frame for citizenship (or subjectivation, as she calls it). Thus, while in the West Bank, Palestinians are transformed into securitised subjects, in Gaza under Hamas, they are transformed by Israel into humanitarianised subjects and recipients of aid. In Gaza, it is women and girls who are the subjects of humanitarian aid – they are the household suppliers of “coupons” or chits for food and basic supplies distributed by the Israelis.

Kotef argues compellingly that “security” is what happens to war under new global conditions. Terror thus reorganises the grammar (not the logic) of state violence, so that the violence is diffused over a larger territory and has less intensity than the violence enacted during war. In securitised regimes, violence is less about killing, and more about disciplining, surveillance and monitoring movement – a description that fits not just Israel’s s ecurity regime, but also the securitised regimes in the US and in India.

Walls, Borders and Connectivities: Enacting Solidarities

The first colonisation of the “Americas” by Europe dismembered the land and put in motion a process that wiped out Indigenous peoples and their civilisations. Zionist colonisation of Palestine has also dismembered the land and attempted to eradicate the Indigenous people’s cultural identity and destroy any sign of their previous presence in the land. It wiped over 400 Palestinian villages and dispossessed their residents turning them into stateless refugees in the lands of exile and outsiders and strangers in their own land. The Southwest was subjected to another wave of colonisation by American settlers. This act of imperialism divided the Mexican people between two sides of an artificial border.

– Nadine Saliba 2006 (cited in Platt 2011: 350) The above quote illustrates the historical and contemporary connectivities forged by feminist and anti-partition activists at the Esperanza Center in San Antonio, Texas. The US Secure Fence Act of 2006 gave the DHS unilateral power to waive 36 federal laws at the Texas-Mexico, and in collaboration with North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, begin building a Berlin-style, concrete mega-security wall. This waiver of laws led to the militarisation of the entire region of the lower Rio

Grande, voiding the legal rights and protections of indigenous peoples to culture, environment, biodiversity and sacred sites; a clear example of US imperial policy seen as “rational” through the frame of the war on terror, and an incarceration regime that targets immigrants. In this case, laws (and their suspension) are used as weapons to destabilise, fragment, assimilate, and disappear communities historically residing along the Lower Rio Grande. LAW Defense (founded by mother and daughter Eloisa Garcia Tamez and Margo Tamez in 2007) focuses on community organisation and documentation, and research and education, thus strengthening indigenous peoples struggles against US colonial violence, as well as in relation to legal struggles in tribal, US and international law courts.

Capitalist profit-making and corporate agendas (instigated by the US, NAFTA partners, and corporations with mining interests) operate in full force here as waivers work differently for rich landowners and industrialists, and for poor indigenous and Mexican border communities. Rich landowners have waivers from the building of the wall, while indigenous communities have walls built on their land (what activists have labelled a “constitution free zone”). Thus, indigenous peoples and illegal immigrants (poor Mexican peasants) are constructed in similar ways – criminalised and defined as drug lords, terrorists, labour migrants and civic resisters. It is therefore imperative to disaggregate both categories – immigrant and indigenous – since at this historical juncture, both are produced by a securitised state engaged in a “war on terror”.7 The continued reinvention of the immigrant and the indigenous and the way in which immigration law, especially laws against the “illegal immigrant”, have a profound impact on indigenous communities is new. The O’odham and Lipan Apache territory crosses the US-Mexican border. Mexico now requires US passports for the O’odham who travel beyond 19 kilometres (12 miles) into Mexican territory. Tribal passports are apparently “respected” but often questioned when the O’odham re-enter US territory. Arizona Law SB 1070 justifies the presence of border patrols on reservation lands. Checkpoints have been established throughout the territory, thus controlling free movement of the Akimel and Tohono O’odham peoples, especially elders who do not have birth


December 11, 2010
Dissecting the Ayodhya Judgment – Anupam Gupta
Secularism and the Indian Judiciary – P A Sebastian
Idols in Law – Gautam Patel
Issues of Faith – Kumkum Roy
Was There a Temple under the Babri Masjid? – Supriya Varma,
Reading the Archaeological ‘Evidence’ Jaya Menon

For copies write to: Circulation Manager,

Economic and Political Weekly,

320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. email:

march 26, 2011 vol xlvi no 13

certificates but need to travel across the US-Mexico border to Malina or Magdelena in Mexico for religious pilgrimage.8

Recent reports by National Public Radio and community organisations such as Grassroots Leadership9 have revealed that SB 1070 was funded by the for-profit prison complex. While SB 1070 talks specifically about “enforcement through attrition” of illegal immigrants, it has morphed into the policing of indigenous lands and communities. The checkpoints on the reservation resemble checkpoints in Palestinian territory. People who live on the Tohono O’odham reservation have their everyday lives profoundly shaped by the surveillance and militarisation enforced by SB 1070. Thus militarisation is fundamental to the construction of community and identity. The combination of checkpoints, identity verification and surveillance suggests a specific form of the production of “documented subjectivities” discussed earlier in the Palestinian context (Kelly 2006).

As Saliba (2006; cited in Platt 2011: 335) suggests, there are clear confluences between the impact of US colonial and imperial projects, and Israel’s colonisation and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The organising work of the Esperanza Centre brings these connections home in terms of the impact of walls, borders and dispossession in the lives of women in Palestine, and the borderlands of South Texas offer a moving and illuminating look at the amazing cross-border, transnational feminist organising and community building that has occurred over the last five years (Platt 2011). While the profiteers and state managers in each of these sites share resources and technologies of surveillance and violence, it is the people in the affected communities who share forms of survival and resistance to the normalised violence of the securitised regimes in the US and Israel.

In both contexts, social movements focus on environmental justice and land struggles. The militarisation of the US-Mexico border and the building of the mega-security wall destroys agriculture and livelihoods for peasants and indigenous communities on both sides of the border. The “apartheid wall” and the endless war in the occupied Palestinian territory has destroyed homes and uprooted olive trees and orchards – symbols of livelihood and home for Palestinians. These are shared colonial histories of violence and dispossession; they can be mobilised to create connectivities and resistance to partitions and walls in Palestine and South Texas.

What is hopeful here is the way communities organise in resistance. In the US-Mexico borderlands there are new political formations and alliances between organisations of day labourers, migrant workers, radical high school and university students, and queer and transgender Mexican migrants. Indigenous peasants and migrants, anarchists (Native anarchists), anti-racist white organisations, neighbourhood groups (barrio defence groups), anti-privatisation organisations (prisons and detention centres), prison abolitionist organisations, edu-activists, and mainstream alliance organisations such as the Mexican consulate, legislatures, and unions (Somos America, Arizona) work in solidarity. Women of colour do the majority of on-the-ground organising in most of these groups. This coalition is constituted as it is because activists have conjoined a number of Arizona laws

Economic & Political Weekly

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that have decimated ethnic studies (HB 2281 passed in May 2010 bans Arizona schools from teaching ethnic studies), cast aside affirmative action (Prop 107, an anti-affirmative action legislation was passed on 4 November 2010), and now SB 1070.10 All these laws may look like they target separate communities in separate places, which is precisely how hegemonic power wants them to function, but clearly political organising has done the work of connecting the links, showing the connectivity within the different kinds of violence to which communities are subjected.

Similar cross-border and cross-community coalitions are evident in the Israeli and Palestinian feminist struggles against the Israeli occupation, and Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri women organising against all forms of state and communal violence across borders, religions and national loyalties (Butalia 2002). The insurgent knowledges generated by these forms of activism engender the new political subjectivities and visions of citizenship necessary to confront imperial democracies.

To conclude, I have argued that the post-11 September 2001 consolidation of imperial democracies and securitised regimes in the US, Israel, and India mobilise anatomies of violence anchored in colonial legacies and capitalist profit-making. These regimes utilise specific and connected racial and gendered ideologies and practices. More specifically, I suggest that it is at the social and territorial borders of the nation – in the US-Mexico borderlands, the West Bank and Gaza, and the Kashmir Valley – that securitised regimes exercise militarised and masculinised forms of control, surveillance and dispossession that illuminate the contours of national political subjectivities and the uneven construction and dissolution of citizenship. While the anatomies of violence in these borderlands are more overt, imperial democracies militarise all domains of social life, and discipline or imprison not just abandoned and criminalised communities, but all state subjects.

I end with a vision statement that posits a feminist notion of “human security” as a counterpoint to the militarised, masculinist notion of security and protection I critique in this essay.

Human security is our ability to speak about the effects of violence on our bodies, minds, and hearts and those of our children. We cannot tolerate violence in the home, on the streets, in schools and communities. Human security includes diversity, self-determination and freedom – freedom from deprivation, all forms of discrimination, and from injustice and oppression; freedom of expression and in establishing personal and social relationships. Security is about accountability and responsibility – of parents to children; teachers to students; of leaders, governments, and corporations to all people; and people to the life that sustains us (Gender and Human Security Network Manifesto 2008).

This essay focuses urgent attention towards transnational feminist insurgencies suggesting there is much work to be done in confronting neoliberal, securitised regimes masquerading as democracies. I believe that engaging the perspectives and experiences of those most marginalised by neoliberal, imperial regimes provides the fullest understanding of anatomies of violence; of how power is used and abused, and citizenship made and remade. An alternative vision of connectivity and solidarity requires building ethical, cross-border feminist solidarities that confront neoliberal militarisation globally. This framing points towards strategies of resistance that can funda-networks of daily life, which must inform processes of creating mentally transform economic and social inequalities from the radical, cross-border visions for economic and gender justice. ground up, leading to the creation of new political landscapes Another world is always possible, especially as people begin and visions of solidarity. And it is the experiences of margin-to build the cross-border solidarities that allow us to see and

alised communities, especially women who so often sustain the create another way.


1 See Vivienne Walt (2011), “Tunisia’s Nervous Neighbours Watch the Jasmine Revolution”, Time, 31 January, /0,9171,2043331,00.html, Accessed on 31 January 2011; “Stand With the People of Egypt”, Avaaz, democracy_for_egypt/? cl= 926146401, accessed on 30 January 2011.

2 See “AWS Open Letter to Home Minister and Press Statement following the Police Harassment at National Conference, Wardha, 21-24 January 2011”, Sanhati, 3190/, accessed on 30 January 2011.

3 For a discussion of imperial democracy, see Zillah Eisenstein (2007): Sexual Decoys, Gender, Race and War in Imperial Democracy, London: Zed Books. Eisenstein describes the role of the US as an imperial democracy, mobilising sexual and racial decoys in the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and across a range of troubling social developments, for example, the rollback of civil rights, the feminisation of poverty and a spike in the incarceration of people of colour.

4 This essay raises questions with the intention of opening new comparative spaces of investigation, and it focuses on the US more substantively than on India and Israel, both because of the role of the US in global empire building and because of my own location as a US citizen from the global South, struggling to understand and build crossborder solidarities in the 21st century.

5 See discussion of “constitution free zones” at Lipan Apache Women Defense,, Accessed on 30 January 2010.

6 Similarly, Noam Chomsky (2010: 7) refers to the first US example of humanitarian aid – the 1629 seal of the Bay Colony of Massachusetts that depicts an Indian holding an arrow pointing down in a sign of peace. A scroll issuing from his mouth says “Come over and help us”. Chomsky goes on to discuss “US savage imperialism” in terms of the history of US foreign policy and empire building in the Middle East; a policy with its roots in the ideas of John Quincy Adams, who thought that expansion was the path to true security and that there was no security without total control of everything.

7 This analysis was developed collaboratively with my colleague Jacqui Alexander, and first presented at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Denver, November 2010.

8 See the organising work of the O’odham Solidarity Across Borders Collective at, accessed on 30 January 2010.

9 See 10 Information about these coalitions and the crossborder organising is based on personal communication with scholar and organiser Alan Gomez, who has been involved in this struggle for a number of years.


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