Revolution #158, March 8, 2009

Letter from a Reader:

Suffering of Iraqi Widows: A Powerful Testament to Avakian’s “Two Outmodeds” Point

In analyzing the global conflict between U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism—and the horrific consequences of that conflict for the masses all over the world—Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, has repeatedly spoken to the utter moral bankruptcy of each of these forces, and the need to bring forward an emancipating revolutionary communist force that powerfully rejects both pathways. Here is how Bob Avakian has characterized the relationship between imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism:

What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these ‘outmodeds,’ you end up strengthening both."  (From Bob Avakian’s talk “Why We’re In the Situation We’re In Today… And What To Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need For Revolution”)

Recent news reports about the misery of widows in Iraq offer a vivid, living illustration of Avakian’s point.  For instance, in a February 22 front-page New York Times article—“Iraq’s War Widows Face Dire Need With Little Aid”—reporter Timothy Williams writes that there are an estimated 740,000 widows in Iraq. 740,000 widows. To put that number in perspective, this would mean the number of widows in Iraq is higher than the total population of all but 16 U.S. cities. Or, another way to think about that statistic: Williams also reported that 1 in 11 Iraqi women between the ages of 15 and 80 is a widow.

These figures are plenty infuriating and astonishing, but they may in fact be far lower than the actual number of widows in Iraq: In April 2006, IRIN—a publication of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs—cited an estimate by the Iraqi government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs that put the number of Iraqi widows at more than 8 million.

Obviously, not all of these women’s husbands were victims of the U.S. war and occupation that began in 2003, but many of them clearly were; that same IRIN article from April 26, 2006 reported that the war widowed more than 90 Iraqi women every day. And in May 2008, the USA Today cited the estimate of Narmeen Othman, Iraq’s minister of women’s affairs, that more than 70,000 Iraqi women had been widowed since the start of the war.

Williams’ New York Times piece began by describing the circumstances of Nacham Jaleel Kadim, a 23-year-old Iraqi woman whose twin sisters were killed as they attempted to flee Falluja in 2004; the Times article doesn’t say this, but given that Falluja was under siege by U.S. forces in 2004, it was almost certainly the U.S. military who killed her sisters. Kadim later lost her husband to a car bomb, and her five-month-old child to an explosive device.

And now, nearly six years after the U.S. “liberated” Iraq, Kadim lives in a trailer park for war widows, along with her daughters, in one of the most impoverished sections of Baghdad. 

The article goes on to describe scenes of war widows begging in the streets of Baghdad for food, blankets, and money, picking through mounds of garbage, and living in parks and even gas station bathrooms.

So it is clear what one of these two outmodeds—U.S. imperialism—has brought to the women of Iraq: death—to themselves and their loved ones— poverty, and misery.

And U.S. imperialism has brought something else to Iraqi women: the hell of Islamic fundamentalism.  The U.S.-sponsored Iraqi Constitution passed in 2005 officially makes Iraq an Islamic theocracy.  Article 2 of that Constitution states that “Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation,” and that “ No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established..”

So what life choices does the other outmoded—Islamic fundamentalism—offer the women of Iraq? Well, as the Times article details, one “option” available to them includes becoming concubines.

“Officials at social services agencies tell of widows coerced into ‘temporary marriages’—relationships sanctioned by Shiite tradition, often based on sex, which can last from an hour to years—to get financial help from government, religious, or tribal leaders.”

Other widely offered options for Iraqi widows, according to the Times article, include becoming prostitutes, or suicide bombers. 

Reading this, the question that screams from the pages is: What kind of fucking world is this? What kind of planet, where one outmoded force massacres women’s loved ones and leaves them destitute, and the other outmoded force offers women no future other than becoming sex slaves or strapping explosives to their chests?

The fact that such a damning—if inadvertent—indictment of the imperialist system leaps forth from just one article in the New York Times underscores at least two things: First, that—as Lenin said—the need for communism truly does spring from every pore of society; even unwilling pores like the bourgeois press.

And secondly, that the courageous call put forth by the March 8 Women’s Organization (Iran-Afghanistan)—emphasizing the need for revolutionary communist resistance to both U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism—could not be more timely, just as solidarity actions planned on March 8 in Los Angeles and throughout the U.S. could not be more critical.

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