By JOHN LESLIE
Since the SCOTUS decision striking down women’s reproductive rights, social media and mainstream press have been saturated with references to “Sharia law” and images of members of the Court dressed in “Islamic” garb with long beards, often accompanied with the label “American Taliban.” Singer Barbra Streisand and actor Mark Ruffalo also made references to the decision as the work of the “American Taliban.”
This type of simplistic and bigoted imagery and language confuses the issues in the debate without advancing our understanding of the forces at work. Cartoons and memes that equate Islam with misogyny and backwardness only reinforce stereotypes and undermine our movement.
Imperialism and fundamentalism
The truth is not black and white. Although fundamentalist movements in the Muslim world use state power to repress women, there are masses of women and men that resist this repression every day. Much of this activity is either ignored by the mainstream press or twisted into a narrative more comfortable for Western liberalism—i.e., that the Western powers offer social progress for women and girls. Yet here in the United States, fundamentalist reaction has harnessed the state to their efforts to drive back women’s progress more than 50 years.
In the post-World War Two period, imperialist countries propped up brutal dictatorships and helped wipe out independent working-class organizations and communists worldwide. For a while, the more reactionary tendencies in Islam were encouraged as a counterweight to communism. One well-known example of this was the U.S. action in arming and training the forces that later became the Taliban and al-Qaeda in their war against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. This backfired on the U.S. in a horrific fashion on 9/11/2001. In another case, the Israeli government helped foster the early growth of Hamas as an alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and its component organizations.
In recent decades, and especially after 2001, U.S. imperialism has been weaponizing Islamophobia. Muslims are depicted as the “other.” In TV and movies, they are portrayed as unthinking savages bent on violence. Politicians in both capitalist parties have played on Islamophobic images and tropes for years. The foundation of Trump’s election campaigns in 2016 and 2020 rested on the demonization of Muslims as well as immigrants from Latin America.
Religion is not the enemy
In general, religious people are not our opponents in the fight for reproductive rights. Many mainline Protestant denominations and progressive Catholics support abortion rights. Judaism opposes the notion that life begins at conception and does not consider the fetus to be legally a person. Islam itself is not monolithic on the question. Scholars note that there is no clear prohibition of abortion in Islam and agree that a woman’s life should be prioritized over an unborn fetus. Of course, in countries where Islamic fundamentalism holds sway, the rights of women and girls have been curtailed. In Afghanistan, educational opportunities for women and girls are extremely limited, but this does not justify resorting to Islamophobia.
In this country, the Christian right has waged a decades-long campaign, both legal and violent, against abortion rights. It has placed the subjugation of women at the center of its overall political program, along with the erasure of the gains made by LGBTQI+ people. Right-wing Protestantism and the Catholic Church have been the central organizers of the so-called pro-life movement.
The core of a section of the evangelical right is the doctrine known as Dominionism, which asserts that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. The Dominionist ideology in its most extreme expressions foresees the U.S. reconstructed as a theocratic state cleansed of feminism and homosexuality.
Proto-fascist elements of the Catholic Church similarly want a “return to traditional values” and reject church reforms. Many sources allege that Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts have ties to Opus Dei, a Catholic Church secret society that first flourished in fascist Spain. The more right-wing justices all have demonstrated ties to Leonard Leo, who is on the board of directors of Opus Dei’s information center in Washington.
An article in the progressive evangelical magazine Sojourners states, “Paralleling the ascendancy of the Religious Right out of 1980s evangelicalism, today’s Catholic Right is rising and well-financed. While pendulum swings are common between conservative and progressive tendencies in Catholicism, the 35-year traditionalist reign of popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI allowed the Far Right to flourish.”
Banning the right to abortion furthers the agenda of a section of capital, as well, by making sure that women are forced back into subservient roles in society and the workplace. For the white nationalist far right, banning abortion is a blow against so-called white replacement theory by making sure that there is an adequate supply of white babies. Without full control over their bodies, women are placed in more precarious positions in society and the economy.
In the fight for women’s reproductive freedom, our opponents will try to divide us and sow confusion about who our real enemies are. This is a multi-pronged attack on the oppressed, with women being the target right now, but Queer and trans people are next on their menu. Unity and independent mass action are our best hope for victory. We do not advance the struggle for liberation by using oppressive imagery and language.
Photo: May 3 protest in New York City against impending abortion ruling by Supreme Court. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)