After the September 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent U.S. engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, the question of how to 'help' Muslim women progress towards greater liberty and rights has become a near obsession. A multitude of voices joined the throng of 'experts' on Islam, including conservative Islam-o-phobes, liberal feminists, and elite, western-trained Muslim women themselves relying on their identities to provide credibility to their claims. The plight of Muslim women as victims of their religion and their hyper-patriarchal menfolk has become such common knowledge that it can barely be refuted. There are many obvious reasons as to why Americans have become so intimately familiar with the orientalist stereotypes, the burka and Islamic punishments. They are the most compelling marks of barbarity that have been used to advance a number of different agendas from women’s rights to armed intervention. Liberal feminists in legal academia and practice, particularly governance feminists, have not been silent in this discussion nor have they necessarily drawn a nuanced picture about the situation of women in the War on Terror. In Afghanistan, the construction of women as abject victims has yielded positive results in both garnering international funding and foreign policy response. It seems entirely obvious that 'women’s rights' have to be improved in Afghanistan and that Afghan women have to be helped. However, some of the approaches that have been taken in 'solving' the Afghan women’s problem are troubling for many reasons.
In this chapter, I examine two of these: First, from a theoretical perspective many liberal feminists consider religion and culture as obstacles to achieving women’s equality and rights. They fail to account for the alternative views of flourishing forwarded by many Muslim women who stray from the Liberal script and for whom rights and 'equality' may not be a priority. I explore the linkages between Liberalism’s troubled history with universalism, rights, and progress with Governance Feminism that also shares this history and a desire to use state power to effectuate change. Second, I examine the problems that result from this theoretical position: the reliance on victim subjects that have resulted in fractured transnational alliances and Governance Feminism’s support for international intervention that ignores the victimization of men and its effects on women’s security.