I originally published this piece on Righteous Anger. The women were convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. One of them has since been released on probation.
The old adage says that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This adage often crops up in Leftist thought, especially in conversations about U.S. foreign policy. The male-dominated Left will often support the most repressive philosophies and regimes, as long as those philosophies and regimes throw a collective monkey wrench into the imperialist foreign policy aims of the U.S. government. The result of this misguided stance is that real human beings are dismissed. Their pain, their oppression, even their deaths, are seen as inconsequential to the “big picture”. Of course, these real human beings are almost always women.
The story of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band, has made its rounds of feminist and punk rock sites and commentaries. Eventually, it found its way into the mainstream media and has been condemned by mainstream artists. The all-female band staged a protest against Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Savior church. They were arrested, quickly put on trial for “hooliganism”, and now face up to seven years in prison (although it is commonly believed that they will get three, if convicted).
Unfortunately, there are some on the Left who are engaging in the classic blame-the-victim strategy in regards to these women. A scathing, ignorant, and hateful piece written by Mike Whitney was published on Counterpunch earlier this week. Now, Counterpunch publishes submissions (they have published my writing in the past), so the responsibility for these opinions can only be laid at the feet of Whitney, but it is disheartening to see them appear on any Leftist site. Considering the past behavior of many on the male-dominated Left, it’s also highly likely that his opinions are shared by many others.
In his piece, Whitney uses the age-old method of discrediting women who take a political stand: he essentially accuses them of being U.S. puppets. His phrase for them is “useful idiots”. He rages that they are simply the method to discredit Putin. He then goes on to wax poetic about the Great Putin, Defender of Russia. No mention of the horrors suffered in Russia under Putin. No mention of the fact that these women didn’t ask to be a part of any story in the U.S. or elsewhere; they were protesting conditions in their own country for the benefit of their own people. Instead, Whitney is too blinded by the “enemy of my enemy” concept to give these women the credit they are due. His rhetoric condemns their protest as “unauthorised and profane”. All protests are unauthorized, Mr. Whitney. What kind of Leftist are you that you don’t know that?
Whitney goes on to claim that if such a protest happened in the U.S., the media would not be so forgiving. I will give him that. They would not be as forgiving. However, the protesters would not face seven years in prison, either. How do we know this? Because it has happened. In 1989, ACT UP and feminists confronted the Catholic Church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. One hundred and eleven were arrested that day, but not one spent time in prison. Not one, Mr. Whitney.
Those heroes of the Russian government whom Whitney so passionately defends reveal their true, ugly faces in reaction to the criticism. Madonna is one of several artists who have come out in support of Pussy Riot. In response, a Russian official used Twitter to hurl misogynistic insults at the singer:
“With age, every former s. tries to lecture everyone on morality,” Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister, wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday, using the first letter of the Russian word for “slut” or “whore”. “Especially during overseas tours.”
Are these the people the Left really wants to be allying itself with? Not the Left I hold dear. Fortunately, there are some on the Left who agree with me. In a response to Whitney’s “ignorant defense” of the Russian government’s behavior, Chris Randolph writes:
Once upon the time the Left was in favor of free speech, feminism, and confrontational protest, and simultaneously suspicious of authoritarian predatory privatizers, misogynist clerics and prudish censors. From the many articles and comments like Whitney’s in the (putatively) left of center blogosphere, we learn that the American Left is now quite alright with misogynist religion, censorship, rigged trials and the like just as long as the oppressing government is a foreign policy foil of the United States. This turns so-called progressives into just another group of intellectually dishonest bigots.
Randolph’s Left is the one to which I have given my soul. I’m increasingly frustrated that there is a large contingent on the Left who do not agree. They are willing to sell women out in order to oppose the U.S. government. The real lives of real people matter little when it comes to rhetoric. It is not just the case of Pussy Riot or of Russia where we find this. We find it quite often in any discussion of the Middle East or of Africa. The dire situation of women is not to be discussed. Those who bring it up are quickly condemned as Islamophobic, racist, or imperialist. The man who will rant for days about human rights violations committed against men will suddenly clam up and get defensive when the violation of women’s rights are mentioned. Those are cultural and religious matters, we are told. How dare we try to meddle in that sacred concept of Culture and Religion. The rights of women, you see, are not human rights.
I will be the first to oppose the cynical use of women’s rights by the U.S. government as a basis for “regime change”. When Washington suddenly gets interested in the rights of women in a country whose leaders they previously supported, I can only see it as an excuse for invasion. Afghanistan is a prime example. The Taliban had been in power for years prior to the U.S. invasion. As Presidents of the United States, both Bill Clinton and Bush the Younger negotiated with the repressive regime to get an oil and gas pipeline built across Afghanistan. Some feminists objected, but their concerns got little play in the mainstream media (or in the White House). I also believe that U.S. military or CIA intervention in the affairs of other countries often leads to a nightmare for women. One only need look to the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, and installation of the Shah for evidence of that. The Shah’s brutal repression of Islamists (and Communists) eventually led to the Islamic Revolution. The lives of Iranian women have never been the same.
The fact that the U.S. government ignores women until they can be used as a convenient excuse for invasion and “regime change” does not mean that indigenous women living under repressive regimes should be referred to as “idiots” for trying to make their country and their lives better. Anyone on the Left who plays that game is as cynical and small-minded as any imperialist. And as misogynistic.