On Wednesday, CNN reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Trump administration is forcing the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
“We are there to facilitate and ensure that there is a pathway for reconciliation and peace talks,” Tillerson said. “As the pressure begins to take hold, we believe we already know there are certain moderate elements of the Taliban who we think will be ready and develop a way forward.”
But Tillerson also revealed that the administration is willing to concede women’s rights in hypothetical peace negotiations with the Taliban going forward — a sharply different position from the Obama administration. Under the Taliban, an extremist theocratic regime that rose to power in Afghanistan in 1996, the laws impose brutal, dustopic consequences on women who defy rigid rules regarding dress code, education, marriage, and more.
Still, according to Tillerson, the Trump administration won’t make respect for women’s human rights a condition in negotiations, citing President Trump’s aversion to the practice of “nation building.”
“The government of Afghanistan and the Taliban representatives need to sit down and sort this out,” Tillerson reportedly said, according to The Washington Examiner. “It’s not for the U.S. to tell them it must be this particular model, it must be under these conditions, and I think that’s what the president means when he says we’re no longer nation-building.”
This is where it gets a bit complicated. “Nation-building,” or the imperialism inherent in dictating another country’s laws, culture and decisions, is problematic and rooted in centuries of racism and perceptions of white, western supremacy.
History is paved with European nations colonizing and undermining eastern nations out of belief in their superiority and the inferiority and “barbaric” nature of non-white societies. The struggles of these societies to gain back their autonomy and culture through the years has yielded war, displacement, chaos, and instability, particularly in regions like the Middle East.
Additionally, today, western society tends to ignore the existence of cultural relativism, or the idea that morals, values and culture differ between societies of different regions. The idea that Islam in its natural form — that is, when extremists and terrorists haven’t hijacked it — is inherently evil, and all women need to be saved by it, is just one example of how western society ignores cultural relativism.
But it’s important to note that Tillerson and Trump’s perception of fighting for women’s human rights against an extremist group as “nation building” is also not only problematic, but ultimately dangerous, as well. This perception that women’s rights are negotiable and irrelevant at a negotiation table that will inevitably be dominated by men, enables terrorism and the violation of human rights.
This idea that we should have no standards for the countries we fund or interact, trade, pave alliances or negotiate with could lead to the United States not only enabling but financially and politically encouraging to hurt women and other vulnerable demographics.
At the end of the day, across the political situations and in situations that can be either petty or as weighty as this, it’s always these marginalized groups of people that are thrown under the bus. Just ask the Democratic party’s leadership.
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