The defining issue of modernity is control of women’s fertility. It is this question — more than religion, politics, economics or the “clash of civilizations” — that forms the deepest dividing line in the world today. It is a line that cuts through every nation, every people, from the highest level of organized society down to, in many cases, the divided minds and emotions of individual men and women.
Control of fertility — and its active principle, sexuality — has always been an organizing principle of human society, of course, but modernity has presented the world with a revolutionary concept that overthrows millennia of received wisdom and tradition: namely, that an individual woman should control her own fertility. This notion destabilizes state structures and religious dogmas; it uproots cultural mores whose origins reach back to prehistoric times. It is a profoundly disturbing development in the life of humankind.
Little wonder, then, that anxieties over fertility and sexuality are the chief engines driving the frenzied and increasingly violent fundamentalist movements now sweeping through the world. It is here that extremists of every stripe make common cause against modernity. Almost every other aspect of “the modern” — science and technology, high finance, industrialization, etc. — has been absorbed, in one form or another, by the most “traditionalist” societies. But what today’s fundamentalists — from Osama bin Laden to George W. Bush to Pope John Paul II, from the American-backed warlords of Afghanistan to the anti-American mullahs of Iran — cannot accept, at any cost, is the freedom of a woman’s body.
This frenzy, this primitive fear — understandable perhaps in the face of such a wrenching upheaval — does not in itself make a fundamentalist an evil person. But it can — and does — lead them into evil: sometimes blindly, in ignorance and panic; but sometimes knowingly, with eyes wide open, a willing embrace of primitive emotions to serve selfish and cynical ends.
And so: Last month, George W. Bush quietly cut off funding for a highly praised AIDS program for refugees from Africa and Asia. Why? Obviously, to keep his helots on the Christian Right frothing with passion to do battle for him in 2004. He has already given them control of U.S. social policy, particularly in international negotiations, where they routinely form alliances with Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and other repressive states to derail treaties on women’s rights.
But what was his public reason? Bush says he gutted the program because one member of the nonprofit consortium running the project is also working with a UN program that was falsely accused of colluding with China’s policy of forced abortions. That charge was investigated not once but twice by Bush’s own State Department, as well as by the UN, and was shown each time to be completely untrue. The only “evidence” produced to support the slander was an allegation that in a single office in a rural Chinese province a few years ago, the desk of a UN official touched the desk of a Chinese Health Ministry official. That’s it. The truth, of course, is that the UN program, and all the nonprofit organizations associated with it, are trying to end China’s forced abortions.
Of course, this heinous practice has never stopped Bush from granting massive trade benefits to the baby-killing Communists. Nor has it ever disturbed the orgy of investment in China’s repressive regime by the corporate barons of the U.S.-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, headed by that genial old aristocrat, Prescott Bush Jr. — known as “Uncle Prescott” to the current president. Naturally, any punishment for China’s forced abortions must not fall on the Beijing government itself — not when Uncle Press has choice deals on the line. No, instead it must land — like a ravening cruise missile — on the poorest of the poor, in Angola, Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Eritrea, and other poverty-stricken areas where the Bush family has no investments.
Not content with slapping AIDS-stricken refugees around, Bush also cut off all U.S. funding to countless family planning services in the poorest regions of the world. This ban applies to any clinic that so much as mentions abortion as an option to its clients, even if it doesn’t provide abortions or referrals itself — and even if the woman has been raped (perhaps by the goons of a Bush-backed warlord), even if she will die in childbirth. A clinic will also be cut off if its workers take part in lobbying campaigns to secure legal abortion in their countries. Such rights, hard-won by Western women, are to be denied to the world’s poor. (Meanwhile, Bush’s helots are scheming to roll them back in America as well).
Many of these clinics provide the only maternal and postnatal care available for millions of destitute women and their children. They are the only place where the world’s most downtrodden and uneducated women can receive information about reproduction and birth control, or treatment for AIDS, genital mutilation and rape. All across Africa and Asia, these clinics — including many run by Bush’s beloved “faith-based organizations” — are closing up as they lose their American funding. Yet this funding itself is a mere pittance from the war-fattened federal purse — less than one day’s spending on Bush’s rape of Iraq.
It is simply a fact that thousands of women and infant children will die needless deaths in the coming year because of Bush’s edicts. He could have saved them; instead he has killed them. He has chosen to stand with terrorists and tyrants in the fundamentalists’ war against women.
CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. His CounterPunch piece on Rumsfeld’s plan to provoke terrorist attacks came in at Number 4 on Project Censored’s final tally of the Most Censored stories of 2002. He can be reached at: email@example.com