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Empire, Desire and Violence: A Queer Transnational Feminist Reading of the Prisoner 'Abuse' in Abu Ghraib and the Question of 'Gender Equality'

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Dominant discourses in the United States paint the acts of prisoner 'abuse' committed by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib in 2003 as either the obscene but exceptional example of some low-ranking soldiers gone mad, or as the direct result of the suspension of the rule of law in the global 'war on terror'. Alternatively, feminist theorist Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that the pictures depicting female soldiers torturing prisoners are both horrifying and a sign of 'gender equality'. This article departs from all three of these positions. I argue that the micro-level violences shown in the Abu Ghraib pictures are neither just aberrations nor a sign of gender equality. Rather they follow a pre-constructed heterosexed, racialized and gendered script that is firmly grounded in the colonial desires and practices of the larger social order and that underpins the hegemonic 'save civilization itself'-fantasy of the 'war on terror'. I explore how the participation of some of the US Empire's internal Others, namely White western women, may disrupt some of the social processes of normalization underpinning this colonial fantasy, but nevertheless serves to re/produce the identity and hegemony of the US Empire and its heterosexed, racialized and classed World (Dis)Order.
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Keywords: 'Whiteness'; Abu Ghraib; Ehrenreich; Empire; Orientalism; US; civilization; colonial; desires; fantasy; gender equality; militarized masculinity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Political Science Department, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Publication date: 01 March 2007

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