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Bronwyn Winter, “Women, Insecurity and Violence in a Post-9/11 World” (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2017), pp. 389.

Reviewed by: Tishya Khillare (School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi).

Most people have a vivid recollection of the exact moment when they first watched the violent images of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Towers in New York. Often cited as an example of flashbulb memory in most psychology textbooks, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have come to occupy a central position in modern political discourse. A day that America will “never forget”, is also referred to as the day that changed our world and lives forever. Bronwyn Winter’s 2017 book, Women, Insecurity and Violence in a Post- 9/11 World uses the title of Baxter and Downing’s anthology on 9/11 titled The day that Shook the World: Understanding September 11th as a point of departure to engage with what Winter calls “Post-9/11ism”.

UN Remembers 9/11 Attacks on Tenth Anniversary. photo credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

This book tackles, with remarkable fluidity, the impact of Post-9/11ism on women’s lives around the world. Winter begins her exposition by engaging conceptually with the idea of the “world” since 9/11. The book explores a range of pertinent questions. Where is this world located? Is it limited to the United States and its allies across the Atlantic? Does it extend to include its “enemies” in the Middle East? Who inhabits this world? Or, as the author asks, “[w]ho are its actors… and [the] acted upon?” (3); what was the impact of this shaking of the world on them? And, more pointedly, how did 9/11 affect the lives of women in our world and to what extent?

An important contribution of this book is the construction of Post-9/11ism as a concept.  Having worked on the idea in an earlier work with Susan Hawthorne (Hawthorne and Winter 2002), Winter describes Post-9/11ism as “the network of ideology, discourse and practice that developed following the attacks on September 11, 2001” (11). Post-9/11ism has, according to Winter, three defining characteristics. First, there is an escalation in the “clash of civilization” rhetoric (11), apparent in an increasingly frequent utilization of the ‘Us vs. Them’ trope in daily political discourse. The second characteristic is an increase in “security talk”. Manifestations of this phenomenon may be observed in an increased state militarism and curbed civil liberties, including women’s rights, aimed to protect state security. The third characteristic is a “renewed imbrication” of religion and politics at national, regional and international/transnational levels, including within international organizations like the United Nations (UN).

In this book, Winter covers a vast geographic and analytical territory. The book begins by discussing locations conventionally associated with 9/11, such as the US, Afghanistan, and Iraq. It also travels through places that have been left out from most academic analyses, such as Djibouti, Tunisia, India, and Turkey. The analysis considers diverse cases such as Charlie Hebdo in Paris and Hurricane Katrina in the Philippines to weave a story that only an academic with Winter’s intellectual prowess could have accomplished.

In chapters 1 and 2, Winter foregrounds an increasing salience of the nation-state in international relations. She tackles important questions about the rhetorical and discursive depictions of this post 9/11 world. Through discussions about the nature of state-creation and identification, the author focusses on state centrism and asserts that the importance of the “national” has witnessed a renewed salience post 9/11 in its ethnoreligious form. Winter considers how such a world where the power of the state(s) reigns supreme can be governed? How should people reconcile their paradoxical relationship with the state to which they make appeals for rights and protection, whilst also encountering violations and states of emergencies created by the same state? The state, as Winter asserts, is therefore both an ally and an enemy with which citizens must negotiate. Further, through rather unconventional case studies of China, Djibouti, Turkey, and the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, Winter elucidates “the discursive and even material reach of Post-9/11ism into sites whose connection with ‘the events’ is not always immediately apparent” (39).

Chapter 3, “Are We Saved Yet?”, looks at the nature of threats women experience in non-9/11 hotspots. In short, who do women need to be saved from and what are the ways in which security and protection (for women) is being spoken of in traditional (masculinist) international relations? Winter writes about “harnessing of women’s rights to nationalism and imperialism”, which, although not new in the post 9/11 era, has undergone a change. The author argues that conditions symptomatic of Post-9/11ism, such as the marriage of rights and economic development with security, as well as escalating ethnoreligious animosity, have resulted in the prioritization of a state’s security over human rights.

In chapter 4, the author discusses linkages between Hurricane Katrina and the Subic Rape case in the Philippines (where a group of US marines on military exercise were accused of raping a woman). Winter seeks answers to difficult questions in these cases, such as who suffered and why they suffered in order to expose the impact of militarized capitalism (strengthened post 9/11) along the lines of race and gender. She contrasts the lackadaisical efforts to prevent a large-scale impact of the hurricane on a largely black population of New Orleans with a defense expenditure that uses millions of dollars in the “Asian front”. The related deployment of troops to the Philippines, which has increased an already militarized hyper-masculine presence of US troops in the country, further elucidates the larger point of human security deprioritization in the face of increased concerns about state security in a post 9/11 world.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 are devoted to elucidating the third characteristic of Post-9/11ism, the increased imbrication of religion and politics and its effects on the lives of women. In chapter 5, Winter writes about the shrinking spaces and “strategic silences” observed around issues concerning lesbian rights in transnational movements staged by women, feminists, and human rights activists. Referring to Habermas’ analysis of a “Post- Secular Society” (Habermas 2008), the author cautions against opening spaces within these movements to actors whose religious and cultural positions are opposed to homosexuality and affirmative sexual rights. Homosexuality is often looked at as a “western issue” of lower significance by these actors and is included within human rights discussions and derided as “western centric distractor from the main issues” (171). According to Winter, another impact of  Post-9/11ism is that transnational movements find it increasingly undesirable to identify wrongs in non-western religions and cultures, especially in Islam (with the Islamophobia accusation thrown around regularly).

The author studies West-MENA (Middle East and North Africa) relations in chapter 6 and examines the Charlie Hebdo case in chapter 7. Winter discusses the case of Tunisia to uncover the cognitive dissonance inflicted by some western states, who support anti-authoritarian Islamic movements in MENA countries, whilst opposing Islamic fundamentalism at home. Chapter 7 discusses the Charlie Hebdo incident. It focuses on responses from the religious right and feminists to evaluate the related islamophobia/defamation of religion debate. Winter elucidates expertly how, over time, religion has been constructed as possessing “anti-discrimination rights” in the international arena (246). This frank discussion is an important contribution of the book in the face of feminist spaces that are becoming increasingly dogmatic in the post 9/11 era by abandoning any and all critiques of religious practices which discriminate against women, specifically with regards to Islam.

This book is an exploratory engagement with women’s lives in a post 9/11 world that is marked by intensified amalgamation of “globalization, religious fundamentalism and war” (300). The conceptualization of Post-9/11ism is a contribution to existing literature in International Relations and Global Governance. Furthermore, this book proves to be a timely intervention given the turn towards political and religious rights in many countries. It is being reviewed at a time when the US voted against a resolution at the UN to denounce the use of the death penalty for target groups such as the LGBTQ, apostates, and pregnant women. Other countries who voted no to the resolution were India, China, Japan along with culturally conservative countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These events perhaps further exemplify Post-9/11ism in operation and its applicability to academic analyses of political events. The book will be an insightful read for students, academics (studying/teaching Global Governance, International Relations, International Organization, and Gender Studies) and policy makers. The approach taken by Winter in this book is in-depth and easy to read. One cannot imagine any reader possessing an interest in international politics, global governance, and/or women’s rights going away unaffected by this read even if they are not engaged academically with the above-mentioned fields or vocationally with policy making.

Bibliography:

Hawthorne, Susan, and Bronwyn Winter, . 2002. After Shock: September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives. North Melbourne, Victoria: Spinifex Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. “Notes on Post-Secular Society.” New Perspectives Quarterly 25 (4): 17-29.

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