Miriam Cooke is a professor of modern Arabic literature and culture at Duke University‘s Center for the Study of Muslim Networks (which she co-directs), a leftist entity that strongly opposes the U.S. war on terror. She is also President of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies, an international organization that condemns what it calls the “new imperialism.”
The author of nine books, Cooke cited America’s allegedly unjust foreign policies and corrupt way of life as the root causes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “9/11 has a long history going back through the Gulf War to the establishment of Israel in 1948,” she said. “It is a history that spans the length of the Cold War and is witness to the growing suspicion and fear of U.S. policies in the region. … What we saw on 9/11 was the return of the repressed. Afghans … directed their anger and hatred against the centralized state apparatus. Products of the twin discipline of religion and militarization, they easily transformed capitalist ideology into its religious underside and wrapped it in the rhetoric of Islam.”
Cooke condemns the war on terror for “link[ing] humanitarian and political rhetoric to military action.” “Is the goal of this total war the establishment of the peace of Terror through the annihilation of all these nomads?” she asks.
A disciple of the theory of post-colonialism, Cooke is a strong proponent of “Islamic feminism,” which holds that Muslim women should press for social change from within the confines of their own culture and religion. It views Western powers as having purely imperialistic designs and, as such, it wholly rejects their intervention in Middle East affairs. Such was the logic that led Cooke — a longtime proponent of Muslim female writers, activists, and intellectuals — to oppose the U.S. overthrow of Afghanistan’s Taliban government (one of the most oppressive regimes on earth, particularly with regard to women) and “the campaign to democratize the Middle East.”
Speaking at a March 26, 2003 forum on the future of Iraq at the John Hope Franklin Center, Cooke castigated First Lady Laura Bush for her radio address on behalf of the women of Afghanistan. She accused Mrs. Bush of furthering “the imperial project in her highly gendered appeal to a world conscience.”
Throughout her academic career, Cooke has written extensively about the idea of a “women’s jihad.” Such a struggle, she explained during a November 2003 lecture at Wellesley College, would not be for an “Islamist state” but rather for an “Islamic community.” She insisted that women’s role within the Islamic world should be “drawing attention to the consequences of war, not advocating violence.” Yet she also sanctioned “the defense of the community when attacked by outsiders.”
When Wafa Idris, a 27-year-old Palestinian woman, perpetrated a suicide bombing that killed an 80-year-old Israeli man in January 2000, Cooke said: “For those of us who really are concerned with women’s role in the Arab public square, in the way in which women have been trying to empower themselves vis-à-vis the U.S., vis-à-vis old colonial powers, vis-à-vis their own men, the situation has become so desperate that now women’s participation in war is a mark of absolute hopelessness.”
Extremely sympathetic to the militant Palestinian culture of the present day, Cooke, in her most recently published book (Hayati, My Life: A Novel), gives voice to what she calls “three generations of Palestinian women whose lives are torn apart by war, rape, dispossession and poverty.” She turns a blind eye to Palestinian society’s coercion of women into becoming suicide bombers as penance for the shame of having had sex out of wedlock, having been being raped, or having been unable to marry.
Cooke has also authored or co-authored the following books: Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism Through Literature; Blood into Ink: South Asian and Middle Eastern Women Write War; Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing; War’s Other Voices: Women Writers on the Lebanese Civil War; Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop; Women and the War Story; Gendering War Talk; The Anatomy of an Egyptian Intellectual, Yahya Haqqi; and Good Morning!—and Other Stories.
This profile is adapted from the article “Duke Feminist Gives Thumbs Up To Taliban,” written by Cinnamon Stillwell and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on September 27, 2004.