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GENDER STAGINGS Arrow vol 2 no 2 CONTENTS
About borderlands VOLUME 2 NUMBER 2, 2003


Global "Development" Dramaturgies/Gender Stagings


Christine Sylvester

Institute of Social Studies, Netherlands



"…dramaturgy roughly equals dramatic structure or the conventions unique to a playscript, playwright, or performance." (Jonas and Proehl, 1997)

"Development": 1) a highly contested ensemble of mostly economic, but also social, political, and cultural characteristics that some nations are assumed to have and others "over there" are more or less lacking and must be helped to gain; 2) relatedly, the unfolding of a dramaturgy or narrative plot that is structured around conventions of then and then and then…

Postcolonial Migrancy, Act I

1. The Tampa drifts on trade winds just inside territorial waters around Australia's cheery-sounding island of Christmas. If you manage to get close to the vessel, you can see the Australian Special Forces crawling the decks. They have been sent by the government to prevent the Tampa from docking at Christmas or anywhere else in Australia. Overhead, military helicopters circle, dropping food and portable toilets. In Canberra and on the Australian TV the ruckus is also loud as the government prepares for "war" on this and other ships of asylum seekers from "over there."

2. As the plot develops, about 400 people, mostly Afghans, sit or squat on the Tampa's main deck. They have paid their life savings for the trip to Indonesia, where a notorious business racket has pocketed a big share before putting the migrants on dilapidated boats (often with Indonesian security forces overseeing the send-off). They ship tightly packed to their preferred destination: Australia, the Pacific land of milk, honey, and no (supposed) worries. Often they do not make it: unseaworthy vessels sink or capsize or must put in at an Indonesian island and travel no further. In this case, the Tampa, on a normal course between Fremantle and Singapore, plucks asylum-seekers from a badly listing fishing boat. The passengers insist on Australia and Arne Rinnan, the Tampa's Norwegian captain, echoes and amplifies that wish as he mans the ship's controls and denounces Australia's belligerence towards them.

3. Australia will not become an easy mark for refugee populations, sputters Prime Minister John Howard. The majority of Australians --over 70% --applaud, and in November 2001, his ill-named liberal party dominates the ruling coalition for a third term. Australia, a vast and open continent nearly the size of the USA, but with a population of only eighteen million (all packed into a handful of cities hugging the coasts), is putting its foot down. International law, it insists, is on its side: having picked up the asylum seekers, the Tampa was meant to take them to the nearest feasible point of disembarkation, which was the Indonesian port of Merak. Rinnan maintains that the boat tried to head there but the passengers forbade that volte-face. With only one lockable door between the ship's bridge and the cargo, and "five men on the bridge talking in aggressive and highly excited voices," the captain is persuaded to steer toward Christmas (Kelly, 2001: 11). Howard orders it back to Indonesia. After decades of Australian high-handedness, the Indonesian government has ample reason to balk at demands that are not even discussed with it beforehand. The ship stalls in the seas. Canberra tries to arm wrestle some other state to process the unwanted Tampanese mobilities; it petitions Norway, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Palau.

4. The longer an international politics of refusal continues the more the passengers assume their own politics of "postcolonial migrancy" (term from Spivak, 1999). They go on a hunger strike. They complain. They threaten. They lament. By "they" one means people costumed as men. Look at the aerial photographs of the Tampa and its passengers and notice that not a single person dressed as a "woman" is visible. Out of sight, the pregnant "women" and all the "children" are told by the "men" to eat --at least that's what the "men" tell the press (about the "women" who are not pregnant, nothing is reported). An Australian military doctor claims that everyone on the ship is well, despite the 36 degree heat and blistering sun, despite the hunger strike, the cramped quarters and overstretched facilities, and the silence surrounding women's bodies. Rinnan, whose position on behalf of the asylum seekers has support of the Norwegian government and the Oslo shipping company he works for, says nothing about passengers who are not "men." Everyone associated with an unfolding dramaturgy is complicit in putting burqas over the "women."

5. The various rehearsals of postcolonial migrancy go on for weeks, with high court decisions in favour of admission to Australia and appeals turning round in another direction. As another refugee boat looms on the Australian horizon, the government digs in harder and finds unlikely --and to the migrants themselves, unacceptable --places for processing by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) --places like Nauru and the Coco Islands (where?). To Australia, the migrants are exports that the would-be receiving country can choose to sell to international bidders: "Take these men, take these men, chants a chorus of Australian thespians, and you will reap subsidies from us." New Zealand does not need much convincing. Currently losing population, it takes the "best" ones among the Tampanese for free --the ones who have given Captain Rinnan no trouble.

6. The remainder off-loads at Nauru, the world's smallest republic. Located just south of the equator, Nauru has a population of 12,000, a landmass of 21 square kilometres, and one main road that is closed whenever a plane lands and taxis across it. It has a parliament of 18 members --they have not enacted taxes to run the government --and one going economic concern, a phosphate mine that will be exhausted by 2005. Nauru gets 500 asylum seekers from the Tampa and from a boatload of Iraqis that has entered the drama more recently; the island's population is suddenly 4.3% larger. It also gets the equivalent of US$10.2 million from Australia in the form of electricity generators, fuel, cancelled hospital bills for Nauruans in Australia, and scholarships to Australian universities. This is the international dramaturgy of development in the Pacific region. It is "the Pacific solution" to the problem of asylum seekers.

7. The Australian press repeatedly refers to Nauru as a "holiday camp." The exported refugees, though, live there as they would if they had made it to any destination in Australia proper; that is to say they find themselves in mandatory detention centres. Australia is the only "developed" country that automatically detains all asylum seekers that reach its shores. The quarters for the lot on Nauru are hot makeshift buildings quickly installed on an old playing field. Surrounded by two meter fences and security guards, the postcolonial migrants cannot engage in any form of work, even for the community. Best not to get too comfortable in case asylum is turned down by the UNHCR; and yet even those few whose claims will knock back must remain in Nauru anyway, for there is no air transport route from Australia to Afghanistan. (Transport "home" is becoming a problem. In the Netherlands, Iraqi asylum seekers who have had their applications rejected can no longer be returned through Turkey, which is the only air route available.)

8. To one Australian commentator, the Tampa drama forms a twisted tale of Australian gender panic: "the true, matey, muscular character of the Australian ethos…faced with a few boatloads of refugees [becomes]…a maidenly figure likely to face cultural violation as a result of the smallest injection of strangeness (Keneally, 2001: 25)." Stage a gender staving off. Don't be a soft touch. Keep Afghan queue jumpers --described to the Australian government by the Taliban as criminals --away from clean white-settler Australia. Rock-jawed, with a war memorial in Canberra that knocks socks off with its celebrations of yearning masculinity, Australia repulses the brown-eyed boys, 'no worries, no problems, mate.' Meanwhile, the "true," the "muscular," and the brown-eyed together upstage "women" in mobile performances of gender.

Postcolonial Migrancy, Act II

9. And then.

While Act I --The Tampa --continues, the World Trade Towers crumble and the Pentagon is gouged with a big black hole. Other postcolonial migrant travellers operating on behalf of an anti-western, specifically anti-American, gestalt direct aeroplanes into those props. The pilots are Egyptian and Saudi, but they operate in some senses out of Afghanistan too, despite having lived western lives for several years. These men of the "East" have sampled the materialism, the ease of life in Florida, the pillowy touch of democracy, as well as the shallow bits of US culture that can focus a nation's summer attention on a senator and his missing female aid. The other postcolonial migrants in Nauru have gone to desperate lengths to taste a life that the warrior migrants want to kill more than they want to live within, or live and let live with, or live at all. An appley Emerald City recasts as The Decadent West, The Heartless West, The Anti-Islamic West. It is a blasphemy to exemplary followers of men whose global reach and ambition perform terror out of strongholds in subterranean Afghanistan.

10. The US government builds a war coalition of unprecedented size and composition --from buddy UK to don't-call-me-buddy Pakistan, from Russia to China, from New York to the United Arab Emirates --eventually, even Yemen joins. The coalition will do something big and manly; there will be casualties. Concern filters in from around the world that the most likely casualties in retaliatory acts will be people already suffering unfathomable development deprivations in Afghanistan --the place from which the Tampanese risked life and limb to depart. But what else to do? The modern imaginary operating in globalised times is still limited. So there is a staged pause, a build-up, a refusal to have an immediate shoot-out across a vast expanse, across the development line. A global coalition then takes aim at two main targets in Afghanistan --the vainglorious Mastermind of towering attacks, and an Islamic fundamentalist government financed by him. Those other travelling Afghan seafarers, now on unexpected "holiday" in the South Pacific, watch bombs rain down on the land they left. They have missed the would-be jihad.

11. In Afghanistan, much more has already gone missing. People uniquely and elaborately costumed as "women" have been made to miss public faces, voice, jobs, and educations. Children and women and many men miss food. Each steps mincingly through town square sets, hoping to miss death by hanging or a thrashing for costume infringements. Ancient Buddhist art is missed by the world. The ex-"students" having a field day developing a development plot for themselves --and no one else --get regular pats on the head from the Mastermind and regular infusions of a fortune (or money he controls) estimated at US$250 million. Everyday Afghan people can get stuffed --or beaten for transgressing laws that have a medieval ring to them.

12. What are the lessons here? We ask ourselves. Lesson one might be that when countries configuring the developed West go stingy with aid, there is an international outcry. When unimaginably rich individuals and royal families in development-poor countries are miserly, there is an outcry against…the West, a rush onto the stage with fists in air and effigies burning. It is always already another's fault. Meanwhile, stage left, Afghans scattered on boats throughout the South Pacific take responsibility for their lives and leave craggy Kabul behind, only to get craggy Nauru as the reward from the international community for missing the bombs and deprivations at home. This is the shape of DIY (do it yourself) or self-help development in these stingy days: people vote with their feet then and then.

13. The second lesson is that the acts of postcolonial migrancy star splendid men in filigreed plots of international mobility in and around the West --men as asylum seekers, men as terrorists, men as anthrax deliverers, men as leaders, men as fire fighters. It's so gender banal. Stage left, however, John le Carre (2001:17, 20), himself no stranger to the world of derring-do, describes the Mastermind as a particular kind of man --"self-adoring," one who radiates "narcissism" and "male vanity." He predicts that an appetite for "self-drama and his closet passion for the limelight…will be his downfall, seducing him into a final dramatic act of self-destruction, produced, directed, scripted and acted to death by [the man] bin Laden himself." Later, a tape is found showing the Mastermind self-adoringly laughing when he recalls the unexpected collapse of both World Trade towers. He smiles at the knowledge that some of his hijackers were not aware of the nature of the operation until they boarded the planes. Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc, a biography of the Mastermind, reviews the dramaturgy of the tape and points to its grandiose, global ambition to promote resurgent Islam (quoted in Dobbs, 2001: 3). As if any man could do that himself.

14. Mastermind's is a stunningly extreme masculinity, yet one that fits an ongoing drama starring menandinternationalpolitics. A benevolent Captain Rinnan gets all the attention as he holds off Australian Special Forces out there in international relations. Then in comes the male-volent dreamer snuffing out 3,000 lives in a technocoloured hour. Splice to the George W. Bush call for the Dead or Alive, the world for or against. "Women" are rarely even the understudies for normal international politics, let alone for globally reaching terror, though they may be part of the encircling political economy (as trafficked persons, as objects of sex tourism, as sex workers around military bases, as soldiers in national armies, perhaps as aid workers and so on) (Sylvester, 1998). Most definitely out and about in the world, "women" are burqaed by scholarly experts, by the press, and by the power holders of global governance. And then and then we repeatedly fail to see them.

15. There is another issue surrounding some of the burqaing men: their tremendous fear of being upstaged by "women." There are rumours in the dressing rooms that the particular men who were dying for adrenaline-pumping deeds with planes may have been wearing up to four pairs of undershorts on September 11 (Fitchett, 2001: 1). To protect the genitals. From what, in this context, really boggles the mind --protection against disintegration upon impact or scorching jet fuel? Well, no. Usually an extra set of clothing is meant to enable its wearer to enter heaven with proper comportment. Yet some of these men of international relations seemed to have a second agenda in mind --protecting themselves from women and other unclean developments. One hijacker's last will and testament, left in a bag that did not get on his self-dooming flight, stipulates that upon the writer's death, "the person who will wash my body near the genitals must wear gloves on his hands so he won't touch my genitals." The "his" is purposive: "I don't want any women to go to my grave at all during my funeral or any occasion thereafter…I don't want a pregnant woman or a person who is not clean to come and say good-bye to me because I don’t approve of it." The author of this text did approve, though, of serial sexual liaisons in Florida and also in the Philippines. Reports a chambermaid from the hotel of his choice in Mabalacat, "many times I saw him let a girl go at the gate in the morning…It was always a different girl (Kirk, 2001: 1)." Given the conditions in the will, one has to wonder what he did with those "girls" backstage.

16. The flying men in September cockpits offered a stunning performance against the backdrop of soaring, rearing, spiking props they made to tumble. Their direct hits to dramatic structures of western capitalism propelled Mastermind and themselves and Afghanistan into a new round of international relations. The towers themselves had brilliantly survived the older Cold War and the post-Cold War preview bombing of 1993. In the new century, though, it was off with their heads! Off with the prescient Rockefeller initiative to build a world trade centre for a future world of trade rather than war (When the trade centre plan was first formulated, American international trade tallied to less than 3.8% of GNP, and 80% of that was handled by corporations that had no interest in a world trade centre).

17. The script was also audacious from a gender angle. Land for what would be two towers had to be negotiated with its owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the country's first agency meant to channel private monies into public works. The men in charge there were reputed toughs with a

masculine outlook on the world…[Port Authority's] bridges and tunnels were all business…[The Authority] favored male recruits with backgrounds in engineering or law. Though it was never made explicit, a tour of duty in the military --especially the US Navy --helped to place a newcomer on the fast track to promotion. Engineers especially found the Port Authority to be a place that was a manly environment rewarding the brave and the courageous …who could turn in not only engineering successes but financial successes as well (Gillespie, 1999: 20).

18. Through intricate manoeuvers, as well as efforts to drum up interest in such a venture by, in the words of Port Authority Director of Port Development, Roger H. Gilman, "dramatizing its possibilities," the Rockefeller idea and the Port Authority conversion to it gradually won the day (quoted in Darton, 1999: 58). The towers inched up in the 1960s. The wind factor at such a height had been an engineering nightmare solved. Not only could the towers withstand severe weather, the architect, Minoru Yamasaki, claimed they could "withstand the force of a 747 shearing into them" (Ibid., 117). Resolved problematics turned out a twin-set of capitalist phallic statuary. It has been said that either tower could have been the shipping box in which the far lovelier Empire State came wrapped (Rykwert, 2000: 128). Never mind. They were impressive.

19. Eric Darton (1999: 119) opines that the masterminds of the towers and of the bombing drama in 1993 shared "a radical distancing of themselves from the flesh-and-blood experience of mundane existence 'on the ground.'" Was this what they shared? Was the absence of grounding not based on shared notions of a certain masculinity --violent, cool, women-excluding, cause-oriented? In the event, after direct hits by planes smaller than 747s, and on a calm and windless day, the ground and its sociality was all there was. We heard the loud thud of bodies after they had fallen half a mile to the ground. We looked into the eyes and listened to the sounds at "ground zero" of countless fire-fighters, screaming office workers, one after another presidential advisor, platoons of hard-hatted construction workers. We realised then, through a diabolical plot change, that the towers really did teem with lives as much as with formal design relationships, despite an architecture that seemed to deny this.

20. Gone, now, the chilly and over-wrought buildings are missed. Even those of us who never entered them, those of us who didn't like their brash intrusion on the New York skyline, sketch towers in as we wind along the New Jersey turnpike or cross the Whitestone Bridge or watch a movie filmed in New York City before September 11, 2001. And then and then we know that Daniel Libeskind, and all the others involved in the New York politics of 911, mean to fill in the outlines in new ways, expanding the original script and reinterpreting it. Yet a particular absence will remain --not as ruins on top of which a war on terror is constructed (Ibid., 193-94), or on top of which a new edifice rises, but as a tragedy of Shakespearian dimensions produced and reproduced with manly direction (see Hooper, 2001). Which is not to say that "women" cannot re-enact parts of the twin towers play. They can be the terrorists, as they have been in revolutionary movements in Spain, Columbia, Peru, North Korea, Germany and the USA (MacDonald, 1991; Cunningham, 2003). They can fight the fires. They can draft the blueprints, engineer building solutions, join construction teams, and, as they have done, form lobby groups of survivors --to say nothing about engaging in the trade the towers were ostensibly built to promote. By some lights women have always been involved in activities that support and resist and make international relations (Enloe, 1993). Yet it is surely noteworthy that "women" were not there in the central cast of the World Trade Centre drama any more than they had leading parts in the Cold War. Could it be, as Cynthia Enloe (1989) has asserted, that women have been powered out of sight in formal international relations of all sorts --the good, the ugly, the nasty, the co-operative, the effete --like sociality was overpowered out of twin towers architecture, like the Port Authority powered women out of their coda of relevance? Psychologist, woman terrorist, and former leader of Reparti Comunisti di Attacco, Mara Aldovrandi asserts that men tend to embrace violent struggle as an art, because "for a man all life is a continual performance" (quoted in Neuburger and Valentini, 1996).

21. Baz Kershaw, Professor of Drama at the University of Bristol, offers a take from the world of theatre on the dramas of international relations unfolding in the "real" world. He argues that "the power of the art of performance is greatest when you don’t know you are seeing it" (Kershaw, manuscript: 1). In the recent international relations of postcolonial migrancy, we have known we were seeing the performance of "men" on their constructed stages --the ships and landing rights and tower pyrotechnics have been nauseatingly spectacular. [*See note below] What did we not-see and why might we not have known we were not-seeing other gender dramaturgies of travelling desperations? Look hard. Even in the field of International Relations, a dramatic set of readings picturing World in Collision: Terror and the Future of Global Order showcases famous names reciting a "plurality of viewpoints" needed to think about the odd world we're now experiencing (Booth and Dunne, 2002, ix). Check the index. No entry for "women." No entry for "gender." Such a continuation of certain values and identities. Such a ruin of the imagination --lost before seen! For, what potentially powerful arts may have been taking place while global plays were being rewritten to feature Fundamentalist Terror Man or Asylum Refusing Man where Davos Man used to step forward and bow?

Postcolonial Migrancy, Act III

22. Polly Toynbee comes on stage now with attitude. She thinks that if high gender drama is the nature of the hour, then she is going to dramatise those gender stagings in a way that will get more than the men some attention. She writes up-your-nose in the Guardian Weekly about a realpolitik that is being put before the livelihoods of real women. She writes: "Women are missing from the story so far when they should be up at the front --literally and metaphorically: this war of reason and unreason is ultimately about them" (Toynbee, 2001: 11). One might say that the agit prop war against terror, and the parallel war against asylum seekers, have begged a central gender question: Exactly, precisely where is the gender power of performance in scripts and casts that evacuate "women" from high crimes, high politics, high seas, and high drama in the skies?

23. On the eve of the War on Terror, Part I --Taliban, an incensed Toynbee sets her sites on excesses of religious belief all around as one culprit. The "Islamic" Taliban she finds monstrously garbed in bearded self-sanctimony. Other religions face similar charges: the papacy has a sorry record of forbidding women into the priesthood; Judaism can sit on the side of those who find menstruating women unclean; the dying Buddha supposedly told his disciple Ananda that "women are full of passion, Ananda; women are envious, Ananda; women are stupid, Ananda" (A De Riencourt, quoted in Neuburger and Valentini, 1996: 32; see also Lerner, 1993; Daly, 1978). And then and then. The Taliban leadership of Afghanistan is another culprit, yet Toynbee has no patience for the Northern Alliance either, warily seen as the better cop in coalition with reprisalists against worse religious cops. She remembers the days before the Taliban came to power in 1996, when "our friend the Alliance barged in [to a UN office in Kabul] to demand all women staff be sent home at once: they banned women from jobs long before the Taliban" (Toynbee, 2001: 11) Toynbee wants the Coalition partners to require the Alliance to sign a human rights contract before they --these and other men --can come to power.

24. A month or so later, Laura Bush, wife of the US President, comes out of near seclusion for a related gender cameo in international relations: "Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: the brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists" (Stout, 2001: 1). The US State Department issues a report at the same time on the Taliban's war against women, positioning the Bush administration as leading a global campaign of information about the oppression of Afghan women and children. America has discovered Afghan women in the process of doing a war against Afghanistan for other reasons. When America speaks about them, the "women" suddenly exist, as though newly hatched from freshly laid eggs; and now, however cynically, they are allowed into international relations as foreign policy props. And then and then: some meetings take place; some women are ushered onto the political stage with their faces showing; a global audience of potential donors applauds.

25. Of course, RAWA --The 2000 strong Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan --had been documenting Taliban atrocities for five years, through their own devices and through such dramaturgical mechanisms as the Oprah Winfrey Show. They and others continuously reported about the infamous Department of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and how its laws, easily interpreted as misogynist, came to dominate the lives of people with bodies at odds with masculinity. They took the position that "women should play a full role in the political life of the country and have the same access as men to education, training and employment, while remaining within the Islamic fold" (Marsden, 2002: 96).

26. That "Islamic fold" contracted around women during Taliban rule, binding them with prohibitions that boggled the mind. "Women" could not attend schools pending the development of a special Islamic curriculum for them. They could not go about in public without a male relative. They were warned against wearing white socks (one of the national colours), against making any noise whatsoever when they walked and against laughing in the streets --lest they attract the attention of men. They could not be patients of male doctors, often could not themselves work unless they were medical doctors or health workers; even then, "they faced insuperable difficulties both in communicating with their male hospital colleagues and in getting to work on the newly segregated bus service"(Griffin, 2001:7). "Women," charged with bringing up successive generations with proper Islamic views, were to wash family laundry in streams. Payments to women from international nongovernmental organisations had to go through male relatives, which meant the women often would not receive their due.

27. And, as everyone knows, the costuming of "women" became the publicity shot for the Taliban drama. "Women" were to be covered by the burqa whenever they went out. It is a costly garment (estimated in 2001 at US$30.00) that so restricts bodily movements that wearers suffer "poor vision and hearing, skin rashes, respiratory difficulties, headaches, asthma, alopecia (hair loss), and depression"(Ibid.). "Women" who could not afford this costume had to stay at home as though under house arrest. Such was the properly gendered female in the Taliban's artless, over-the-top, men-developing script (earlier scripts were also artless but less demanding on the cast).

28. A somewhat more subtle Taliban script was constructed for males: they were not to be homosexuals; they had to grow long beards and wear turbans; they observed rituals about genitals; and they (but not women) prayed in the mosque at the correct times of the day. In addition, they had rights to/over women. Recalls Alima, a late middle age woman in Kabul, "[t]he Taliban gives beggar boys money and tells them to go into people's homes and spy: "Do they have TV? Do they listen to music? Do they have pretty girls?" The Taliban goes to the house and says, 'We want to marry your daughter," and the family cannot refuse, or the Taliban will kill all the members of the family"(Ibid., 65. The practice was not invented by the Taliban). Enfant terrible Francis Fukuyama (1989:9), of the-West-won-the-Cold-War fame, promised us that "it matters little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso, for we are interested in what one could in some sense call the common ideological heritage of mankind." Note his gender staging of man with all-kind. Then note some Talibans sitting on Fukuyama while they replace one bad script with another.

29. Given the overwriting on both sides, it is not surprising that the dramaturgies have been so histrionic. Had the Taliban government not legislated "women" and "men" quite so kitsch-dramatically, not detonated ancient pieces of religious art at home and then collaborated in the detonation of famous architectures and those seeking work within them abroad, if the Taliban had not spouted lines whispered by a scheming necrophiliac prompter, we might have had trouble following the plots. Even then, were it not for specific events of September 11, 2001, we might have remained happy voyeuristic taxidermists stuffing our fantasies into vaguely billowing blue handmaids glimpsed on TV. Afghanistan would have passed fleetingly at best before our eyes as another exotic "over there." For we knew the atrocities against "women" in Afghanistan. The world media had let us know. And as with Australia's insensitivities to asylum seekers, we did nothing ("it matters little what strange…"). And then The West, the Coalition overacted the subsequent war scenes.
Kershaw's comment on the power of art as performance suggests that there is also power to that which we do not see and get involved with --the movement on backlots, the everydayness of survival under draconian circumstances. "Women" were not underperforming in Afghanistan despite Toynbee's outraging evidence; they were not gone despite their absence from the Tampa pictures. They were clandestinely teaching and learning and risking life and limb to treat ill women or to travel away from the killer kitsch around them. The dramaturgies of Afghanistan were what placed "women" behind gender props of thick and roughly hewn materials, from which they looked out and resisted the "men" at great but artful risk to themselves. One might say that the counter dramaturgies they quietly staged --and the ones that will surely come in the future as a new governance structure unfolds --are tragic but potentially more artful, and ultimately more powerful in the long-run, than the B-movie burqa virtuality by which they were known. But maybe not. "Women" just might get caught up in some equally artless "common ideological heritage of mankind."

Getting the Picture

30. The Taliban is dead! Long live the Taliban?

And now. Through a war fretted over, cursed, marched against, and fought with virtual pilots and tunnel digging bombs, some vulgar virtualities did deflate, at least for a time. The joyful personal unmasking by women was amazing to see, along with the general routing of the Taliban and its terror training fields, something Richard Falk (2003), one of America's most persistent leftists, found he could defend. A plot turn that brought a
women-oppressing group down through violence certainly hit a note of perfect irony: because that war produced women's faces and let their voices out, one was caught between shaking fists at the bombs and shaking a leg with many an Afghan woman listening to music again in a town square. Indeed, the change was so dramatic that some found it "difficult to argue with the images of Afghan women enjoying new freedoms, however tentative those may prove to be" (Henneberger, 2001: 1). A German correspondent opined that "[t]he prospect of a more or less democratic government in Kabul, with women in it, makes it all easier to accept" (Eckart Lohse, quoted in Ibid.). And then, on the heels of this irony, violence spawned a new round of international violence riding smart bombs and tanks to Baghdad while casting sideways glances off-stage at North Korea and Iran.

31. And the Afghan asylum seekers exiled to Nauru? No one sent a warring coalition to stage any thrilling epoch drama in their defence. No one fired a shot at the wayward Australian government. (There have been legal challenges to the country's refugee policy, though, one of which found that Australia's mainland refugee status determination process was not procedurally fair. Since procedures on the mainland are more carefully applied than when off-loading asylum seekers to Nauru and other Pacific islands, the magnitude of the problems there can be easily imagined.) No one insisted that the government surrender or hand over John Howard Dead or Alive for treating the Tampa asylum seekers punitively in order to deter future migrants. Indeed, a thought like that smacks of absurdist playwrighting, perhaps a lost piece by Salman Rushdie that will surely be followed by an Australian fatwa against him. ("Ha ha," someone in the audience roars. Such a good comedy, this).

32. Stage right, many original Tampanese sent to Nauru, which was bad enough, were then and then made to embark on what has been referred to as "an odyssey of fear and uncertainty" (Amnesty International, 2002: 1). A good number (about 130) went on to New Zealand as UNHCR-legitimated refugees. Seven were returned to Afghanistan. The remainder were made to scatter about the Pacific like funeral ashes, pending the processing of yet another set of gauzy applications. And then, when the Taliban government fell, Pinteresque requirements had them providing new information substantiating their refugee claims in light of the change in regime "at home."
Yet migrants made to migrate by migration-resistant states are not quiescent, huddled masses. Amnesty International (Ibid., 32) reports that one of the few delegates it could negotiate into the Nauru camp was handed a letter by Afghan women complaining of "a lot of problems here in Nauru Refugee camp. The weather is hot. There are mice and mosquitoes around. As a result we have developed rashes and…infections." The women told of fearing the outbreak of fire within the plastic tents they inhabited, especially on thundery nights. Their act of letter-writing dramatised the new forms of burqaed existence they were experiencing. Now, though, those lines are getting fuzzy as the Tampa libretto fades from our memory like a period play. There are so many Tampas now, so many New Immigrants, so many mobilities out and about that we fail to record them anymore. We let them drown in the Pacific instead so that there will be no performative excess one way or the other on our part. And "we " think we have thereby won the war, kept development to ourselves, kept invaders away. Our supposed security is safe and sovereign (Burke, 2001). Manly of us.

33. But we are blind. Etienne Balibar (1995) writes the beginnings of a wholly different script of international development relations for a twenty-first century. In a classic of left-leaning globalisation literature--published in a feminist journal--he notes several dramatic universalising tendencies about and the ways they fail to capture the marauders of our time. He tells us especially about nations--the places from which postcolonial migrancy departs or, after the September event, the places "it" can fly into, eat heartily from, and thoroughly disrupt. Nations, he claims, can exist only if they manage to deconstruct particularistic, primary identities of would-be members in order to reconstruct a common representation of "'what it means to be a person,' to be onself,' or to be a subject'" (Ibid., 56). In other words, something has to succeed in developing, as an art, a system of images, symbols, texts, pictures, and enactments of originary moments. These bits are rehearsed rigorously, the lines oft-repeated by a veiled chorus. It is a performance we see so naturally that we don't always see its power, its national artlessness.

34. "Where things become of course more ambiguous," says Balibar (p. 62), is in the processes by which an individual becomes a normal member of any nation:

For normality is not the simple fact of adopting customs and obeying rules or laws: it means internalizing representations of the "human type" or the "human subject" (not exactly an essence, but a norm and a standard behavior) in order to be recognized as a person in its full right, to become presentable (fit to be seen) in order to be represented. To become responsible (fit to be answered) in order to be respected (Ibid., 63, emphasis in original).


35. The September pilots never got into American nation: they were made presentable there only, keeping a religious nationalism undercover. To whom were they responsible, exactly, as they moved through global spaces to perform for an imagined Islamic or other nation? Quick change of scenery: the passengers of Tampa internalise different representations of "the human type" than those proffered by the Taliban. They move their national types to a place they believe will offer more development opportunities. No matter the ravings from Canberra, Australia had been a soft spot of entry compared to the USA or most places in Europe. And so and then to "Australia."

36. National ambiguities multiply as the fictitious nations on the move/held back bump into what Balibar calls the "real" universality of interdependencies between institutions, groups, individuals and processes that involve them. For the first time, and in a very direct way, the individual himself or herself is affected in the world, is positioned there to be affected by the political economy of the globe. Individuals move into it for good or ill purposes. Off go terrorists, asylum seekers, tourists, students, business people, grandmothers --to the point, Balibar argues, that centres are unable to manage incorporation as much as they once could. Elements of peripheries appear in and influence old centre sites to such a degree --at least in the imagination of many citizens of developed countries --that there are minorities everywhere. We intermarry, eat hybrid foods, babble on in "their" languages and in "our" languages, produce rainbow children, avail ourselves of state resources and colour up the streets. And then we hybridised move somewhere else altogether, hybridising even more into a play of what Homi Bhabha (1994) calls Disseminations. We may even end up in Nauru. Surely we are in the streets of The Hague and Sydney and New York. And then?

37. With so many people moving through unclassified statuses, Balibar (1995: 55, emphasis in original) contends that "what minority means becomes rather obscure;" and even more than that, "the distinction between 'minorities' and 'majorities' becomes blurred." We even face situations, he tells us, in which the nation is chockablock with "minorities without stable or unquestionable majorities," as in the emerging political entity of Europe (Ibid., 56, emphasis in original). And then? What happens when global and regional communication networks, instead of bringing us together, "provide every individual with a distorted image or a stereotype of all the others, either as 'kin' or as 'aliens,' thus raising gigantic obstacles before any dialogue" (Ibid.)? Then we get the kinds of global dramaturgies that we now snappily refer to as 911, or that most of the world now ignores as the completed Tampa acts. Far from bringing global community together in a way that ends particularistic conflicts, "real" universality can coincide "with a generalized pattern of conflicts, hierarchies, and exclusions…'identities' are less isolated and more compatible, less univocal and more antagonistic" (Ibid.). The nation, identities, movements become both this and that and they can be difficult for people to balance. And then, a simplified identity, artificially selected from the myriad strands of dissemination, boards the plane, the ship, the state.

38. Postcolonial migrancy is the normal condition of the world at this moment. It is what Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000) might call the "now," a time in international relations that refuses the message, implicit in much development work, that those who are "over there" should remain in those (fictitious) national places and develop mostly there (trickling in here only if we give an imprimatured OK). If development is slow "over there," then make the right economic adjustments, install the right governance structures, and be virtuously patient with temporary conditions of "not yet." Never mind the gender stagings in and around the fictitious nation and the "real" universalities of globalisation. We usually do not know we are seeing them because we have underdeveloped skills for sighting, siting, and citing shapes in the shadows. Yet such places, to return to Kershaw, harbour the power of art --rather than the noise and kitsch --of performance. Under the Taliban and earlier Afghan governments, a country, a nation, was officially forever "not yet" for the women. The anti-women rules were shadows cast over "women" that belied the art of survival by those made to dress like the mummified dead. Bombs exposed the flesh of the "now." In the Tampa case, we have still to confront the gendering of postcolonial migrant hierarchies that replicate on the move the masculine fictions of tradition.

39. Intricacies of mobile cross-purposes have us thinking about the challenges: postcolonial migrancy away from and towards trouble and troubling spots; postmodern wars against terrorism fought with euphemistic daisies; national identity fictions guiding missiles into buildings; gender doing a Tampa tango or a waltz with bomb-in-the-shoe sorts. The possibilities of developing something called development within the cacophony of oddly located conflict, within the din of complex emergency, within the reconciliatory stagings that often do not reconcile, within the mobilities that cannot get any of us securely "home" anymore, within the gender scripts that rope men and women into artless performances of overdetermined agency, within the arts of feminist international relations and the international development meanings of art --all this cascades into a new research imaginary, a new set of experiences. The global and the local, the international and the national, the travelling politics of identity and the transversals of hybridisation interparticulate. There is no choice but to follow the interparticulations rather than attempt to capture and wrestle them to secure, parsimonious outcomes that belie the messy actual experiences.

40. Yet to follow requires tools that development studies has never dreamed necessary for our work. It requires some ability to read the good and bad art generated by, surrounding, and performing "development. It requires some ability to resite, rewrite, and restage "development" dramas when would-be beneficiaries are not "over there" but are able to be "over here" and "over there" simultaneously and in many costumes. It requires some interdisciplinarities within our minds, rather than grouping experts with different training backgrounds into one programme or course. Each of us must play many characters.

41. The challenges are mighty and they are lowly. Bearing in mind that the "women" are often in the more lowly locations, we must run and run and then and then chase odd, disconnected, and webbed shadows of the troubled Post-Cold War era. Both those who suffer firsthand through some badly written scenarios and those who review the plays, assess the dramaturgies, and option the works will re-stage women, gender, development differently for different times. This is the only certainty: the narrative plots will twist and turn, the dramatic structures will rise and fall. And then and then...


Christine Sylvester is a Professor at the Institute of Social Studies and a Leverhulme Fellow at the University of London SOAS (from November 2003 until August 2004). Among her writings are Feminist International Relations: An Unfinished Journey (Cambridge University Press, 2002), Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era (Cambridge University Press, 1994), Producing Women and Progress in Zimbabwe: Narratives of Identity and Work in the 1980s (Heinemann, 2000), and Zimbabwe: The Terrain of Contradictory Development (Westview, 1991). Email: sylvester@iss.nl

* Note [para 21]

I am not using "performance" here strictly in the manner of Judith Butler in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (1993). Butler explicitly notes that her use is taken from speech act theory rather than from drama. For her, the "performative is that discursive practice that enacts or produces that which it names" (p. 12). She gives an example of a speech act that appears to suggest intentionality but actually references an already coded utterance: "According to the biblical rendition of the performative, i.e., "Let there be light!," it appears that it is by virtue of the power of a subject or its will that a phenomenon is named into being…this power is not the function of an originating will, but is always derivative" (p. 13 emphasis in original), which is to say always a citation of something else that gives the performance recognisability and authority. In the acts discussed above, there is both theatricality and an element of citation to prior migrations and terrorisms; but in this case, there is so much originality and power of wills involved, so much purposive script writing and staging—so much tragic "let-there-be-light" lighting up the New York skyline and the Tampa at night off Christmas Island, that the enactments become a highly theatricalised set of dramatic strategies (dramaturgies) that enact beyond and in excess of that which they name—"terrorism," "jihad," "America at War," "crusade."

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