The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday January 19th

UNC, Duke Host Two-Day Women, Religion Teach-In

The teach-in, titled "Women Fight Fundamentalism: Before and After September 11," was held in two parts Thursday and Friday, with each campus hosting one session.

Thursday's session, held in UNC's Hanes Art Center, explored the ideas that war is a gendered institution and that long-standing stereotypes of fundamentalism affect current events.

"I would hope this forum would produce solidarity for women fighting for justice in the world," said Ranjana Khanna, an English professor at Duke University, in her opening remarks.

But Khanna said a unified front among women will be hard to achieve. "I don't think international solidarity is anything easy," she said.

Khanna said she does not understand how American women can rightfully criticize fundamentalism in other cultures when they impose forms of oppression on themselves, like breast implants and high heels. "There is too much navel-gazing and not enough looking outside of one's own context," Khanna said. "Women in the United States are the biggest consumers and the most consumed."

Sophomore Carrie Goodman, co-chairwoman of UNC's Feminist Students United!, said Khanna touched on a particularly important issue. "Feminists from Western culture sometimes see the practice of another culture as oppressive but fail to see the oppressive practices that seem commonplace in their own society," Goodman said.

Mab Segrest, a visiting professor in women's studies at Duke, compared the rhetoric of President Bush to that of alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden. She said both men possess tremendous military power and label their causes as a fight of good against evil.

UNC sophomores Allison Robitaille and Leah Hoyle sat next to each other during the teach-in but came away with two different responses to Segrest's argument. "I found it very comical that she was comparing our nation's leader to our world's leading terrorist," Robitaille said.

But Hoyle said she found the comparisons enlightening. "Before tonight, I had thought about how domestic terrorism is strikingly similar to what we've heard from Osama bin Laden," she said. "I guess I never really thought of extending that to our own president."

The teach-in continued Friday with a discussion on Duke's East Campus of "Religious Fundamentalism, Globalization and Women."

The featured speaker was Nawal el Saadawi, an Egyptian physician and author who was on a death list created by Muslim fundamentalists in Cairo for her commentary on Arab women's struggle for liberation.

The conflict between the global economy and religious societies was the focus of el Saadawi's speech Friday.

She said the solution to the oppression of women is to undo the divisions among cultures. "I think the battle of this century is not to celebrate our differences or maintain them but to overcome our differences," el Saadawi said.

But not all of Friday's speakers agreed with el Saadawi's solution to the oppression of women. "Solidarity for women does not mean sacrificing the idea of difference," Khanna said during a panel discussion that followed el Saadawi's speech.

Irene Chen, a 2000 Duke graduate, also sat on the panel. She returned last month from serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan and said her recent experience in the Islamic world allowed her to offer a unique take on the fallout from Sept. 11. "Fundamentalism is a deep-seated fear of change," she said. "Our war is maybe not on terrorism but on terror."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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