In many cases, what arms could not accomplish was achieved through “food aid,” provided by the United States, the United Nations and various NGOs to the refugees and the victims of the famines that the wars had produced. Often delivered to both sides of the conflict (as in the Sudan, Ethiopia, and Angola), food aid has become a major component of the contemporary neocolonial war-machine, and the war-economy generated by it. First, it has entitled international organizations other than the Red Cross to claim the right to intervene in areas of conflict in the name of providing relief (in 1988 the United Nations passed a resolution assert- ing the right of donors to deliver aid).17 It is on this basis that the U.S./ UN military intervention in Somalia in 1992–1993 (“Operation Restore Hope”) was justified.
But even when it is not accompanied by troops, the delivery of “food aid” in conflict situations is always a form of political and military intervention, as it prolongs the war by feeding the contending armies (often more than the civilian population), it shapes military strategy, and helps the stronger party—the one best equipped to take advantage of food distributions—to win.18 This is exactly what took place in the Sudan and Ethiopia in the 1980s, where, by providing “food aid,” the United States, the United Nations and NGOs like CARE became major protagonists in the wars fought in these countries.19
In addition, food aid contributes to the displacement and the relocation of rural communities, by setting up feeding centers organized around the needs of the NGOs; it also undermines local agriculture by causing the prices of locally marketed produce to collapse; and it introduces a new source of warfare, for the prospect of appropriating large food supplies and selling them locally or on the international market provides a new motive for conflict, creating a war-economy especially in countries that have been radically impoverished.20
So questionable has food assistance been in its effects, so dubious its ability to guarantee people’s livelihood (which would have been better served by the distribution of agricultural tools and seeds, and above all by the end of hostilities), that one has to ask whether the true purpose of this initiative was not the phasing out of subsistence farming, and the creation of a long-term dependence on imported food—both being center-pieces of World Bank reform, and conditions for the “integration” of African countries into the global economy.
Silvia Federici, « War, Globalization and Reproduction » (2000) in Revolution at point Zero : Housework Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, p. 80
Far from initiating a radical rupture with the past, recent developments can be read as a continuation of earlier colonial and national attempts at delineating the borders of the French territory and French society. Indeed, policies relating to both prostitution and veiling were important domains of state intervention in colonial Algeria. In his analysis of discourses articulated during the French colonial rule in Algeria, Bradford Vivian highlighted a concern with the need to preserve the unity of French territory through the assimilation of Algerian people and the removal of all distinctive signs (especially the veil) from the public domain.17 The public unveiling of Algerian women functioned as a symbolic reminder of the colonizers’ absolute superiority and sovereignty over the Algerian territory. According to Frantz Fanon: “Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian society whose systems of defense were in the process of dislocation, open and breached.”18 One way to exert domination was the sexual colonization of women, real or symbolic. Pointing to the prolific production of postcards showing unveiled Algerian women, Vivian underlines a mixture of exotic fascination and repulsion for Algerian women’s bodies escaping from the regulating gaze of the colonizer. Removing Algerian women’s veils, “the visible barrier to the establishment of French indivisibility,”19 became a central motive of the “civilizing mission.”20
Similarly, one of the first colonial moves in Algeria was to regulate prostitution. Christelle Taraud, in examining the implementation of regulationist policies in French North African colonies, shows how prostitution policies aimed also at colonizing indigenous women.21 Those policies relied on the legalization of a status, on the structuring of the “milieu” along the lines of class and race and on physical containment through the implementation of specialized and closed spaces. Those spaces had to be immediately accessible to the gaze of colonial authorities, as the father of French regulationism Parent- Duchâtelet had specified. By enclosing women and relegating them to the margins of colonial cities, legislators and administrators aimed at regulating contact not only between classes but also between races. In other words, while visual accessibility and control were also at the core of the regulationist project in metropolitan France, policies that aimed to regulate prostitution in the colonies also served an important function within the wider colonial project. Taraud also highlights that this margin of the colonial society—prostitution— made possible a real colonial encounter with all of its attendant conflicts and ambiguities. A double system of cultural references prevailed in the spaces devoted to prostitution, the one of the colonizers and the one of the colonized. The hybridization that took place was of course sexual, but also social, linguistic, aesthetic, and religious. Prostitutes were border-individuals, belonging to different communities (Jews, Muslims, Europeans) and embodying the existing links and hybridization processes between those communities. During the periods immediately preceding and succeeding the independence of North African French colonies, nationalist movements strived to make those spaces disappear. A virile version of universalist nationalism prevailed, firmly rejecting this counter-society that embodied the reality of a colonial encounter.
This historical retrospective helps us trace the historicity of recent policies applied to veiled Muslim women and sex workers, while underlining some thematic continuities in debates dealing with women’s bodies in the postcolonial present. Now, like before, the manipulation of national sentiments serves as a means to divert attention from more pressing social issues. It is not by chance that prostitution and veiling were discussed within the frameworks of internal security and national identity at a moment when the government was facing rising discontent related to the economic crisis. Indeed, prostitutes and Muslim women were easy scapegoats whose exclusion from the “imagined community” 22 served as a placebo solution to answer the need for national unity in a context of growing economic and social tensions. The French state made it a point of honour to get back the “lost territories of the Republic”23 using the argument that veiling and prostitution are practices that threaten the integrity of the nation as well as republican values. What these different debates reveal is the consolidation of a form of gendered policy through which a certain narrative of French citizenship that builds upon a system of difference and belonging strengthens prescriptions of permissible feminine bodies.24 The flagging of the divisional threat that veiled women and prostitutes were supposed to represent drew from an implicit theory of visibility (citizenship is tied to the visibility of the face) and from a peremptory vision of domination (veiled women and prostitutes are oppressed materially and psychologically).
Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, “Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism”, in: French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013 , pp. 87-89