Geographies of Peace & Violence: Plural Resistance to Gender Violence and Structural Inequalities in Hyderabad and Seattle
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In this dissertation, I investigate “community-based response” to domestic violence facilitated by NGOs working with Muslim women and families in Hyderabad and South Asian Muslims in Seattle. My transnational comparison of women’s anti-violence organizations reveals the complex webs of intimate and structural violence navigated by Muslim women. My findings suggest that at each site, anti-violence workers identify the intersectionality of violence in Muslim women’s lives and create practices of plural resistance to simultaneously address multiple forms of violence. Their peace-building work in families and communities contests intimate gender violence and structural violence, and disrupts “culture blaming” discourses of Muslim women’s oppression and victimization. Rather than accepting the inadequate (and often traumatizing or violent) response mechanisms of the modern state (through criminal justice), these organizations create alternative pathways for social change around domestic violence. My argument proceeds in three intertwined parts. First, I chart the ways in which culturalism dominates global and local representations of Islam and Muslim women, deploying Orientalist views of ‘culture’ in service of counter-terrorism and modernization. My findings in Hyderabad and Seattle unsettle these culturalist narratives by drawing attention to the complex social relations within which intimate violence is embedded, and by demonstrating how women’s organizations in both cities assemble cultural resources (including both religious teachings and social networks) with cultural critiques (of patriarchal justifications of violence and ‘misuse’ of religion). Culturalism ignores the conditions of structural violence and spatial exclusion characterizing Muslim lives in India and the U.S. Structural violence names the material and embodied manifestations of inequality as violent – as causing suffering and signaling oppression. My findings in Hyderabad and Seattle reveal that structural violence takes three primary forms for Muslim women at these sites: (1) uneven development and urban exclusion; (2) rhetorical, political, and legal dispossession through Islamophobia, Hindu nationalism, and/or xenophobia; and (3) insecurity vis-à-vis the state due to the inadequacies of criminal justice responses domestic violence, failures which are heightened for Muslim, poor, and/or racialized immigrant women. Finally, I explore peace-building as a form of plural resistance that repurposes culture within community mobilization efforts that contest the violence of modernity and the dominance of Western liberalism’s claims to “freedom” and legitimate violence. In this work, women’s organizations in Hyderabad (Old City Women’s Resource Center and Healthy Families) and Seattle (API Chaya) employ peace-ful concepts, like mutual care, respectful communication, tolerance and appreciation of difference, in order to construct alternative modes of non-violent resistance. This peace-building approach refuses the common assumption that (failed) “protections” of state apparatuses provide the best means of intervening in situations of intimate abuse. Alternatively, peace-building seeks to meet survivors’ needs for safety and dignity and to empower them within their families and communities as part of broader strategies that work for long-term social change and the primary prevention of gendered oppression. This multi-scalar peace also offers a theoretical outside to the ways in which modernity enacts violence, including through developmentalism and capitalism.
- Geography