The Multiple Colonization Of Asian Women In Religion

It is claimed that theologians in the west have written more books about 'animals and environment than about colonialism or race', and have not taken a serious theological interest in empire. Empire was even justified as inevitable by Reinhold Niebuhr.32 There is a blind spot in theological construction in the west, what might be called sanctioned ignorance. The term sanctioned ignorance comes from Spivak in her powerful critique of Michel Foucault's position as a self-contained western intellectual.33 She criticizes Foucault, focusing on his blind spot concerning the techniques for the appropriation of space that ravaged the colonies during precisely the same historical period that held his attention, because he was distracted by other matters. Her point alerts us to the production/reproduction of sanctioned ignorance not only amongst theologians in the west but amongst us in Asia as well.

Those Asian intellectuals and social activists who have criticized the supremacy of the west often overlook their own supremacy in relation to Asian women. In this sense, Asian women are colonized not only by western imperialist power but also by Asian kyriarchal domination. Those who have been treated as the other by western neo-imperialism are practising their own hegemonic powers on women and the powerless in their own local context. In this sense, 'localist opposition' to western empirebuilding may well be politically well-intentioned but it rests on false assumptions and is therefore damaging. It assumes that the local is 'outside' empire-building. The local however cannot represent a stable barrier against the emerging western empire. Any 'locale' is rarely unproblematic and any simple celebration of local culture against western hegemony for its own sake cannot be the solution to the problem of

3 R. S. Sugirtharajah, 'Complacencies and Cul-de-sacs: Christian Theologies and Colonialism', in Keller et al. (eds.), Postcolonial Theologies, pp. 22—38 at p. 22. Here Sugirtharajah points out that Reinhold Niebuhr, in his book Nation and Empire, sees colonialism as an inevitable stage, morally neutral though open to misuse, in the development of civilizations, and triggered by three motivations: missionary, economic, and political. Cf. Reinhold Niebuhr, Nations and Empire: Recurring Patterns in the Political Order (London: Faber and Faber, 1959).

Spivak, 'Can the Subaltern Speak?', in Nelson and Grossberg, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, pp. 271—313.

empire. Asian men, for instance, can be colonized by the western empire, but at same time they can be the colonizers in practising their kyriarchal power in their local culture. It is also true that Asian middle- and upper-class women can be the colonizers of lower-class men and women. The locality should be scrutinized also from the perspective of the marginalized, from those below, from the least.

Here I would suggest differentiating the Empire from empires to identify the Empire with the west as a master-narrative and the empires in our own locales as a small-narrative. In this context, the real question would not be whether Empire but whose Empire.34 And this question is not only to check the abuses of power by others, but also to check our own abuses of power, and therefore to bring us into critical awareness of and engagement with the interests of all our relations.

In this context I would say that Asian women in religion have experienced multiple colonization: colonization by the socio-politico-cultural hegemony of the west; colonization by the discursive hegemony of feminists in the west; colonization by the kyriarchal hegemony of Asian men; and colonization by the kyriarchal value systems in religions. Empire from a feminist perspective should not be singular in form but plural, simply because there is not only one form of Empire but many different forms of Empires. Asian women must be alert to the multiple faces of Empires: not only Empire-out-there, but also Empire(s)-in/ among-us. I think that a comprehensive discourse of empire would help us to figure out not just 'what to do' but 'who we are'. It would help us Asian women to identify our socio-geopolitical and religious location in terms of power relations: who is oppressor, who is oppressed and in what sense one can be both the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time. The comprehensive empire-discourse would help us further to understand that many are multi-dimensionally oppressed and colonized. It also highlights the multiple and often contradictory elements of who 'WE' are as-Asian-women. The we-they binarism is not as self-evident as we usually suppose: The 'they' would disguise itself as 'us' and is secretly invading us. There is colonization by 'them', the west, but also colonization by 'us' — Asian men, feminists in the west, and fellow men and women within the same religion. It is therefore true that the once colonized is not immune to becoming the colonizer on another level.

34 Sharon Welch, After Empire: The Art and Ethos of Enduring Peace (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,

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