Politically active and writing till the very end of her life at the age of 80, American feminist,
Meredith Tax, passed away on Sunday, 25th September 2022, having suffered from breast
cancer for some time.
A friend and political ally of Southall Black Sisters, she was a feminist who understood the
importance of secular spaces in protecting women’s rights under attack from both religious
fundamentalism and neo-liberalism.
Her book Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human
Rights, published in 2013, very clearly articulated the feminist secular line that activists in
Women Against Fundamentalism and Southall Black Sisters had been trying to hold in what
had become an increasingly lonely political space. When we campaigned against Hindutva,
we were supported by the anti-racist Left but they deserted us in droves when we brought
the same analysis to bear on political Islam.
There have been many crunch points in the last 40 years which have clarified this alignment
of forces; the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989; the destruction of Babri Masjid in India
in 1992; the controversy over Amnesty International’s support for Cageprisoners (now
known as Cage) which led to the high profile resignation of Gita Sahgal in 2010, then head of
the Gender Unit at Amnesty International, among others.
The Cageprisoners controversy forms a substantial chunk of Double Bind, an analysis of
which allowed Tax to pose this question which runs through the book and lay at the heart of
Gita Sahgal’s much maligned stance against Amnesty. ‘But what happens when people who
are mistreated by the state violate the rights of women? Can one fight their violations while
at the same defending their rights against state power?’
Tax challenged five tropes on the Left about the Muslim right: ‘that it is anti-imperialist; that
“defence of Muslim lands” is comparable to national liberation struggles; that the problem
is “Islamophobia;” that terrorism is justified by revolutionary necessity; and that any
feminist who criticizes the Muslim right is an Orientalist ally of US imperialism.’
It was presumably Tax’s lifelong commitment to the importance of secular spaces for
feminists and other progressives, much under siege the world over, which partly drew her
to the Kurdish struggle for self-determination and the women’s revolution in Rojava.
Meredith was a passionate supporter of the Rojava revolution. She co-founded the North
America Rojava Alliance and later the Emergency Committee of Rojava, often using her
birthday fundraiser on Facebook to raise money for the cause.
It was during the siege of Kobani (started in September 2014) when Tax saw ‘pictures of
smiling rifle-toting girls in uniform defending the city’ against ISIS that her curiosity was
piqued. What she discovered left her stunned. She wrote to her friends on New Year’s Day
2015 to tell them about Rojava ‘At the end of such a dark and difficult year, one searches for
light. It can sometimes be found in unexpected places.’
The result of her interest was her well-researched book, A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight
the Islamic State, published in 2016, one of the earliest books in English on Rojava. With
Tax’s long history of activism, she had been witness to many false dawns of women’s
liberation. Naturally she approached this feminist revolution with both hope and scepticism:
the question that simmers under this book is, ‘So what makes the Kurdish women's
movement different?’ A particularly pertinent question as it evolved out of PKK (Kurdistan
Workers’ Party) which began as a classic Marxist-Leninist party paying lip service to the
equality of women.
With all the doubts that Tax expresses about Rojava, for example the difficulties of assessing
the strength of its democracy during war time, she concludes with a resounding affirmation
that ‘It is already clear that, even under wartime conditions, Rojava may well be the best
place in the Middle East to be a woman.’
A tribute written by her fellow activists in the Emergency Committee for Rojava draws
attention to her earlier achievements: ‘Her 1970 essay Woman and Her Mind: The Story of
Everyday Life is considered a founding document of the US women’s liberation movement;
while her 1980 history book The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict,
1880-1917 has remained a landmark study of American labour and women’s movement and
was republished earlier this year by Verso Books. An acknowledged novelist, she also wrote
two historical novels, Rivington Street and Union Square, telling the stories of indomitable
women who, like herself, wanted to change the world amidst the tumultuous events of the
early twentieth century.’
As with all great minds that pass away, we are left with regret for all the debates that we did
not have, all ‘the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves’ that we did not disturb.
A version of this tribute was first published on Medya News: https://medyanews.net/