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Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights
The Public Stoning of Martha Stewart: A Lifting of the Veil Current rating: 0
01 Nov 2004
Members of the mainstream press flew into Martha Stewart with more than their usual viciousness following her setting out as a political victim. Having nothing substantial to use against her, they have given negative connotations to her success, mocked the domestic skills upon which she has built her life’s work, twisted what she said and misquoted her, and made hateful remarks that could not have gotten past the editor in the days of ethical media practices. . . .
What do Stewart and Meena, a martyred women’s advocate in Afghanistan, have in common?

In spite of the differences in their lives – Martha Stewart achieving fame by helping women get back some of the pleasures of home life sacrificed to the demands of commercial employment and Meena becoming renowned because of her bold advocacy for women’s rights, including the right to work outside the home -- each of these women, through her courage in confronting officially imposed brute power, may play a similar role in the overthrow of the political figures who plotted their destruction.

The Veil: A Holy Symbol Defiled

When the news media was playing up the plight of Afghani women prior to the U.S. invasion of that country, women here were appalled by the ghostly images of the featureless women in their cumbersome body coverings. At the time, most of us did not realize we were receiving a forewarning of the relationship that was developing between U.S. citizens and the autocratic government that had come into power.

The wearing of the veil is said to be an expression of reverence toward God, a voluntary attitude which cannot be imposed by others. But in a repressive patriarchal society such as that which still exists in Afghanistan, the veil is used as a symbol of women’s subjugation, an apparent necessity for enforcing the hierarchal order of “God over ruler over priest over man over woman” which dominates such societies.

Conservative extremists upon achieving power in the U.S. have attempted, with some degree of success, to put just such a structure in place in this country. Through their use of jingoist rhetoric and claims of divine election, with back up from bed-fellows in the media, law enforcement, and justice system, they have suppressed opposition to their aggression, bringing the country under a veil of propaganda imposed ignorance.

While it’s understandable how women may be brought under fundamentalists’ rule against their will where resistence puts their lives at risk, it’s hard to fathom how so many in this country have been brought voluntarily under the rule of so cruel a regime.

Virgins for Sacrifice: The War Lords’ Folly

Meena left college in the seventies to promote Afghan women’s advancement. She was successful in organizing support for the cause, establishing RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan ( ) and a bi-lingual magazine, the Women’s Message. But such rebellion by women was a threat to extremist Islamists and Russian autocrats alike. In spite of their opposition, she had attracted a world wide following by age 30, when she was assassinated by members of a Russian intelligence group with help from fundamentalist Islamists. Her sacrifice only served to increase her influence, though, providing inspiration to countless other women to follow in her footsteps.

The women of RAWA have built up an extensive archive of print and visual evidence on their website, some of it obtained by women hiding cameras under their burqas, of crimes committed against the Afghan people by the Taliban and by religious tribal leaders known as war lords in Afghanistan but called “The Northern Alliance,” by outside press during their participation with the U.S. in the invasion of Afghanistan.

Today’s RAWA activists carry out humanitarian work and resistance with the same ardor as their organization’s founder, keeping Meena’s vision alive in spite of opponents’ attempts to stifle it.

* * *

Perpetrators in the Martha Stewart character assault were deadly in their intent to destroy her life, but it’s beginning to look like overconfidence made them a little foolhardy in their choice of victims. Martha Stewart just will not cooperate in the Justice Department’s efforts to make a public spectacle out of her.

Martha Stewart is the perfect example of an American success story. Through hard work and commitment, she built a successful career out of her passion for the domestic arts, attracting an increasingly large following as she moved from feature writing, to best selling author, to host of her own syndicated show, to corporate head and publisher, at the same time raising homemaking skills to the level of an art. Her benevolence is well known – she has served as mentor to countless professionals in small businesses during her career as master teacher of the domestic arts.

And she has not neglected her family life in the process. She puts into practice the same balance between work and home that she advocates with her fans. It’s enough to make a person wonder “what must they have been thinking?” when they decided to pick on Martha Stewart.

The Cannibal Press: A Frustrated Feeding Frenzy

Members of the mainstream press flew into Martha Stewart with more than their usual viciousness following her setting out as a political victim. Having nothing substantial to use against her, they have given negative connotations to her success, mocked the domestic skills upon which she has built her life’s work, twisted what she said and misquoted her, and made hateful remarks that could not have gotten past the editor in the days of ethical media practices.

But the public will not be persuaded by negative press into believing the trumped up charges against her.

The immediate common response of skeptics in the case was that Justice Secretary John Ashcroft was using Martha Stewart as a scapegoat to cover for his glaring inaction against Bush cronies implicated in the Enron scandals, which indicating suspicions about the president’s involvement in the Martha Stewart affair. Some felt Ms. Stewart was targeted by the administration simply because she is a woman, others because she is a “powerful” woman who has made significant contributions to Democratic candidates, who, coincidentally, abandoned her.

Her loyal supporters have stood behind her from the first onslaught of attacks, but as the campaign against her became more aggressive, the government’s power play stimulated protests by people who represent a cross section of the U.S. public. Young and old, liberal and conservative, male and female, rich and poor have spoken out against the government’s abuse of Martha Stewart. Some of the most persuasive arguments have come from conservatives. The issue of whether or not she did what she is accused of is not the main object of protest, it’s the targeting of her over others who might have done the same thing that stirs critics’ wrath.

William L. Anderson and Candice E. Jackson coauthored the article, “Martha Stewart and Our Shadow Legal System,” ( ) which alleges that the convoluted charges against her – lying to federal prosecutors and obstruction of justice by defending herself against the government’s allegations – are typical of misuse by federal investigators of laws, which are self serving anyway, to make criminals of people at will, even when there is no criminal intent, as in the Martha Stewart case. 1)

The presses’ incessant heckling cannot obscure the outpouring of support toward Ms. Stewart.
After she reported to prison (her appeal is still pending), her web site, Martha Talks ( ), received over 5 million hits. Tens of thousands of e-mails were received (on top of the 170,000 previous e-mails) and she received thousands of letters from supporters at prison.

Such miscalculations in choosing a scapegoat for the real criminals in big business, added to growing dissension in conservative ranks, is enough to raise some people’s hopes for authentic change this election. But what can we realistically expect to come out of the skepticism growing from the Martha Stewart fiasco?

A Sordid Affair: The President’s Whirlwind Romance With Women Voters

Ironically, President Bush, as part of his courtship of the feminine electorate, is presenting himself as an advocate of women’s rights (within conservative bounds, of course). The participation of women in the recent election in Afghanistan is being touted as proof of their improved condition under the “democracy” created there by the United States. Continuing rampant violence against women has been kept out of the news, and their participation in the corrupt elections were grossly exaggerated, making it possible for Bush to convincingly use the image of a 19 year old female posting her vote to win votes at a gathering of conservative women.

James Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar, in their article, “Afghan Elections: U.S. Solution to a U.S. Problem,” ( ) dispute Bush’s claim of liberating the women of Afghanistan and accuse him of using them as pawns – first as an excuse to invade Afghanistan, then to bolster claims of establishing a democratic government there by exaggerating women’s participation in the elections. 2)

Hard core Bush supporters seem to have their blinders on this election, with women who want to see him as their protector knight appearing willing to squint if they have to in order to make him appear as they desire him to be. In spite of allegations of unimaginable evil doings against him, now appearing with more frequency in the conservative mainstream press, recent polls indicate an increase in favor by women for Bush over Kerry.

How can so many savvy and compassionate women, even while acknowledging the cruelty of acts sanctioned by the president, say they intend to vote for Bush?

The president’s manipulation of the terrorist threat seems to have been his most effective tool in the garnering of women’s support. By keeping “believers” in a constant state of fear, he keeps them on the lowest level of moral functioning which defers rational analysis of his behavior.

Playing up violence in Iraq, rather than suppressing it as in Afghanistan, has heightened the state of anxiousness. The surge of terrorist activity by supposed insurgent extremist groups, targeting everyone it seems except those responsible for the occupation of Iraq, has been a boon to the Republican campaign. The be headings of hostages, attributed to the latest illusive super villain, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were used effectively as proof of the foreign terrorist threat, but analysts say it was the massacre of Russian school children that got the most emotional response from women, because of fears raised about the safety of their own children.

In spite of Kerry’s promises to continue the same hawkish agenda as his predecessor, women just don’t see him as being strong enough to keep the (foreign) terrorists at bay. Voters’ willingness to overlook the most heinous crimes against other countries’ innocents for the sake of their own children leaves a gloomy impression of the state of this country’s soul.

Another Election: A Chance for Right Choice

At this point, it appears that a cleaning out of the Houses of Congress and the White House would be required to get the country on the right course. The optimist in me says, “If the media can present such an erroneous picture of Martha Stewart’s case, they could create a trumped up account concerning the standing of voters in the upcoming election. After all, they say record numbers of young people have registered to vote.”

The cynic in me says, “It would take more than an infusion of youth's idealism to cause a voter rebellion this election."

If Bush is re-elected – or if Kerry is elected for that matter – what should those of us who are concerned about the administration’s legislative moves toward more authoritative control expect to come of the resistence? What will become of people like Martha Stewart, the women carrying on Meena’s dream, humanitarian organizations, antiwar activists, outed witnesses of the government’s criminal actions, and all those are taking a stand against the brute force that reins?

Perhaps there will be enough strength in the resistence to hold back the beast till the citizens of the world realize what’s really happening. After all, didn’t someone say, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” “We live and we learn,” “Where there is love, there hope does abound.”?

In spite of the prevalence of corruption in government today, some of us still believe in the power of right over might, and that individual stands against tyranny such as Martha Stewart’s and Meena’s are lifting the veil of ignorance that confines the free exercise of citizen might.

Meanwhile, let us vote according to our conscience. After all, it is the choice that we make during this election that we must live with, and the lesser of evils is still evil.


1. Anderson, William L. And Jackson, Candice E., “Martha Stewart and Our Shadow Legal System,” Lew Rockwell, March 10, 2004.

2. Ingalls, James and Kolhatar, Sonali, “Afghanistan Elections: U.S. Solution to a U.S. Problem,” Foreign Policy in Focus, October 2004.

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