Monday, July 09, 2007

Rape as a weapon of war

Rape can be more than the act of a sexually aggressive predator – it can be a weapon of intimidation and war.

Judith Todd is the daughter of the late Sir Garfield Todd who was reformist Prime Minister of Rhodesia during the 1950’s and who opposed Rhodesia's declaration of independence and subsequent apartheid-style regime. He was a supporter of the liberation movement that freed Rhodesia (soon to be renamed Zimbabwe) of white minority rule but became disillusioned by the brutal tactics of Robert Mugabe. He and his daughter, Judith, became outspoken critics of Mugabe. Ms. Todd revealed today that the price of their dissent was for her to be raped on orders of Mugabe in the early 1980’s.

But rape as a weapon is used not only against specific targeted women but as a systematic assault against women in general associated with particular ethnic or religious groups that are in conflict. The purpose of the rape is not only to hurt and intimidate but to impregnate. This can be especially true in patrilinial cultures where identity is conferred by fathers alone, not mothers.

Diane E. King, a cultural anthropologist, explains the use of rape in this context in the International Herald Tribune:
Rape is always humiliating, always a violation, always awful. But under patrilineal cultures, it can also be a tool of sectarian discord and even genocide. This is the case in Iraq, where rape is frequently used as a weapon of sectarian conflict. When a Shiite militiaman rapes a Sunni woman, for example, he is seen as potentially implanting a Shiite individual into her womb. He is causing her to suffer dual humiliations: She is sexually violated, with all of the personal implications that that would carry in any culture. But the rape further serves like a Trojan Horse: Thereafter, an offspring bearing the rapist's identity may well be hidden inside her body, an enemy who will emerge in nine months.

So cross-sectarian rape as a weapon of political conflict hypothetically can force a woman to nurture her own enemy. But in actual practice, this rarely happens. Rather, the tragedy of rape is compounded when a member of that woman's group eliminates her and any enemy offspring through an "honor killing." Honor killings are usually carried out by the father or brother of the victim, although they may be committed by others from the group. Alternatively, the woman herself may commit an "honor suicide."

Honor killings have been on the rise in Iraq. The connection these killings have to a corresponding rise in rapes has not been documented, but there seems to be every reason to assume a connection.

Women are not the only ones whose victimization in warfare takes on richer meaning in light of patriliny. In patrilineal logic, a man is not simply an individual with the ability to wage conflict; he is the sole bearer of seed, the sowing of which adds greater strength to his group. A man who is killed is eliminated from producing any further members of his group.

In patriliny, the stage is set for one patrilineal group to inflict maximum harm on another: Rape the women, and thereby inflict one of the awful options of bearing enemy children or killing their own. Kill the men, and thereby eliminate not only combatants, but those with power to produce more members of the enemy. No people with hybrid identities exist.

Inter-group enmity driven by patrlineal logic has already given rise to genocidal conflict from Bosnia to Rwanda, Kosovo to Darfur. Iraq may already justifiably be placed on this list. Who will speak up for the victims? All those in power in Iraq bear a responsibility to stop the madness.
And, as reported here before, many countries in conflict such as Sudan, make prosecution of rape very difficult. For a woman to prove rape under Sudanese law, she needs four male witnesses. This requirement puts undue burdens on women in a traditional society where single women having sex can be sentenced to 100 lashes at the discretion of a judge. A married woman proven to have had sex outside of her marriage can be stoned to death.

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