Glass Houses: Rapes and Victim-Blaming in the Western World

Revised. Updates I & II below:

Apparently the U.S., unlike India, has moved past its own backward history of victim-blaming. Apparently, I am to believe, according to the New York Times and Nicholas Kristof, that it is India which must deal with its sexual violence. And the Good Mr. Kristoff and the New York Times know this because the US has dealt with its own sexual violence. It’s now in the past, judging from the smug authority of the Times.

The victim of gang-rape in India, as many of us know, died several days ago after having been brutally beaten, essentially to death. From the moment that the rape made the international news, even before she died, there was a collective audible, transnational gasp.

That gasp turned—-rightfully–into a loud protest by Indians, against an environment of fear and danger that is perpetuated from various segments of society. These include the police, who have been unwilling to protect women or arrest men who have been accused of rape. They include courts, who are unwilling to arrest and try accused rapists. These include politicians and media, who engage in victim-blaming. These include communities who are unwilling to defend their female family members who have been sexually assaulted.

That gasp also induced a gaping at what Margaret Kimberley calls the pornography of suffering—where first world denizens are mesmerized, horrified, by the spectacle of rapes in non-first world locales with darker residents. In the cases of Congo and Somalia, the spectacle is amplified by the long-standing racist fetishization of black men’s sexuality.  While India may not have the same associations, it is nevertheless subject to its own version of Orientalism: India is either the peaceful refuge of Om Shanti Shanti yoga chants and ashrams, or invoked for its seemingly unmatched teeming poverty and malnutrition. The men in this picture, over the last 3 weeks, thanks to the focus by Western media, are now the singular demons of unchecked sexual predation.

Indeed, it is difficult to miss the incessant focus by first world denizens and media at the “backwards” culture of India, such that, as one interlocutor informed me, “they have a history of victim-blaming” there.

It must be a relief for denizens of the Global North to point fingers at the “regressive” cultures of the darker nations.  Perhaps the spectacle of Indians marching in protest at the rape allows for the convenient, momentary forgetfulness (or maybe continued avoidance) of the US’s state-led policy of “inadvertently” or deliberately killing and torturing children, some of whom had the audacity to be born to irresponsible terrorist fathers—as Robert Gibbs reminds us.  It allows Americans to be undistracted by the racial profiling thousands of Black and Muslim men, or incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Black men in a gratuitous war on drugs, renditions and imprisonment of hundreds of Muslim men—most without ever knowing the charges against them. But at least we know it is because “they are terrorists.” It is a good thing that the US doesn’t have a history of victim-blaming.

Perhaps the spectacle of 3rd world rape allows Americans to forget its own “rape culture”–the one where the US has had a long history of putting the victims of sexual assault on trial while ostensibly pretending that they were holding a fair trial for suspected rapists. The one where 11 year old girls are gang-raped— –continuously over a period of months. And in which the entire town and one of the nation’s leading newspapers—the same one which points to India’s need to straighten itself out—manages to blame the child. Yes, that moral beacon of colonialism and hypocrisy: the New York Times.

According to The National Women’s Study and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 683,000 women are raped annually in the United States. That equals 1.3 rapes every 3 minutes, 78 rapes hourly, and 1,871 rapes daily.  These numbers are hardly insignificant. And they only indicate reported rapes. Eleanor Bader points to a Department of Justice August 2012 study that states that 33% of sexual victimization of the general public goes unreported.

Combined, these numbers indicate a serious rape culture in the U.S., one where Sen. Todd Aikin can openly claim that “legitimate rapes” don’t cause pregnancy.  Or as Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed, rape “is something that God intended.”

Consider Steuben, Ohio, where members of the high school football team are accused of drugging, gang-raping, urinating on, and carrying an unconsconscious female teen from party to party. One is accused of taking a nude picture or video of the girl. And no one in the entire town stepped forward to say what they saw—despite reams of evidence that appear to be circulating on Facebook, and elsewhere. Including statements about how “Some people deserve to be peed on.”

But it’s India that has a culture of “victim-blaming.”  Clearly, the U.S. isn’t backwards at all. I now recognize the New York Times’ moral authority in wagging its journalistic finger at India’s “backward” culture.  If I didn’t, I might be a little shaken by the statistics of sexual assault that occurred in US state and federal prisons, and jails, ICE special confinement facilities, and Indian reservation prisons:

Out of 81,566 inmates interviewed in 2008-9, 11,600 reported an unwanted sexual incident with another prison inmate. 15,800 reported an unwanted sexual incident that occurred with prison staff. 3,400 inmates reported unwanted sexual incidents by both inmates and staff.

1% of prisoners report having been the target of nonconsensual sexual acts: or approximately 815 inmates. And these are only the reported sexual assaults. If we assume that rapes in prison go unreported at the same rate as those in the general public (and the likelihood is that the percentage is even higher), then there is a very strong manifestation of rape culture in U.S. prisons.

In an earlier 2007 study by the Department of Justice, as cited by Eleanor Bader, out of over 40,000 inmates in local jails, 5.1% of women and 2.9% of men experienced some form of sexual assault.

Of course, it is easy to compartmentalize these statistics by somehow assuming that they are occurring to members of a criminal(ized), therefore deranged, primitive segment of the population—which is “rightfully” in prison. Until we remember the range of laws that can easily land someone in prison: 3 strikes, you’re out; material support statute violations, excessive drug laws, hate crimes laws (which disproportionately target minorities), etc.

In other words, the victims consist of many folks who are dangerously similar to many of us: one mistake, or skin color, or religion, or race, away from prison time. And like the western focus on India, the visual spectacle of dark men raping or dark women being raped somehow lands a collective Western audience in a state of horror that is strangely absent when considering rape in a whitely context:

In March of this year, a few media sources reported the death of a Ukrainian teen, who was gang-raped, strangled and set on fire by the sons of government officials. She had burns over 55% of her body, and had both of her feet and one arm amputated in an attempt to save her. Before she died, she made a video from her hospital bed naming her assaulters. Hundreds of Ukrainians marched in protest of her death. There was very little outrage from the rest of the world. There was no NYT editorial warning the Ukraine to get its house in order, even as it reported that 2 of the young men arrested in the incident were released by prosecutors.

It is hard, then, to argue that the reason so much attention was paid to the circumstances of the Indian woman was because of the horrific nature of the crime. Because she was gang-raped and beaten to death. Our hearts, mine included, went numb.  But so did my heart when I learned of the 11-year old who was gang-raped.

So did my heart when I followed the news of the young boys induced to trust Jerry Sandusky, only to be brutally betrayed. Only to feel that they must keep silent because of the stigma surrounding male rape. Because their families relied on Sandusky to raise their boys, to provide care and a “male role model.”

So did my heart when I learned of the woman who was horrifically and brutally raped, beaten, and killed by members of a “cult.” Rape victims die in the US. They die horrific deaths. And somehow they don’t grab our attention in the way that the horrible fate of this young woman did.

But they should–in order to challenge the systematicity of rape in every single society. In order to challenge the patriarchy of every single society, the abuse of power that enables girl-children and boy-children, to be raped.

Ten of thousands of Indian citizens marched in protest of the fear and danger that surround Indian women.  Imagine if mothers and daughters across the US had marched in protest of the rape and murder of Lalita Patel, a 62 year-old South Asian woman, who was killed by a U.S. army veteran this past summer.

Or after U.S. troops raped several Afghan women earlier last month.

Couldn’t we have drawn attention to the horror of rape?  Many young women and their allies did march in Canada and across the US last year. It was called the “Slutwalk.” They marched in protest of victim-blaming—by a Canadian police officer who insisted that women learn not to dress like sluts. (Oh, wait—sounds a lot like the claims of Indian policemen who blame Indian rape victims). The name alone created such a distraction that the fact of the protests around the US and Canada was lost amidst the debates over the name.

Indian women fear traveling outside by themselves, or late at night, or traveling alone at all. So do many women in the US. Yet, only the horrific, horrible tragedy of a young woman in Delhi can make us pause and think about rape.

Shouldn’t the gang-rapes of children, teenaged girls, and women in the US, in North America, in France, by ordinary men as well as by political elites such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, make us pause? Perhaps the NYT and Nicholas Kristof might be able to persuade the Western world to get its own house in order.

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Update (12 pm, Jan 2): As of the latest NDAA, which goes into effect tomorrow, U.S. servicewomen will now be able to have Department of Defense-funded abortions in cases of rape and incest (Sec. 704). Sen. John McCain, feminist that he is, has endorsed a provision, according to NYT, that would “ensure” that U.S. servicewomen who are subject to sexual assault “will be treated with fairness.” This will be one of primary benefits of NDAA —a benefit that is not extended to women outside of the service, nor to those who are not federal employees.

How exactly does this ensure “fairness” for US servicewomen who are victims of sexual assault? It allows them to have access to coverage for abortions. It doesn’t exactly protect them or decrease the chances of sexual assault. Still, it is a huge feminist stance compared to Aikin or Mourdock’s positions, but also an admission of a rape culture in the U.S. Armed Services.

Update: (10:28 am, Jan. 15): According to this trailer for “Invisible War,” a Sundance Film on the pervasive rape culture in the U.S. Army, 16,150 sexual assaults occurred in 2009, and 500,000 men and women have been assaulted in total (I think that number refers to reported assaults; I wonder if the total number is significantly larger).

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Advantages of Not Being Female, Muslim, or Black*

What I do know is that nothing in the world can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs.

–Bernard Henri-Levy on the unjust treatment of his friend Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Monday evening, in Manhattan, a private settlement was reached between Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund and one-time French presidential hopeful, and Nafitassou Diallo, a Guinean migrant and part of the housekeeping staff at the NY Sofitel hotel where DSK stayed. There is no word on the amount of the settlement, which marked an acrid public debate about how badly DSK was treated, even though Diallo had charged DSK with sexual assault in March 2011.

In a lame attempt to dilute the gravity of the charges DSK admitted that he had made an “error” and had engaged in a “moral failure,” while avoiding an admission of sexual assault.  By contrast, Diallo had her credibility questioned repeatedly and her words recorded and distorted.

While the French newspapers are dutifully reporting the settlement, their tone is in stark contrast to the outrage and shock that the French media and intelligentsia expressed at the horrific treatment received by one of the foremost political elites of Europe. Strauss-Kahn was a player “extraordinaire”: Charming, elegant, eloquent, and capable of holding his own among the world’s power players. Why, my fellow philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy asked, would DSK be treated so badly when the charges were clearly fabricated?

What I do know is that nothing in the world can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs.

What I know is that nothing, no suspicion whatever (for let’s remind ourselves that, as I write these lines, we are dealing only with suspicions!), permits the entire world to revel in the spectacle, this morning, of this handcuffed figure, his features blurred by 30 hours of detention and questioning, but still proud.

What I know as well is that nothing, no earthly law, should also allow another woman, his wife, admirable in her love and courage, to be exposed to the slime of a public opinion drunk on salacious gossip and driven by who knows what obscure vengeance.

And what I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere.

Poor DSK. The treatment he received was horrible. Here is how they mistreated him: they publicly apprehended DSK at New York’s JFK airport, forced him to do a “perp” walk in front of a gaggle of reporters, required him to stay in a NYC prison over the weekend until he was publicly arraigned at a Manhattan criminal court. He was…treated…as suspects were often treated in the pre-9/11 days: as a suspect who would eventually receive his day in court. And eventually the charges against him were dropped, proving further to the French that he was unjustly treated.

Perhaps the treatment of DSK should be compared to that treatment to that meted to Jose Padilla, deemed an enemy combatant in the early years of the war on terror, as described by the ACLU yesterday, as his mother brings a human rights case at an International human rights tribunal to protest her son’s treatment:

In 2002, President Bush declared Padilla an “enemy combatant” and ordered him to be placed in military custody. U.S. officials seized Padilla from a civilian jail in New York and secretly transported him to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., where they held him for 43 months without charge. Interrogators subjected Padilla to torture and other egregious forms of abuse, including forcing him into stress positions for hours on end, punching him, depriving him of sleep and threatening him with further torture, “extraordinary rendition” and death.

Doesn’t quite seem parallel. Perhaps DSK’s treatment resonates with that of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar, who was intercepted at JFK on his way back from a family trip to Tunis, and rendered “off-site” for torture. For no apparent reason besides being Middle Eastern:

We went into the basement, and they opened a door, and I looked in. I could not believe what I saw. I asked how long I would be kept in this place. He did not answer, but put me in and closed the door. It was like a grave. It had no light. It was three feet wide. It was six feet deep. It was seven feet high. It had a metal door, with a small opening in the door, which did not let in light because there was a piece of metal on the outside for sliding things into the cell.There was a small opening in the ceiling, about one foot by two feet with iron bars. Over that was another ceiling, so only a little light came through this.

There were cats and rats up there, and from time to time the cats peed through the opening into the cell. There were two blankets, two dishes and two bottles. One bottle was for water and the other one was used for urinating during the night. Nothing else. No light.

I spent 10 months, and 10 days inside that grave.

The next day I was taken upstairs again. The beating started that day and was very intense for a week, and then less intense for another week. That second and the third days were the worst.  I could hear other prisoners being tortured, and screaming and screaming. Interrogations are carried out in different rooms…

The cable is a black electrical cable, about two inches thick. They hit me with it everywhere on my body.  They mostly aimed for my palms, but sometimes missed and hit my wrists — they were sore and red for three weeks. They also struck me on my hips, and lower back. Interrogators constantly threatened me with the metal chair, tire and electric shocks. The tire is used to restrain prisoners while they torture them with beating on the sole of their feet. I guess I was lucky, because they put me in the tire, but only as a threat.

I was not beaten while in tire. They used the cable on the second and third day, and after that mostly beat me with their hands, hitting me in the stomach and on the back of my neck, and slapping me on the face.  Where they hit me with the cables, my skin turned blue for two or three weeks, but there was no bleeding. At the end of the day, they told me tomorrow would be worse. So I could not sleep.  Then on the third day, the interrogation lasted about 18 hours. They beat me from time to time and make me wait in the waiting room for one to two hours before resuming the interrogation.

Maher Arar was finally released and allowed to return to Canada over 1 year and 10 months later. He has never been given an explanation for his treatment. Nor an apology from the U.S. government. Nor a visa to enter the U.S.

BHL’s words, in the epigraph above, echo as I reread this description of Maher Arar.  But apparently it can be justified–in the same breath as acknowledging that it is immoral. Two days ago, I had an exchange on Twitter about precisely this, even as my interlocutor agreed that torture was immoral.

But I don’t hear my dear colleague BHL exclaiming outrage about the latter cases. Why are earth-shattering screams of outrage only provoked when white elites such as DSK are thought to be badly treated? Why do we hear only mind-numbing silence when Jose Padilla, Maher Arar, Fahad Hashmi, Tarek Mehanna—dark, Muslim, non-elite men–are held, detained indefinitely without charges, put in solitary confinement for months and years, beaten with cables, and tortured otherwise? Why do we hear only smug justifications when the US kills US citizens and Muslims such as Anwar Al-Awlaki and, two weeks later, murders his 16 year-old US citizen son, Abdulrahman?  Where are BHL’s protests when African American woman are sentenced to a life in prison for a drug crime that they did not commit? Why do we hear little outcry from BHL and his colleagues when Muslim women in the UK are charged with terrorism for possessing an “Al-Qaeda magazine”?

Perhaps part of the answer can be found here:

“He was arrested just hours before the meeting during which he would face a more orthodox German chancellor to plead the cause of a country, Greece, that he believed could be brought back to order without being brought to its knees. His defeat would also be that of this great cause. It would be a disaster for this entire part of Europe and of the world, because the IMF, under his leadership and for the first time in its history, did not intend to sell out to the superior interests of Finance. And that would really be a dreadful sign.”

The horror then is that someone of such prestige, such wealth, such importance, was having his honor questioned by…a…gasp …“chambermaid” with whom “he had a quick tumble.”  There are virtually no references in the French context to the race of the “chambermaid,” or to that of the former head of the IMF.  But that is not surprising in a nation that still has no official statistics on race, nearly half a century after moving away from its colonial past: This is the French’s version of anti-racism, similar to the American liberal view of “colorblindness.” That is to say, if we don’t name it, then we can pretend it doesn’t exist…or that it will just go away.

As interesting, story after story came out about DSK’s “exploits,” (as if such a casual term could possibly describe what was slowly emerging as a history of sexual assault)—all of which were summarily dismissed by…French elites, prosecutors, philosophers. The regressive attitude toward sexual assault could be seen in the description of the tumble with the chambermaid, and in some of the following stories that soon came to light:

Tristane Banon, DSK’s step-daughter accused of DSK of having attacked her years before, describing him as a rutting chimpanzee. To bring out this accusation when she did suggests that it was hardly a spontaneous act of the imagination. But even then, DSK’s staunch defender BHL stopped at little: accusing DSK’s step-goddaughter of pulling out all an “eight-year” old accusation of attempted rape because of a “golden” opportunity. And what kind of opportunity was this, one might wonder? To accuse one’s family member of rape in public, after years?

And there were other accusations as well—certainly not legal accusations, but rumors of DSK’s sexually coercive exploits, which had floated about France for years. We can be skeptical of them, but it becomes more and more difficult to cast them off when the rumors and incidences and alleged victims multiply.

There are several lessons to be learned here:

1)    the sexuality of working-class, poor, and migrant women of color will always be under more suspicion than the coercive tendencies of the upper-class men who are accused of assaulting them.

2)    When those accusations are corroborated through the stories of other women, the falsely reviled sexual assault victim will rarely, if ever, receive an apology from those who cast aspersions on her to begin with. At least, I think so. Right, Bernie?

3)    The outrage and shock over the simple procedural treatment of upper-class men accused of sexual crimes will be loud and shrill–even in the face of plausible evidence.

4)  The horrendous treatment of Muslim men and women, of Black men and women, will be casually accepted worldwide–even in the face of no evidence whatsoever. And it will be augmented by near silence or smug righteousness.

I can only take a bit of comfort as a settlement was reached between DSK and Diallo, that some tiny little justice was served, even in the face of enormous, unconscionable, gaping injustices for other men and women of color in the US and around the world.

Yet, we can rest assured that upper-class elite white men, like their predecessors, will always be excused from being accountable for crimes they may have committed, while men and women of color and their communities will—for the foreseeable future–have to pay for crimes that they will never commit.

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*Corrected Title. This post has been updated and revised.

Saving Afghan Women? NDAA 2013 Exploits Feminism to Justify Western Imperialism

Recently, the US Senate passed a measure designed to increase security for Afghan women as America gets ready to leave the country. The provision in question, according to the New York Times, “offers hope for the Afghan women who fear they will be even more vulnerable to harsh customs and the men who impose them after American troops withdraw from Afghanistan.” With its passage, some might believe that the United States demonstrating its commitment to feminism. That might be too quick a judgment.

Sen. Bob Casey, one of the sponsors of the measure describes it thus:

The legislation would require a three-part strategy to promote the security of Afghan women and girls by monitoring and responding to changes in women’s security, improving gender sensitivity and responsiveness among Afghan National Security personnel, and increasing the recruitment and retention of women in the Afghan National Security Forces. The Department of Defense would also be required to include an assessment of actions taken to implement the strategy and its results in its semi-annual reports to Congress on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan.

This provision is sponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). In light of the stories of Taliban repression of women, this provision suggests that Casey and Bailey-Hutchison really care about the fate of Afghan women. Let’s review their feminist records, shall we?

Casey, a Democrat, voted for Sen. Roy Blunt’s ““Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” in March of this year. One of the most controversial aspects of the Health Insurance bill, it enabled employers to opt out of providing abortion and contraceptive coverage, along with “any other health treatment based solely on the undefined determination of the employer’s religious and moral beliefs, including prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, cancer screenings, and mammograms.”

As Kate Michelman points out, that vote was consistent with Bob Casey’s earlier votes against stem cell research funding back in 2007. Even though the bill passed, Pres. George Bush vetoed it– to his infinite credit. Was that the end of the story? Not quite: To show HIS feminist solidarity, President Obama enacted the ban against federal funding of stem cell research law through Executive order.

Hutchison’s feminist credentials are more ambiguous. Although until 2006, she sat on the board of The Wish List, PAC that endorsed pro-choice Republican candidates, she is hardly pro-choice. The National Right to Life Committee gave her between 93% and 100% on her anti-choice views over the last few years. Conversely, NARAL has given her between 0%-20% based on her consistency in voting to restrict access to abortion. As a Representative, Hutchison did work to sponsor legislation that would allow victims of rape to keep their names out of the press. But that was almost 40 years ago.

There is little in the description that confirms a chivalrous or feminist impulse to save Afghan women. The measure indicates a commitment to implement a security system that reflects and sustains American presence in Afghanistan.  Moreover, rebuilding Afghanistan in the image of the US facilitates a structure that would allow the US an excuse to rush back when it deems that the new political order is not going according to plan. We saw an example of this when the US objected to the Afghan insistence on upholding due process in its new justice system.

What exactly is the danger that Afghan women face from other Afghan men? Patriarchy? Violence? Sexual assault? Being vulnerable to violence when leaving the house? I have no problem believing that Afghan men can be sexist, misogynist, and harmful to women, just as I have no problem believing that men (and women  in positions of power) from all over the world can be sexist, misogynist and harmful to women. But there is a serious question about the relative comparison that Afghan men are MORE sexist, misogynist, and harmful than men anywhere else in the world, and that Whites (and elite People of Color who are part of White supremacy) are needed to save them from the harms of their male family and community.

That is to say, the rhetoric of this provision eclipses the danger that Afghan women have been in UNDER the presence of US soldiers for the last 5 years. The number of reported instances of rape, mayhem and plunder that U.S. male soldiers have inflicted on Afghan and Iraqi women in the 11 years since the U.S. has sent troops into these countries suggest that the impulses of Casey and Hutchison need to be considered against the backdrop of the violence that Afghan women have suffered in light of the US military presence. See here and here and here for just a few instances in which U.S. soliders have not only raped Afghan women or girls, or set fire to entire families. And these are only in those cases where the accusations against them have been aired publicly.

Given the range of stories of similar assaults by U.S. soldiers, I wonder how that differs from their lives under US military over the last few years, especially as US soldiers have not been held accountable for their extracurricular activities such as wartime rape, village burnings, and assault

As scholar Gayatri Spivak points out, this is the age-old story of imperialism: White men saving brown women from brown men. But it IS a story: a piece of propaganda that is used to justify military actions and condemn Others.  In the same way that well-intentioned imperial governments invaded India to plunder resources and expand their global authority while convincing themselves that they were bringing civilization to the savages, the U.S. tells itself the story that it is a peacekeeper and protector of women.  A peacekeeper who invades and creates mayhem in a country by enabling its soldiers to rape Afghan women without punishment.

In terms of misogyny and sexism, the U.S. should have faced sanctions or been invaded already for its neglect in addressing the systematic rape and violence that are faced by women in various parts of the United States–by fundamentalist Christians, football coaches (plural), schoolteachers, among various men. The United States, according to recent UN statistics on sexual assault (Excel pdf)has among the top 10 rates of rape in the world—some of the other countries including UK, Belgium Sweden, South Africa, and Botswana. I’m sure there are biases of self-reporting, but let’s be clear: the US is hardly a feminist refuge.

If all goes well, the above measure will be included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, an annual budget measure which, over the last few years, has included little known provisions pertaining to the scope of presidential and military power in relation to the US’ War on Terror.  Last year’s NDAA made headlines as it included provisions Sec. 1031 and 1032, which authorized the US president to arrest or detain any US citizen or foreign national—anywhere in the world—on suspicion of terrorism. And that was in addition to a number of other objectionable provisions, as convincingly argued by ACLU’s Kade Crockford:

…the 600-page NDAA of 2013 authorizing 2/3rds of a trillion dollars in spending for the armed forces was before Congress. Introduced on March 29, 2012, by the time the new defense bill was voted on in mid May by the House it contained some troubling provisions. Sections 1221 and 1222 essentially authorized war with Iran. Again, the NDAA severely restricted the executive branch’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. An amendment termed “The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act” which was added to the NDAA permits the government to create and distribute pro-American propaganda within the US to counter al-Qaeda propaganda, striking down a long-standing ban.

This year’s NDAA will may yet make headlines in the US because of another recently passed measure, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to retract the power of the President to detain US citizens without cause. While a laudable move, it leaves intact the US presumptive authority to arrest Muslim men or foreign nationals assumed to be terrorists, and to detain them indefinitely without charges or trials.

The real danger to Afghan women is the United States’ arbitrary claim to decide the terms of security: to decide who will be subject to violence, when, and at what costs. The security of Afghan women may be increased if they follow an American political order; still, they and other foreigners have already been subject to the danger and the violence of U.S. imperialism–through rapes and violence committed by US soldiers under the auspices of America’s self-justification to wage a imperial war abroad and at home. Those parts of the U.S. imperial mission to civilize and uplift will hardly make Afghan women, or men more secure.

Protecting Women and Children: France, Drones and Disingenuous Justifications

Formerly Titled: Protecting the Honor of Women and Children: Allons-y!

Update I [below]

Any day now, I expect that the US will do the right thing and invade France–or at least send stealth drones–to manage the Gallic descent into degradation and chaos. The French judicial system just today has acquitted 6 of 10 men who gang-raped two teens repeatedly; it gave the remaining 4 men fewer than 3-year sentences. It gets worse: because of time already served, only one man was returned to prison. The two women were in their teens, and were raped for years by “scores” of men. I can’t summarize it. Here is the description in today’s Guardian:

The alleged Fontenay-sous-Bois attacks took place between 1999 and 2001. One night returning from a cinema, aged 16, Nina, described as a tomboy who was good at school, said she was grabbed by a local group of youths, taken to basement cellars in the flats, raped and subjected to a series of brutal sex attacks by scores of local boys. The extremely violent, prolonged sex attacks by large groups of boys continued daily, in car-parks, stairwells, apartments, cellars and the empty playground of a local nursery school. She said there would be “at least 25” youths present during attacks in which she screamed, protested, cried and vomited. One witness described 50 boys “queuing” to attack her.

Threatened that her flat would be burned down if she spoke out, she was afraid to tell her mother, who noticed she was washing eight to 10 times a day.

The women kept quiet for years about the attacks until 2005, when Nina was left unconscious by one final brutal beating following years of abuse and finally told a female police officer. Psychiatric experts had agreed that both women were the victims of rape.

We know that the French have long had a history of devaluing women and their testimony regarding rape and sexual assault. Remember the French’s response to the allegations of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assaults? Scores of French denizens, including philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, rushed to defend him. They couldn’t believe that such a celebrated figure, the head of the IMF no less, could ever have done such a thing–despite the detailed accounts of Tristan Banon, the French journalist and god-daughter of DSK’s second wife, who described having to fend off the advances of the “rutting chimpanzee.” The Guardian’s account seems to confirm the same French’s attitude towards the gang-rape charges.

Clothilde Lepetit, a lawyer for one of the women, now in her 20’s, described the trials as “a judicial shipwreck. Here is another excerpt from the same article:

Another lawyer for the women, Laure Heinich, asked: “What sentence makes sense when one hears that gang-rapists are given a three years suspended sentence?” The case, which has gripped the country, has highlighted the problems in historic rape investigations where material evidence is lacking and much rests on the women’s word. Lawyers for the women said they felt the women’s testimony had not been respected during the trial.

Amid surprise at the verdict in France, the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, said there could be grounds to appeal. “Personally, I’m shocked by gang-rapes, by every form of aggression against women and I think we have to create conditions so that the facts are established and those guilty can be effectively identified.”

The women’s minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said the case had shown that better education on sex and sexuality was needed in schools.

Sounds like the descriptions we hear of Pakistan. Vallaud-Belkacem is wrong: we need more than better education on sex and sexuality in France. We know that the French adore democracy, reason, and political freedom, because Ayaan Hirsi Ali has told us so. From the outrage gleaned, it makes sense that the rape trials were shams and that democracy is missing in France.

And where democracy and civilization are missing, we must be consistent in our stance against terror and anti-women actions. After all, we brought our beloved troops into the clash of civilizations between the Middle East and the freedom-loving “Developed World.” We needed to help replace the sovereign authority and sham judicial system of Iraq—and our troops did it! They not only toppled Iraqi oppression, they won their hearts and minds. Now it only makes sense—I’m sure Niall Ferguson would agree—that we must reintroduce democracy to the former light of the western model of fraternité, liberté, egalité—in the form of an invasion, or at the very least, drones.

Why am I so sure? Because we have heard from various elements that the vicious attack by the Taliban on the 14 year old Pakistani girl indeed confirms–justifies the POTUS’ decision to continue a (no-longer-stealthy) drone war. As Paul Whitefield of the Los Angeles Times sagely points out:

And this isn’t the horrible “honor killings” or acid attacks or whatever that we read about. This is a group attempting to kill a young girl to make a political statement.

How do you deal with such people? Sadly, I say you have to fight fire with fire.

Gibson’s right. People are cowering in terror in their homes in Pakistan, fearful of U.S. drones. But there are many kinds of terror, and in Pakistan, too much of it is home-grown.

So at this point, those terrible, deadly drones help Americans — and girls like Malala Yousafzai — sleep at night, knowing that they keep the Taliban from doing the same.

Paul Whitefield seems pretty content to discard due process and instead depend upon the razor sharp intel (and unverifiable for national security purposes) that justifies countless assassinations of foreign and U.S. nationals, interrogations (cf Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, Adnan Latif), torture, renditions, the declaration of wars on terror in “any” parts of the world where the United States sees that lives of women are at stake. He echoes Former First Lady Laura Bush’s sentiments, who informed us under her spouse’s Administration that we needed to invade Afghanistan because women were suffering under the Taliban. I take solace in the concern of American women-feminists—looking out for their oppressed counterparts—and I look forward to their consistent and applied pressure on their spouses to do the right thing in France. So I’m expecting Whitefield and other feminists to champion and endorse an invasion of France along with Cleveland, Texas (see below), and elsewhere where women can’t expect to sleep safely at night—or during the day.

Irony aside—let me say clearly that what happened to Malala Yousafszai, the 14 year-old outspoken activist shot by the Taliban in Pakistan is unjust, outrageous and shocking. According to mainstream media, it has—and should have–sparked outrage in Pakistan. In the United States, the widespread attention to the shooting is notable in the near eclipse of attention to the violence targeted against women all over the U.S., Canada, and other “first world” Western nations. I can’t help but wonder about the outrage—especially in contrast to the continued gang-rape of the two French teens, the gang-rape of the 11 year old in Cleveland, Texas by 20, TWENTY, men—a rape by the way that induced the denizens of Cleveland, TX to lay blame upon the victim for being promiscuous, for dressing too provocatively (and we think the Taliban are the only bass-ackwards group out there?). It makes me physically ill to consider the way an entire town flanked to protect the 20 men involved in raping her. I’m waiting for U.S. Armed Forces to invade Cleveland, Texas, or maybe send some drones in to bring some civility to those adults.

It makes me equally physically ill to hear the smug, righteous screams of Americans who exploit the horrific Taliban attack on Malala Yousafszai to justify the deaths of 2000-3000 men.

[An aside: these are the numbers that we have if we take seriously the report that “only” 1/6th to 1/3rd of the victims who’ve died from drone attacks since 2004 were civilians. And that’s before we try to reconcile that statement with the “Living Under Drones” Stanford/NYU report released in the last month that

All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single-source information and of the past record of false government reports.

Avid followers of the drone “debates” will be familiar with American Security Fellow Joshua Foust’s criticism of the report—including the charge of “bias” of small sample size of interviewees, and nonrandom interviewees, i.e. concluding that the report did not try objectively to count who really was a civilian victim and who was not. They might also be familiar with Kevin Gosztola’s and others’ ensuing challenges and exchanges to Foust as well as Gosztola’s challenge to Reuters reporter Myra MacDonald. The fairly obvious and definitive point of rebuttal was that it’s a bit hard for dead civilians to prove their innocence. And by extension, that the numbers are most likely severely deflated. Apologies to those of you who found that statement a bit obvious.]

The retroactive justification of an eight-year systemic drone war on Pakistan (ramped up 400% under the present Democratic POTUS) with a country with whom we are not officially at war–is heinous and morally despicable. It reminds me of the various right-wing charges of moral equivocation in 2002 as critics of the war on Terror suggested that the U.S. historical presence as an empire might have had something to do with the attacks upon the Twin Towers. How ironic that the apologists for the drones in Pakistan are engaging in a similar, morally problematic game of retroactive justification and moral equivocation.

If we really care about protecting the safety and security of women and children then presumably, those same defenders of drones will rise up to demand that we send in the National Guard and Active forces to France, Sweden, the UK, and the rest of Europe-where children have been captured, tortured, raped. If we really care about protecting the safety and security of dissenters and activists, then presumably, those same defenders of drones will rise up to demand the release of Julian Assange, Bradly Manning, Tarek Mehanna, and hundreds of others who have insisted that they want a life. Those same defenders will demand a repeal of Section 1031 of NDAA 2012, FISA, H.R. 347, and countless other erosions upon free speech, whistleblowing, and dissent in the U.S. [I am preparing for the onslaught of detractors who will call me batshit crazy for insisting upon a dose of skepticism with respect to assurances by the U.S.—or any government—about actions taken to protect its citizens that require secrecy and confidentiality. See every post I’ve ever written in the last year on PATRIOT Act, NDAA, FISA, H.R. 347, etc. Despite those seductive assurances, shockingly, I still tend to feel that I’m owed an accounting for the state’s actions in form of legal procedure. Must be PMS.]

I’m waiting, Paul Whitefield, Joshua Foust, Myra MacDonald, and others—to join forces to protect the safety of women, children, and activists around the world. Anyone? Hello? Hello?

Update:

Sadia Toor has an excellent article, “Imperialist Feminism Redux,” in Dialectical Anthropology. There, she argues seriously & clearly against the imperialist mentality that justifies drones, wars, invasions, i.e. what I am satirizing in this piece. Thanks to @avelokiteshvara for the lead.

Akin, Assange, and Questioning Rape

Strange moment: The right and the left have taken to debating the legitimacy of rape at the exact same time.  In order to defend his bill banning abortion in all cases, even of rape, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, Neanderthal that he be (apologies to our ancestors) has, infamously pointed out that women can’t get pregnant if it is a “legitimate rape.”* **

But don’t start laughing too self-righteously yet:  Much of the left has questioned the legitimacy of the rape allegations awaiting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as he has tried to challenge his extradition to Sweden. It’s not quite the same thing, but these events do have some points in common: A lot of folks, especially men, have felt gratuitously entitled to denounce the legitimacy of the rape allegations that are being raised against Assange. Gratuitous, because the issue of extraditing Assange to Sweden has little to do with the legitimacy of the allegations; they have to do with the concern that Sweden will allow him to be extradited to the US for leaking documents that show the US engaging, or collaborating with others, in massive wrongdoing.

That’s an important concern. Does it mean that Assange is being set up? To ask that question is to assume that the rape allegations are false. Even though we don’t need to weigh in on the allegations, many men have done exactly that: British MP George Galloway, revealing his own Neanderthal tendencies, rejected describing as rape the allegation that Assange had sex with one woman when she was sleeping.  The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, after naming at least one of them publicly, asked why the two women in question went to dinner with him after said activities, why they saw him again, why they waited to go to the police, why they were very public on their twitter accounts and elsewhere about their activities.  The implication here seems to be that if these women had “truly” been sexually assaulted, they wouldn’t have wanted to see their assaulter socially, and they would have turned their backs on him right away.

We could have a field day with these kinds of ignorant views (how exactly does one resist a sexual encounter when one is sleeping?).  To be fair, there is evidence to suggest that at least one of the women was quite distraught to hear that her testimony was being extracted to buttress potential rape charges against Assange: when she realized that this was the goal of Swedish prosecutors, she decided to cut short her cooperation. She has also suggested that she never felt threatened violently by Assange.

But let us assume that there was some sort of unwanted sexual activity imposed on either or both women: For those, like Craig Murray, who insist that if it was “really unwanted,” both of these women would have immediately distanced themselves from Assange: This translates into “it’s not really rape because they didn’t publicly, openly, visually reject Assange.”  In effect, the lefty denunciation amounts to VERY similar assessment of rape that the rightist Akin asserted: it’s not legitimate because women who are really raped will behave in ways that we expect; women who aren’t really raped will behave in ways that we expect.

It’s not a LEGITIMATE rape because the women didn’t exhibit what both groups wanted them to exhibit?!? C’mon, folks.  To question the legitimacy of sexual assault charges is to question whether others should behave as you (think you) would in those same circumstances. It assumes that the nature of coercion is always violent. It’s not. We have long known that coercion takes all sorts forms. Coercion can take all kinds of insidious, quiet forms—in relation to ethics (see US Soldiers dropping drones); finance (see Financial Crisis and Sub-Prime Loans); and rape: which is why we have categories called sexual molestation, incest, acquaintance rape and statutory rape. The latter is what Huckabee was ostensibly distinguishing from ‘forcible’ rape.

It is counter-productive for sympathetic lefties to denounce the allegations of rape against Assange. We don’t really know all the facts surrounding what happened between Assange and the two Swedish women in question. But we don’t need to know. What we do know is that the U.S. has also put much pressure (invisible—yes—coercion) on the UK to extradite Assange—because of the Obama Administrations’s now well-established track record of punishing whistle-blowers. That should be enough to question. We don’t also need to stoop to the level of the right.

What is disturbing, however, is the possibility that these rape allegations are being pursued without the consent of the women involved.  And therein lies a return to the question of coercion:  When these women (or at least one of them) decided to report her encounter with Assange to the police, it appears to be because he was uninterested in responding to her request to be tested for STD’s. It might have also been for other acts that resemble what we associate with sexual assault or rape. It is unclear whether the women in question are translating their interactions with Assange as rape or sexual assault.

And so, unrelated to Assange or whistleblowing altogether, is the question of how to protect women (or anyone) who translates what happened to them as rape, without undermining those women who interpret certain acts that happened to them, not as rape but some other violation. This is an issue that urges the importance of making distinctions—not by those who are bystanders—but by those who were the subjects of these violations. Whether someone is raped (assuming they are adults) is best determined by s/he who is subject of the violation–and if with her consent, the procedure goes further—by a properly instructed, properly selected jury that has heard ALL the evidence. We may not like the outcome, we may disagree with the interpretation. But short of imposing a colonial judgment (that a woman is the victim of false consciousness, or doesn’t know better), we need to let those who are directly subject to an offensive act decide what it is, and ask for help accordingly,—without the denunciations of bystanders, or other nations pursuing barely-concealed designs on the accused.

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*Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and governor of Arkansas, has tried to defend Akin by distinguishing between forcible rape and “unforced rape.  Frankly, it’s hard to know how Huckabee’s comment is helping to “defend” Akin; doesn’t his point about how “extraordinary people are the result of “forcible” rape kinda disprove Akin’s point about rape-induced non-pregnancy?

**President Obama, realizing that this was a win-win-win situation (he could simultaneously 1. denounce Republican Akin, 2. Julian Assange AND 3. put in a plug for his own healthcare plan) didn’t miss out on a chance to offer a meaningless tautology: “Rape is rape.”