FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sexual Violence and Tahrir Square

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Melbourne.

The accounts send a shudder down the spine, reports of systematic and orchestrated assaults against women that have taken place in Tahrir Square this year.  The incidents are a reminder that nature, in abhorring a vacuum, often fills it with hideous subject matter.  On the edge of reason, when political structures are finding a basis of stability and fear, victims abound.  They can, sadly, take the form of gendered violence, instances of punitive control over perceived deviancy.

Since the Egyptian Revolution was unleashed, the reporting of sexual crimes has increased.  Operation Anti-Sexual Harrassment/Assault (OpAntiSh), an outfit created to rescue victims of the Square, received 19 reports of group assaults in January.  Six of the victims ended up in hospital, while an instance of genital mutilation was also noted.

The arguments from clerics and those on the conservative side of the fence were not sympathetic. If you are raped, you were asking for it.  A person who was there at the time they were assaulted may themselves have been up to no good. The rationale for punishment thereby comes full circle – one is violent to punish those who transgress, a vigilante measure that, while receiving no formal paper trail to the government, reeks of complicity.

Egyptian cleric Abu Islam is a polemical case in point, claiming on Al-Omma TV on February 7 that “naked, unveiled women who go [to Tahrir Square] in order to get raped – all of a sudden, they are considered taboo.”  For the indignant representative, a religious undertone was very much present – to be feminine was not merely to be Islamic but abide by “religious obligation to be a women.”  Ergo, women who were protesting were not Islamic but “Crusader women, and the other 10 per cent being Freemasons and widows who are fearless and out of control.”

Rape, to that end, is a weapon, an imposition, not merely the cudgel of patriarchy but its shackles.  In the case of ancient Rome, the rape of the Sabine women in the 8th century BC was premised on the very idea that the state needed fresh offspring, be it through unattractive invitation or applied coercion.  Romulus, in sending emissaries to neighbouring peoples, sought marriages and alliances.  “But nowhere,” writes the historian Livy in his History of Rome, “were the emissaries given a fair hearing.”  A feast was subsequently organised within the walls of the city, with the entire Sabine population in attendance.  The signal was duly made and the women carried off, booty to sire new bodies for the city.

Romulus would explain to the incarcerated womenfolk that none of this would have transpired had their men not been so “inflexible” about their womenfolk’s bodies.  Here, rationalised sexual violence finds its greatest articulation, a scrappy dispute over property, a disagreement over the ways of female flesh.  “A good relationship,” proclaimed Romulus, “often begins with an offence.”

The rapes initiated in Tahrir Square have no Sabine inspiration other than one of affirmation: that women should not protest and that, if they do, they should be punished.  To slightly adjust a remark made by British writer Laurie Penny in The Independent (Nov 4, 2011), a woman’s opinion is the short skirt of the revolution. (Penny was writing about opinion expressed online, a flaunting message that is “somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill and urinate on you.”)

OpAntiSh admit that they do not have “concrete” evidence that such attacks issue from the state.  There are “only testimonies from victims, but we know it is a tactic.”  The purpose?  To “ruin the image of Tahrir Square and demonstrators in general.”  They are not the only ones, and globally, rape remains a form of grotesque discipline, a tool of power that is often wielded by the impotent.

As Rebecca Solnit quite rightly asserts in a piece for Al-Jazeera (Feb 10) the business of rape is a global business, enacted with grim, ritualistic frequency.  In the United States, there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, with one in five women raped in her lifetime.  Gang rapes have taken place in India and Mexico, though it is only those that veer their lurid way into the news.  The eccentric have also found their way to get coverage involving instances of remarkable violence against women – a San Diego man who killed and cooked his wife last November, or a man from New Orleans who did the same to his girlfriend in 2005.  Others are chokingly silent.

With such specific reports coming from Cairo, it is easy to forget that rape is a pandemic, if not, in many terrifying instances, an afterthought.  How easy it is to forget that politicians of the GOP in the United States have been happy to explain rape pregnancies as gifts from god, a form of divine intervention that denies, at the end of the day, the autonomy of the subject.  As an end, such behaviour has one fundamental outcome: the denial of liberty itself.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail