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

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail