Creative Destruction

July 15, 2006

Ruth Rosen: The Hidden War On Women In Iraq

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Ampersand @ 2:06 am

At TomDispatch, a horrifying but not surprising article by Ruth Rosen on women’s conditions in Iraq post-invasion.

There’s no way I can quote all the important parts of this article, but here’s a few samples:

Amal Kadham Swadi, one of seven Iraqi female attorneys attempting to represent imprisoned women, told the Guardian that only one woman she met with was willing to speak about rape. “She was crying. She told us she had been raped. Several American soldiers had raped her. She had tried to fight them off, and they had hurt her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, ‘We have daughters and husbands. For God’s sake don’t tell anyone about this.'”

[…]

Sexual Terrorism on the Streets

Meanwhile, the chaos of the war has also led to a rash of kidnappings and rapes of women outside of prison walls. After interviewing rape and abduction victims, as well as eyewitnesses, Iraqi police and health professionals, and U.S. military police and civil affairs officers, Human Rights Watch released a report in July, 2003, titled Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad. Only months after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, they had already learned of twenty-five credible allegations of the rape and/or abduction of Iraqi women. Not surprisingly, the report found that “police officers gave low priority to allegations of sexual violence and abduction, that the police were under-resourced, and that victims of sexual violence confronted indifference and sexism from Iraqi law enforcement personnel.” Since then, as chaos, violence, and bloodletting have descended on Iraq, matters have only gotten worse.

After the American invasion, local gangs began roaming Baghdad, snatching girls and women from the street. Interviews with human rights investigators have produced some horrifying stories. […]

As recently as June 2006, Mayada Zhaair, spokeswoman for the Women’s Rights Association, a local NGO, reported, “We’ve observed an increase in the number of women being sexually abused and raped in the past four months, especially in the capital.”

No one knows how many abducted women have never returned. As one Iraqi police inspector testified, “Some gangs specialize in kidnapping girls, they sell them to Gulf countries. This happened before the war too, but now it is worse, they can get in and out without passports.” Others interviewed by Human Rights Watch argued that such trafficking in women had not occurred before the invasion.

The U.S. State Department’s June 2005 report on the trafficking of women suggested that the extent of the problem in Iraq is “difficult to appropriately gauge” under current chaotic circumstances, but cited an unknown number of Iraqi women and girls being sent to Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and Persian Gulf countries for sexual exploitation.

[…]

Disappearing women

To avoid such dangers, countless Iraqi women have become shut-ins in their own homes. Historian Marjorie Lasky has described this situation in “Iraqi Women Under Siege,” a 2006 report for Codepink, an anti-war women’s organization. Before the war, she points out, many educated Iraqi women participated fully in the work force and in public life. Now, many of them rarely go out. They fear kidnap and rape; they are terrified of getting caught in the cross-fire between Americans and insurgents; they are frightened by sectarian reprisals; and they are scared of Islamic militants who intimidate or beat them if they are not “properly covered.”

“In the British-occupied south,” Terri Judd reported in the British Independent,”where Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi’s Army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst. Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.”

Invisible women — for some Iraqi fundamentalist Islamic leaders, this is a dream come true. The Ministry of the Interior, for example, recently issued notices warning women not to go out on their own. “This is a Muslim country and any attack on a woman’s modesty is also an attack on our religious beliefs,” said Salah Ali, a senior ministry official. Religious leaders in both Sunni and Shiite mosques have used their sermons to persuade their largely male congregations to keep working women at home. “These incidents of abuse just prove what we have been saying for so long,” said Sheikh Salah Muzidin, an imam at a mosque in Baghdad. “That it is the Islamic duty of women to stay in their homes, looking after their children and husbands rather than searching for work—especially with the current lack of security in the country.”

In the early 1970s, American feminists redefined rape and argued that it was an act driven not by sexual lust, but by a desire to exercise power over another person. Rape, they argued, was an act of terrorism that kept all women from claiming their right to public space. That is precisely what has happened to Iraqi women since the American invasion of Iraq.

There’s a lot more, and many links to more resources on women’s lives in Iraq. Read the whole thing.

I’m sorry to do a quote-post; I’ve tried writing a post on this subject myself many times, but I just get too angry to continue. What the US government (mostly Republicans, but with the cooperation of a shamefully huge number of Democrats) has done in Iraq is evil. If not the evil of malice, then the evil of being so self-centered and egotistical and partisan-sighted that they’re simply incapable of seeing the women whose murder, kidnappings, rapes, and home imprisonments they’ve eagerly enabled. It’s abusive and sick and – at the risk of becoming repetitive – evil.

And the number of pro-war Americans who have written or blogged honestly about the catastrophic decline in women’s rights in Iraq can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Are they sociopaths? Are they so racist and misogynistic that they’re incapable of caring what happens to non-white women? Are they so loyal to Bush that they think that the harm of saying one critical word about Bush outweighs the harm Bush’s policies have done to countless Iraqi women? What’s wrong with them?

(I know, I know; I’m being “shrill.” Why does anyone with a working brain think “shrill” is a legitimate critique of anything? Frankly, if thinking that what’s happening to Iraqi women is a moral travesty makes me shrill, then I’ll be shrill, and furthermore you should be ashamed if you’re not shrill.)

Keep in mind that women are a majority in Iraq. It’s becoming clear that, for that majority (and for many of the male minority, as well) bad as life under Saddam was, life under the American occupation is much worse. It’s a staggering accomplishment, if you think of it, that we’ve managed to outdo Saddam in this regard. Either this war was not fought to free the people of Iraq, despite many claims to the contrary. Or if it was fought to free Iraqis, then the effort has been a dismal failure by people so brainwashed by partisanship and/or pro-war ideology that they’re no longer capable of recognizing failure, let alone taking any responsibility for the unbelievable damage they’ve caused.

How many Iraqi women have to be raped, kidnapped, and murdered before more than a handful of the folks who favored invading Iraq admit they’ve screwed up catastrophically? My guess is: all of them. And even that probably wouldn’t be enough.

7 Comments »

  1. I understand your anger about the situation in Iraq. I do not know if it can truly be said that America has made the situation worse, but it does not appear that our administration made the situation any better. That said, I do not think it is fair to the countless boys and men who have also been murdered, kidnapped, raped and imprisoned to oversimply the war in Iraq as a gender-specific issue. Both genders’ situations are equally horrible, though it is far more likely that men and boys have shouldered the brunt of the war.

    How many Iraqis have to be raped, kidnapped, and murdered before more than a handful of the folks who favored invading Iraq admit they’ve screwed up catastrophically would be the better question.

    Comment by toysoldier — July 15, 2006 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  2. […] Ampersand is convinced that Iraq represents a catastrophic screw-up, and he’s pissed off at pro-war bloggers like myself for not admitting it. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » Women and Iraq — July 15, 2006 @ 10:47 pm | Reply

  3. Either this war was not fought to free the people of Iraq, despite many claims to the contrary. Or if it was fought to free Iraqis, then the effort has been a dismal failure by people so brainwashed by partisanship and/or pro-war ideology that they’re no longer capable of recognizing failure, let alone taking any responsibility for the unbelievable damage they’ve caused.

    Amp’s anger is palpable. He’s so angry he even suggests that he seriously considered the idea that Bush’s concern for the welfare of Iraqis motivated this war.

    Bush campaigned for office on the idea of keeping the US out of “nation-building” operations. I am not aware of any subsequent events that would have enhanced Bush’s concern for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan or Iraq. I don’t mean to say that the Bush Administration didn’t make humanitarian arguments in support of its wars, just as they made every other argument in support of the wars. But I don’t buy the image of Bush saying, “Gosh, since 9/11 I suddenly feel empathy for the oppressed people of Afghanistan and Iraq….”

    I also feel Amp’s rage in his demand for revenge – which is what I understand calls for “taking … responsibility” to be. I, too, would like to see Administration officials face some consequence for their screw-ups. (Hell, I’d like to see them all consigned to Gitmo, and force the Republican Congress to rescue them by finally adopting bona fide habeas corpus procedures….)

    But here’s the point: No amount of punishment for Administration screw-ups will help the women of Iraq now. As far as I can tell, the best hope for the women of Iraq is for the US to redouble its efforts to bring stability to that poor, beleaguered nation.

    I regretfully concluded that the US should stay and slug it out. If we succeed, we’ll bring a measure of comfort to generations of Iraqis.

    And yes, we’ll also bring some vindication to Bush. Yes, this view puts me in league with people so brainwashed by partisanship and/or pro-war ideology that they’re no longer capable of recognizing failure. It puts me in league with people seeking to aid the Administration in evading responsibility for the unbelievable damage they’ve caused. This is a bitter, bitter pill.

    But surely, Amp, surely you would be the last person to let partisanship stand in the way of promoting the best interests of the people of Iraqi. I don’t gainsay a single fact you cite. I do not ask you to abandon your well-grounded indignation with our government. But strategically, is now the time? Breathe deeply and reflect. Don’t we all have higher commitments?

    Among the many painful positions this war has created is the position of those of us who told them so. Cuz we DID tell them so, dammit! We should definitely learn from this when we face our next crisis. But saying “I told you so” is not very helpful now.

    May I say then, Amp, that my support of our continuing efforts in Iraq puts me in league with you?

    Comment by nobody.really — July 16, 2006 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

  4. […] In a recent comment Toy Soldier said: …it is far more likely that men and boys have shouldered the brunt of the war [in Iraq] […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » The hidden war on men in Iraq. — July 19, 2006 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  5. I also feel Amp’s rage in his demand for revenge – which is what I understand calls for “taking … responsibility” to be.

    What I hunger for is not revenge, really. What I want is some indication that the American leadership class is capable of acknowledging error and thus learning from it and improving their judgment in the future.

    But here’s the point: No amount of punishment for Administration screw-ups will help the women of Iraq now. As far as I can tell, the best hope for the women of Iraq is for the US to redouble its efforts to bring stability to that poor, beleaguered nation.

    Short of a major draft, I doubt that redoubling efforts is a possibility.

    Nor do I have your faith that we are able to improve things in Iraq (or in the middle east) with our occupation, or that our military has the ability to remake Iraqi society, or to bring about stability. Nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to believe that the US military is capable of doing all that.

    If I could be convinced that we’d definitely improve things for Iraqi civilians by staying in Iraq, then I’d favor staying, under the “you broke it, you bought it” ethic. But I’m extremely skeptical about that.

    Furthermore, I think it’s more than possible that our presence in Iraq contributes to destabilizing the entire region. But then again, I also think it’s possible that you’re right, and we’d make things worse with any withdrawal.

    Given the uncertainties on every side, my belief is that we should allow the Iraqi people to decide if we’re going to gradually withdraw, or indefinitely stay, or stay for a stated period of time followed by a new vote.

    Frankly, I think it’s most probably the case that pro-war advocates – many of whom, it should be pointed out, are leading Democrats – have gotten us into an intractable solution, in which enormous harms to the people of Iraq are inevitable regardless of what course we take.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

  6. […] In his post about the Hidden war on women Barry complains And the number of pro-war Americans who have written or blogged honestly about the catastrophic decline in women’s rights in Iraq can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Are they sociopaths? Are they so racist and misogynistic that they’re incapable of caring what happens to non-white women? Are they so loyal to Bush that they think that the harm of saying one critical word about Bush outweighs the harm Bush’s policies have done to countless Iraqi women? What’s wrong with them? […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » The hidden war on men in Iraq - part 3 — July 24, 2006 @ 8:28 am | Reply

  7. […] discussion between me and Amp, which lead to his revised definition of feminism, began with this post, and this comment by him to Robert’s reply. Amp describes in considerable detail the cataract […]

    Pingback by Feminist Critics — February 17, 2007 @ 3:48 am | Reply


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