Creative Destruction

December 3, 2006

The Challenge of the Congo

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Personal Ramblings,War — Daran @ 11:04 pm

Tuomas’s recent post, or, more precisely, the news story to which he linked about the violent rapes of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of women in the Congo has been personally challenging to me on a number of levels.

Iraq vs. Other Wars

I ‘do’ war; it’s what I blog about. It’s not the only thing, but it is a major focus. Within that category, I have tended to focus upon the Middle East, and the recent history of the Balkans. I’ve paid scant attention to other conflicts around the world. There are several reasons for this. Lack of time is a major one; I can’t give everything I’d want to all the attention I’d like. Lack of awareness is another, though I’ve not been totally unaware. I’ve referenced Darfur and the Congo fleetingly. I’m also aware to a degree of some of the things which have been happening in parts of Asia, the Far East, Mexico, and Central and South America, though I’ve never blogged about them.

I’ve justified to myself my focus on Iraq on the “We broke it; we bought it” principle. I think that’s valid to an extent. “We” – the Western world – “broke it” just about everywhere in the third world, but not so directly and immediately as “we” – British and Americans – “broke it” in Iraq. I justify my focus on the Balkans on the grounds that I know a fair bit about it, and that it could be a model for what is happening now and what is likely to happen shortly in Iraq and elsewhere. The same patterns of behaviour play out again and again, both on the part of those committing the atrocities and the World’s response. To learn about one is to learn about them all.

I don’t think personal racism has played a part in my choice of focus, though UK/US/west-centrism, and perhaps also institutional racism in the news media has. The basic knowledge of the events which unfolded in the Balkans, and of past events in Iraq was (and to a considerable extent, still is) fed to me by them. The Congolese genocide, and others, have been comparatively underreported and to achieve a similar level of understanding would require a lot of study, just to lay the groundwork. I’d rather spend the time deepening my understanding of what I already understand.

Against that argument lies the sheer scale of the disaster in the Congo, which dwarfs by an order of magnitude any other war in recent history. To talk about contemporary genocide without discussing the Congo, is like talking about genocide in the mid-twentieth century without mentioning the Holocaust. So I feel I should give it some attention.

Death vs. Injury; Murder vs. Other Crimes; Rape vs. Other Injuries

A second challenge comes to the attention I give to death over injury, and to murder over crimes which leave their victims alive. A related notion, also challenged by the MSNBC article, is that I regard rape as not inherently worse than any other injury. (Nor do I regard it as inherently less bad than other injuries.) The question is, where, as here, the rapes are so injurious, and the victims suffer so much, should we not regard these crimes as worse than murder? Does that not justify focussing on rape?

It’s true that I consider genocidal murder to be the worse crime, but I have never pretended that its victims necessarily suffer more. While those killed may endure atrocious torture before they die, it is the survivors of genocide who must bear the burden of living with physical disability, psychological trauma, bereavement, the breakdown of their culture and society and the destruction of its physical infrastructure. As the article points out, rape victims in general, and these horrifically injured victims in particular, face ostracism as an additional burden.

But I have always taken the view that with survival, from no matter what injury, and under no matter what circumstances, comes the possibility of recovery and growth. The real crime of murder, is not that the suffering inflicted on the victim, but that it takes away that opportunity. It is the same belief that underlies my opposition in principle to the death penalty. Even the most unrepentant perpetrator of the the most repugnant crimes should not be denied the opportunity to grow and to change.

The Congolese rape victims have been presented to us as pitiable creatures, standing there, streaming with their own piss and shit, shunned by all around them, and begging not to be “thrown away because [they] smell bad”. This is story we have been told, but it is not the whole story. If they “began coming out of the jungles and forests” what were they doing while they were in the jungles and forests? What are they doing now, with their fistulas repaired or unrepaired, with their colostomy bags or with basins at their feet? Answer: Surviving, with all the strengh, courage, and ingenuity that it takes to survive in such conditions, with such injuries. That is the untold story of these women. To me they admirable as much as they are pitiable, though I doubt either reaction is what they would want.

A second reason for paying attention to death-counts is as a measure of the magnitude of the event. It is easier in general to obtain figures – even if only order-of-magnitude figures – for deaths than for rapes or other injuries, and to a degree, the former can proxy for the latter.

Men vs. Women

From the second challenge follows a third: my focus upon the victimisation of men and boys rather than women and girls. The casualties of war are overwhelmingly male. In particular far more men are killed than women. But that implies that the survivors of war are mostly female. Does that not justify focussing on women, particularly where they have been raped as violently and injuriously as these have? Does that not justify the claim that women suffer more?

I focus on men and boys as victims in an effort to protest against and compensate for their almost complete effacement from the discourse, both mainstream and feminist. I don’t object to a focus on women per se. This was an important article. I’m glad it was written. I’m glad that Tuomas drew it to my attention. But when I ask “what about the men?“, when I complain about how the “genocidal cull of […] males takes place in the blink of an eye[*], I do so in the knowledge that nowhere else on MSNBC is there an article that focusses on them. Were the men tortured before they were killed? How many men were injured? How many of them have been rendered incontinent by their injuries? I don’t know because the media doesn’t tell me.

I know that women are suffering in vast numbers all over the world. Feminists and the mainstream media tell me this. I know that men are being killed and injured in much vaster numbers than women despite the media and feminists telling me otherwise, but that only because I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to research and expose their misrepresentations. In the Congo, for example, 71% of violent deaths have been men aged 15 and over, 18% women, 10% children under 15 (PDF link). The 18% figure is high in comparison with other wars, perhaps reflecting the particularly brutal nature of the rapes. But I do not know the full extent of male suffering, either there or world-wide, and even if I did, would not make the Odious Comparison which both defines and characterises feminist discourse.

Conclusion

The Congolese genocides have been vast in magnitude, and brutal in execution, even by the dismal standards of the genre. For these reasons I should give it some attention. It has also been underreported in the Western Media, but in so far as it has been reported, this has been though the standard western media fixation on portraying women as übervictims while effacing the victimisation of men. I shall continue to protest and try to counteract this by focussing on men rather than women and death rather than rape, all without denying, dismissing, minimising or ignoring the harms to women.

[*]This sentence, for example: “Late one evening a group of Interhamwe gunmen raided her village in South Kivu, killed 10 of the men, and abducted 10 women and girls.”

Update: Here are two good places to begin researching: The IRC in Dem.Republic of Congo and the Global Policy Forum.

Edited to show off that I’ve finally figured out how to link within a page.

5 Comments »

  1. I appreciate your willingness to face up to and learn about the atrocities cited above. In choosing a focus, one could reasonably select Northern Ireland, Central America, Tibet, or Israel instead of Iraq or the Congo. There are doubtlessly other hot spots of which I’m unaware. It’s all frankly more than I can bear to look at with a sober, sustained gaze.

    I’m a bit unclear whether you are attempting to explain a ranking system for orders of magnitude and choice of focus or trying to dismiss rankings as essentially meaningless. Choosing a focus isn’t arbitrary, nor do you appear to be capricious, but I confess it’s a bit strange to discuss which thing is worse or worst. Neither would it make sense to say they’re all the same. I guess I’m just uncomfortable entertaining any sort of ranking of atrocities.

    Comment by Brutus — December 4, 2006 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

  2. Great post, Daran.

    I didn’t have any particular ‘agenda’ behind that post, btw, I just had ran across it and decided it deserves sunlight.

    The Congolese rape victims have been presented to us as pitiable creatures, standing there, streaming with their own piss and shit, shunned by all around them, and begging not to be “thrown away because [they] smell bad”.

    That’s not what I got from the story.

    Comment by Tuomas — December 4, 2006 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  3. I appreciate your willingness to face up to and learn about the atrocities cited above. In choosing a focus, one could reasonably select Northern Ireland, Central America, Tibet, or Israel instead of Iraq or the Congo. There are doubtlessly other hot spots of which I’m unaware. It’s all frankly more than I can bear to look at with a sober, sustained gaze.

    Northern Ireland is quiescent at the moment, (thank the FSM), but the religious schism which fueled it hasn’t gone away. Nor is it limited to Ireland; the same tensions are apparent in the West of Scotland. Even in the city where I live, in the East, The Orange Order has made applications to the council for permits to march. (They were turned down, again thank the FSM.)

    I’m a bit unclear whether you are attempting to explain a ranking system for orders of magnitude and choice of focus or trying to dismiss rankings as essentially meaningless.

    Both.

    Choosing a focus isn’t arbitrary, nor do you appear to be capricious, but I confess it’s a bit strange to discuss which thing is worse or worst. Neither would it make sense to say they’re all the same. I guess I’m just uncomfortable entertaining any sort of ranking of atrocities.

    That discussion is forced upon me if I are to engage with feminists, and feminist influences within the mainstream. The odious comparison lies at the heart of their belief system.

    However, I wouldn’t want this post to be seen as just another exercise in bashing feminism. The questions posed in the first paragraphs of the second and third sections haven’t been merely rhetorical to me. I’ve been genuinely wrestling with them for the past several days.

    Comment by Daran — December 4, 2006 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  4. Tuomas:

    Great post, Daran.

    Thank you.

    I didn’t have any particular ‘agenda’ behind that post, btw, I just had ran across it and decided it deserves sunlight.

    I didn’t think you had an agenda. It just happened to impinge upon mine on multiple levels. I agree it deserves sunlight and thank you for posting about it.

    Me:

    The Congolese rape victims have been presented to us as pitiable creatures, standing there, streaming with their own piss and shit, shunned by all around them, and begging not to be “thrown away because [they] smell bad”.

    Tuomas:

    That’s not what I got from the story.

    It’s not what I “got out of” the story, either, but it’s definitely “in” there.

    Comment by Daran — December 4, 2006 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

  5. […] is a repost of an article originally posted at Creative Destruction. Comments older than Wednesday 10 January 2007 were originally posted there. See this post for […]

    Pingback by Feminist Critics — January 12, 2008 @ 3:16 am | Reply


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