On Vaginas and RPGs

In just one day, I’ve scrolled my way through numerous posts of articles on the rape of women in Syria as a weapon of war. My peers’ comments for their linked articles ranged from expressing disgust to blanket statements of how this should stop.

Yes, of course it should stop. Of course it is disgusting.

But it is not new nor is it something that can be pared down to a simple denunciation.

I would actually argue that it is counterproductive to just share these links with a simple “this is bad” comment without mentioning the necessary critical context. Failing to do so normalizes the use of rape as a weapon of war  — normalizes the gender oppression that goes far beyond these unfeeling words I am using to describe it.

Gender oppression in the Arab world means too, too many things to name. It means your neighbor in Egypt being forced into having sex with her husband. It means the tension between your neighbor and her Bengali servant who has come to fear your neighbor’s husband after the innumerable times his hand has grazed her bare forearm or the seat of her pants in an entitled dominance. It means young women being buried alive and it means that you along with the other girls in your village bear witness and therefore learn that to be the one burying is better than being the one buried. It means happening upon the grave of an aunt you never knew you had and it means being too afraid to ask her name, her story, as you try to feign grace and appetite during the feast hosted by your great-uncle in honor of your visit from the United States.

The woman’s body is not your weapon used in your wars between your nations or your sects. The woman’s body is not your collateral. It is not your wager nor is it your honor. Very simply, it is nothing of yours to begin with.

The Arab woman’s body is a battlefield in the war between women and men, and it has been historically — be it in the forced removal of the hijab during the Shah’s reign or Hizballah’s protests over the Special Tribunal’s request to access files from a women’s clinic or the rape of women in Homs right now.  The Arab war on the woman’s body far outdates the current civil war in Syria. It outdates the sectarian war of words and guns and car bombs that make the gynecological files in Lebanon’s Shia-dominated Da7ye seem like a strategic afterthought when they are not. The de facto conflation of rape and RPG as weapons of war is a calculated mistake that will breed further oppressions even in the (impending yet seemingly mythological) new, just, revolutionary, secular Arab state. The paradigm that permits the rape of women as a weapon of war is the same paradigm that permits the war on the Egyptian street girl’s hymen. The latter is a war on women that is enabled and clouded by the war on the poor. The war on the Bengali maid’s body has been waged in the midst of the war on the poor, the war on the rural, the war on dark skin. This is not to say that these oppressions can be separated and compartmentalized — not by any stretch. But to say that the war in Syria is merely one between the Free Syrian Army and Bashar’s soldiers is to make the war on women negligible.

This Friday, if you plan to make du’a and pray for soldiers to stop raping women in Syria, your silent prayers are useless and futile unless they are paired with an honest reflection upon yourself, your actions and beliefs, the way you directly and indirectly enable the war on women, the war on the body of the 3arabiyye, the war on your own mothers. Your silent prayers are futile unless, in the presumed safety of the men’s section of Jum’aa prayer, you begin and facilitate a conversation with your Muslim brothers about the war on women even before you bring up the latest happenings in Syria.

So, yes, the rape of Syrian women in this war is wrong. It is disgusting. It is despicable. And yes, yes, yes, by all means, yes, it should end. But the rape of daughters, sisters, mothers, neighbors, maids, girls, women in your wars will not end. Not until you, yourself, recognize and vehemently denounce the war you have waged upon them.

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