Just five hours before President Obama announced Sunday night that Bin Laden was dead, instantly capturing the collective mind of the world, there was something else on American television that I wish would capture the world mind just as effectively. CBS reporter Lara Logan spoke out on the news program ’60 Minutes’ about her extended mass rape in Tahrir Square in the middle of the celebrations on February 11, the night of Mubarak’s resignation.
I’m running the clip here partly in shame, because I was among those whose first reaction was to say “Oh, she’s exaggerating, she was just badly groped.” That is, I didn’t want to know — not then, not there. I didn’t want the jubilation of that evening spoiled by such ugly reality. I was in denial.
Yes, this was rape. Multiple rape. Rape aimed at pulling her apart, inside and out. So first, take 13 minutes and watch this video of her account:
And if you still question the title of this post, consider these extracts from a New York Times story two days later on Iraqi victims of torture (by the Iraqi army, American forces, Saddam’s thugs, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and various militias):
He described… daily horrors like the suicide of a young prisoner who electrocuted himself with wires from a hot plate after being raped by soldiers.
An 11-year-old girl and her family revealed that she was raped by a group of men who then shaved her head and threw her on a trash heap.
A woman whose husband was an interpreter for the Americans had water and salt thrown on her and was then tied to electrified metal bars. Then: “They raped her more than once in front of us,” R. said, looking down as he spoke. “She died two or three days later. There were four guys who raped us…. I was destroyed. It feels as if something is missing. I don’t mingle at all with people.”
As Susan Brownmiller made crystal clear in Against Our Will (published in 1975 and, sadly, as essential reading today as it was then), rape has nothing to do with sexual attraction. It’s brutalization: the forced domination of another person through their genitalia, whether female or male, 5 years old or 90 years old, close relative or total stranger. The means of this can be a hand or a penis, a gun or a knife or a broken bottle, a baton or a broomstick or a bathroom plunger (remember Abner Louima?). Whatever the weapon, the aim is to violently, deliberately, and painfully invade and break another person’s physical and psychological autonomy, will, integrity, humanity. That is: torture.
Rape was recognized as a war crime in 1949 (the Fourth Geneva Conventions) and as a crime against humanity in 2001. Amnesty International has consistently reported on rape as torture: “In every armed conflict investigated by Amnesty International… the torture of women was reported, most often in the form of sexual violence.” But when rape happens in a dorm room or at a party — even one as large as Tahrir Square on February 11 — we seem less able to recognize it for what it is. Which is why Amnesty International also reports that in peacetime Europe as elsewhere, victims of rape are consistently denied justice.
This is what we need to get straight in our minds, once and for all:
Whenever rape happens, wherever it happens, and whatever form it takes, it is a crime against humanity.
A crime, that is, against every one of us.