of Our Days
Cleansing" in the Sudan
By Phyllis Chesler
| July 26, 2004
images from the Sudan are horrific: Wounded, starving, diseased
adults, skeletal, dying infants. Some people have referred to this
as "ethnic cleansing." Indeed, an estimated two million
black African Christians, Muslims, and animists have been massacred
by ethnic Arab Muslims over the last 21 years. Today, an estimated
1.2 million people have been internally displaced, and 170,000 have
fled across the border into Chad. At least 30,000 human beings have
been massacred by the state-sanctioned Janjaweed ("men on horses")
in the last six months.
United Nations did nothing during this time except condemn Israel
for crimes it did not commit. The French? They are too busy condemning
Ariel Sharon to notice a real human rights atrocity. Thus, the French
continue to oppose UN sanctions against the Sudan. To their credit,
the American House and Senate have just passed a bi-partisan resolution
that defines the massacres as "genocide."
although we are overwhelmed with images of suffering, one image
is missing. We have no photos of what I shall describe as "gender
cleansing." The systematic use of repeated, public, gang rape
as a weapon of war cannot be captured in a single photo.
to Amnesty International, eyewitness-survivors have seen girls as
young as eight repeatedly gang-raped; their captors break both their
arms and their legs when they try to escape. Women and children
have described being kidnapped and kept as domestic and sexual slaves,
and of being gang-raped every night in captivity.
damage to a woman's self-esteem and sanity is impossible to calculate.
Suicide, life-long anxiety, depression, and nightmares are among
the many symptoms. To rub salt into the wound, Amnesty International
reports that Janjaweed women sing (!!) to cheer their men on when
they rape other women; they also utter racial insults to the women
feminists who immediately condemned Lyndie England and the American
military as "depraved" in the matter of the torture of
Iraqi male prisoners in Abu Graib are, so far, noticeably silent.
Mind you: I am only calling for even-handedness; I am not defending
torture or prisoner abuse.
the author of Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, I am not surprised by
the behavior of the Janjaweed women -- although the cruelty is rather
breathtaking. Like men, women also internalize sexist values and
are capable of both cruelty and compassion. Women are mainly cruel
towards other women. Like men, many women cling to the status quo,
even to one that demeans them.
rape has been used as a weapon, not merely as a spoil of war, before,
most notably in Algeria, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan, there
is something uniquely sadistic going on in Sudan. The women who
are being gang-raped by Arab Islamists are also women who have been
genitally mutilated (either clitoridectomized or infibulated). These
crude, mutilating "surgeries," often conducted by village
women, result in tissue scaring and loss of elasticity. (Infibulation
involves leaving only a small opening for urination and menstruation.
Normally, these women have to be cut open wide enough for intercourse
when they marry).
rape must be excruciatingly painful and must cause severe physical
and psychological damage. The rape victims (who are Muslims as well
as Christians and animists), have been raised to view their genitalia
as "unclean" and shameful. Tribal honor is bound up with
female chastity -- this is why rape as a tactic is being used to
destroy not only the individual woman but also her entire social
fabric. Many Sudanese women have been taught that sexual activity
-- including rape -- is always the woman's fault. Some Sudanese
tribes believe that a pregnancy cannot result from rape; thus, raped
women who become pregnant will be suspected of having voluntary
sex with the enemy.
International believes that many raped women are not reporting their
rapes. They fear their families will ostracize them; perhaps they
also blame themselves for the shame they have brought on their families
and tribes. If they are pregnant, their families will never accept
a baby born of rape.
the United States calls it genocide. The Sudan Campaign: A Coalition
to Stop Genocide, Slavery, Starvation, and Religious Persecution
has organized arrests and hunger strikes at the Sudanese Embassy
in Washington D. C.
where are the leftists and feminists who are so quick to condemn
both America and Israel for "ethnic cleansing" and racism?
on many feminist academic and activist listserv groups. During the
last two months, the matter of the Sudan has not commanded much
attention. What has? Defeating Bush, cosmetic surgery, discrimination
against transgendered people, defeating Bush, gay marriage, abortion,
no mistake. I am in favor of elective surgery and abortion, and
against discrimination, but I am puzzled by the isolationism and
self-involvement of activists who should be part of making a difference.
that the situation in Sudan is politically and practically complicated.
Technically, rebel groups did oppose the government which, in turn,
set the Janjaweed militia loose on them. Can food and medicine be
safely distributed without being siphoned off by corrupt warlords?
Will sanctions only hurt the most vulnerable people? Will nothing
short of a full-scale military invasion really stop the genocide
and the "gender cleansing?" Dare America -- which has
been so defamed because of Afghanistan and Iraq -- invade Sudan?
the European Holocaust, people did not see the photos or receive
reports of the genocide in process. In the matter of the Sudan,
we cannot claim that "we did not know," "no one told
us." We know. We have heard and seen everything. To do nothing
renders us complicit in what is happening. Those who survive such
torture in war are more haunted by what the presumably good people
failed to do than they are by the criminals whose evil character
is already well known to their victims.
we never have to learn this from first-hand experience.
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