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Women's bodies were central battlegrounds in the worst bout of
Hindu-Muslim bloodletting to grip India in over ten years, in the
western Indian state of Gujarat beginning on February 27. After an
enraged Muslim mob allegedly set a train packed with Hindus on fire
in Godhra, killing fifty-eight, a wave of retaliatory violence was
unleashed on the minority Muslim population in the region, leaving up
to 2,000 dead and 100,000 homeless. Under the indulgent gaze of the
state government, and against a backdrop of ransacked houses and
desecrated temples, at least 250 women and girls were brutally
gang-raped and burned alive.
Shabnam Hashmi, founder of SAHMAT (a coalition of artists and
intellectuals who work to strengthen secularism within Indian
society), believes that although the pogrom was triggered by Godhra,
the attacks were premeditated: "These mobs were trained in rape. Why
else would the same pattern of brutality be repeated everywhere?
Groups of women were stripped naked and then made to run for miles,
before being gang-raped and burned alive. In some cases religious
symbols were carved onto their bodies." In the documentary Evil
Stalks the Land, produced by Hashmi's husband, Gauhar Raza, a young
boy stares, unblinking, into the camera. "About 100 to 150 children
my age were burned in a house," he recalls. "The tea stall in which
we were hiding was set on fire using gas cylinders. My grandmother's
limbs were chopped off and my aunt was brutally raped."
Among all the horrifying testimonies of sexual violence to emerge
from Gujarat, one story has come to symbolize the collective
suffering of the Muslim community. It is told and retold on news
stories, in NGO reports, in eyewitness accounts: "I was running [and]
I saw a pregnant woman's belly being cut open," states a young boy on
Indian television. "The fetus was pulled out and thrown up in the
air. As it came down it was collected on the tip of the sword."
"[Kausar Bano] was nine months'pregnant," recalls Saira Banu at the
Shah Alam camp for refugees. "They cut open her belly, took her fetus
with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burned her
as well." "We were to hear this story many times," wrote the
Citizen's Initiative fact-finding team of women, who saw photographic
evidence of the burned body of a mother with a charred fetus lying on
her stomach. Their April 16 report, The Survivors Speak, reflects
upon the significance of this crime: "Kausar's story has come to
embody the numerous experiences of evil that were felt by the
Muslims.Sˇ In all instances where extreme violence is experienced
collectively, meta-narratives are constructed. Each victim is part of
the narrative; their experience subsumed by the collective
experience. Kausar is that collective experience-a meta-narrative of
bestiality; a meta-narrative of helpless victimhood." The image of
Kausar and her unborn child has assumed a dual meaning, for both
Hindu aggressors and Muslim victims: The humiliation of the enemy
through violation of the female body, and the assault on the future
of the Muslim community through the destruction of the next
Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the communal
riots that spasmodically grip India? In an impassioned May 11
editorial in The Hindu, India's national daily, Raka Roy, an
associate professor of sociology at the University of California,
Berkeley, offered one explanation. Roy asked: "Where does the
creation of the inferior other in India begin?" It begins, she
argues, with the divisive caste system, which has allowed the
principle of inequality to become embedded in Hindu culture. It
continues in the belief that "women are not only inferior, but also
woman's sexuality has to be patrolled so that it is legitimately
accessible to some men and inaccessible to others." If a woman's body
belongs not to herself but to her community, then the violation of
that body signifies an attack upon the honor (izzat) of the whole
community. Hindu nationalists raped and burned minority women to
destroy not only their bodies but also the integrity and identity of
Muslim society, the inferior Other. Roy also suggests that the
terrible legacy of the partition-with "protected and protectable
women on one side and unprotected and rapable women on the other
side"-still lingers in both the Hindu and Muslim subconscious.
It was the complicity of the state, however, that made it possible
for mass rape to occur in Gujarat. A Human Rights Watch report
concluded that the Sangh Parivar-the family of Hindu nationalist
organizations including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads
the Gujarat state government-was directly responsible [see Arundhati
Roy's essay in this issue of The Nation]. According to the report,
police told terrified groups of fleeing Muslims: "We have no orders
to save you."
The thousands of displaced now live in temporary refugee camps, run
almost exclusively by Muslim organizations. Harsh Mander writes: "It
is as though the monumental pain, loss, betrayal and injustice
suffered by the Muslim people is the concern only of other Muslim
people, and the rest of us have no share in the responsibility to
assuage, to heal and rebuild." The Citizen's Initiative report argues
that the state's colossal failure to implement "international Human
Rights norms and instructions and instruments as they relate to
violence per se, especially violence against women," may amount to a
crime under international law. The report recommends that a special
task force, comprising people from outside Gujarat, be set up
immediately to investigate the cases of sexual violence, and that
counseling and rehabilitation programs be established to help the
traumatized survivors. Although the government has proposed "Peace
Committees," it remains unclear what form these would take. All this
provides little consolation for the Muslim women and their families
who must decide where to go when the squalid camps close, which is
scheduled to occur before the Assembly elections following the
resignation of Narendra Modi, the BJP's Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Those who could afford to leave Gujarat have already done so. The
rest will return to their villages, to live as second-class citizens
in the ruins of their homes among the men who raped their sisters,
burned their children and killed their friends.
A rebuttal to eight arguments put forward by proponents of an invasion of Iraq.
The Indian state is criminally culpable for the murder of Muslims in Gujarat.
How would people be discussing the issue of "regime change" in Iraq if the question were not being forced upon them by the Administration?
Why now? Why, one year after September 11, is the Bush Administration
attempting to overthrow decades of precedents and precepts of
international law, along with the best traditions of US foreign policy,
in a relentless push to war? As high-level officials try to sell the
Administration's case to the American people and the President prepares
for an appearance before the UN General Assembly, the White House
continues its attempt to restrict the debate on Iraq to details of
timing and tactics while ignoring the basic question of whether an
invasion of Iraq should be considered at all.
Elsewhere in this issue Stephen Zunes provides a detailed refutation of
the points the Administration has used to argue for war. The arguments
are debatable at best, spurious at worst--like the innuendo that Iraq is
linked to Al Qaeda (in fact, Osama bin Laden regards Saddam Hussein as
an apostate); that "containment has failed" (since the Gulf War, Iraq's
military capabilities have weakened significantly and the regime poses
little or no threat to its neighbors, who oppose invasion); or that
inspection cannot adequately determine whether Iraq is developing
weapons of mass destruction (from 1991 to 1998, inspectors destroyed
much of Iraq's stockpile of chemical and bioweapons). One could go on,
but the point is that all along, this Administration has followed the
Alice in Wonderland logic of the Queen: sentence first, verdict
The White House has sought to justify the right to mount an attack by
the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption--or anticipatory self-defense. But
this country is a member of the United Nations, which was founded to
prevent wars of aggression. And under that body's charter, the United
States can use force only in response to an attack on itself, or if
approved by the Security Council. Otherwise, the Administration has no
right to take this country into war--or even to threaten the use of
The Administration has found this doctrinal deviation a difficult sell
even among its closest allies and thus has begun to search for new ways
to bestow some international legitimacy on its actions. Hence the talks
with Prime Minister Tony Blair, out of which has come a plan for a
Security Council ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to meet British-American
terms unconditionally or face "severe consequences." In short, the
Administration, with British support, may have devised the perfect
pretext for war: a UN demand for the reintroduction of inspectors into
Iraq that Saddam will likely not accept. The Administration is hoping
its plan will provide enough of a UN cover to gain French, Russian and
Chinese support, or at least acquiescence.
Those who question the need or legitimacy of a war against Iraq should
not be fooled. What incentive does the Administration's commitment to
"regime change" give Iraq to readmit inspectors, especially when the
inspectors could, like the last group, use the inspections for US
espionage purposes? Washington should instead announce its support for
inspections insulated from improper influence and pledge to abide by the
With the executive branch committed to war, those who morally oppose an
invasion of Iraq--because of the suffering it would inflict on US
soldiers and Iraqi civilians, because of its potential to destabilize
the region, because it would distract this country from the brokering of
an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, because a war in Iraq would
detract from the campaign against Al Qaeda and from pressing domestic
needs--have only Congress to turn to. That prospect doesn't offer much
comfort, since the Democratic leadership in the Senate appears ready to
write the Administration a resolution authorizing military action,
albeit with some conditions.
If Congress abdicates its role, it will harm not only the country but
itself. Bush's claim of the right to make pre-emptive war would give him
and future Presidents the authority to determine when a threat exists
and to take action on that threat without subjecting it to debate or to
verification by other branches of government. The principle of
Congressional oversight of the most fundamental decision government can
make--whether to send its sons and daughters into danger--will have been
entirely abandoned. And because Congress is the only arena where the
people's concerns can be aired, the structure of democracy itself will
suffer a grievous blow. Even if UN inspections find that Iraq is trying
to develop an advanced bomb program, there are ways of responding short
of war. A Congressional vote for pre-emptive assault would create a
damaging precedent, abrogate the UN charter, imperil the Constitution
and transform the President into an imperial overlord.
Write, call, act now (see the box on page 5). Americans who oppose the
war and this unconstitutional expansion of power must make their voices
In January, when George W. Bush's pollster warned that "Enron is a much
bigger story than anyone in Washington realizes," White House political
director Karl Rove informed the Republican National Committee that this
fall's election would have to be about national security rather than the
economy. Rove wasn't practicing political rocket science; he was merely
echoing the common-sense calculations of veteran Republican strategists
like Jack Pitney, who says, "If voters go to the polls with corporate
scandals at the top of their list, they're probably going to vote
Democratic. If they go [thinking about] the war on terrorism and taxes,"
Republicans have the advantage. Now, with the election that will set the
course for the second half of Bush's term less than two months away,
Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, National Security
Adviser Rice and every other Republican with a talking-head permit is
busy making the improbable case for war with Iraq.
Rove's sly strategy appears to be working. On September 4, the day
Congress returned from its summer break, the Dow Jones average plunged
355 points. Yet the next morning's headlines talked about how Bush would
"put the case for action in Iraq to key lawmakers." Whether Bush
actually believes that the war he's promoting is necessary--or even
marketable--there's no question that Republican prospects are aided by
the fact that he's talking about Saddam Hussein rather than Enron,
WorldCom, Harken, Halliburton, deficits, layoffs and 401(k)atastrophes.
There is, however, some question as to why Democrats are allowing Rove's
scenario to play out so smoothly. Along with those questions comes the
fear that unless the supposed party of opposition finds its voice soon,
Democrats could squander opportunities not only to stop a senseless and
unnecessary war but also to hold the Senate and wrest control of the
House from the right in November.
So far, however, most of the coherent Congressional challenges to the
Bush strategy have been initiated by Republicans worried about the
threat a war would pose to the domestic economy (House majority leader
Dick Armey) or who actually listen to the State Department (Jim Leach, a
key player on the House International Relations Committee). While Bush
and Rove have had trouble keeping their GOP comrades in line, they've
had more luck with Democrats. Only a handful of Democrats, like
Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, have echoed Armey's blunt
criticisms of the rush to war. A few more have chimed in with practical
arguments against the Administration line, a view perhaps best expressed
by Martin Sabo of Minnesota, who says that "to move into a country and
say we're going to topple the government and take over the
government--and I think inherent in that is also 'run it'--is not
something we have ever proved very capable of doing."
But House Democratic opposition has been muddled by the fact that
minority leader Dick Gephardt has positioned himself as an enthusiastic
backer of "regime change" in Iraq. One senior member of his caucus says,
"You can pin most of the blame on Gephardt. If he hadn't been so
enthusiastic about going to war when the Bush people brought this up in
the first place, I think they would have backed off." Acknowledging that
Gephardt's position could make it difficult to hold off a House vote in
October, Kucinich says, "I think it could all come down to how Daschle
handles the issue."
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle is not doing Bush as many favors as
Gephardt--Daschle at least says Congress needs more information. But the
Senate's leader has yet to echo likely 2004 Democratic presidential
candidate Senator John Kerry's suggestion that a policy of containment
would be sufficient to manage any threat posed by Iraq, let alone to
express the steady skepticism of Senate Armed Services Committee chair
Carl Levin, who left a meeting at which Rumsfeld tried to make the case
for war and said, "I don't think [the Administration] added anything."
Daschle's caution is rooted in his concern that a misstep on issues of
war and patriotism could jeopardize his continued leadership of the
Senate. It's a legitimate worry; his one-seat majority could well be
endangered if flag-waving appeals take hold--as they have before--in
Senate battleground states like Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Daschle's own South Dakota.
But Daschle's caution is not making things easier for Democrats in those
states. It has simply left him playing Karl Rove's game when he should
be saying what most Americans know: that in the absence of any credible
evidence of an immediate and quantifiable threat from Iraq, Congress
should not get bogged down in this issue. Moving aggressively to shift
the focus from Iraq to corporate wrongdoing and economic instability
would be smart politics for Daschle and the Democrats. More important,
calling the President's bluff on Iraq would slow the rush toward a
senseless war while freeing Congress to debate genuine threats to
George W. Bush's decision to "involve" the United Nations in his plans
to attack Iraq does not indicate a conversion to multilateralism on the
road to Baghdad. Washington's continuing campaign to neutralize the
International Criminal Court and its disdain for the Kyoto Protocol are
only part of the evidence that this would at best be a very expedient
There are sound pragmatic political considerations behind the shift to
the UN track. The President's father and James Baker have almost
certainly reminded him that it was Security Council Resolution 678
mandating military action to expel Iraq from Kuwait that was crucial to
winning the bare majority for a war powers resolution on Capitol Hill.
And even Tony Blair, assailed internally by opposition from his own
party and public, and externally by his European colleagues, now wants
some form of UN blessing--or excuse--for the crusade against Baghdad.
So what form will the Administration's use or abuse of the UN take?
There is little or no chance of a Security Council resolution
authorizing invasion to effect a change of regime. While Russia, China
and France have all told Iraq it should admit weapons inspectors, none
of them can countenance explicit support for an enforced removal of the
Iraqi government, which would go against one of the most fundamental
principles in the UN Charter. Instead, diplomats on the Security Council
anticipate a US-inspired resolution setting a deadline--most speak of
four weeks--for Baghdad to admit inspectors unconditionally, probably
warning of "severe consequences" if it does not. The Administration's
nightmare would be Saddam having a belated moment of rationality and
allowing the inspectors in, but it's reasonably confident that Baghdad
will oblige by refusing.
The Administration's confidence seems to be justified. Iraq's current
ambivalent gestures--wanting Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the inspection
unit, to come for talks but still declaring its refusal to admit his
inspectors--is exasperating even some of Iraq's best friends, while the
refusal to admit inspectors for the past two years has eroded the little
support it had from other countries. The Security Council set up UNMOVIC
in 1999 in response to criticisms made about its predecessor, UNSCOM. A
later resolution, 1382, represented the high-water mark of sanity for
the Bush Administration, since it actually mandated the end of sanctions
after the inspectors had completed their timetabled examination and
certification that Iraq was not producing weapons of mass destruction.
In supporting the resolution, Colin Powell went much further than the
Clinton Administration in offering what was termed "light at the end of
the tunnel"--an end to sanctions in return for compliance with
resolutions, rather than the regime change demanded by Clinton's UN
ambassador, Madeleine Albright. UNMOVIC's new inspectors have also been
carefully insulated from the allegations of undue Anglo-American
influence that dogged their predecessors.
It is against this background that the Administration is working hard to
make sure that there is no veto by France, Russia or China--and no doubt
the US determination that Muslim separatists in the west of China are
"terrorists" has helped mollify Chinese opposition. Even French
President Jacques Chirac in his recent statements is moving toward
acceptance of some kind of UN authorization for coercing Iraqi
compliance, while Putin's US-friendly stance suggests that Russian
opposition will be muted.
But even if Washington heads off vetoes, it still needs nine yes votes
to win--and Syria is certain to vote against. For political legitimacy
the British and Americans must win by more than a bare majority, which
is why a diplomat representing one of the ten elected members on the
Security Council said, "We're expecting to feel the grip on our
testicles any day soon"--the traditional US route to hearts and minds in
international forums, and no more so than with this Administration. In
the end, it is likely that Washington will get its deadline, since the
vote will be on Iraqi compliance, not "regime change"--although in a
last act as friends of Iraq the Russians may negotiate a slightly longer
Once the United States has its deadline and if Iraq plays into its hands
by defying the UN, then Washington has at least two options. One, which
seems increasingly likely as US diplomacy gets to work on the council
members, is a resolution that in some euphemistic measure calls down
"severe consequences" on Saddam's head if he fails to comply with a
demand to accept inspectors. The alternative would be a simple
determination that Iraq has failed to comply, after which the United
States and Britain will claim authority from the original Gulf War
resolutions to use military means to enforce the inspection and
disarmament demanded by the resolutions.
In both cases, it allows the Administration to shift some of the blame
for "warmongering" onto the UN, as a duty of the global community rather
than as US aggression. Internationally, it transforms what would have
been a flagrant breach of international law--the unilateral overthrow of
a sovereign government--into a move to assert UN authority, the
consequence of which may be the downfall of a little-loved dictator.
Ariel Sharon may yet rescue Saddam Hussein with more assaults on
Palestinians, allowing the Arabs to contrast starkly the different
outcomes of egregious defiance of the United Nations by Israel and Iraq.
Or Iraq's president may yet decide that survival with inspectors is
preferable to martyrdom surrounded by half-finished projects for mass
military mayhem. But it is a reasonable supposition that shooting will
begin in some form sooner or later. And if Bush has his way on Capitol
Hill, sooner than the November elections.
During the two-day opera buffa that was the on-again, off-again military coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice played a brief but memorable role. Throughout the long day and night that the democratically elected Chávez was sequestered and the military's handpicked provisional president, Pedro Carmona, dissolved all constitutional institutions--the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office and the national electoral commission--Rice and the rest of the Administration remained approvingly silent while sending spokesman Ari Fleischer out to say in effect that it was Chávez's own fault. Only after the elected president was rightfully restored to office did Rice take to the boards to scoldingly tell Chávez that he, not the coup-makers, should "respect constitutional processes."
Although the coup was denounced by nineteen Latin American heads of state as a violation of democratic principles, the Bush Administration publicly countenanced the military takeover. Not only did Washington demonstrate a radically selective view of the rule of law; it left itself starkly isolated in a hemisphere that has been subject to endless US lecturing on democracy. As Senator Christopher Dodd has noted, "To stand silent while the illegal ouster of a government is occurring is deeply troubling and will have profound implications for hemispheric democracy."
The leading US papers of record so shamelessly parroted the White House in their initial editorials that the New York Times had to apologize. By midweek, Chávez back in power, the Times recanted: "Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how bad he may be, is never something to cheer."
There can be little doubt the Bushies were crestfallen that Chávez didn't get the permanent hook. Venezuela supplies the United States with nearly as much oil as Saudi Arabia. And Chávez has gleefully thumbed his nose at Americans by befriending Castro, warming to Qaddafi and Saddam and playing footsie with the Colombian guerrillas. Indeed, Chávez--a former army paratrooper--rode to power as the embodiment of open challenge to the so-called Washington Consensus of hemispheric free-market economics in 1998. And he has gone out of his way ever since to enrage both the Venezuelan economic oligarchs and the US State Department with regular blasts of red-hot populist rhetoric.
That Washington wanted to get rid of Chávez is undeniable. Prior to the attempted coup US officials met with Carmona and other leaders of the coalition that ousted Chávez; and Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, the Pentagon official responsible for Latin America, met with Gen. Lucas Rincon Romero, chief of Venezuela's military high command in December. Later, during Carmona's brief reign, according to a State Department official quoted by the Times, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich phoned Carmona--ostensibly to urge him not to dissolve the National Assembly. The Organization of American States panel now investigating in Caracas should probe the precise scope of any US role in the failed coup.
Whoever masterminded the ousting of Chávez badly miscalculated. The majority of Venezuelan combat unit commanders remained loyal and forced Chávez's return to power. The political alliance that spearheaded the coup--the upper and middle classes supported by the trade union movement--was also short-lived. After the military picked Carmona, a prominent leader of the business class, to run the provisional government, labor--literally overnight--withdrew its support. Within hours of taking over, Carmona found himself isolated, and his house of cards collapsed.
That said, no one should confuse Hugo Chávez with Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Chilean president overthrown thirty years ago by a similar US-supported alliance of the economic upper class and the military. Chávez has failed to produce much of the radical change he promised. He showed little of the respect that Allende did for authentic democratic institutions. Unlike Allende, whose public support increased before his overthrow, Chávez has seen his original 80 percent support drop to just over 30 percent. And Allende never turned police and armed supporters against peaceful protesters as Chávez did, provoking a shootout that injured scores and killed more than a dozen.
Allende spoke to his nation as a professor; Chávez, who staged his own failed coup in 1992, often as a thug. Chávez's undeniable charisma flirts with megalomania, his denunciations of all opposition borders on the paranoiac and his antidote to the hollower forms of democracy is often ham-fisted demagogy. Corruption within his regime, an increasingly autocratic style and an inability to make much of a dent in poverty have swollen Chávez's opposition far beyond the ranks of the pro-American economic elite.
After winning by a landslide in 1998, Chávez moved aggressively to dismantle the old system. The two traditional parties were pushed to the margins, the discredited congress was replaced by a unicameral house, corruption was exposed and punished. Vowing to lift up the two-thirds of the population earning less than $2 a day, and infuriating the economic oligarchy, Chávez issued a series of decrees increasing state intervention in the economy and beginning much-needed land reform. But Chávez's authoritarian ways and his failure to make good on deep reform suggest that consensus-winning alternatives championing social justice and authentic democracy are still works in progress.
Chávez presides over a fractured and volatile Venezuela. The military split is perilous. The class divide has been ripped wide open. Now is the time for Chávez to talk a whole lot less and do a whole lot more. When Gabriel García Márquez met with Chávez earlier in his tenure, the Colombian writer was "overwhelmed by the feeling that I had just been traveling with two opposing men. One to whom the caprices of fate had given an opportunity to save his country; the other, an illusionist who could pass into the history books as just another despot." And just as it seemed Chávez was succumbing to the latter fate, almost magically he has been granted another chance to achieve the former.